Don't Let Disaster Ruin Your Trip: Tips for Safe Vacations

Steps to take before your trip to ensure a safe and pleasurable vacation.

July 28, 2009 — -- 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!"

He'd left the backpack -- with wallet, passport and iPod inside -- on a train in Berlin.

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.

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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

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!

Fast Action Key When Passport Gets Lost

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.

Insects Can Eat Away at Your Fun

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.

Tips: Look for infestations: examine corner seams on mattresses. You're looking for tiny black spots. If you see any, get another room. Hotels are aware of the problem and do what they can to combat the creatures, but understand that these days bed bugs are not necessarily a sign of bad housekeeping.

Be Careful of New "Friends": Keep your hotel room your own personal space. When traveling solo, do not issue open invitations to that intriguing person you "met" on a dating site. You might be meeting up with a thief or worse.

Contact the hotel and the police if you've been ripped off. Don't let embarrassment keep you from protecting the next unsuspecting victim.

Tips: Use common sense: when meeting strangers in a strange city, go to a public place in daylight hours. In your hotel, don't answer the door (unless you know who's there). In the bar, take a tip from acclaimed journalist and world traveler Nicholas Kristof, who says when presented with pre-poured drinks in "rough" parts of the world (and that could be anywhere), simply "switch them with your host, cheerfully explaining: 'This is an American good luck ritual!'"

Onboard Emergency: This will probably never happen in a million years, but just in case a flight attendant asks you to assume the brace position (as happened with the folks who landed in the Hudson last January), know what to do.

Tips: Follow the crew's commands. If you can't hear, the brace position typically means sitting as far back in your seat as possible (seat belt on), with feet flat on the floor in front of your seat. Have your chin on your chest and bend forward with your arms around your legs.

And when you are told to get up and get out, do so, taking nothing.

Now, remember our young friend who left his backpack on the train? Well here's a nod to the integrity of the people with Germany's rail system: the backpack was eventually found by a maintenance employee -- with all contents intact.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.