Tips / Travel

Top Travel Nightmares (and How To Avoid Them)


Image: Visually

I saw this infographic on Visually about top travel nightmares and thought a) this is really cool (I’m a sucker for infographics) and b) so many of these travel nightmares can be avoided or dealt with pretty easily. So, not only am I sharing this beautiful infographic, but I’m going to share some tips and tricks to avoid and/or deal with these nightmares.

Nightmare 1: Luggage Lost

Solution 1: Don’t check your luggage.

Yes, it might seem simplistic, but it’s true. Airlines often charge more for checked bags and, especially on long haul trips with multiple layovers, your bag can be misplaced. Save yourself the hassle and time waiting at baggage claim by consolidating and packing efficiently. The 3 oz rule is a pain, but you can get around this by purchasing sample sizes of your favorite must-have products (Walgreens, WalMart and even Sephora now have extensive collections of travel sized products) or buying travel sized plastic containers and filling them with your toiletries.

On the other hand, if you absolutely must check a bag, here are some tips to mitigate the chance that you might have  delay or loss of luggage.

  • Pack essentials in your carry on: underwear, a spare shirt, medication, contact lens case and solution, etc. Then, if it’s lost, at least you have options.
  • If you’re traveling specifically for an activity, like hiking, wear your hiking boots on the plane. Spare clothes can be bought; broken in hiking boots can’t be replaced easily.
  • Do not throw away (or misplace) your luggage tag tracker slip. This information makes it much easier for the airline to find–and get you–your bag.
  • Make your luggage distinguishable and recognizable. When the airline asks for a description and you say, “it’s a black roller bag,” it’s likely you’ll get a sigh and an exasperated look in addition to your claim check.
  • Some airlines are incorporating luggage tracker elements into their apps, like with Delta. Though they won’t help you get your bag back, at least you’ll know it’s drinking a margarita in Mexico while you’re waiting in Wisconsin.  

Nightmare 2: Missing Mobile

Solution 2: Establish a checklist.

Every time you leave a location, go through your checklist. It’s a bit like learning the sign of the cross if you’re Catholic (and a guy): “Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet, and Watch.” Or, in this case, “Change (from your bill or taxi fare), Bag (if you bought something or are carrying one), Phone (just double check it’s in your pocket or bag), Companion (don’t laugh–it could happen). It seems silly, but if you’re aware of your important items, you’re less likely to leave a cafe while your companion is visiting the restroom.

Nightmare 3: Delayed Flight

Solution: Don’t fly.

It’s not really a solution, but if you don’t want to deal with a delayed flight, don’t fly. If you choose to take to the “friendly skies,” you’ll have  delayed or canceled flight at some point in your travel history. It’s inevitable, but trains and buses also have delays. Instead of eschewing air travel altogether, here are a few tips:

  • Go ugly early. If you know you’re going to have a delay, and/or a missed connection, get on the horn to the airline and figure out your options. Most airlines now have apps that can arrange this for you (they don’t want to hear you complain in person).
  • Give yourself a buffer if you have a layover. An hour is risky if you’re traveling domestically, but it can work. 1.5 hours to 2 hours is better. If you’re flying internationally, 3 or more hours is ideal. No, you don’t want to be hanging out in Detroit, but if it’s a choice between hanging out in Detroit and spending the night on a plastic seat in Mumbai, I’ll take hanging out in Detroit any day.
  • Suck it up and explore the options in your layover purgatory. You might be surprised.

Nightmare 4: Long Lines

Solution: Skip the Lines.

There are a couple of options: Clear Pass for domestic flights or Global Entry for international flights. I’m not advocating these programs–they both cost money and I’m not convinced that they’re that much faster, but if you travel often, it could be worth spending the money for the convenience.

Or, maybe easier: get there in plenty of time. Take a deck of cards or make it a goal to talk to at least one stranger in the line if you’re stuck standing there anyway. It’s worth it.

Nightmare 5: Identity Swiped

Solution: Be aware and cautious.

Honestly, this is not something that I’ve really run into before, but I believe in following your gut. If a credit card swiper or a vendor seems shady, don’t buy something there. I’ve read about RFID proof wallets and such, but I haven’t used one. I’m sorry I don’t have much advice on this one.

If you have any tips or suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Nightmare 6: Destination Disaster

Solution: Stay home.

Natural disasters are, well, natural. There’s no way to predict where or when something crazy will happen. As far as avoiding this particular nightmare, the only sure solution is staying home. However, if you still want to travel (and I hope you do), here are some tips to try to head off or deal with a natural disaster.

  • Avoid hurricane season in the Caribbean. Yes, it’s cheap and I’m a big fan of traveling cheap, but if you’re not a fan of excessive amounts of rain or hunkering down with a bunch of flashlights and a big bottle of rum, avoid it.
  • Be prepared. Buy trip insurance. Have a contingency plan. Many credit cards and travel agencies have emergency services. You’ll probably not need it, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?
  • Go anyway. True story: my family and I were set to go to Peru and visit Machu Pichu in February, 2010. I was pumped–Machu Pichu was on my short list of places to visit and it was my first trip to South America. Then, unexpectedly…a huge mudslide. You might remember this. It took out roads and the railroad, trapping locals and tourists alike for days. We could have canceled and rescheduled our trip, but we decided to go ahead. As a result, we visited the floating islands in Lake Titicaca, rode over the highest pass in the country, had a culinary tour in Lima and experienced far more of Peru than we would have been able to if we’d been concentrating on Machu Pichu.

Nightmare 7: Animal Encounters

Solution: Don’t be Dumb.

There are some things that cannot be prevented–you might as well hope to catch it on film and make a million dollars on “1001 Ways to Die.” Animals fall into this category because you can’t predict what they’ll do. However, you can take precautions to avoid–and avoid angering–predators. These precautions include:

  • Listen to your guide. You paid him or her to guide you, so you should have some confidence that they know what they’re doing. Follow their advice and stay a safe distance from the moose.
  • Remember that wild animals are, well, wild. They’re not hanging out in the sea or in the Sahara for your entertainment  You’re in their habitat. Be respectful. If you want to make faces at and generally taunt a baboon, visit the zoo.*
  • Don’t fish with bait in your pockets. And, if you go spear fishing, send your catch up the line. I mention this because of the reference to shark attacks in the infographic and I know of people who have gotten attacked because they chose to adorn themselves with tasty fish parts. Bottom line: don’t be dumb.

*Please don’t taunt the baboons at the zoo. They didn’t choose to be there and, one day, they might get lucky and go all Planet on the Apes on you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Nightmare 8: Out of Cash

Solution: Always carry a buffer. Or have great friends.

I’d like to say this has never happened to me…but it has. I was traveling in Vietnam and, instead of following my gut and hitting the ATM the night before we were supposed to get on a train, I was lazy and thought my 50,000 VND (about $2.50) would be okay until I got to the ATM in the bigger city.

Yeah…that was dumb. We rode the bus to the train station and I tried FOUR ATMs, trying to get cash, steadily getting more frustrated and upset. None of them worked. If I had been traveling alone, this would have been a serious problem. I’m sure I would have figured it out, but it probably would have involved a lot of angst and possible tears. As it was, my friends were there and had enough cash to float me. The problem was solved, but I was in a serious funk for the next eight hours as I beat myself up for being so dumb. Brian was nice enough to remind me that I had lent him money earlier in the trip for the exact same reason, but  that didn’t matter to my internal monologue.

As a result, I now always have an extra $20 – $50 worth of the local currency stashed somewhere in my pack (more if it’s a more expensive place) to tide me over in case of emergencies. I also tend to use ATMs when I find them if I’m in a place that’s cash-based. I’d rather pay the rate to convert back to dollars when I return home than be strapped for cash in a foreign country.

Nightmare 9: Passport Pilfered

Solution: Security, Duplication, Research.

Losing your passport to theft or negligence can be a frightening thing–especially if it could have been avoided. A good rule of thumb is to leave your passport in a secured location when you arrive in a destination: your hotel safe, a safebox at the front desk, etc. You really won’t need it when you’re walking around and leaving it somewhere secure will keep it from being taken by pickpockets.

If something untoward happens and you do, in fact, lose your passport, having a copy helps the process immensely. A paper copy is handy, but taking a picture of your passport and saving it to a service like Evernote or Google Drive is also helpful (as you can access it from anywhere). This will eliminate some hassle when you visit the embassy. Because you’ll have to visit the embassy.

Research before you visit a country. Find out where the Embassy for your country is located. This will give you a sense of peace when you realize that you’ll have to visit said embassy to get out of the country in which you’re currently stranded. But if you you know where it is, and perhaps have even researched the steps to get a new passport in a foreign country, you’ll decrease your stress level by at least 12.6%.

BONUS Nightmare:

This wasn’t on the infographic, but what if you get sick on a trip? There are ways to avoid this (get a prescription for Cipro, don’t eat sketchy food, etc.), but sometimes crazy things happen. I love apps, so the TravelSmart app is a great addition to your technical arsenal. Pick the country you’re visiting or currently in and you can find emergency numbers, translate first aid terms, get international names for drugs you might be taking or find a hospital.

3 thoughts on “Top Travel Nightmares (and How To Avoid Them)

  1. Awesome article! Traveling unprepared typically does not come with cheap consequences. Whether a military member or dependent making last minute arrangements or a businessman en-route to an important meeting, take a minute to read this article before taking your next flight.

  2. Great post Katie! The info graphic is awesome and we love that you gave tips and solutions to all those top issues! Thanks for sharing, we bet a lot of people found it helpful (we sure did 😉 )

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