There are no guarantees in travel. No matter how many hours you spend scheduling your trip, perfecting your itinerary, and solidifying your plans, something will always go awry. Just when you think things are flowing smoothly, boom — the universe will throw you a curveball. In travel, we must learn to expect the unexpected. The following is a guide to creating contingency plans for various travel hiccups: missed flight connections, illnesses, sketchy accommodations, and more.

Just a little bit of planning can cure a multitude of future headaches. Keep in mind that regardless of what happens, the hardest but most effective way to move on from any travel surprise is to stay calm, as a clear mind can solve any issue. Let’s dive in.

Photo by Scott Keyes

The Basics

There are a few steps smart travelers should take prior to departure to prepare for potential obstacles throughout the trip ahead. The number-one most important item for any international trip is your passport, so know where it is at all times. Designating a particular pouch or pocket to keep your passport in is helpful, both for consistency and peace of mind. Next, make multiple photocopies of your passport and put them in different places: one in your suitcase, one in your toiletry bag, and one in your purse or backpack. Then, save a photo of your passport in your phone and send it to the people you are traveling with. Lastly, when leaving your hotel or hostel, always put your travel documents in a lockbox or safe, avoiding any potential catastrophe if your backpack is lost or stolen during your adventures.

The same care should be taken with cash. Never put all of your eggs in one basket. In more developed countries, carry as little cash as possible and rely on debit and credit cards. That said, it’s always smart to have a bit of cash on your person for tipping and other low-cost expenses, so keep a few stashes in the same places you choose to keep a photocopy of your passport: in your dopp kit, your shoe inside your suitcase, etc.

Knowing some basics in the local language will help when you are in a bind. Keep a small journal with translations of words and phrases like, “Hi, how are you?”, “Can you help me?”, and “Thank you; goodbye!” This can help with negotiations, establishing a rapport with the people around you, and getting directions or assistance from locals.

Photo by Aleksandra Łaszta

Air travel

When traveling by plane, it’s always best to plan ahead and stay informed. If the weather forecast looks grim a few days before a departure, start communicating with the airline to see what their rescheduling policies are. If a significant storm is coming, other passengers are likely already rebooking, so work ahead of time just in case.

When dealing with missed flights or connections, kindness counts. Always do your best to remain calm and be nice when speaking to customer service representatives. If the pressures of the trip cause your temper to flare, try taking a step back and reminding yourself that these people have all the power to solve your problems. If you continuously dislike the answers you’re receiving, kindly request to speak with a supervisor or manager. Also, remember that they are just trying to do their difficult jobs, so being angry or rude to them will not get you very far in terms of booking a new flight. Eventually, with patience and a smile, you can usually find a new option that works for you. In short: always be respectful, ask a lot of questions, and exhaust all options before giving in to an unsatisfying solution.

You might have a long wait for your new flight, so be prepared for these situations by downloading podcasts, movies, or games on your phone ahead of time. Time really flies when you have Candy Crush and true-crime podcasts on deck. If you are experiencing anxiety or discomfort, find solace amid the madness of a busy airport by trying out meditation apps like Headspace, Calm, or the Mindfulness App. Guided meditation can help stressed-out travelers with relaxation and clarity in times of frustration and inconvenience — try it out! For quick language learning and an educational past-time when waiting for delayed flights, try out Duolingo to master some basics before arrival.

Lost Baggage

Losing baggage is an all-too-frequent nightmare that’s guaranteed to happen sometime in your travel career. When it does, it is vitally important to try and keep a clear head by taking a deep breath and focusing on the goal of retrieving your luggage. Travelers have rights, and airlines are often required to provide solutions, refunds, and compensation when mishaps ensue. For instance, Delta will cover “reasonable expenses” up to approximately $50 per day, though there is no formal limit. American and United Airlines don’t specify a specific compensation amount, but they will cover immediate expenses when bags are delayed, such as winter coats or boots. Other airlines may offer to deliver your luggage to your hotel or home once recovered. When you find yourself in this type of scenario, remember to not give up too easily — which is much simpler to do when you know your rights beforehand. As a general rule of thumb, hold on to your luggage tags, research your passenger rights, and pack extra clothes and toiletries in your carry-on.

Illness and injury

Whether it’s you or someone you’re traveling with, being ill or getting injured can truly put a damper on any experience abroad. Having a small first-aid kit on you at all times with bandages, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, and antacids will save the day in dire situations.  

It’s important to note that lack of sleep can cause many short-term health issues — such as drowsiness, anxiety, and distractibility — that can exacerbate any travel predicaments. With missed flights or other common delays, sleep may not always be an option, and that deprivation can lead to a vicious cycle of illness. Whenever possible, try your best to get a few hours of rest in, even if that means curling up on airport seats with an eye-mask and a rain-jacket-turned-blanket.

An injury is always an unfortunate and unexpected twist of fate, but this is especially true on the road. Though it’s important to know the emergency numbers for each country you’re visiting, this also brings us to the importance of travel insurance. Starting at relatively low-cost options, various packages cover everything from missed flights to rental car fender-benders and hospital bills. As the ultimate contingency plan, travel insurance can truly put your anxieties to bed.


Whether you’re stuck on the tarmac with no explanation, laid up in a foreign hospital with an injury, or left shocked after being mugged in the street, there will always be a solution. Research, plan, and stay calm — it’s the only thing you can do when the unexpected comes your way!

Header image by @jenniferhulley