Print out this guide to dealing with travel tragedies big and small, and take it with you on your next trip. And before you leave, make sure that you've taken the appropriate steps -- like labeling your luggage and packing a photocopy of your birth certificate -- to help manage problems that may arise when traveling. If you know what to do when the worst happens, it can save you time and money and even rescue your vacation from catastrophe.
It's the traveler's worst nightmare: opening your purse, backpack or money belt to discover that your passport has disappeared. Whether it's stolen or lost -- and you may never know what happened to your little blue buddy - - your response should be the same: act now! Yes, there's a small chance that you'll return to your room and find your passport under the bed. So get back to that hotel and search your room from corner to corner as soon as possible, and then contact your embassy if your passport is gone.
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What to Do
Traveling Overseas: Contact the police and then your local embassy. You'll have to show up in person at the embassy to apply for an emergency passport. An emergency passport is only valid for a limited time, and once you are back in the States you'll have to apply for a new passport.
Before you leave home, pack the list of items you will need for getting an emergency passport, listed below. If you do not have everything you need, you may need to present an affidavit of identifying witness. This will be filled out by a fellow traveler, who can attest that you are who you say you are.
Traveling Domestically: First, call the police, and then report your stolen passport. Do this by either filling out a DS-64 form and mailing it to the address on the National Passport Information Center Web site, or by calling 1-877-487-2778.
Then, you must go to a passport agency or an acceptance facility to apply in person.
How to Be Prepared
Create an "emergency passport kit" to take on your travels. The procedures for getting an emergency passport differ depending on which country you're visiting, but here's what you'll probably need, no matter where you are:
You'll also need an in-person passport application fee of $170, payable in U.S. dollars, the currency of your current destination or U.S. dollar bank draft, and a passport application form (you can get this at the embassy). Trust us -- you'll thank your clever self for putting this together if your passport goes missing and you have to deal with the headaches of replacing it.
For more information on missing passports, read our guide to lost and stolen passports.
It's unfair -- your plane could be hours late, and you get no apology, discount or explanation. But if you are three minutes late, running to the gate just as boarding ends, you're pretty much (pardon our French) screwed.
If you always arrive at the airport three hours before your flight and think that only last-minute Larry's miss their flights, don't skip this section -- it could happen to you too. Events beyond your control, from problems at the security checkpoint to stormy weather, may mar even the best-planned itinerary.
What to Do
Has your plane taken off without you? Immediately go to your airline's desk. It is possible that your airline can get you on the next flight. Whether or not they will charge you will vary depending on which airline is involved and if the missed flight was your fault. If there are no other flights or the next flight is booked, try for the next day, or inquire about any available flights from your carrier's partner airlines.
If your airline refuses to offer a voucher for another flight, get ready to pay up. Passengers who miss their flights sometimes must pay full price for a new ticket -- and prices are steep when it's the day of or the day before your departure. Take this as a warning to always arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare, especially around the holidays.
If you have missed a connecting flight and your luggage has been checked, it will most likely go on without you -- so your suitcase may be en route to the Bahamas while you're stuck in a chilly airport in Chicago. Go to your airline's ticket counter and ask if they can locate your bags. The airline may be able to hold your bags until you arrive at your destination. This is just one of many reasons (including lost luggage or spilt coffee) why you should pack a change of clothes in your carry-on when you fly.
How to Be Prepared
Get to the airport early! Check out your airport's Web site for recommended arrival times -- some airports have historically longer check-in and security lines than others. If you want to be extra careful, go online before your trip and look up what other flights are going to your destination on your departure date. Jot down the flight numbers so you know your alternatives if your plane leaves without you.
Travel insurance is an additional safety net in certain circumstances, especially covering a missed flight. According to TripInsuranceStore.com: Travel Delay covered reasons may include missed departure, missed connection or trip interruption due to unforeseen events, such as bad weather, unexpected illnesses or injuries.
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