16 Tips for Avoiding an Epic Travel Fail
by Team Fathom
You pack your bags, rush to the airport, head to your gate, find out about a delay .... and promptly lose your sh*t.
Yup, sh*t happens. And it's a double shame when it happens on your precious holiday time. But there are pre-trip actions and mid-trip reactions that can help facilitate a smoother, safer getaway.
1. Identify yourself.
Make hard copies of your passport, itinerary, prescriptions, and important phone numbers. Keep a set at home, email a set to your parents/BFF/boss, and bring a set with you. Enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to make it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest consulate to contact you in an emergency.
2. Get mail.
The U.S. State Department provides country-specific information for every country in the world. They issue travel warnings and short-term travel alerts to let you know about massive strikes, viral outbreaks, and terrorist attacks. Set up a Google alert with your destination to be aware of any crisis in the news. Sign up for text alerts from the airline on which you'll be flying.
3. Say hello, nurse.
Prepare a mini first-aid kit tailored to your destination. Get your vaccines, pack your Band-Aids, and stock a small amount of meds and vitamins for just-in-case moments. See how we pack our first aid kit. Carry copies of prescriptions where applicable and be sure not to carry illegal medicine to your destination (i.e. codeine is illegal in Dubai).
4. Claim your baggage.
Clearly label your luggage and make sure it's tagged by the airline before you check it. A copy of your itinerary placed on top of your belongings inside your bag is excellent backup if your luggage tag comes off. If you need to buy time on the other side, remember that the last bags checked-in are usually the first to come off the conveyor belt. Feel like you're on packing overload? Follow our 24 tips for packing like a pro.
5. Divide to conquer.
Stash an extra set of underwear, socks, and toiletries, along with a small wad of cash in your carry-on in case your lose your luggage. While you're at it, wear comfortable (which does not mean "sloppy") clothes when you're in transit. If you have to spend the night in an airport, you don't want to be doing it in stilettos or tight jeans. If you add a small pillow and blanket, you can sleep (relatively) comfortably anywhere.
6. Make a plan B.
Think of your backup plan ahead of time. If you often travel with the same people, it's worth coming up with a few plans in case troubles arise. For example, what if you get off the subway but your pal doesn't make it in time? Does your friend wait for you at the next stop or come back to find you? When traveling with kids, make a disaster plan with two meeting places in case of an emergency.
7. Pack snacks and games.
Do or one of your travel companions get hungry or hangry? Quell those growling stomachs with food items that travel well: protein bars, nuts, crackers, trail mix, candy. You never know when you'll be lost on the road, stuck on the tarmac, or show up after room service stops serving. Toss a deck of cards or Bananagrams into your bag for when you have lots of downtime.
You never know when you'll be stuck without a power outlet or the right adapter. Relieve the stress by having back-up chargers or batteries for phones, cameras, and everything else you consider essential to keeping you sane.
9. Make friends.
You have 900 LinkedIn connections, 500 Twitter followers, and 1,000 Facebook friends. Surely, there's only three degrees of separation between you and a local in the destination where you're visiting. Get in touch and get the scoop on local customs, habits, and news so that you're more in tune with what's going on around you.
10. Utilize public/private spaces.
If you're in a foreign city and want to use a clean bathroom or rest your feet, hotel lobbies can be very welcoming and anonymous places. In case of an emergency, front desks are most likely to have an English-speaking staff that's well-informed about the area. Public libraries are a nice place to take a quick snooze, use free internet, or source information.
11. Map it out.
While you're waiting at the airport/train station/ferry stop, make a quick note of where the major hospital, embassy, and banks are located on a physical map or on your phone. Download apps like Uber, Hailo, and Google Translate to make your life easier. Peruse our Tools page for more ideas.
12. Change your clock.
You are traveling to expand your horizons. So stop yourself from nitpicking when the level of service or pace of life get on your nerves. Get on the time schedule of the locals and you'll be able to roll with the punches.
13. Get insured.
Before your next trip (meaning: before your flight is delayed or you get robbed, or whatever), call your credit card company. Many of them will offer lost luggage insurance, and cough up a couple hundred bucks or so per day for lodging, food, and other expenses when you are stranded. As boring as it may be, make sure you read the fine print and legalese so you know what to expect. Read more tips on how credit cards can help you travel.
14. Chase the storm.
Most people do not like to see words like "hurricane" or "tsunami" peppered in with their travel itineraries. But chasing the storm — planning a trip to a location that has recently experienced a natural disaster — can save you money and help revive a local economy. Here's how to do it carefully.
15. Stay calm.
When your flight is cancelled, you missed the connecting train to get you to the wedding, and the hotel lost your luggage, panic is a natural first reaction, followed closely by anger. Try to keep your cool. The people who can help you out of your pickle won't be as happy to help you if you're freaking out and yelling at them.
16. Hone your story.
One day, this will make a very good/funny/compelling/cringe-inducing story at a cocktail party. The travel fiascos of today are the entertaining anecdotes of tomorrow.