Even if you're extra careful, wallets and passports can get lost or stolen when you're traveling. So, what should you do if your ID goes missing? Act fast. Allow time to get the replacement process rolling, but not for stolen information to be used against you. There are a handful of things you can do ahead of time to make the process (somewhat) less stressful.
Here are the steps you should take—before and after your trip, should you need to.
If You Lose Your ID in the U.S.
If you're an American citizen and your driver's license or photo ID card is lost or stolen while you're in the US:
File a local police report immediately. This creates a paper trail and pinpoints the loss at a specific time and place.
Get to the airport early. Airlines handle lost IDs on a case-by-case basis when it comes to issuing boarding passes to someone without proper identification. Show up early to allow a security interview and, hopefully, avoid having to pay extra for a later flight.
Purchase round-trip airfare with a credit card. Credit card charges can be easily traced by the airline and a boarding pass for your return flight is often enough to convince security agents that you had your ID when you flew out. One-way tickets may prove more of a problem.
Show any unofficial ID. If you're traveling with family who share your last name, their presence is a form of proof, along with credit cards, business cards, family photos. The Transportation Security Administration website states that passengers are required to show a U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID in order to pass through the checkpoint and onto their flight.
The TSA adds this qualifier: "We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won't be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone's identity, like using publicly available databases."
If You Lose Your ID Abroad
Losing your ID (passport, photo ID) outside the US complicates the process a bit, but most countries have a system in place to help tourists with this common problem.
Bring proof of identity. A major problem caused by losing your ID is proving who you are. Make copies of your passport and birth certificate before you take off and leave them with someone you trust. Pack another copy separate from your passport, along with the address of consulates where you'll be traveling. Keep this information stored in the cloud as well, so you can access it via computer or mobile device. Emailing it to yourself is the easiest way to do that.
Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free online service offered on the website for the U.S. Department of State that will make it easier to get help during a crisis while traveling.
Contact the nearest US consulate or embassy. A hotel's front desk or the local visitors center should be able to help with this. If you have access to the Internet, the Department of State (DOS) website lists contact information for consulates around the world. You can also call the DOS Overseas Citizens Service (202-501-4444 from overseas). Be prepared to supply contacts for folks back home who can identify you and provide a copy of your passport and birth certificate.
Replace your passport. Once your identity has been verified, you'll have to fill out a new passport application and file an affidavit. If you believe your passport was stolen, file a local police report. Replacing a passport costs at least $85 but will be valid for the usual 10 years. If there's no time to wait, the DOS will likely issue a conditional passport to get you back into the U.S., where you can provide proper documentation.
If You Lose a Credit Card
Don't panic. I've had credit cards stolen or hacked while traveling abroad, and in more than once instance, card issuers noticed suspicious activity before I did. They often even rescinded all bogus charges after they checked to make sure I hadn't made them myself. However, if you notice a credit or ATM card is missing, and especially if you know it was stolen, be prepared to notify the bank or card issuer quickly to nip disaster in the bud.
Look into your credit card's travel insurance. You'll want to do this before you leave home. Visa Signature, World MasterCard, and American Express offer traveler's insurance as a free member benefit, including help with identity theft.
Report a lost or stolen card. The moment you realize it's missing is the time to notify your card issuer or bank. Your credit card has a special contact number for reporting lost or stolen cards. It's easy to find online but not a bad idea to bring a copy and email another to yourself along with your passport info.
Research your card's replacement policy. Before you go, find out what the policies are if you were to need a replacement card. If it was issued by American Express or a major bank like Citi or Chase, they may have branches where you're traveling. Just in case, bring contact information with you. All banks will allow you to call collect from abroad and provide a replacement card if yours is lost or stolen.
Fodors.com contributor Cathleen McCarthy is the rewards expert for CreditCards.com and covers entertainment and travel deals on her own network, Save on Cities. Her stories have appeared in The Washington Post, WSJ, Amtrak ARRIVE, Town & Country, and inflight magazines.