The other morning, I received a phone call from an Italian friend, Lorenzo. He rents short-term apartments in Florence, and often to Americans. He explained his English wasn't sufficient to deal with a situation that a couple of his clients were in, and asked if I would help.
When I arrived, I found an American couple obviously distraught. Due to airline strikes, they had faced an exhausting three-day trip to Italy, and their own version of 'Trains, Planes and Automobiles'. Somewhere along the route, a bag containing their passports, credit cards and cash had disappeared. Now they were living out every traveler's nightmare.
An Italian vacation was just beginning, but their mood was sinking. While 'incidenti' can happen to anyone, here are five steps for better preparation, and five steps to keep in mind if the worst does happen to you.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE:
*Make copies of your passport, credit cards and travel itinerary. Carry one set, separate from the actual documents, and leave one copy at home with someone you could call in an emergency.
*Alert your bank and credit card companies of the places and dates of your travel.
*Know if your ATM card debits money from the savings or checking account.
*Divide cash among travel companions, or in various pieces of luggage, to minimize the chances of a total loss.
*Avoid packing necessary medications and documents in checked luggage.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU LOSE YOUR PASSPORT/CREDIT CARDS/CASH:
*Take a deep breath and know you are not the first, nor will you be the last person this has happened to. No matter how carefully planned your trip, incidents happen! Try to think clearly, breathe deeply and know you can go on to have a great vacation.
*Notify the local American Consulate. You need to immediately deal with not having a passport. Generally, you will need to appear in person at the Embassy and will receive a new one that day.
*Notify credit card companies. Cancel credit and debit cards. All credit cards companies have global customer assistance centers with 24 hour service. Your bank will be able to get a new card to you generally within 2-3 days, and some will wire cash to hold you over until then.
*File a police report. As difficult as this may be in a foreign country, especially if you do not speak the language, it will be necessary to have for insurance purposes.
*Notify hotels, rental car agencies and tour companies if your plans will be altered. Very often, they will accommodate the change without penalty.
One week later, Lorenzo and his wife, the American couple with their extended family and I joined together for dinner. Relaxed and happy, they had been joined by their children and grandchildren at a beautiful villa outside of Florence. Views of rolling hills and olive trees stretched out in the Tuscan landscape. With the help of a chef, they had prepared a gorgeous spread of Italian plates for our dinner. We toasted to friendship and laughter... to three generations, in two languages, and one story that had brought us all together.