This weekend is Labor Day, and for many of us, that means travel. Personally, I've just come back from the worst holiday in my life — and
that’s a hard-won accolade. It had everything from broken buses to broken
bones, with virtually every other conceivable misfortune thrown in (and a few that were inconceivable too). As a veritable connoisseur of holiday
disasters, I can now give some experienced advice on how to escape, avoid, or
work through travel nightmares.
My qualifications are lifelong: My family attracts bad luck on vacations. There was the time when we got
on the wrong train and ended up, not in Milan, but in a potato field. There was
the skiing accident where my mum nearly severed her bottom lip. There was the illness in midair that meant our plane nearly had to perform an emergency landing in
Arizona. (They really do say "Is there a doctor on the plane?" into the announcement system, by the way.)
A lot of these fixes involve a bit of effort, but don’t worry — I’m not advocating carting four suitcases and an entourage wherever you go, Victorian aristocracy-style. (Unless that's your jam, in which case, you do you.) Here's how to deal with just about every travel disaster, especially if you're planning on traveling abroad.
Also always carry cash on you — if you have to get onto another mode of transport at short notice, you don't want to be fumbling for payment — and write down the number of your airline's desk before you leave. If you're only running a little late, they might appreciate the advance notice and give you advice on how to rush through security, and if you're going to miss your flight, you can ask for info on what to do to get on a later one.
My beloved teddy bear, who travels with me everywhere (I am 26 and married and you can take your judgment elsewhere), now smells distressingly of aloe vera. Here's my advice: Wrap and seal all potential leakage risks in plastic bags.
Always pack toiletries and a change of clothes in your carry-on luggage in case your luggage is diverted or misplaced. (You don't want to spend your first day abroad buying underpants.) Keep hold of your luggage receipt for anything you checked in, and if your luggage has been lost, don't wait to see if it turns up — notify the airline immediately.
And this is the big one: Always, always have travel insurance. I know it's a hassle and seems expensive, but seriously, you will be grateful if disaster strikes.
Cancellations and missed flights
Again, travel insurance is a big deal here, but the best way to cope with this kind of disaster is to talk to your airline. If it's their fault, they're obligated under law to compensate you in some way, perhaps by putting you on another flight or putting you up in a hotel overnight. Know your rights before you fly, as they differ from country to country. The EU, for instance, has laws requiring you to be compensated if the flight's not canceled because of weather. Good to know.
Also keep all the numbers and emails of your hotels handy. If you're going to be late, notifying them is key if you want to avoid being charged.
You've arrived, you've collapsed, and now the neighbors are watching a Spanish telenovela till five in the morning and jetlag is kicking your butt.
Nobody has any excuse to be sunburned any more, but if you're like me and manage to get second-degree burns anyway, here's how to deal:
My holiday experience included a charming period with no running water (burst pipe). If this happens to you, first curse the gods, then buy some wet wipes. They're brilliant, but do not use them on intimate areas (they can give you a yeast infection).
Fights with friends
This one sucks, but if you're traveling with friends or a partner and suddenly a schism forms, you need to do something about it — and fast. If one of you wants to go to the pool and the other wants museums, go your separate ways for a day: Remember, you don't need to do everything together.
It happens. People get ill, have accidents, or in my host's case, fall over spectacularly at 6 a.m. and require stitches in their face. (He's fine. Mostly.) Don't lug a hospital's worth of drugs around with you just in case, but remember to carry the prescriptions for any meds you're taking, in their original packaging if possible, and look up the specific rules if you're going abroad. (Japan, for instance, requires diabetics to get prior permission from the Japanese Embassy before they can bring in insulin.)
Maybe your phone isn't working all the sudden because it wanted a vacation too. If anything essential is battery-powered, pack replacement batteries, and don't wait till you get to your destination to buy a plug converter (they'll be more expensive at airports).
theft and loss
Anything is fair game — my favorite cashmere jumper was stolen in an airport once. So take precautions before you leave: If you're staying in a hostel, pack a padlock. Leave your passport cover at home. Customs officials hate them, and their bright colors only advertise your passport's existence.
I know it doesn't sound carefree or leisurely, but I promise: It is possible to be prepared and also relax so much you can't move.