Things don’t always go as planned when you travel, especially if you hate planning as much as I do. But even if you book your hotel or plane ticket months in advance, travel catastrophe can strike anywhere and at anytime.
I sincerely hope you don’t have to experience any of the awful travel scenarios I list here — I would much prefer to give you a laugh than a lesson!
I am happy to report that I have only ever missed two of the more than 300 flights I’ve taken in my adult life. The first of these, an American Airlines flight from Tampa to New York in 2004, was my own fault: I slept in late. The second, which occurred just this year, was a connection I missed due to a delay that was out of my control.
If you miss your flight, airlines will book you onto the next available flight free of charge, regardless of the reason. If they refuse, get thee to a nearby Internet connection and read the fine print to make sure you aren’t being screwed.
And as for trains, planes and other transfers? In my experience, you’re out of luck if you miss any form of non-plane transfer, regardless of whose fault it is.
I frequently recount the story of the first time I got scammed. It was in New Delhi, India in 2009, and I was trying to buy a ticket on a train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, a con man saw me coming and before I knew it, I had missed the last train and was booked in a “luxury taxi” that was anything but.
I would like to say that I have become immune to scams during the three years of marathon travel that have since passed, but this is unfortunately not the case. I got scammed just last weekend, in fact, when I (attempted) to travel to Koh Samet, Thailand.
Travel scams usually involve transportation, so your first goal in getting yourself out of a scam situation should be to make sure you get to your destination as on-time as possible. This wasn’t possible for me last weekend, however; my bus dropped me off far from the pier, but just 30 minutes before the last boat to the island departed.
You should also make sure you don’t happen into another scam. The easiest way to do this is to turn to official sources for help. Stranded at a bus station? Get on a government-run bus. Tricked by a fake police officer or border agent? Find a real one.
Gettin’ Caught in the Rain
Weather can be a traveler’s best friend, or his worst enemy. If you make a habit of lugging around thousands of dollars of electronics like I do, I’ll bet weather falls into the latter category more often than the former.
When I was hiking in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park this past May, my Scandinavian travel companions and I decided to hike the “back” way to the park exit, against the advisement of local residents. I have a feeling the three-hour torrential downpour we got caught in had something to do with their suggestions.
The great thing about places where weather suddenly takes a turn for the worst is that it can (and often does) take a turn back in the other direction. I thus suggest waiting inclement weather out. (Unless you can find an umbrella that doesn’t suck, which is extremely difficult most places).
Trouble With The Law
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about my experience getting busted smoking marijuana in Switzerland. Although marijuana has been decriminalized in Switzerland, the 180-franc penalty still stung.
No matter where or why you find yourself in legal troubles abroad, keeping several rules in mind will usually prevent worse things from befalling you.
First and foremost, stick to your story, even if parts of it are fabricated. The less consistent you are, the less trustworthy you seem, and the more likely authorities are to punish you to the fullest extent of the law.
Second of all, don’t allow a corrupt law enforcement official to bribe you. Be cool and calm, yet firm in your insistence that you be given the closest thing to “due process” that exists wherever you’re traveling, particularly if you have not actually done anything wrong.
Emergency Travel Situations
The most terrifying part about my recent scam here in Thailand was having to walk along a pitch-black highway at night time, then having to run across said highway to hitchhike to the nearest city. The most frustrating part? None of the dozen “tourist police” phone numbers I called worked.
Before you set out on your first adventure in a city or country, familiarize yourself with the emergency services number, and have backups just in case. Also, take note of your lodging’s phone number, whether you’re staying in a hostel, hotel or with a friend. Knowing a local in the event an emergency always helps, particularly in countries where English is not widely-spoken.
And if you need medical care? If your funds permit, ask where the nearest “international” hospital is. Although international hospitals are more expensive than local ones (sometimes, significantly moreso), the quality and speed of care — and, if you’re really sick, the accuracy of your diagnosis — will be much more to your liking.