This summer, I was able to cross off one of the biggest items on my bucket list. I studied abroad in Italy! In the midst of spending my summer strolling around piazzas at sunset, eating more calories than my workout routine could burn and adoring the masterpieces from Michelangelo and Botticelli, I was robbed. Yep, robbed. My wallet was stolen while I was attempting to recreate the iconic photo of Audrey Hepburn eating gelato in front of the Spanish Steps. My dreamy study abroad trip quickly turned into a nightmare when I realized that my wallet was lost in a foreign country. Here's what you need to know about handling an emergency while you're abroad.
1. Don't panic
Counter to my advice, when I realized that my wallet was stolen, my first instinct was to panic. My heart was pounding and my mind was racing — all I wanted to do was cry. Luckily, I didn't cave into the panic attack I felt creeping up. Instead, I immediately told my friends about my wallet, and we started to retrace my steps. I went back to the gelato place and told the owners (in broken Italian) that I had lost my wallet, circled the Spanish Steps at least ten times and stared down every person on those steps to see if I could find my wallet. If something similar happens to you, immediately tell the people you're with and ask them about the last time they saw your missing item. If no one can explain what happened, take a deep breath and spring into action.
2. Call your emergency contact
If one of your belongings is stolen while in the middle of a foreign country, the next thing you should do is call a family member or a loved one and let them know about your situation. In my case, I called my parents and quickly let them know my wallet was stolen. I had them drain my bank accounts of every last penny and lock my credit and debit cards. In addition to calling someone back home, call someone who's in charge of your trip. I contacted my team leader, trip coordinator and the Italian-based travel agency that we used for our trip. Calling each of those people was essential to figuring out what my next steps were.
3. Accept help from your friends
In the event that an emergency does happen while you're on the trip of a lifetime, the chances that your travel buddies will want to help you are very high. After realizing I couldn't pull up a map of Rome on my phone because of limited cellular data, I quickly asked my friend if I could use her iPhone as a hotspot. While I was using her data to figure out where the nearest police station was, I asked another friend to circle the area one more time to see if she could find my wallet. Another friend found a police officer before my map of Rome could load, and he was able to tell us where we could find the nearest police station. I used another friend's phone to call my family and update them on the situation after the initial phone call. Because I had three girls with me, I was able to accomplish so much more than I could have accomplished without them. We were able to resolve the issue to the best of our abilities an hour of the incident.
4. File a police report
When I finally arrived at the police station, I was informed that I needed to fill out a police report. I initially hesitated because I didn't have faith that anyone was going to return my wallet. After all, Trip Advisor rates Rome as the second-most pick-pocketed city in the world. When I expressed my concerns to the officer, he advised that I still fill out the forms so that there was written documentation that the incident occurred. I was able to fill out a detailed form describing what exactly was stolen and where I could be contacted if my belongings were found. Once I came back to America, I needed to get a new driver's license and social security card. I was able to waive fees for both items because I had the police report describing the incident. Needless to say, I'm so grateful that the Italian police had the foresight that I didn't have at the time.
5. Don't let it ruin your trip
This step is definitely the most difficult. After filling out the police report and trekking a few miles back to my hotel, I finally cried. I called my parents again and cried my heart out about how upset and scared I was about not having any money, any form of identification or the will to enjoy the rest of my trip. After sobbing for two hours, I realized that I couldn't let this bump in the road get in the way of me enjoying the rest of my trip. I only had two more days in Italy before I flew back to America, and I knew I needed to wipe off my streaky mascara and get back to enjoying my life. Despite feeling panicked, I ended up spending the rest of my time in Rome going to the Vatican and taking photos around the city that I'll never forget. After all – who would prefer to stay indoors crying while photos of the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain are waiting to be taken?
Though trips abroad are always advertised as the best time of your life, there is no guarantee that an incident like this won’t pop up. I can confidently say that my trip to Italy was the best experience of my life thus far. I was able to relax during a gondola ride in Venice, sample wine straight from the Tuscan vineyards of Chianti, and experience another culture in a completely immersive way. The faculty and staff who accompanied me on my trip were incredibly knowledgeable and equipped to help me work my way through my emergency situation. If you're planning to study abroad, please exercise extreme caution when it comes to your safety.
Above all else, don't panic if something happens to you — it happens to even the most seasoned travelers. Safe travels!