Foolproof Yourself Against an Unpleasant Vacation Surprise
As an avid traveler and a guesthouse owner down in Guatemala, I have witnessed firsthand many a vacation ruined by lack of foresight. My clients book my house in advance and pay up-front. If they cancel last minute, they lose their money.
The last few people who couldn’t make it to my place invoked a variety of reasons. One rented a car in Mexico to visit Guatemala and Belize and was denied entry at the border because he failed to let the rental company know he wanted to take the car abroad.
In another case, a couple got stranded by the side of the road when their car broke down. Another family had packed too much into an itinerary and had to skip my house because they were falling behind. One lady missed her flight altogether. And an expectant mother got concerned about the Zika virus and decided not to come.
While I have never missed a flight, I have failed to properly look up the location of my hotel, and found myself spending hours looking for it, only to give up and pay double to stay somewhere else.
I once tore my ankle while cycling around Austria as a teen, and my parents had to pay dearly to repatriate me, since they had forgotten to take out insurance. I have had my luggage arrive two days later than I did, compromising the rest of my itinerary.
Whatever the reason, you want to make sure your vacations won’t get canceled, or that at least you will get your money back if you can’t travel.
These days, when I travel – on a motorcycle, mostly – I never make plans in advance. A flat tire can delay you a day or more. If you like a place and want to stay there for three more days, no problem. But if you are only going away for a week, I would still recommend you book accommodation to avoid arriving somewhere only to find that all the hotels in your price range are full.
When going on a road trip, the first thing you want to check is your car. Perform an oil change beforehand, inflate your tires properly, and make sure the car is in good enough condition to make the trip. Otherwise, consider a rental.
If flying, make sure your connecting flight gives you plenty of time to go through customs. Should it arrive late, arrange for the hotel to pick you up instead of having to figure out your way around a foreign country. Sleep near the airport on the first night if necessary, and move closer to the center of town the next day.
Keep a photocopy of your passport on you.
Then keep your passport in your hotel’s safe. Scan all your important documents and send them to yourself via email. Add emergency contact numbers, such as your credit card provider’s line (to report lost or stolen card), numbers for your embassy in the country you are visiting, etc.
Hide a little bit of cash in different places (pockets, luggage – even a bra!) in case your wallet gets stolen.
Have an emergency plan. I, for example, always have enough cash hidden to take a taxi back to the hotel, or buy an hour of internet at a café, just in case I need my mom to send an emergency cash transfer.
If you book your trip several months in advance, consider cancellation insurance. It will cover you should you fail to make the trip due to illness, your boss asking you to stay, family emergencies… You can generally pay a little extra at some hotels for the convenience of canceling up to a day before you’re due to arrive.
Allow for plenty of time every day.
In Guatemala, when Google tells you that your next destination is five hours away, that actually means that – between police blocks and speed bumps – you’re probably looking at a seven-hour drive.
Plus rest stops, lunch, and taking pictures – so make that nine. It is unreasonable to think you’ll drive to your destination, visit the landmarks, and be at the hotel by sunset. Ask your hotel for more information about local transit times. I often ask clients to describe their itinerary to me so that I can help them avoid getting frustrated because they got to my place very late.
Lastly, make sure that you are covered for medical emergencies.
A friend of mine caught a loose bullet in Guatemala, and her family had to raise money to cover her hospital bill because she didn’t have insurance.
By planning ahead and getting appropriate cover, you will make sure that your vacations go smoothly.