Your Comprehensive Guide to Handling Any Travel Dilemma
Experts advise what to do in the event of missed flights, overbooked hotels, or a lost passport.
Ideally, traveling is both a fun and relaxing experience. In reality, with so many plans and logistics involved, there's an opportunity for things to go wrong. Most of us know what it's like to miss a flight thanks to an endlessly long security line, miss a connecting flight despite sprinting through the airport, or lose your luggage for a few days. And, if you travel frequently, you've probably experienced a lot of other smaller inconveniences that felt major at the time, too. The best thing to do is to deal with any travel dilemmas as quickly and efficiently as you can, and then move on and enjoy your trip.
Here's how to deal with some of the most common problems travelers run into, according to people who have been there before
You missed your flight.
"This has happened an embarrassing amount of times to me," says Kristin Addis, travel blogger at Be My Travel Muse. Your options in this situation really depend on the airline you're booked with and its policies. For example, if you miss a connection because your first leg was delayed, and your next flight is with the same airline, they will rebook you. If you miss a flight and it's totally your fault—say, your alarm just didn't go off in time to make that 6 a.m. departure time—you might get lucky. "The best thing you can do is contact the airline, or whoever you booked through, as soon as possible to see what their policies are," suggests Addis. "Recently, I was able to get a $1,000 flight refunded minus a $150 fee at the last minute just by calling them as soon as it happened."
Most low-cost carriers won't be so understanding, though. If you have trip cancellation insurance through a credit card—a lot of travel credit cards offer this if you use them to book your trip—or you paid for travel insurance, you may be able to get reimbursed that way.
The hotel is overbooked.
Yes, it can happen. Here's why: "Hotels will often 'over-sell' their rooms to account for last minute cancellations and guests who simply don't show up—even though they have a reservation," explains Natalie Bogan, complex general manager for The Gregory Hotel and The Renwick. "On occasion, all guests do show up and/or there are no late cancellations and hotels are caught in what we call a 'walk situation,' which means we need to send guests to a nearby hotel." Bogan says they always try to let guests know this before they even arrive, if possible. If this happens to you, your hotel might make it really easy—Bogan says they take care of billing, often offer a discount, and pay to transport the guest to the new hotel. That's not always going to be the case, though, and it will depend largely on each hotel's policies and customer service.
You get sick.
Unfortunately, there's not much you can do ahead of time in order to avoid getting sick on vacation, but it's still a huge letdown when it happens. If you wake up feeling unwell, Addis suggests asking at the hotel if they can suggest a doctor or medical clinic—they may have a list of helpful resources. If you're outside of the country, the best way to find reliable medical care is on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate in the locale you're visiting (you can search for that here). Each individual embassy maintains a list of local hospitals and doctors. Save any receipts from doctor or hospital visits, and if you have travel insurance, submit them after to see if you can get reimbursed. Luckily, Addis says, barring any emergencies, it often ends up being much cheaper to get medical care in countries outside of the U.S.
The hotel is not at all what you expected.
Reading online reviews can be really helpful when you're trying to decide which hotel to book. Even so, not everything ends up as it seems online—even if 250 people gave it an "excellent" rating. "When it comes to size, view, décor, location, and noise level, there are many ways to feel disappointed if your hotel room is not as expected," says Julia Dimon, a family travel expert and author of Travel Junkie: A Badass Guide to Solo Female Travel. "In cases like this, I would recommend going to the front desk and bringing up your issues or concerns with hotel staff, specifically the general manager. Ideally, they will move you to another room." If the hotel is 100 percent booked, ask the manager (nicely) if they're able to give you something to make your stay more enjoyable, like a free meal at the restaurant or a discount on the room. "Kindness goes a long way, so be courteous as you voice your complaint," Dimon adds. Gabe Saglie, travel expert and senior editor at Travelzoo, also suggests keeping your reservation confirmation handy so you can easily compare what you booked with what you got. "Unless a property is sold out, most quality hotels will try to help," he adds.
The language barrier is bigger than you anticipated.
The Google Translate app is your best friend when traveling to a country where you don't speak the language. You can enter a sentence, choose the language to translate to, and it will say the sentence out loud in the language you picked—this makes it possible to have a conversation with someone else if you need to. It's also always a good idea to learn some basic words and phrases in the language of the country you're visiting. "In South America, for example, it's rare in small towns to find someone who speaks English, so I've learned a lot of Spanish on-the-go," Saglie says. "Learn some of their language and at least show them you're trying."
If you're staying at a hotel, ask English-speaking staff to write down any important information you will need for your day trip, says Dimon, "like the exact location of your hotel and directions to get there, so that you can show local taxi drivers upon return."
The rental car you booked isn't available when you arrive.
If you arrive at the rental car location and the type of car you reserved isn't available, Saglie suggests requesting an upgrade (again, calmly and as nicely as possible) at no extra cost. "If there are only cars available at a lower class than you reserved, ask for a cheaper rate. If the specialized car you reserved isn't available—a mini van for a family of seven, for example, where simply swapping it for a sedan that seats five won't do—request that the rental company either get you to your destination at their cost via cab or ride-share and to deliver your car to you when it does become available," says Saglie. If they really can’t help you, try reserving a new car through a competitor and asking the original company to reimburse you for any rate difference and help you to the new rental location.
Saglie notes that you may need to be prepared to "flex a little consumer muscle" depending on your experience. "I've never seen the caliber of the customer service experience vary so widely as it can from one rental car location to the other," Saglie says. "I've also seen car rental companies, especially at small off-airport locations, simply tell people with reservations that they're sold out, with zero effort to help ameliorate the situation." If it feels necessary, don't be afraid to write or call headquarters, or use social media to your advantage.
Your luggage gets lost in transit.
If you're checking a bag, make sure to do two things: First, always pack essential things you can't live without or easily replace in your carry-on; secondly, hold onto that stub the clerk gives you when you check in. You may need it later if your bag doesn't show up at your destination. Once you realize your bag isn't coming—either the baggage claim turnstile stops, or you get an alert on the airline app that your bag is somewhere else—book it to the baggage office. Representatives should be able to track where your bag is and let you know when it is due to arrive. You can then either wait, if it won't be too long, or give them an address (your hotel, home, or wherever you'll be) to send it to you. Sometimes, it can take a few days; other times, it'll come within just a few hours.
Saglie suggests asking the baggage team if they offer amenities to tide you over. "Some airlines will give you a kit with things like toothbrushes," he says. You may also be able to get some basic toiletries at your hotel. If you have to buy new things to tide you over until your luggage arrives, save the receipts. Dimon says she's had to do this before, and was able to get a little money back from her credit card, which comes with built-in baggage delay insurance. (Just make sure you read the terms of your card—you likely have to buy both the flight and the new things with said card to reap the benefits.) Airlines also are responsible for covering a certain amount of "reasonable and verifiable" expenses incurred as a result of misplaced luggage, so you'll need those receipts for that, too.
You lost your passport.
Before you depart for your trip, you should make a hard-copy of your entire passport and put it in a separate place than your actual passport. Also, take a picture with your phone of the pages with your photo and passport number so that you have it easily accessible, says Dawn McCarthy, on-air lifestyle expert and frequent flier. "In many cases, with just having this information, you can go to a U.S. embassy or passport office, and they can help you," she says, from personal experience. Whenever you can, keep your passport in a safe place—like, locked in the safe in your hotel room—instead of carrying it around with you every day. If you have it in your purse or backpack, there's a greater chance it could get stolen or you'll misplace it.
If you find yourself without your passport, the U.S. Department of State says to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Make sure to report the passport as stolen, and ask them what you need to do to get a new one. McCarthy also suggests leaning on the hotel concierge for help. "I have always found the hotel is the best place to start and recommend next steps to get you back on your way home," she says. You can search for the U.S. embassy or consulate closest to you on the U.S. Department of State website.