Picture of couple shopping for jewelry in China

Keep your wits about you in tourist markets, where you could be a target for scammers or pickpockets.

Photograph by Antonio Mo, Getty Images

By Christopher Elliott

You can’t safeguard against every travel upset. But what’s the worst move travelers make? They leave home unprepared, says Alex Puig of International SOS, a U.S. company offering emergency evacuations. Here’s a primer on how to bounce back gracefully from a trip gone awry.

I’ve Been Robbed

One recent survey named Barcelona as the top pickpocketing destination, followed by Rome, Prague, and Madrid. Regardless of your locale, always watch your things when in a new place. Carry a throwaway wallet or decoy purse containing daily cash and old photos but nothing that would make you hesitate to hand it over in a holdup. Keep a credit card and cash in an inside pocket.

1. Hand over the fake wallet.

2. Notify the police.

My Passport’s Gone

When it comes to your most important carry-on—your passport—practice triple redundancy: Keep a color copy in a safe place (such as your hotel room), leave a copy with someone trusted at home, and scan a copy as an electronic document and store it in “the cloud” (try DropBox or Google’s Drive). Copies of the passport ID page, airline tickets, driver’s license, and credit cards can also help verify your identity.

1. Contact your embassy or consulate immediately.

2. Alert your airline and travel insurance company if you need to change your travel plans.

Credit Card: Denied

Your American credit card may lack a microchip used for security internationally, or your credit card company may cut you off due to its fraud-detection system. Before leaving home, let your credit card company know of your travel plans to ensure the fraud algorithm doesn’t shut down your spending power. While you’re at it, ask your bank about getting a card with a microchip and PIN number, the type accepted in places such as Europe. In 2013, most major U.S. credit card companies are moving to a “smart card” system—cards with a microchip and signature.

1. Call the international toll-free number on your credit card.

2. Switch to debit or cash.

Is That a Riot Ahead?

It may be tempting to lose yourself in a demonstration—especially if it’s newsworthy—but resist the urge and avoid the vicinity of strikes, protests, and mobs.

1. Leave the area of the riot as quickly as possible.

2. Do not take photos. A foray into photojournalism could place you in more danger.

3. Return to your hotel. Or go to the nearest embassy or consulate. If the violence spreads, leave the country.

Scammed

From iffy time-shares sold to resort guests to that “special” offer on Thai jewelry, scams have long lured distracted travelers. Beware of pitches made in places frequented by tourists, such as famous landmarks, airports, and train stations.

1. Notify the police.

2. If you used a credit card, dispute the charge.

3. Report the scam online (Facebook, Twitter) to warn others and put the scammers on notice.

When Natural Disaster Strikes

If you’re staying where a disaster such as a tsunami is a possibility, get familiar with warning signs, such as the sirens that warn of an approaching wave.

1. Heed any official warnings.

2. Ask before acting; it may be smarter to stay put than to evacuate (such as during a hurricane, when seeking shelter is often wiser than trying to outrun the storm).

3. Leave the area as soon as it’s safe to travel.

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