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What to do when things go wrong on holiday…


Holidays are meant to be relaxing, a life-affirming experience or simply a chance to see somewhere new. And usually they are – but sometimes, through no fault of your own, things go wrong. The most common issues travellers face are lost luggage and significant flight delays, but other problems could arise, from natural disasters to being arrested. And if the proverbial hits the fans, it pays to be prepared.

Here’s what to do when your dream trip threatens to turn into the holiday from hell.


Before you go…

·       Always, always buy adequate insurance. Think carefully – would repatriation and/or coverage for natural disasters be a wise investment? If there’s any doubt in your mind, invest in the most comprehensive travel insurance you can afford

·       Pack a medical kit

·       Get your travel vaccinations

·       Make sure your phone works overseas. International data roaming plans are worth their weight in gold, especially if you’re prone to getting lost (I speak from experience here…)

·       Read up on local laws and customs. Something commonplace at home could be illegal in other countries. For example, drinking alcohol in public places such as parks is perfectly acceptable in the UK, but it’s illegal in most Canadian provinces

·       Take a mix of cash, travellers cheques (check they’re still accepted wherever you’re going) or pre-paid travel cards, and your debit and/or credit card (making a note of the emergency numbers to call in case they’re stolen) and stash them in different places on your person and in your luggage; If one bag/pocket gets lost or stolen/pickpocketed, you’ll have some in reserve. And remember to inform the police and your travel insurer about any loss or theft as soon as you can

·       Print out any booking confirmation emails in case your accommodation or transport provider can’t find a record of your reservation. It’s also worth calling before you leave to double-check you’re expected.


When you get there…

You should already be insured to the hilt but there’s still plenty more you can do to make sure your prepared for worse-case scenarios.

Familiarise yourself with emergency escape routes at your accommodation, the local emergency services numbers and the contact details of your nearest embassy. And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) – use sunscreen, drink plenty of water (bottled or filtered if necessary) and don’t venture into any dodgy areas on your own. Be sensible!


But what about the things you can’t control? What shoul you do when things going awry on the road?


What to do if you’re affected by natural disasters or civil unrest

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and so on are thankfully very rare for holidaymakers. We tend to plan our trips to make the most of the weather – to most of us that means avoiding rain, wind, unpleasant cold or searing hot sun – but it’s still worth taking precautions so you know how to deal with a natural disaster on vacation.

If you’re travelling to an area prone to natural disasters, read up on how to handle the situation should it ever arise. If the worst does happen, at least you’ll be better prepared; not knowing what to do can make a scary situation even more terrifying and lead to some poor decision-making. The Red Cross has created a series of Disaster Apps that dispense expert information on what to do in the event of a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or flood, as well as monitor more than 35 different severe weather and emergency alerts.

It’s worth knowing that in the event of natural disaster or civil unrest, your tour operator should make suitable alternative arrangement for you, at no extra cost.


What to do if you fall sick or have an accident on holiday

Again – insurance, insurance, insurance! If you’re a European travelling in Europe, get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you go. It gives you state healthcare in other EEA countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or sometimes for free – but be aware that an EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. Make sure that your travel insurance can cover huge medical bills, especially if you’re travelling to places such as the USA.


If you think you might be suffering from food poisoning or similar and you’re staying at an all-inclusive hotel, visit a doctor and get a written medical note to provide as evidence if you want to make a claim. Make sure you get a receipt for any treatments or medications you’re prescribed too.


What to do if you’re arrested overseas

Remain calm, cooperate with the authorities and insist that your consulate is informed that you’ve been detained.


What to do if you or a member of your party gets lost or separated from the group

Before you go anywhere, identify a pre-arranged meeting spot and make sure that everyone in your group (especially any children) has contact numbers and your hotel address on their person in case you get separated, whether that’s because of a catastrophic event or because someone was dawdling. It’s worth identifying a meeting place outside your place of accommodation too, in the rare event that your hotel is compromised.


What to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled

Horror stories abound of travellers’ flights delayed for days. Make sure your travel insurance covers overnight stays, medical expenses, delayed or lost baggage, trip cancellations and airline change fees. Before you leave for the airport, pack so you’re self-sufficient for a few hours at least, especially if you’re flying from a small airport with minimal to non-existent facilities.

Your hand luggage should contain:

·       Snacks

·       Water

·       Wet wipes

·       A blanket and pillow

·       Earplugs and eye mask

·       Headphones

·       Entertainment such as a book or Kindle or a tablet pre-loaded with movies so you can watch offline if necessary

·       Phone charger and a charged powerbank

·       Change of clothes and basic toiletries, including hand sanitiser

·       Enough cash for food, a taxi, and a cheap hotel


Most of these items will come in handy on your flight anyway.

You should also be familiar with your airline’s rerouting and reimbursement fees, and download the airline app to your cell phone for faster access to rebooking and complaints procedures, and to keep track of flights. And if you’re stuck at the airport for more than a few hours it might be worth getting access to the airline lounge (some airlines offer free access if you join their loyalty programme).


What to do if your luggage is lost

A lost suitcase can ruin your holiday before it even begins. As a rule, airlines must return any lost luggage within 21 days, but that’s too late for most holidaymakers. If you need to make a claim, report your lost luggage to the police and anyone else involved, such as your tour rep, transport provider or hotel manager; you need evidence that reasonable care was taken with the baggage. Keep receipts for anything you spend on replacement essential clothing and toiletries too.



At the end of the (very long) day, help yourself reframe the situation with this question: in what way is this a gift? Have you had to buy yourself some new clothes after losing your luggage, or really connected with someone as you both waited for a delayed flight? Perhaps you’ve experienced first-hand the kindness of strangers when you were holed up with a fever in a hostel. If at all possible, try not to let an annoying situation completely ruin your holiday.


Have you had a stroke of bad luck on holiday? What happened, and what tips do you have for us in case it happens to us too?