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Coping with travel nightmares
5 Tips: What if your wallet gets stolen? What if your luggage gets lost? More...
July 14, 2005: 4:45 PM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist
Correction
The title of Bob Arno's book was incorrectly reported in earlier versions of this story. CNN/Money regrets the error.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Life's little emergencies can quickly turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. But there's no reason to panic.

Here's how to handle five potentially disastrous travel situations like a pro.

1. What if ... your wallet gets stolen?

First of all, travel guru Pauline Frommer says ditch your fanny pack. They're way too easy to pickpocket. Instead, get a neck pouch or a travel belt you can wear under your clothes.

Another no-no is carrying heaps of cash. "It's not a good idea to carry more than $100 dollars on you," Frommer says.

Instead of greenbacks, Frommer suggests a "cash card" like the American Express Travel Funds Card. You can purchase these cards for a minimal one-time fee and load them up with money. If it's stolen, American Express will replace it and the amount left on the card within 24 hours.

If you lost your wallet, chances are your credit cards were in there too.

Travel security advisor Bob Arno has some sound advice. The author of "Travel Advisory! How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams While Traveling," advises traveling with three cards and keeping one separate from the others. If you're flying, keep one tucked in your luggage. If you're at your destination, keep it in your hotel room safe. You should also keep credit card customer service phone numbers in your luggage in case your cards are stolen.

2. What if... you lose your passport?

In this situation, your computer and scanner are your new best friends. Arno says you should have a color copy of your passport tucked in your luggage in case the original is stolen from your handbag. It could make all the difference when you go to a (U.S.) embassy to get a replacement while you're traveling.

Another option is scanning your passport, drivers' license and credit cards. You can put electronic copies on a disc or e-mail the information to your own account so you have the documents at your fingertips if you need them.

Don't leave anything sensitive or personal on a computer at an Internet café. Arno recommends "clearing the history" on your browser so others can't go back and look at what you've done or where you've been. (In Explorer, go to the "Tools" menu, select "Internet Options" and click "Clear History.")

3. What if... you're too sick to see anything?

Travel health expert Dr. Richard Dawood says, it's very import to have a plan if something goes wrong. The author of "Travellers' Health" says it's a good idea to have the supplies you'd need like cold and allergy medication but also make sure to pack a first-aid kit with over the counter medications.

Also, if you have pre-existing illness, make sure you can cope if a flare-up presents itself. It's also important to consider where you're going and what you'll be doing once you get there. Immunizations and shots can protect you from any number of ghastly diseases. If you're going to the tropics, it's not a bad idea to educate yourself about malaria and take insect repellant. If you're going to a mountainous region, high altitude preparedness may be important.

Have family phone numbers, physicians' numbers and numbers for your insurance provider with you on your trip. If your health insurance works on a reimbursement basis, you should be prepared in case you need to cover immediate expenses. For travelers' health information go to the Centers for Disease Control's Web site. Other useful sites include those from: the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the International Society of Travel Medicine and Fleet Street Clinic.

4. What if... your luggage takes a one-way trip to nowhere?

Don't get stranded. Take essentials with you in a carry-on bag, such as medication, glasses and diapers for the kids. A change of clothes is also a good idea if you're traveling with children.

Frommer says baggage losses have been cut down since 9/11 because of increased security but you never know when your luggage may take an unexpected trip of its own. It's smart to make sure your baggage tags are secure on the outside and, in case they fall off, write down your name, phone number and hotel information and pack the info inside.

Also, never ever pack jewelry or things that can't be replaced in checked baggage. If the airline loses your bags and they're never recovered, you'll be required to present receipts to prove the value of high-priced items. There is a cap for reimbursements. Check with your individual airline about their baggage policy.

5. Consider a backup plan.

Frommer says it's important to get insurance before any major travel expenditure. "If you're buying a complete vacation for $2,000 or $3,000 dollars, it's an investment you want to protect." (Although, if you're flying from, say, New York to Chicago to stay with family, it's probably not necessary.)

Make sure your policy will cover what you need it to. Frommer also says don't buy insurance from a tour company, if they go out of business, you won't get your money back."

Before you book your trip, go to www.travelguard.com. On the Web site, there's a list of travel companies in bankruptcy and ones the insurance company won't insure. Look at the list even if you don't use their insurance so you don't get stuck with an uninsurable vacation.

Check the policy's fine print and exclusions. If you have a pre-existing health condition, and you miss your trip because of it, you may not be covered. Similarly, if your uncle dies and you can't travel, will you still be covered? It's up to you to find out if a particular will meet your needs. To search travel insurance policies and rates visit www.insuremytrip.net.

Here's a little good news: You may have coverage you don't even know about.

According to Robert McKinley of CardWeb.com, if you've used a platinum card to purchase your trip, you have travel accident insurance (this is similar to Accidental Death Dismemberment insurance in the event of a plane crash or bus crash). The amount of coverage varies from card to card but typically coverage runs from $250,000 to $1,000,000. You can get additional coverage for a fee. You must charge your trip on your platinum card in order to be covered.

You also receive some auto insurance coverage for rental cars. If you pay for the rental with your platinum card, you're typically covered by your card's collision damage waiver (CDW) program. The program provides coverage for damages due to crashes or theft.

Programs can vary so check with your card company before you make any assumptions. If an airline losses your baggage, you're covered up to a certain amount. But you also may have some additional coverage from your card company. If you bought your airline ticket with an American Express Platinum card, Amex offers up to $1,200 in coverage for a carry-on bag and up to $500 for checked luggage.

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