The 16-year-old boy's European jaunt was coming to a close, and he was just about to hop a plane to visit his grandfather in the U.K. before heading home to the States when it hit him: "My backpack!"
The kid was lucky. He had an understanding grandfather who guided him through the hurdles of getting an emergency passport. "Haven't we all left something on a train?" chuckled the grandfather. The teen's father was less amused, since this meant a missed flight and a replacement ticket that cost a staggering $2,000.
Now let's talk about you (and I'll assume you do not have a helpful grandpa in Europe): What do you do if you're traveling and: (A) You meet up with pickpockets, (B) You notice bedbugs, (C) You're offered a spiked drink, or (D) there's an emergency aboard your aircraft?
Fortunately, I've got some tips.
First things first: who do you trust?
Select a Go-To Person: Choose a trusted friend or relative back home to be your "go-to" person. This contact -- like you -- should have copies of passport and any visas; credit card numbers and lost/stolen card contacts; copies of travelers check information; addresses of embassies/consulates in the countries you'll be traveling to (see the State Department Web site at http://travel.state.gov/passport/).
Make sure your "go-to" friend is reachable 24/7 -- lend them a cell phone if you have to, and be sure they keep it on at all times. And give them a house key so you won't have to go through what I did, when a nosy (and keyless) neighbor spotted water spilling out of my traveling parents' home!
Avoid Theft: You're in Paris, enjoying the glories of Notre Dame, when you suddenly notice your wallet is gone along with your passport. What to do?
Don't delay. Contact the local authorities and make a crime report. This could mean waiting in a long line, so use the time to call and cancel your credit cards. Then contact the nearest embassy or consulate to apply for an emergency passport -- with luck, you'll get it the same day.
Tips: Avoid the hassle with a little pre-planning. First of all, why carry five credit cards when you only need one? And, unless you're being honored by the queen, do you really need those diamond earrings? And forget substituting them with fakes -- pickpockets won't know the difference and will assume you have money. Don't flash cash, either.
If you must bring valuables, store them in a hotel safe and cut down on cards and cash. If you bring two credit cards, keep one in the safe, for emergencies. And keep whatever cash and cards you do need, carry in a hard-to-get-to place. Many say your best bet is a zippered money belt that fits down inside the front of your slacks. A good idea for women, too: save your purse for souvenirs.
Look Out for Insects: Sorry about this, but yes, bedbugs are making a comeback. And they are just as happy to stay at a posh hotel as a, well, a fleabag.
If bitten, try not to scratch and remember, they're not so much a health threat as a humiliation.