Stolen Documents, Lost Luggage and Other Emergencies: What to Do?

I think everyone can agree:

Planning a once in a lifetime trip to another country can be one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.

But if you encounter an emergency or cannot keep yourself safe you may bring home a haunting nightmare instead of a wonderful memory as a souvenir.

Safe travel abroad is pretty straightforward and simple to implement if you prepare ahead of time, know what to expect and how to handle unavoidable mishaps should they happen.

We are going to show you how to prevent or prepare for emergencies, what to do if your documents have been stolen abroad and a few tips for safe traveling abroad.

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Locals Know the Most, so Get to Know the Locals; it’s Your Best Bet for Safety

crowded city street

Think about your own neighborhood, town, city, locale, etc.

Would you be able to list the good and bad areas of town? Do you know which restaurants have the best food? Where are all of the sights? If there have been any problems with a crime recently?

Chances are you can answer these questions easily because you live there.

When you travel you will meet locals who also live where you are traveling and they know the area best.

Ask 4 or 5 different locals what areas of town are safe, where to get the best dinner or if there is a curfew.

Locals can answer many of your questions and keep you away from unsafe areas or activities.

The SAFE Way to Read a Map

tourist with map

You are a tourist, so it stands to reason you will need to use a map because you don’t have the area memorized.

However, reading a map out in the street is an advertisement to thieves and pickpockets that you are a tourist, so you likely have cash, and you are preoccupied with trying to find your destination and these things make you a target.

Practice safe travel abroad:

If you need to read a map, slip into a restaurant, hotel or the local Starbucks if there is one, and investigate there, where there are lesser eyes on you than out in open on the street.

This Luggage Tip can Save You a Potential Headache

train station and guy with baggage

Get out your iPhone and take a luggage selfie.

Go ahead. Post it on facebook if you want.

Just be sure the picture has a clear shot of you AND your luggage together. This will help you as you travel if you need to identify your luggage or prove to authorities that the luggage is, in fact, yours.

Dress Up Your Luggage for the Trip

Find a brightly colored ribbon, scarf, or even duct tape to secure your luggage to clearly distinguish it. The louder and more noticeable the distinction, the better.

 It will help your luggage stand out amidst a sea of black wheeled look-alikes.

It will also deter theft as the last thing a thief wants is to draw unwanted attention. Be sure that the selfie includes your new luggage decoration.

  • Remove old travel tags because these may confuse luggage handling systems and personnel.
  • Try to get direct flights because having a connecting flight doubles your chance of being a lost luggage victim.
  • Check-in early so your luggage has enough time to be loaded onto the plane.
  • Become familiar with the three-letter code of your destination airport. Check your baggage tag for this three-letter code. For example, If you are flying to Los Angeles International Airport, the code is LAX, so your baggage tag should also say LAX. If it does not, ask at the checking counter and make sure a mistake was not made.

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Here is What to Do if You Lose Your Luggage

man with luggage

According to SITA, an airline IT vendor behind the World Tracer System for baggage more than 7 of every 1000 passengers will experience a lost or misdirected bag during their trip.

If you are one of the unlucky 7 who experiences this, follow these steps.

  • Look around. Sometimes baggage that arrives early may be placed on a cart instead of the carousel.
  • Find an airline representative and fill out a lost luggage form immediately. Airlines have standard forms. This gives you a written record of the lost luggage for future reference.
  • Ask the airline for a stipend to cover expenses to replace items you need for the trip and have been lost with your bag while the airline searches for your bag. Be sure to get a copy of the form and a phone number so you can pester… er… follow up on your lost luggage.
  • Ask for a refund of any checked baggage fees.

Make Yourself Pick Pocket Proof

wallet full with money in pocket

Get yourself a hidden pocket or pouch to store the bulk of your cash and valuable documents.

There are various ways to hide money and documents on your person including special belts that block RFID to protect credit cards and passports, to neck stashes that can hold your important documents.

But there’s a catch:

You don’t want to store all your money in these secret stashes for two reasons.

You don’t want to be seen going through your secret stash every time you need to buy a ticket, souvenir, lunch or whatever.

That is inconvenient, and it makes your secret not much of a secret anymore. Avoid a travel emergency and store a little cash in your regular pockets.

Carry one day’s worth of cash in your regular pocket or wallet so it is easy to take your wallet out and buy something.

Having some small change in your wallet or pocket can save you in the event to face a thief who demands money from you. If you are mugged, remove your wallet, throw it on the ground and run.

Most thieves will stop to pick up the wallet, giving you time to getaway.

If the thief discovers there is no money in your wallet, they assume you are hiding it and may chase you or become more aggressive.

It is better to lose one days’ worth of change than to lose a trips’ worth along with important documents and credit cards.

That’s Not All

travel documents

Cash is not the most valuable paper you can lose, your documents stolen abroad are. Replacing documents is a huge headache and can cause many problems and is a travel emergency that can ruin your trip.

These steps will help you protect your documents, and retrieve them if needed.

  • Scan all documents and place them in some sort of cloud-based storage so you can retrieve them from anywhere (with an internet connection). This includes your ID, passport, insurance documents, the front and BACK of each credit card (in case you need to report them stolen) your flight itinerary, your hotel details and any other details or paperwork you may need.
  • Keep important documents in a secret hidden pocket on you at all times. Safe traveling abroad is more about the prevention of problems than handling emergencies.
  • If you lose your passport contact the embassy or consulate, ask to speak to the consular section, and they should be able to help you get a replacement quickly. If you do not have ANY ID left, they may issue a limited passport or emergency travel document so you can at least get back home.
  • If the documents stolen abroad, file a police report first, then contact the consulate.

The following tips will help you avoid problems when traveling.

  • Try not to appear well off. If you are traveling in a poorer country, advertising your wealth via an iPhone, an expensive watch, designer clothes and a shirt with the flag of your prosperous country stamped right on the front make you a mark for experienced thieves. Get an inexpensive throw-away phone for the trip and leave the valuables at home.
  • If you find yourself in a rough neighborhood or sense danger, get out that throw-away mobile phone and put on your acting face. Pretend you are calling a friend who is supposed to meet you nearby. You can even look in the friends’ supposed direction and wave as if you are about to meet up with them. This will cause troublemakers to think twice about bothering you.
  • When you check in to your hotel grab their business card. Keep it in your pocket in case you get lost. You can show it to a taxi driver to easily get you back to your hotel.
  • Try not to look like a tourist. In some countries, street vendors and others will be out trying to get your attention in order to sell you something or scout you out. Learn to say “No, thank you” in the language of your destination. For example, in Mexico, if you are NOT interested in what they have to offer, you say “Gracias” and motion with your hand palm facing down.

Even though you are saying thank you, they understand the gesture as “not interested”. This also clues them into the fact that you know a little bit about the culture and you won’t be seen as such an easy mark.

Despite all these precautions and tips, we want to remind you that safe travel abroad is achievable.

The possibility that an emergency may arise during your travels should not prevent you from traveling.

Most situations you face will not end the trip and can be dealt with if you keep a calm cool head.

Documents, luggage, cash and credit cards are all replaceable so if you happen to face misfortune, do not let these replaceable items ruin a once in a lifetime travel experience because the experience is NOT replaceable.


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Get 50 Solo Travel Safety Tips eBook for FREE

No more reading loads of posts about solo traveler safety. Get your 50 point safety list in one eBook. Be ready, stay safe!

Karlis Kikuts

Karlis Kikuts

Coffee addict. Digital nomad. Solo traveler and blogger. Camping and hammocking enthusiast. Tiny book worm. In other words, the guy behind