In addition, the loss of cards, and the access to funds they represent, can be much more upsetting than usual when one is far from home.
At a time of distress, it is often difficult to remember or locate individual card numbers and their expiry dates, together with the telephone number of each bank or other financial institution that must be advised.
There is also the risk that while each loss is being reported to the separate companies, and each call is being confirmed in writing, someone could be abusing the cards.
But some peace of mind can be a single free telephone call away. That call can bring emergency cash, protect against fraudulent use of the missing cards, and initiate the issuing of replacements.
David Powell, an Independent reader from Bushby near Leicester, was only into the second day of a nine-week holiday from the Cape to Cairo when he was robbed at knifepoint. Mr Powell, 59, a plastics consultant, was robbed in Johannesburg. He had planned to rely heavily on his cards.
Fortunately, Mr Powell had joined Card Protection Plan through National and Provincial Building Society. Only a short time after reporting the loss, he received an interest-free pounds 750 loan in South African currency. His lost cards were cancelled and replacement ones ordered.
When you join one of the card protection schemes - at a yearly cost of pounds 6 upwards, or from pounds 8 or pounds 10 for joint membership, your personal details are stored on computer in confidence. One free call from anywhere in the world to the scheme organiser means that your card companies are notified, the present cards are cancelled and replacements are ordered.
There are three main scheme organisers and most banks have an arrangement with one of them. Credit Card Sentinel of Havant in Hampshire was established in the UK in 1986. Owned by Europ Assistance and the Data Card Corporation, it has more than 2 million cardholders. Barclays Bank and the TSB recommend it to customers.
Card Protection Plan, founded in 1980, acts for more than 1.5 million policyholders in more than 140 countries. It is recommended by Bank of Scotland, Midland Bank, Abbey National, Austin Reed, AA and the Yorkshire Bank.
Cardwise, founded six years ago, is owned by First Data Resources, an American Express subsidiary. It acts for customers of Lloyds Bank, National Westminster and Royal Bank of Scotland. Proposals to merge it with Credit Card Sentinel have been referred to the Office of Fair Trading.
In addition to registering cards and ordering replacements for those lost, the operators provide emergency cash loans: pounds 750 with the first two and pounds 500 with Cardwise. Most offer up to pounds 1,000 against the fraudulent use of cards if the loss is reported within 24 hours, including use with the personal identification number.
Emergency airline tickets can be made available through the schemes. Special identification tags and labels for luggage are supplied and many schemes offer help in locating lost baggage.
Up to pounds 100 insurance a year is available to reimburse costs incurred in replacing a driving licence or passport under some schemes, while some will give medical advice in an emergency.
It is worth asking whether the scheme covers registration of the serial numbers of valuable property such as cameras, hi-fi and televisions, as well as such documents as birth certificates, insurance policies and passports. In the event of a fire, flood or theft, this information, stored away from your home, could be useful.