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Owe Carter

How to avoid these travel disasters


Going travelling is always exciting, but occasionally we leave ourselves open to mishaps and misfortune.

Holiday injury

And as much as it’s important to learn from our mistakes, it’s usually less painful to learn from those of others.

So we’ve gathered some cautionary tales from hapless holidaymakers (and one canny traveller), and taken a few lessons from them.

Don’t wait until the last minute

Travel insurance is often considered as an afterthought while making holiday plans, if it’s considered at all. But it’s best not to leave it until the last minute.

Gareth Kloet, head of car insurance at, broke his usual habit by taking out travel insurance immediately after booking a holiday one year.

The day before his wife and he were due to travel, he fell off a ladder and broke bones in both of his feet.

“Apart from the obvious downside, all I had to do was pay my relatively small excess and then claim back the full cost of the holiday that neither of us could now go on,” he said.

“I’ve never been without annual travel insurance since.”

On the other side of the coin, this writer was due to spend a week in Kefalonia with his mother. We didn’t take out travel insurance straight away – it was on the to-do list.

A day or so after booking the flights (non transferrable, non refundable – of course), she fell and broke her wrist.

The break was a bad one, and she was told not to travel by her doctor. So I went by myself, and the other flight was wasted.

This illustrates quite succinctly why it’s a good idea to take out travel insurance at the same time you book your holiday.

Read our article When to buy travel insurance for more information.

Make copies of documents reader Ruth Nic an Éanaigh from Pembrokeshire took a holiday in Biarritz last year, and had her passport stolen, among other things.

However, she still had her flight tickets, and obtained written confirmation from the police that the passport had been stolen.

She was told by a member of airport staff that the outbound journey proved she’d been through passport control, and returning to the UK should be no problem.

However, on return to the airport, Ruth was not allowed to board the plane, and the police document was not accepted as sufficient evidence.

As an Irish citizen, she was told she would have to obtain an emergency passport from the Irish embassy in Paris, some 500 miles away.

Even then, she would only be able to travel to the country of origin, which meant that she’d have to fly to Dublin, rather than the UK where she lives.

Eventually, her sister organised for a copy of her passport to be faxed to Biarritz from the Passport Office in the Republic of Ireland. This and a torrent of tears assured her passage back to the UK.

“What I’ve learned from this is take a photocopy of your passport and important documents with you, and keep them separate,” Ruth said. “Or learn how to cry really well.”

An alternative to photocopies is using the camera on your mobile phone. Take photos of your passport details, important documents and credit card numbers if you can’t remember them.

And – in case you lose your phone – make backups by synching to your PC or using online storage, such as Google documents.

Always check your policy small print

A traveller who wished to remain anonymous said: “No-one really checks the small print.

“As a result, what I’ve learned is that if you get an upset stomach abroad, and have to have a series of injections in your bum, always ensure you get a doctor’s note or receipt. And make sure it’s stamped by your hotel, hospital, clinic or whoever arranges the treatment.

“Your insurance providers may have an exact procedure which needs to be followed before they will pay out.

“Nor should you assume that the policy will pay out for fun activities that need to be cancelled as a result, such as boat trips or scuba diving – even if you have documentary evidence.

“It’s always best to scrutinise the policy beforehand, so you can jump through the requisite hoops if something unfortunate does happen.”

For more information, read our article Check the small print before travelling.

Other top tips

  • It’s prudent to take out travel insurance even when travelling domestically.

  • It’s just as important to know what’s excluded from your policy as what’s included.

  • Keep a spare means of payment in a different part of your luggage from the rest, so that you can still pay your way if one of your bags is lost or stolen.

  • If you are offered a travel insurance policy that comes with a reward account with your bank or building society, be mindful that such policies are often less comprehensive than standalone policies. They may also have higher excesses. Before relying on an add-on travel policy, double check that it offers you the level of cover you require.


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