Despite the best-laid plans, travel itineraries can sometimes fall apart. Here’s how to plan for travel emergencies so you can salvage your vacation and enjoy your hard-earned time off.

Jet lagged and weary, I arrived at my hotel in Gdansk, Poland, ready for a shower and a nap. I greeted the clerk and handed over my reservation number and follow-up email confirming my stay. She took my papers, looked at her room ledger, and frowned.

“No rooms,” she replied.

I peered over at her calendar, and saw my name written in for my travel dates, then crossed out with a pencil. Another name was written in over the smudge where my name had once been. The room had been double-booked, and I had arrived too late.

As an exhausted traveler, I wanted to sit down on the floor and cry. As a Grownup, I had to think fast. We grabbed our guidebooks and started making calls. We asked a local friend if she knew of any alternate arrangements. And within an hour, we had found a vacation rental apartment that was available in the same neighborhood, for less money. Crisis averted!

While the situation ultimately worked out, the whole experience was a jolting reminder that, despite best-laid plans, things will go wrong when traveling. Here’s how to plan for travel mishaps, and how to react when they (inevitably) happen.

Before You Go

Once you’ve purchased your major travel arrangements, look into travel insurance policies that (at minimum) recoup the cost of your airfare, hotel stay, and rental car should something go wrong. Oftentimes the fees are nominal and can provide peace of mind, particularly for big trips overseas.

Beyond covering your investment, it’s a good idea to see if your current health insurance covers emergency medical expenses in your travel destination, should you become ill or get injured during your vacation. A call to your health insurance provider will help you determine if you need to get supplemental coverage during your travel dates.

While you’re making calls, add your credit card companies and ATM bank to your list. There’s nothing worse than trying to use your cards or withdraw money during a trip, only to find your accounts have been locked. A call to both your credit card companies and bank to let them know your travel plans will ensure you’ll be able to use your cards while you’re out and about.

Confirm that all your bookings are good to go: Reach out to your airfare, hotel, and ground transportation companies to confirm your reservations and double-check departure and arrival times and travel dates. Keep copies of your confirmation numbers in a safe spot (e.g., your phone’s notepad, in a travel organizer app, or an old-fashioned print out in your handbag or carry-on). Also add emergency numbers to your documents for easy reference later.

Should you plan on staying plugged in during your trip, check your mobile provider to ensure you’ll have service and/or purchase overseas coverage plans as needed.

Despite all the electronic backup options nowadays, I still rely on a few old-school methods just in case. I keep paper copies of my passport and itinerary in each bag (handbag, carry-on, suitcase), and also email copies to a family member.

Get your shots! If you’re heading to a part of the world that requires extra immunizations, start the process as early as possible. Having a few extra months lead time is always preferred to make sure everything is effective.

While You’re There

Hopefully, your prep work won’t need to be utilized at all, and you can enjoy a stress-free, carefree Grownup vacation. But if you do find yourself in a pinch while traveling, keep a cool head.

Have those emergency numbers handy, with a few backup copies should bags and/or phones get lost or stolen (e.g., email, paper copies, phone notepad, travel organizer app). Customer service numbers to include are your travel providers (airline, hotels, and transport), your credit card and bank, travel and medical insurance providers, the local number of the U.S. Embassy, and any contacts you’ll need to reach out to for assistance (local friends, family overseas, etc.).

Lastly, if plans fall through (like my hotel in Gdansk did), gauge the situation to see if it’s worth contesting the situation or if you should just move on. If it’s the latter—and it often will be—have last-minute travel providers bookmarked and easily accessible on your phone or tablet. There are plenty of sites and apps that specialize in last-minute travel and have options for all budgets; utilize them if need be.


A lifelong traveler and bookworm, Sarah spends her days thinking of new ways to explore and tell stories.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

Let's take action, Grownup.

Check out our courses to start taking action on your goals any time.

Take a course

Let's stay in touch, Grownup.