Trip Cut Short by Family Emergency
Sticky Scenario: An emergency at home means you need to cut travel plans short and return immediately.
What to Do: If you have travel insurance, some of your change and cancellation expenses may be covered, but it depends on both the type of travel insurance you've purchased and the nature of the emergency.
If you don't have travel insurance, you may still be able to get some of your flight change fees waived by calling the airline and explaining the situation. Be aware that airlines may require that you follow up with documentation in order to receive the discount.
As soon as it becomes clear that you have to change your flight, get online and make a note of flights that work for you. Then call the airline, explain the situation, and see if you can change your flight to one of your preferred options. Depending on how fast you need to get back, the best option may be to head to the airport and see if the check-in agent can confirm a standby seat or get you on a standby list.
Hotels are unlikely to offer a refund for prepaid nights, but you might be able to negotiate rebooking at a later date for no charge. In the end, you may have to just make your peace with losing some money on the interrupted vacation.
Silver Lining: There's nothing like a family emergency to put losing some money in perspective.