Tips For Handling A Travel Emergency

1 May 2015
Read Time: 3.9 mins

Words by Carlie Tucker

Even the best laid travel plans can go awry from time to time. This is true of domestic, international, business and leisure travel. While FCBT is dedicated to providing assistance for all emergencies 24/7 no matter where you are in the world, it's best to prepare yourself because you never know when an emergency might pop up on the road.  

Before You Go:

  • Purchase travel insurance
  • Make copies of all travel documents, including your passport and visa. Pack one in your luggage, scan one to your mobile device(s) and leave one at home.
  • Leave contact numbers and a copy of your itinerary with someone at home.
  • Create a list of emergency contacts to take with you. This includes local authorities for your destination, your consulate or embassy and websites such as SmartTraveller.
  • Ensure you alert your bank to your travel plans and create an emergency fund that can easily be wired or transferred if necessary.

Lost Baggage

In the grand scheme of travel emergencies, this one is on the lower end of the scale, but having gone through a few days without baggage myself, I can safely say it's not the best way to kick off any trip.

What to do:

  • File a claim with the airline before you leave the airport.

You'll have to provide a few details, including your name and a description of your bag. All airlines have policies to cover lost luggage, which means you will be compensated if your bag has truly disappeared. If it's delayed, many airlines will offer an advance or reimbursement for you to purchase necessary items to get you by while you wait for your bag.

Strikes/Flight Cancellations

Missing a flight can be stressful but most of the time, you can be sure you're going to get home even if it's a bit later than expected. What happens if it's something more serious such as a strike?

What to do:

  • Discuss your options with the airline booking agent and reschedule your flight (calling a support number is often quicker than standing in line at the booking counter).

In the case of cancellations, airlines are responsible for getting passengers on the next available departing flight. This includes covering the costs for stranded passengers to be booked with competing airlines.

Delays can get pretty long though, so sit tight and be patient. If a delay lasts more than four hours, airlines have been known to provide food and drink, though this is not guaranteed and is often judged on a case-by-case basis.  Nevertheless, keep in mind that airlines are always willing to work with you to ease the burden of cancelled flights.

Lost Passport

Losing your passport while overseas can seem like a harrowing experience. You're likely to get that sick feeling as you rack your brain trying to remember where you last saw it. Don't panic, though, it can be replaced.

What to do:

  • Report your lost or stolen passport immediately, with local police and your nearest embassy or consular mission.

Once the right authorities know your passport is missing, it will be entered into the Interpol database so it can't be used by anyone else. Embassies and consulates are there to help in these situations, so they will be able to arrange a passport fairly quickly for you to get back home. Even if it's just a temporary one. You will need to fill out some forms, attend an interview and pay a fee, but you'll be on your way soon enough.

To expedite the process make sure you always carry a copy of your passport with you (either a scan on your mobile device or a paper copy packed in your baggage).


Playing a close second to a lost passport, discovering that your wallet, purse, cash, credit cards and IDs are missing is a sure way to dampen your spirit on any trip.

What to do:

  • Cancel all credit cards immediately.
  • File a police report with local police.
  • Contact someone at home to wire funds.

Often, pickpockets only want your cash and will drop your wallet or purse somewhere. This is where the police report will come in handy. If it's found and turned in, police will know how to get a hold of you and you may get some of your items back.

For wire transfers, locate your nearest Western Union. Alternatively, embassies can assist citizens with wire transfers, receiving them either online or over the phone.

Medical Emergencies

Sickness while travelling is a common occurrence and often doesn't need medical intervention. You might have a couple of unpleasant days, but will soon be right with the help of some over the counter meds. But what happens if you're really sick or injured?

What to do:

  • Seek medical advice/assistance as soon as possible.
  • Arrange to let someone at home know about your situation.

Where you seek medical assistance depends on your circumstances. If you need immediate help, alert those around you or call the local emergency number to get yourself to the nearest medical facility ASAP.

If you're not critically sick or injured, you can take a little bit of time to consider where you need to go. For example, finding an English speaking doctor in a non-English speaking country. The hotel is often the best place to start looking, as the front desk or concierge will be able to point you in the right direction. If not, contact your Embassy or consulate for assistance. They can also assist in making arrangements for you to get back home if necessary.   


It's always best to brush up on local laws and customs before travelling to any other countries or regions that you're not familiar with. If you do find yourself in trouble with the law, keep calm and be respectful.

What to do:

  • Contact your local embassy yourself or request that local authorities contact your embassy.

Your embassy or consulate will be able to inform you of local laws and provide you with appropriate legal assistance. This includes providing contact information for local attorneys. They will be able to assist in alerting your family overseas, and ensure that your health and conditions are acceptable. 

Riots/Attacks/Natural Disasters

These types of things are unpredictable and even the most diligent of travellers can't foresee the likes of an earth quake or sudden political unrest.

What to do:

  • Remain calm and follow the instruction of local authorities.
  • Contact your family as soon as possible to keep them up-to-date.

A heavy dose of common sense comes in handy when you're dealing with these situations. Follow instructions, check the Internet/listen to the radio for updates and stay away from dangerous areas. If you're overseas, your embassy will be able to provide assistance in contacting family members to let them know that you're all right. Airlines and hotels will also assist in any way that they can to ensure you're safe and get home as soon as possible.

Images courtesy of Getty