What to do when a trip doesn’t go as planned: 4 tips for travel hiccups
Living and studying abroad is a wonderful experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Of course, as with any experience worth having, sometimes things go differently than you’d planned.
While these moments may be annoying, in the end everything that happens on the road becomes a part of your story. And that, intrepid traveler, is the point of going overseas in the first place! Here are four travel hiccups and our top tips for dealing with them.
1. The airline mislaid your baggage
First thing’s first: make your way to the baggage claim counter. The staff there will ask to see your checked luggage claim tags. Go ahead and show them. (This is usually a little sticker that you received when checking in. Look at your boarding pass – often the check-in staff will stick it there for safe-keeping.) The baggage claim attendant will look up the flight you were on and check if your baggage went with you – often, “lost” luggage is simply delayed, or put on a later flight.
They’ll most likely ask for an address (give your homestay, accommodation, or school’s address) to send your bags on to. If not, they will tell you the procedure for collecting your delayed baggage. For peace of mind it’s a good idea to ask them to file a report and give you a hard copy. This way, you have an information paper trail and won’t have to rely on your memory to keep track of the next steps to follow!
While packing your bags, tie a scarf, ribbon, or colorful label on it to easily distinguish your baggage later.
Don’t keep your laptop, iPad, camera, or other expensive items in your checked luggage.
Store your boarding pass, travel insurance information, and baggage claim tickets together in a safe place; such as a small plastic folder or wallet (the type your travel agent gives you).
Take a photo of your baggage to show airport staff if necessary. (This is far more effective than trying to describe a “black, medium-sized backpack,” just like thousands of others!).
2. Your missed your flight
First thing’s first: go to the airport anyway, even if it’s clear you won’t make it in time. Sometimes events are beyond your control – like if an airport-bound subway train experiences a major delay or a traffic accident blocks the road. If this is your situation, ask airport staff about the “flat tire rule” (sometimes called the “two-hour rule”). While not a formal rule, the idea is that the airline will passengers fly standby, at no extra charge, if their arrival was impaired by circumstances beyond their control. Unfortunately, budget airlines won’t observe this practice, and the “rule” itself is unwritten – but it is worth asking about.
Missed international flights – unless caused by the airline itself – are a different ballgame. In this case you will usually have to pay a “change fee” to be put on a later flight. However annoying this may be, breathe. If you want to travel internationally regularly, at some point this may happen. So, welcome to the club!
Book onward domestic and international flights with associated airlines (such as Oneworld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance). When a missed flight is the fault of an airline (like when an airplane experiences technical difficulties, which subsequently prevents you from catching an onward flight), it’s their responsibility to put you on a later flight.
Read your travel insurance policy carefully. If you wish, consider choosing one that will support you in the event of a missed international flight.
Budget for the event of a missed flight by having “change fee money” set aside on your card in USD. If you need it you won’t have to make emergency calls home for cash.
Treat airline staff with respect. They’re human beings as well and your politeness can go a long way to avoiding additional emotional – and sometimes financial – stress.
3. You feel nervous when speaking
Nerves are normal and even an expected part about learning a language overseas. So if they come – relax! Know you’ll soon become used to your surroundings, make friends, and feel more comfortable speaking your new language. Everyone who has ever learned another language has experienced a moment when they felt unsure about their abilities and whether or not they would ever just “get it”. The good news is that if you approach your learning calmly, with curiosity, a willingness to work hard, and a good dose of humor, you’ll be more than fine.
Remember that feeling nervous is totally normal – speaking will become easier with time! The adage “practice makes perfect” could never be more true.
Say “yes” to opportunities to meet new people. Group activities are great, as you can choose to talk one-or-one or with several people depending on your mood.
Remember that hiking, ten pin bowling, strolling through the city, swimming, visiting an art gallery, going to a concert – or any other social activity where your mind and body are both occupied – are excellent ways to meet people and relax into speaking. Something magical happens when your hands are occupied or you’re exercising, that helps switch off the critical voice in your mind.
Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend. You would never laugh at a friend’s efforts to learn a new language – so why be so hard on yourself?
4. You’re lost in your new city
Excellent! Getting lost is one of the most important parts of your trip (no, seriously – we mean it). Being abroad will give you endless opportunities to grow and get out of your comfort zone – and this one is no different.
Download the apps your city’s public transport department has, and use them to understand the public transport routes you’ll be using.
Carry a public transportation map in your bag. On it, mark your preferred route home and to school, plus note down alternative buses and train lines that will get you to where you need to be.
If lost, head to a coffee shop, bookstore, convenience store, tourist center, or similar landmark. Ask for help there and show them your map to illustrate where you need to go. Don’t be nervous about asking people to repeat themselves. Remember, people love helping others navigate their city.
Think of these moments as language-learning bonuses for extra points! You’ll be practicing speaking in real time with locals – nothing is better to improve fluency and boost your confidence.
If you have time and feel comfortable, hang out – this could be a great little corner of your new city. You might find your new favorite coffee shop, plaza, gallery, park, or store around the corner.
There’s no reason to suspect these things will happen to you. But if they do – or a friend experiences a similar situation – these tips will help you feel relaxed and ready to react. Happy traveling!