We were driving on a country road, full of happy satisfaction after a day of touring. Suddenly, we noticed the car behind us waving us down. Thinking they were wanting to pass us, we pulled over, but they pulled over behind us and a teenage girl jumped out of her car, continuing to wave her arms wildly. As I opened the car door, I realized why they waved us down: smoke was pouring out of our back tires.
What do you do when smoke is pouring out of your rental car, in a country you don’t speak the language, without a working cell phone?
Sometimes things go wrong when you’re traveling. It sucks.
If you’re getting ready to take a trip, here’s a few easy things to do beforehand that will make the bumps in the road a bit easier to handle!
- Save everything in your phone: Even if you don’t have active cell service, take photos of important documents to keep in your phone. I often screenshot the hotel info with name, phone number and address just in case I need to access that info without wifi or data.
- Keep printed copies of important papers: This is SO IMPORTANT. Keep your rental agreement in the glove compartment of your car. You should also keep photocopies of important documents (think passports, driver’s licenses, health/travel insurance or credit cards) with you. You can’t necessarily use the copies if they’re stolen, but it may help speed along reporting them stolen or replaceming them.
- Download Google translate: Oh Google, you’re the best. Google translate is a free app that lets you put in what you need to say and translates it. When you’re connected to wifi, download the language(s) you need, then it’ll work no matter where you are. In our car breakdown, I would type my message and hand it to the French girl, who would then type her message and pass it back. Perfect when the conversation moves beyond tourist friendly topics, like car maintenance. Also helpful when the tow truck guy is giving instructions, or when lost in small towns. Pro tip: if you input what you want to say, then rotate the phone to landscape, it’ll show the translation in bigger letters. That way if your pronunciation is absolutely terrible, they can still get the message.
- Consider activating your phone for international calls: Calling your rental company is usually toll-free, but that doesn’t do you much good if your phone doesn’t work in that country. I’ve travelled both with and without phone access, and my thoughts are this: if you’re renting a car or staying in Airbnbs, its helpful to have phone access. If you’re using mass transit and staying in hostels, you can get by just fine without it. I only used it a little, but having a working phone was a lifesaver several times. My phone bill was less than $10 higher for the month I travelled. Not too bad!
- Alternately, use a prepaid phone: When I lived in Australia, I bought a prepaid cell phone. It was low-cost and low-stress, and allowed me to use my phone as much as I would in the States without worrying about crazy charges.
- Know how to contact the authorities: The equivalent of 911 varies country to country. Know what number to call in case of emergency.
Things worked out in our own little misadventure. Another car stopped (with an English speaker, no less), and they lent us their cell phone to call the rental company. The rental company sent a tow truck which came within the hour, and he checked things out and got us back on the road. While it’s not how anyone wants to spend an evening, it wasn’t the end of the world and we got back on our feet pretty quickly!
What are some other things you’d recommend for dealing with things going wrong while traveling?
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