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Problems, And How To Deal With Them

‘Courage’, wrote Ernest Hemingway, ‘is grace under pressure.’ He was a well-travelled kind of guy, and, although his famous maxim was actually coined to deal with the conditions that people faced in time of war, he might easily have applied it to the business of travel. Because if things go wrong when you’re overseas – or even just a little way from home - you might need a lot of grace and then some, especially if you make things worse for yourself by not thinking a problem through.

But before we deal with the ways of extricating yourself from vacation trouble, it’s worth saying that it is incredibly rare. For every story of an unhappy vacation that reaches the media there are thousands upon thousands of tales of happy overseas breaks that don’t. That’s the nature of news: we only here about the rare bad things rather than the far more common good things. If you’re planning a vacation the chances are you’ll be fine, as long as you make sure that all plans are laid carefully in advance by your or your vacation provider, and don’t do anything silly while you’re away.

But what if things do go wrong? Experience suggests that even seemingly major problems don’t have to ruin a vacation if you deal with them properly. Here are some top travel tips to help you stave off emergencies:

  • Make sure you have full and comprehensive travel insurance from a respected provider. Good insurance can cover you against nearly everything that can go wrong – in fact, nearly everything except acts of God. All insurance policies should cover you against theft, loss of luggage, accidental damage and medical evacuation. If your health insurance company doesn’t have a reciprocal deal with a company in the country you’re visiting, you may have to take out health insurance too. It’s worth shopping around to try to get the best deal possible: bear in mind that insurance deals that seem very cheap may require you to pay a large excess – sometimes up to several hundred dollars – on any claim. This sort of detail is often buried in the small print of contracts and publicity material, so read everything carefully.
  • Check out where your nearest US consulate is. If you have problems while you’re in a foreign capital, you should go to the consulate rather than the US Embassy, unless they happen to be in the same building. The person you deal with at the consulate will speak good English, but they won’t necessarily be American. You should really only approach a consulate if you’ve lost your passport or this is some sort of dire emergency which causes you to fear for your life such as large scale terrorism or civil strife. Events like these are very unlikely in tourist destinations, but if something on the scale of a national calamity does occur, good old Uncle Sam might (might) fly you and you loved ones out aboard the next C-130. Don’t count on it, though, and expect to be billed for the flight afterwards. If you have a more minor problem than this the chances are you will have wasted your time – the consulate staff will just refer you to the local police…
  • ...who, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, will be fine. Tourism means big bucks, so even in countries where the local cops have a reputation for being corrupt you will probably find that the officers designated to deal with tourists are decent people trained to be friendly and helpful. Some countries, especially in the Far East, even have a dedicated tourist police force to look after your needs. Don’t expect them to work miracles, though: if you’ve had your pocket picked in a crowded bazaar there’s not much chance of getting your wallet back – this is the sort of crime that’s easily avoided, so make sure you take basic precautions.
  • Don’t forget that once you’re in a foreign country you are subject to foreign laws, not US ones. If you get into trouble contact the consulate – they won’t be able to wave a magic wand, but if you’re on your own and they don’t have much else to do they might come and visit you in jail and give you a list of respected local lawyers. Remember that attempting to bribe local cops, or complaining that you deserve special treatment because you’re a US citizen is only likely to make things much, much worse.

Basically, if you take care, do some research and take basic precautions while you’re on vacation, the chances of anything really bad happening are very, very small. Use your common sense. And remember not to take fretting too far – you don’t want to let paranoia spoil your dream vacation!

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