Everyone has heard some form of horror story while traveling abroad, from sneaky pickpockets to getting lost to disappearing luggage. While a lot can go wrong on your dream vacation, that’s no reason to stop you from going! Here’s how to survive and prevent the most common travel emergencies so you’ll have the trip of your dreams, not nightmares!
Scenario 1: Passport Troubles
When it comes to packing, the first thing you tend to think of is clothes, shoes, and other wardrobe essentials (after all, a savvy collegiette has to look fabulous strolling the streets of Paris). But there’s one thing that absolutely takes precedent over everything else: your passport. Ignoring this incredibly important little book can stop your trip before it even starts, and losing it along the way can spell disaster. I experienced my own passport panic when I was set to leave for Europe (on a tour with Contiki of course!) a while ago, only to realize a week before departure that my passport was expired! No amount of eyelash-batting at customs was going to get me out of this one.
Should you find yourself in urgent need of a passport, contact your local passport office immediately. For a fee, expedited renewal is often possible. If you don’t have a passport, remember that the process may take months and definitely cannot be done a week before your trip. On a similar note, do some research to see if a visa is necessary for your travel plans. I didn’t need one for my trip to England, but when I went to China the visa process took months.
Scenario 2: Lost Luggage
Whenever I’m at baggage claim I have the nagging fear that my belongings didn’t make it for whatever reason. However as I stood in Heathrow Airport, the first time on my own in a foreign country, that fear became reality. So what’s a girl to do in this situation? First of all, remain calm. Just because your suitcase didn’t make it to baggage claim doesn’t mean it’s lost forever. After speaking with my airline’s representative I found out that my bag had simply been held up in security back in the US and that it would be on the next flight tomorrow. Should you find yourself in this situation, make a list of the absolute essentials you’ll need until your bag arrives at your hotel. Toothbrushes, facial cleanser, shampoo and feminine products can be found almost anywhere no matter your destination. Stick with smaller sizes or generic brands to save some cash.
If you want to be truly travel-savvy, pack your carry-on with all your overnight essentials, including a change of clothes if you have room. Keep all your money, travel documents, medications and other vital belongings with you. Not everything can be replaced easily should your baggage actually be lost.
Scenario 3: Lost Collegiette
Whether you decide to brave the metro or explore the city on foot, finding your way around can be difficult. Add in a different language or mode of transportation you’re not familiar with and everything becomes an even bigger mess. To avoid getting completely lost, plan out your destinations and routes ahead of time over breakfast to get a general sense of where you’re going. If you have an iPhone, check out the numerous travel apps that come with interactive subway and street maps. That way you’ll just look like you’re texting instead of struggling to fold a map back up (an obvious sign that you’re a tourist). If all else fails and you have absolutely no idea where you are, don’t be afraid to ask for directions! But keep in mind a few things if you do. Asking a random local off the street can be dangerous, so stick to shopkeepers or law enforcement. Familiarize yourself with basic direction phrases if you’re visiting a non-English speaking country.
Scenario 4: Do you speak English?
So maybe you should have paid a bit more attention in Spanish class… The feeling of being surrounded by people speaking in a foreign language can be unnerving and stressful, but it shouldn’t keep you from traveling. Take a class or pick up a phrasebook ahead of time to prepare yourself, and watch television or listen to radio from that country if you can. Most people will appreciate your attempts to speak in their language instead of simply assuming everyone will speak English (and who knows? Maybe they’ll think your American accent is “cute”). If you must ask someone to speak English, do so politely and in their own language if you can. Here a few common examples:
French: Parlez-vous anglais?
Spanish: ¿Hablas Inglés?
German: Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Italian: Parli inglese?
Dutch: Spreek je Engels?
Portugese: Você fala Inglês?
Remember that manners matter! Learn the phrases for “please” and “thank you” too. They’ll get you a lot further than you think.
Scenario 5: Where’d the money go?
Of course you’ll want to pick up a few souvenirs for your loved ones back home (and let’s be honest, yourself too!) but remember that just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your budget is too. Do what you can to save money beforehand, and once you’ve exchanged your dollars make a daily tracking sheet. Outline purchases you know you’ll make each day, like admission tickets, food, transportation, etc., and then divide the money that’s leftover into your daily “fun money.” Keep your list with you to keep track and make sure you’re not overspending. If you do, immediately figure out what you can cut back on the next few days. Always reserve some “worst case scenario money” too. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but it’s better to have your emergency funds set aside ahead of time than scrambling for a few extra euros in a crisis. Also keep in mind the exchange rate for wherever you’re visiting. When I was in Europe and switched over to the euro, everything seemed less expensive since a euro is worth more than a dollar, which resulted in a few accidental big purchases. Get a currency converter app for your phone to keep it in perspective.
Scenario 6: Pesky Pickpockets and Tourist Traps
It’s an unfortunate part of traveling that we hope would never happen to you, but remember that pickpockets and street scams are out there. First things first, keep your belongings close and secure. A cross-body bag with a zipper/buckles/interior pockets/all of the above is best. A money pouch hanging from your neck screams “I am a tourist!” Try to blend in as best you can while still being safe. Look up common scams ahead of time to prepare yourself if you’re approached. For example, if someone comes up to you and asks if you speak English, they’re probably hoping to distract you while an accomplice digs through your bag. Wandering vendors selling cheap souvenirs should be avoided too for the same reason. If your bag is stolen and you need help, seek out police or the nearest major tourist attraction. Someone there is bound to speak English and be familiar with what to do in this situation.
Scenario 7: Jetlagged
You’ve had the trip of a lifetime and are headed back home, ready to share all of your amazing experiences with your friends and family. The only problem? You can’t seem to stay awake to tell them! Jetlag affects some of us more than others, but there are remedies for those pesky time changes, whether it’s only a couple hours or a complete a.m./p.m. flip. If you have a redeye flight and are landing in the morning, avoid any caffeine the day of your flight and take a sleeping pill if necessary. If you’re arriving at night, do your best to stay awake for the trip so you can crash easily in your hotel. The first few days will probably be difficult no matter what you do ahead of time, but keep up a positive attitude and you’ll adjust soon enough.
Interested in tours offered by Contiki, like the one taken by this HCM writer? Check them out at Contiki.com! Happy traveling, collegiettes!
http://blog.flightcentre.co.za/ – contiki.com – smh.com.au