Bad things can happen to good travelers. And while these worst-case scenarios are just that—things that could throw you for a serious loop, but most likely won’t—that doesn’t mean some prevention and damage control won’t go a long way should something go wrong on the road. Our tips come from the people who handle these types of situations routinely—doctors, state-department officials, guidebook directors. Across the board, preparation is your friend. But even if you don’t have time to do everything we recommend, the one thing you should always do is write down the number and website of the local consulate for where you’re going—it turns out that they’re useful for far more than just replacing a stolen passport.
YOU GET IN AN ACCIDENT IN YOUR RENTAL CAR
You’re cruising down a dark south Australian highway when a couple of cattle suddenly appear out of nowhere. You brake too late, and bam!
How to Cope
“Getting in a car crash in a foreign country puts you in a confusing world,” says Tom Hall, the U.K. spokesperson for Lonely Planet. “There are police who may not speak your language, the angry person you’ve crashed into…so it’s important to talk to the hire firm about what to do [in a crisis] before you drive off the lot.” Most car-rental companies have an emergency number specifically for crashes. Also, some European countries require you to wear an emergency vest (usually provided in the car) for visibility if you exit the car after the accident and stand on the road. Next, file a local police report (you’ll need it for your insurance claims), and if it’s a situation where livestock have wandered into the road, be sure to get the name of the farmer and his insurance policy—there’s a good chance he has coverage for a situation like this. Finally, get in touch with your own insurer (believe it or not, your home auto insurance or credit card may have you covered) to see what procedure to take for filing a claim.
3 Tricks to Avoid the Problem
1. Buying insurance directly from the car-rental company when you rent your car can be expensive. In advance of your trip, look at policies you already have—including home insurance, travel insurance, your personal car insurance, even your credit card—to see if collision-damage waiver insurance on rental cars is covered for you or if you can add it.
2. Learn about local road rules when visiting a new place or foreign country by visiting the website of the national transport authority. If you’re planning to rent a car in Europe, AA publishes some great advice. Also, ask the car-rental company about any unusual road rules you should know about (in New Zealand, for example, left-turning traffic must give way to opposing right-turning traffic, which is completely counterintuitive for American drivers).
3. Avoid driving late at night on roads with no streetlights or when you are fatigued. If you’re not sure if the roads you’ll be traveling will have streetlights, ask a local or save your travel for the daytime.
YOU GET IN LEGAL PROBLEMS/SENT TO JAIL WHILE ABROAD
The prescription drugs you’ve traveled with from the U.S. send up a red flag abroad. Before you know it, you’re doing your explaining from behind bars.
How to Cope
What flies at home might be completely illegal in a foreign country (chewing gum in Singapore is an oft-cited example). And finding yourself tangling with the law in a foreign language—or worse yet, foreign prison—is the last thing you want to be doing on vacation. If you’re not immediately offered the option, “the first thing to do if you’re arrested in a foreign country is to contact the nearest consulate or embassy,” says Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director of the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, for the U.S. State Department. “Someone who travels abroad is subject to the local government’s laws and regulations,” she says, “but the embassy or consulate will make sure that an American citizen who has been arrested has access to legal counsel.” The goal is to make sure that the victim understands what the charges against them are and what their rights are.
3 Tricks to Avoid the Problem
1. “Know what kinds of things can get you into trouble in a foreign country,” Bernier-Toth says. The State Department’s travel warnings, which cover local laws, are a good place to start.