The Best Way to Handle Any Travel Dilemma
Any traveler knows that sinking feeling of boarding a plane only to get stuck with a less-than-desirable seatmate: someone who hogs that narrow, coveted armrest or brings an oversized duffel that encroaches on your legroom.
If you’ve ever resorted to a passive-aggressive nudge or, on the contrary, suffered through hours of transatlantic claustrophobia, you have experienced firsthand what not to do in this scenario. And T+L is here to make sure you don’t get stuck in those shoes again.
After all, the space-hogging seatmate is just one of the many frustrations that you might encounter when you leave home (you could also be sitting in front of a seat-kicker or a pungent passenger). Among other familiar—and dreaded—scenarios? Overbooked hotel rooms, missing your flight, cab drivers who want to stiff you, or worse—having to drive on the wrong side of the road. Travel is supposed to be a break from our stressful day-to-day existences, until the masseuse at the spa seems more intent on breaking you in half than putting you back together.
And yet, it’s all about your attitude. The bumps in the road are inevitable. But they can be fought or embraced as part of the journey. The way you react can make all the difference, whether you’re dealing with that seatmate, a reckless taxi driver, or a bad case of food poisoning.
Knowing the dos and don’ts of travel etiquette will help you go from an amateur to a sophisticated globe-trotter. You’ll feel empowered to haggle at a market abroad and be informed about what to do if you get hotel bill shock. And the following tips, dealing with common travel frustrations you’ll likely encounter on one dream trip or another, will prepare you to deal with the challenge with the utmost grace and poise.
So before you wave your napkin to an inattentive waiter as a white flag of surrender, brush up on your etiquette with these strategic travel tips.
If You Scratched Your Rental Car
Alert your insurer if the damage is significant. Many require you to report accidents within a certain time frame (as few as 48 hours, in some cases) or the coverage is void.
Document the damage. Photos will keep you from being held accountable for more damage than you inflicted.
Be surprised by ancillary charges. If the car needs repairs, you may be responsible for administrative, loss-of-use, and diminution of value fees.
Fret over purely cosmetic damage. Most major rental agencies usually don’t bother with (or even notice) minor scratches and dings.
If You Plan to Drive on the Left
Mind your left-hand mirror. It’s the one that usually gets clipped.
Yield to oncoming cars when making a right-hand turn. Remember: you’re crossing traffic.
Skip the car insurance. Make sure you’ve got coverage. Most accidents involving foreign drivers arise from the drivers’ unfamiliarity with left-side driving.
Forget to enter roundabouts going clockwise, and give priority to cars approaching from your right.
If You Want to Eat Adventurously (And Not Get Sick)
Take cues from locals. Long lines are a good sign, and high turnover means that food doesn’t sit out and spoil.
Snoop. Inspect prep stations for cleanliness and proper storage. Raw foods should be stored separately, and cold foods need to be on ice. And no matter what, bring your own utensils.
Leave unprepared. Get a prescription for an antibiotic such as Zithromax, which can help with severe food poisoning. Pack rehydrating salt for a worst-cace scenario.
Forget about the water. Even ice cubes and frozen treats could be suspect. Look for reputable bottled water with the seal intact.
If You Got Food Poisoning Anyway
Ask the local pharmacist for a loperamide-based drug (like Imodium), to prevent dehydration.
Seek medical attention if you experience signs of dehydration, such as dizziness or dry mouth.
Jump back to solid food. Start with electrolyte-fortified liquids (coconut water), then move on to rice and bananas.
Kiss your entire vacation good-bye. Food poisoning usually subsides within two to four days.
If You Lost Your Phone
Try calling and tracking your device using a GPS-based app such as Apple’s Find My iPhone.
Change the passwords for any accounts saved on your phone, from banking apps to social media.
Rack up a bill. Have your service provider freeze your service, so no one else can make calls or use your data.
Forget to file an official stolen-goods report. Your mobile insurance plan may require it for reimbursement.
If Your Hotel is Overbooked
Plan ahead. Book directly with the hotel (or a travel management company) and confirm your reservation the night before.
Ask to be comped for your first night (at least), and transportation to your new hotel, if you're moved. You may also get restaurant or spa credits.
Be late. If you think your hotel is overbooked, arrive early. When factors are equal (as in, you're not part of a large group with a negotiated rate or a famous celebrity) the last guest to show up typically loses out.
Expect much. Hotels usually move guests to properties of equal or lesser value. Your hotel doesn’t want you too happy at the competition.
If You're Ripped Off by Your Cab Driver
Know the estimated cost of your trip—and confirm it with the driver before you get in.
Call your hotel or restaurant and ask someone to speak to your driver in his or her native language if it seems like you’re being taken for a ride.
Forget to note the medallion or license number and report the driver to the authorities if you suspect fraud.
Pay with large bills, which invites the “I don’t have change” scam. Better to use small bills and coins in local currency. And wait until you (and your luggage) are out of the vehicle before paying the fare.
If You Missed Your Flight
Make a run for it, if you’re already checked in and only have a carry-on. At some airports, gates close as late as 15 minutes before departure.
Be prepared to pay a rebooking fee. For most classes of ticket, you’ll be charged to get on another flight.
Wait to alert your airline. The sooner you call, the more likely they’ll be able to get you on the next flight—if there’s space.
Expect to be rebooked on the next available flight with a different carrier. For that, you’ll have to purchase an entirely new ticket—and you may end up cancelling the reset of your itinerary.
If Your Hotel Neighbors are Noisy
Call the manager on duty. He can dispatch security. He’ll also know when your rowdy floor mates are checking out.
Ask for earplugs. Most hotels expect some type of noise pollution, be it from tropical birds, traffic, or a wailing toddler.
Take matters into your own hands. You want the hotel to be involved early on in case the culprit is uncooperative.
Demand that other guests move for your sake. If you want a quieter space, expect to switch rooms yourself.
If You Don't Like the Wine You Ordered
Speak up. A lot of customers feel intimidated by big wine lists and sommeliers, but it’s okay to trust your palate.
Snap a photo of the label and add it to an album of wines you’ve loved or loathed; use it to guide you on future selections.
Judge too early. As the wine opens up, you might change your mind.
Suffer through a poor choice. The sommelier’s goal is for you to be happy with your selection.
If You Have An Aggressive Masseuse
Lay down the law before the lights dim. Share your preferences, and if you’re ticklish or injured.
Use body language. Raising your hand or finger tells your therapist to pause, and is less awkward than breaking the silence.
Leave things to chance. When booking, request a therapist with a lighter touch, or specify a gender.
Be vague. Using a 1–10 scale will ensure the right pressure, e.g., 6 (moderate) rather than 9 (very intense).
If You Have a Reckless Taxi Driver
Pay the fare. Your receipt may be helpful in reporting the driver. Tipping, however, is optional.
Record the medallion or car number. Local authorities rely on passenger feedback to keep unsafe drivers off the streets.
Yell. Your driver is a professional. Phrase your complaint as a personal preference—not an attack.
Stay in a cab if you feel unsafe. If your driver doesn’t respond to feedback, ask him to pull over and then find another ride.
If You're Traveling With an Annoying Tour Member
Book trips where multiple guides are present at all times. One is there to handle special situations just like this.
Talk to your guide, not to the traveler in question. Guides are trained to handle a variety of personalities.
Isolate the individual. That will only make him or her more likely to further monopolize your guide’s attention.
Be too quick to judge. As the group dynamic shakes out, needy travelers tend to settle down.
If Your Seatmate is a Space Hog
Assert your territory early on. Claim your overhead and under-seat space, and put the armrests down.
Be sensitive about passengers of size. Alert your flight attendant discreetly; you may be able to switch seats.
Resort to dirty looks, or subtle little pushes. Being passive-aggressive only escalates the problem.
Be greedy. Airplane etiquette says that the middle-seat passenger has rights to both inner armrests.
If You're Shocked by the Hotel Bill
Heed the warnings. If the hotel informed you of resort fees and the like, you share some of the blame.
Play up your loyalty. Point out that you are a member of the hotel’s program, or a repeat customer.
Accept responsibility for fees buried in fine print. They should be clearly presented to guests.
Be afraid to stand your ground. If the front desk can’t help, ask for the general manager or guest services director.
If You Have a Tight Flight Connection
Ask to be moved closer to the front of the cabin just before landing, so you can make a quick exit.
Run straight to the gate for your connection—even if it’s past your departure time.
Despair. A flight won’t wait for one passenger, but system-wide delays might result in a lucky break.
Book tight connections through large airports. Anything less than a 90-minute window is unrealistic.
If You Damaged Your Hotel Room
Assess the mess. One that only requires cleanup costs less than one that calls for replacing broken furniture and fixtures.
Fess up. The hotel will find out regardless—and you’ll want to be there to plead your case.
Fret if the damage is small and unintentional. Hotels will often let you go without penalty.
Assume you can walk away scot-free. If the damage is major, you could be responsible for repairs and lost revenue.
If You Want to Photograph Locals (But Don't Want to Offend Them)
Ask for permission. If words fail, show your camera and wait for a reaction before shooting.
Strike up a conversation. Compliment the subject’s family, ask a question, or share a laugh.
Push too hard. If the subject says no, find someone else to photograph.
Try to be sneaky. You risk affronting someone who’d rather not be photographed.
If Your Waiter is Inattentive
Get the attention of another waiter or waitress and ask for help tracking down your server.
Ask for the manager. If you feel you are being ignored, it’s important to speak up.
Snap your fingers, wave your napkin in the air, or try to draw attention in any flagrant way.
Assume it’s bad service. In some cultures it’s customary for guests to signal to waiters when they are ready for the check.
If You Want to Haggle at the Market
Determine what you’d like to pay. Ask trusted locals what they’d spend.
Enjoy yourself. A sense of humor and patience are equally important.
Be afraid of lowballing. Make your starting offer at one-third of the price.
Indicate how badly you want an item. Be willing to walk away, and you’ll almost always get a better deal.
If Your Seatmate Snores
Ask for earplugs—most flight attendants will have them on hand.
Rouse the snorer gently. A subtle trick: open an air vent.
Expect your flight attendant to wake anyone up. Each flier has the same right to rest.
Feel trapped. If another seat is available, you may be able to move to a quieter spot.
If You've Been Pickpocketed
Find the nearest Western Union. You can get cash wired to you from a friend or family member within the hour.
Report a stolen passport to police and consular authorities; a replacement may be issued within 24 hours.Don’t:
Expect a new bank or credit card to arrive immediately. Many will send oned immediately, but it could still take a few days to reach you abroad.
Forget to cancel all cards immediately. Some card providers charge fees for fraudulent use.
If Your Airplane Seat is Broken
Speak up, even when the problem seems minor. A creaky seat could mean a loose screw or a broken hinge, signaling a major safety concern.
Prepare for delays. If the seat is deemed unsafe, maintenance must be called. You may even be bumped to the next flight if there are no other seats: better one passenger left behind than hundreds of missed connections.
Despair. Flight attendants may have a solution (e.g., a portable DVD player to replace a broken seatback system, or duct tape for a snapped tray table latch).
Walk away empty-handed. When inconvenienced, ask for compensatory miles—or at least a free drink.
If You Want to Cruise, But You Get Seasick
Avoid rough waters. Think: the Bay of Biscay; around South America’s Cape Horn. Instead, try river cruises or tours of the Norwegian fjords.
Book a room at the ship's center and on a mid-level deck, where you’re less likely to feel movement.
Be deterred. Most new ships (especially with new-build, large ships sailing with 2,000-plus passengers) have stabilizers for extra steady sailing.
Forget your remedy of choice: ginger; Sea-Bands; Dramamine. When in distress, go to the top deck and look toward the horizon.
If Something's Gone Missing From Your Hotel Room
Report any theft immediately. Authorities may still be able to recover lost goods, and a hotel’s insurance could cover the damages.
Check state laws. If a hotel doesn’t provide notice of its limits to liability or offer private safes, you may be entitled to full compensation.
Jump to conclusions. Search your room thoroughly before making accusations.
Be irresponsible. If your room had a safe—and you chose not to use it—the hotel is most likely not responsible for your loss.
If You're Going to Miss Your Cruise
Call the cruise line. They all have toll-free emergency numbers, and you can tell them you’re delayed. In select cases, where many passengers are late, the cruise may postpone their embarkation.
Seek reimbursement. If you purchased Missed Connection insurance, your entire voyage could be refunded – some will even throw in a one-way ticket home. If you booked your flights with the cruise line, they might compensate the cost of travel to the next port of call.
Travel on the day you depart. Arrive at your embarkation city a day or two early to explore the port, ease into vacation mode, and get onboard with leisure.
Assume your trip is ruined. Depending on your itinerary, it may be possible to meet your ship at the next port of call as early as the next day.