While everyone wants their trip to be a perfect getaway, vacations rarely run so smoothly. Here's a list of 10 common travel problems, how you can avoid them, and what to do if they occur.
Solution: Before packing for your trip, check the condition of your luggage. If you have to purchase new bags, choose luggage that is lightweight and roomy, yet durable enough to withstand rough treatment. Choose material that will not sag or rip as it moves along the conveyor belt. Also be sure that each piece of your luggage has a lock, but check with the airline as to whether you should use it. New regulations permit the search of all checked and carry-on luggage, and your locks may be cut off.
Check your luggage early to ensure that your bags make it on the flight, and remove old claim checks to avoid confusing baggage handlers about your destination. Identify your luggage both inside and outside with your name, address, and telephone number. If your luggage is lost, report it immediately to the airline.
One quick backup plan: Take a small carry-on with a few necessary pieces. (Avoid carrying things like nail clippers and other prohibited items in your carry-on, as they will be confiscated when you go through security.) If you are going to a beach, a bathing suit would be a good choice. Lost luggage often shows up a day or two later.
Solution: While there's nothing you can do to keep your flight from being delayed or canceled, you can minimize the difficulties that result from this change of plans.
Call the airline several days prior to your scheduled departure to make sure there haven't been any changes to the flight schedule. Contact them again before leaving for the airport to find out about any delays or last-minute flight cancellations. If you have a cell phone, carry it with you at the airport. If your flight is canceled at the last moment, you're only a phone call away from the assistance of a travel agent or another airline.
Solution: Check in at least one hour prior to departure, or two hours prior, depending on security issues or if you're traveling during the holidays. Airlines routinely overbook planes, assuming that not everyone with a ticket will show up. When everyone does, the airline asks for volunteers to give up their seats. If there are not enough volunteers, the airline chooses, usually bumping passengers who checked in late and those flying on discounted tickets first. So get to the gate, and check in as early as possible.
To further minimize your chances of getting bumped, try to book your flights at least three months in advance, or six months in advance for holiday travel.
Finally, request a seat assignment when you book your flight. This will decrease your risk of being bumped from an overbooked flight.
Solution: Just as airlines do, some hotels will overbook. Be sure to guarantee your reservation with a credit card -- it's the best way to ensure you'll have a room. Call the hotel several days before your scheduled arrival to confirm your reservation, and always alert the hotel if you will be arriving later than you first expected. If all the rooms are full when you arrive, your hotel should assist in setting up accommodations for you elsewhere at no extra cost.
Solution: Bring enough money in traveler's checks to cover your day-to-day expenses and record the serial numbers, denominations, and date and location of the issuing agency. Lost or stolen checks can usually be replaced within 24 hours.
Carry one or two credit cards apart from the rest of your cash. And always carry your money with you on public transportation -- even when you get up for a glass of water or go to the bathroom.
Remove all unnecessary credit cards from your wallet. Be sure to carry your credit card company's telephone number in case your card is lost or stolen.
Solution: If your flight is delayed or canceled, you will probably not make it to your rental car office at your scheduled pick-up time. If you don't arrive within a few hours, they may assume that you're not coming, and give your reserved car to someone else.
When you book your rental car, give them your flight information, so that they can inquire about delays if you're running late. Always get a confirmation number when making your reservation, and be sure to carry the local office phone number with you so you can call and inform them of your new scheduled arrival time.
Solution: There are many reasons why someone can get sick on their trip. For some, it may just be motion sickness or a common virus. If you have a history of motion sickness, try to sit in the front seat of the car and avoid reading, which can exacerbate feelings of dizziness and nausea. When flying, try to sit near the wing of the plane. Ear plugs and over-the-counter medication may also reduce symptoms. Be prepared for a cold or the flu by bringing aspirin, decongestant, and a nondrowsy reliever.
If you're traveling overseas, your illness may be more serious, stemming from drinking contaminated water or contracting a disease. If you're planning an overseas vacation, visit your doctor several weeks before your departure to get any necessary immunizations. Also make sure that you're aware of what is possible so you can be alert to symptoms.
Before you leave on any vacation, call your insurance company to find out what coverage you have at your destination. When you leave for your trip, carry your insurance card and your family doctor's contact number with you at all times. Also keep any pertinent information, such as allergies or medications you may be on with your ID. If you start to feel ill, contact your doctor immediately.
Solution: Visit your local bookstore to get a compact book of language translation, and keep it with you at all times. Before you depart, learn the essential words of the language, such as "please" and "thank you." Also learn the words for common foods so you'll know what you're ordering. Other helpful terms to learn include "Where is the bathroom?" and "How much does this cost?" Remember, however, that English is spoken by many people throughout the world, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find someone to translate.
Solution: If you're unsure whether a passport is required to reach your destination, find out through your airline or the U.S. Department of State. If a passport is necessary, make sure that you have a valid and current passport several months before your scheduled departure. If you get caught short, the State Department will issue one on the spot, but you need an original birth certificate and your airline tickets to prove your need for expedited service. You can get your passport expedited, but this is a costly and there is no guarantee you'll get it in time.
Also carry a photocopy of your passport on your trip in case yours is lost or stolen. If you do lose your passport, promptly call the nearest embassy or consulate and the local police.
Before leaving for your trip, learn about the items and value of items that you're allowed to bring through customs when returning from your destination. Keep receipts for all of your vacation purchases to show customs officials. Be aware that many foreign manufactured medications are not FDA-approved and, consequently, cannot be brought into the U.S. If you feel a duty is incorrect, you can appeal the assessment with the U.S. Customs Service.
Solution: While you don't have control of the weather, you can plan your trip around it. Before scheduling your trip, find out about the expected weather conditions at your destination. Be aware that weather may cancel a flight or alter the locations where your cruise will dock. As much as you can, schedule trips to avoid bad weather seasons.
Even if no bad weather is forecast, be prepared for the worst. Pack an umbrella and bring clothes for warmer- and cooler-than-normal temperatures. Before leaving on your trip, make a list of indoor activities as a contingency plan should bad weather arise.
Sources: American Society of Travel Agents; Fodors.com; Travelocity.com; U.S. Customs Service; with additional reporting by Stephanie Jones Wagle, July 28, 2004.