11 Worst Travel Nightmares (And How to Make Them Go Away)
When we talk about "dream trips," we mean the good kind of dream. But every so often a trip goes awry, sometimes due to poor planning, sometimes just because of bad luck, and turns into a nightmare. Here, we've rounded up some of the common disasters and mishaps that can be relatively easily averted or dealt with. Bon voyage!
1. CANCELLED RESERVATION
For me, one of the great "ahhhh" moments in travel is when you step through the front door and into the lobby of your hotel and step up to the desk to check in. Being told, "So sorry, I have no record of your reservation" can be one of the most brutal travel nightmares. Two words: Be nice. Remember that desk clerk is your gateway to a comfy bed. Now would be a good time to take out that printout of your reservation (you did bring a printout of your reservation, didn't you?) or call Expedia, Travelzoo, or whichever online booking site you may have used. It's probably a simple misunderstanding or a data entry mistake. If not, and if the hotel is fully booked, ask what accommodations are available in nearby affiliated hotels. (This is easier when dealing with a big chain, but even smaller hotels may be in close contact with competitors in the neighborhood.) If you're like me, this situation will never happen because you will have called the hotel a few days before arriving to confirm your reservation, and if you're going to arrive late in the evening you'll let them know so there's no chance they'll give your room away.
2. LOST WALLET
For all of us lifelong consumers, the lost wallet can seem like the most sickening travel nightmare, but it's actually one of the easiest to deal with if you've done your homework. Before you leave for vacation, obtain a backup ATM card, print out a list of all your bank and credit card accounts, make a photocopy of your passport, and never carry all of these things in the same bag. I think you can see where I'm going with this: When your wallet goes missing, you'll have access to cash, a list of accounts to cancel, and an ID to prove you're you in the event that you must ask a relative back in the States to wire you funds via Western Union.
3. CAR ACCIDENT
This may cross your mind every time you get behind the wheel of a rented car: What happens if I get an accident? Yes, it can be a sticky situation, especially if you're overseas where other drivers, police, and emergency workers are speaking another language. But a little prep work helps: Ask the rental agency in advance what you should do in the event of a fender bender or worse; check with your home auto insurance company and credit card to see if your coverage includes a rental car; learn the local customs and rules of the road. Should you get in a crash, call the agency, file a police report, and get the insurance information of anyone else involved in the accident.
4. LOST PASSPORT
Stop whatever you're doing and make a photocopy of your passport. Now write on the photocopy: travel.state.gov. Keep the photocopy and your driver's license or state ID separate from your passport when you travel and you will be positioned to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and order a replacement passport immediately if necessary. (You can even get an emergency passport fast-tracked if you are scheduled to fly within 14 days.)
5. SERIOUS INJURY
Quick! Does your medical insurance cover you if you break your leg on a mountain in Nepal? If you don't know the answer, you're not yet prepared to get your passport stamped! Make sure you understand your coverage—or explore emergency travel insurance to make sure you don't spend the rest of your life paying for that surprise medevac. (Hint: All medevacs are surprises.) If you are injured, your hotel and/or local consulate or embassy can be your best source of doctor recommendations. For less catastrophic injuries, a modest first-aid kit is your best travel BFF.
6. LOST LUGGAGE
More than 2 million bags are lost, damaged, or stolen each year. Whether your bag is mistagged, loaded on the wrong plane, or just left sitting unloved in some godforsaken corner of the arrivals level, it can put a serious crimp in the early days of your vacation. But there are a few steps you can take to make sure your bag remains where it belongs: Write your name and address not only on an outside tag but also inside the bag; leave a copy of your itinerary in the bag (in the event the bag goes to the wrong city, this will help get it routed to the right one fast); arrive early and check your bag at the desk, not at the curb (curbside check-ins and those made less than 30 minutes before takeoff are more likely to be misrouted).
7. LOST CHILD
Unlike the lost wallet, which only seems like the ultimate bummer, losing your kid at a theme park, boardwalk, or anywhere really, is a legitimate, terrifying disaster. But for the safety of your child and your own sanity, remaining calm and enlisting the help of qualified authorities immediately is your best course of action. Police officers or theme park security will have dealt with the missing-kid scenario before and will be understanding and helpful. And if you're like us, you'll have snapped a photo of your kid that morning so anyone you ask will know not only your kid's complexion and hair color but also the exact clothing he's wearing. And you'll have provided your child with an ID card that includes your mobile phone number—and you'll have pointed out the police and security personnel who can help your kid find you.
8. ARRESTED OVERSEES
Yikes! Was that a jail door that just slammed behind you? In a foreign country? Whether you've been arrested for drugs (the most common reason Americans get in hot water overseas), illegal possession of an antiquity (some countries don't allow anyone to leave the country with a centuries-old item, even if you bought it legally), or chewing gum (one of the reasons I may never visit Singapore, btw), you must contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. Though they can't simply spring you from jail—you're subject to the laws of a foreign country—they can make sure your rights are observed and that you get legal representation. But before you depart the States, make sure you understand the sometimes-baffling laws of the nation you're going to visit. Possession of prescription opioids, taking photographs of certain buildings, and other seemingly benign acts can land you in the slammer.
9. NATURAL DISASTER
Okay, we all know that visiting Los Angeles means you run the risk of being in an earthquake, and that cruising the Caribbean during hurricane season means, y'know? But what happens if you're blindsided by a monsoon, quake, tsunami, or flood? It's pretty simple: Obey the local authorities (for instance, if they suggest you evacuate your oceanfront resort, don't be one of the Ugly Americans who dig in to "ride out the storm") and stay informed via the State Department website or those of local consulates or embassies, or via social media and email with family and friends back in the U.S., who may have a much better informed vantage point than you.
10. MISSED CONNECTION
Nobody wants their vacation delayed before it even starts, but weather-related travel delays can cause you to miss connecting flights—and the airlines are under no legal obligation to put you up for the night or supply you with a complementary meal if the delay was due to what they refer to as "acts of God." Some ways to prepare for this unpleasant scenario include: In the days before you fly, keep up with weather forecasts for your departing city, destination, and any connecting cities; keep a list of hotels near those airports; check on your flight before you leave for the airport. Oh, and bring chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Why? When you get that awful news that your flight is delayed or you've missed your connection, we want you to be the guy in line at the desk who's not being a jerk. You're going to smile, make eye contact, and offer the gate agent a bar of chocolate. We can't guarantee it'll get you on the next plane or into a free hotel room, but you'll be miles ahead of the dude who's wigging out.
11. LOST ITEMS
Left something important on the plane? It happens all the time, and the major airlines have super-efficient procedures for reuniting you with your stuff asap. Contact the baggage service office in your arriving city to see if the item has turned up immediately. If not, go online to file a report. You'll typically get your item overnighted to you within days. At the risk of being a little obvious: Always double-check the seat back pocket in front of you before getting off the plane.
Planning a road trip this summer? Expect some company on the expressway. Even amid rising gas prices, Americans are packing up their cars for a vacation. According to a recent AAA survey, 64 percent of Americans traveling this summer are planning a road trip, and it's the most popular option for family vacations. But to stretch your travel dollars while you’re on the road, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes. 1. Paying Top Dollar for Gas Start by downloading GasBuddy on your smartphone. Using real-time fuel price information reported other users, the mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) can direct you to the cheapest gas stations along your route. Another way to conserve fuel is by packing your car lighter, so unload excess weight before you hit the road. Also, studies show using cruise control on highways can maximize fuel efficiency. Driving a car that gets poor gas mileage? It might make financial sense to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Also, paying with a gas-rewards credit card will put money back in your pocket each time you fill up. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a favorite from credit card comparison website NerdWallet; the card lets you earn 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station purchases year round. 2. Overspending on Lodging Many hotels and Airbnb rentals raise their rates during the summer, but you can save big on lodging by doing a little careful planning. Want to stay at a hotel? Call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price. Another option: use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. And make sure you avoid paying hidden hotel fees. (These days some places are even charging a fee to use the in-room coffee maker!) If you’re comfortable waiting until the day of to book a room, use HotelTonight, a mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that offers same-day bookings of up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels. Shopping for an Airbnb? Try haggling with the owner for a lower rate. You’ll have more leverage if you’re requesting a multi-night stay. Looking to pitch a tent? Find a free campsite near your destination using the iOverlander mobile app (available on Android and iPhone). One caveat: some outdoor parks require a camping permit, but these generally cost only $5 to $20 per night. 3. Missing Out on Free Entertainment Summer is peak season for free outdoor concerts, festivals, art shows, sporting events, and other community gatherings. You can find things to do along your route by visiting Festivals.com, MacaroniKid.com, and your destination city’s tourism website. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, is another tool for discovering cool events near your location. Also, local newspapers, magazines, and alternative weeklies typically have events calendars. A number of cities offer free walking tours. You find these on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com. 4. Eating Out Every Meal Reality check: Dining out costs money. A lot of money. But you don’t have to eat out every meal when you’re on the road. Plan ahead by stashing some food in a cooler, like deli sandwiches for lunches. Non-perishable snacks are also good to have on hand. Pro tip: Pack nuts, potato chips, crackers, and other foods that won’t melt in a hot car. Of course, some meals are worth the splurge, like that four-star restaurant overlooking the ocean. But when you do eat out, always check for deals and coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp Deals. Traveling with kids? Find a restaurant where children eat for free. 5. Road Tripping to Big Cities Put simply, some road-trip destinations are less expensive than others. Big cities tend to have pricier lodging and restaurants; plus, they’re crowded. To trim expenses, travel to towns where your dollar will go further. A road trip can also be an opportunity for you to check out locations in your corner of the country. Staying within your state, as opposed to taking a long road trip, can also help reduce gas costs—and keep the kids from going stir-crazy in the car.
5 Big "Don'ts" for Nature-Loving Travelers
While "leave no trace" is a familiar refrain to most people who enjoy time outdoors, the truth is that many, even nature lovers with good intentions, sometimes leave their mark in ways that can damage the natural surrounds. There are many more ways to impact the environment than just neglecting to pick up your trash. To provide guidance, the Boulder-based Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, has developed the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (lnt.org/why/7-principles/) to help people minimize their footprints while enjoying the outdoors. As the following five important "don'ts" illustrate, even the most idealistic travelers can run afoul of the center’s principles and leave an unwanted impact in ways that are not as immediately noticeable as a pile of trash. 1. Don't Geotag Photos on Social Media These days, an excursion into nature hardly feels complete until you take some pictures and post them on social media. While snapping shots of beautiful natural settings is harmless, pictures that include a geotag indicating the exact locations create what some call a “digital trace,” which can cause increased foot traffic to areas not equipped to handle it. Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend is a classic example of a once moderately trafficked spot that exploded in popularity due to geotagging on Instagram. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area recently implemented visitor fees and restricted visitation numbers to curb the problem. In response to the growing over-trafficking issue, Leave No Trace created a set of social media guidelines (lnt.org/new-social-media-guidance/) that suggest, for instance, tagging photos with a state or region rather than a specific location. And better yet: post images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace principles. 2. Don't Stack Rocks in the Name of Art The temptation to create an artful tower of carefully balanced rocks is strong when you’re sitting next to a river full of smooth, flat stones. Resist this temptation. Rock stacks, also called cairns, have long been used by land managers to mark trails, but over the past several decades, hikers’ random rock towers near rivers and streams have piled up. Not only can creating your own rock art cause confusion and get people lost, but moving rocks around can disrupt the surrounding ecology. Every river rock contains a mini eco-system of plant life and micro-organisms on its surface, and a variety of insects, fish, salamanders, crawfish, and macroinvertbrae live and lay their eggs under and among these rocks. Moving them exposes the wildlife to predators and the sun, and causes sand and silt around the displaced rocks to erode. The simplest solution to this issue is to savor time spent next to water in other ways – sketching, journaling, and just relaxing. If you simply can’t fight the urge to stack rocks, Leave No Trace suggests using only stones that are already loose of sand, silt, or soil. Also, only build on hard, durable surfaces. Once your stack is complete, snap a picture, and then return the rocks to their original spot. 3. Don't Feed Wild Animals When you love animals, it’s hard to resist the urge to toss a few food scraps to a cute chipmunk, a gentle deer, or a charming bird. But feeding human food to animals is never a good idea, and actually harms those critters we claim to love. Human food does not contain the nutrients that wild animals need, and eating it not only damages their health but also alters their natural behavior. Instead of hunting and foraging for food in the wild, human-fed animals will show up in places where humans gather, increasing their risk of being killed by a car, and becoming a hazard to humans and pets. While intentionally feeding wild animals is a big no-no, it’s important to remember that food scraps unintentionally left in the wild are also harmful. Always store food securely and collect and remove all trash--even those biodegradable apple cores and baby carrots. Also, try to eat over a plastic bag or bandana to catch crumbs so they don’t scatter around the area. 4. Don't Forget to Help Your Dog Leave No Trace Dogs make great outdoor companions, but it’s important to remember that they can damage protected outdoor spaces just as easily humans. Off-leash dogs can disturb sensitive wildlife habitats like nesting areas and they’re more likely to chase and harm wild animals. In fact, a 2009 Australian study found that the only thing that caused more disruption than off-leash dogs was low-flying jet aircrafts. Dog owners can help their furry friends be good outdoor citizens by respecting dog restrictions in conservation areas and following leash regulations in places that allow dogs. The good news is that there are plenty public lands in the U.S. that allow dogs. And while this should go without saying, always pick up after your dog. Dog waste doesn’t just smell bad and potentially carry diseases, it also contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that create favorable conditions for harmful algae to bloom and invasive weeds to grow. Putting dog poop into a plastic bag and leaving it beside the trail to collect on the way back is not a viable solution. Leave No Trace suggests investing in a dog backpack to transport the waste. Or try to bring a canister to carry bags away for proper disposal. 5. Don't Improperly Dispose of Human Waste When you gotta go, you gotta go, even if there’s no latrine in sight. There is a right and wrong way to poop in the woods, and unfortunately improperly placed human feces is a growing problem in outdoor recreational areas. To avoid pollution of water sources and decrease the likelihood of others stumbling upon your waste in the wild, Leave No Trace suggests hikers and campers create a “cat hole” in a spot that is at least 200 feet--about 70 steps--away from water, trails, and campsites. The hole should be at least six inches deep and four inches wide. (Packing a small trowel can help with this task). When finished, cover the hole with the original soil and then disguise it with some leaves or rocks. Using natural materials such as leaves or snow for wiping is ideal, but a small amount of plain, white non-perfumed toilet paper is okay if buried in the cat hole. Of course, the human waste option with the least impact is to pack it out. Some popular high-elevation and backcountry sites such as Denali and the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park already require visitors to pack out their own waste, but it is worth considering any time you are hiking in freezing conditions or canyon environment or whenever you are near a body of water. Many people choose a handy W.A.G bag, a double-bag kit which includes waste treatment powder and an outer zip-closing bag.
Free Music in NYC: Where to Find Rock, Jazz, Opera, and More All Summer Long
Between the sweltering subway stations and the above-ground heat and humidity, New York can be brutal during the dog days of summer. But for those who choose to stick it out in the city instead of escaping to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, there are rewards to be had. Each year, from early June to late September, an array of artists take to the stage in al fresco venues across the five boroughs –and you can catch most of them for free. Spanning diverse genres (think: everything from opera to afrobeat) and drawing capacity crowds, the city’s outdoor program is one of the summer’s highlights. Mark your calendars: these are the shows you won’t want to miss. SummerStage in Central Park and Beyond With almost a hundred performances in 18 parks around town, the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage is perhaps the best-known fest, and thanks to a newly renovated stage and sound system for 2019, its flagship Central Park venue is ready to rock. For the first time ever, this year’s slate of performers is evenly split along gender lines. It kicked off with pop-soul singer Emily King on June 1 and continues through September 24, when the B-52s close out the season with a ticketed benefit show. In between, New Orleans rapper Big Freedia gets her bounce on, New York post-punk rockers Parquet Courts bring the noise, and the Met Opera recital series packs the house. (The opera has dates in each borough, though, so if you miss it in Manhattan, there are plenty of additional options.) Other Central Park highlights include jazz singer Corinne Bailey Rae and indie favorites Alvvays, the Courtneys, Japanese Breakfast, and Hatchie, but you can also see the Mountain Goats at East River Park and the Wailers with Junior Julian Marvin at Marcus Garvey Park. And cool cats take note: The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival takes over Marcus Garvey and Tompkins Square in late August. Free Music in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn At Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Sheila E. headlines the Only in Queens Festival (also part of SummerStage), while flamenco dance company A Palo Seco performs at Queensbridge Park and calypso legend Mighty Sparrow plays Springfield Park. Up in the Bronx, Slick Rick hits Soundview Park and salsa star Ray de la Paz takes over Crotona Park. Over in Staten Island, Lisa Lisa and Jody Watley steal the spotlight at Corporal Thompson Park. In Brooklyn, Fela! The Concert travels to Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater, Black Moon and Smif-n-Wessun host the Duck Down BBQ at Betsy Head Park, and funk collective Everyday People storms the stage at Herbert von King Park. Celebrate Brooklyn The jewel in Brooklyn’s park system is Prospect Park—just like Central Park, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and it has the summer schedule to match its rival across the river. Like SummerStage, BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn offers a mix of paid and free shows, with the one and only Patti LaBelle opening the season, gratis, on June 4. NPR Tiny Desk Concert winners Tank and the Bangas play a few weeks later, followed by a Calexico/Iron & Wine joint ticket; Nilüfer Yanya opens for Broken Social Scene, and Liz Phair headlines with some help from Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. World music star Salif Keita hits the bandshell in July, and for the Latin Alternative Music Conference, a selection of talented artists command the stage: Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, rock en español stalwarts Enjambre, and Latin indie folkster El David Aguilar. Rounding out the bill are Americana trio I’m With Her, a dance performance choreographed by French-Algerian maestro Hervé Koubi, a screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as part of the first-ever Lou Reed Tai Chi Day, and classical outfit Alloy Orchestra providing the soundtrack to a 1925 German silent film called Varieté. (Come early to catch Lava, the “feminist acrobatic modern dance troupe” providing the opening entertainment.) And finally, Bogotá-based cumbia stars Bomba Estéreo see out the season in style, bringing the party to wrap things up at summer’s end. For full lineups of free music in all of NYC's five boroughs, visit City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage and BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn.
Getaround Makes the Car Rental Experience Personal
It’s happened to the best of us: your flight was delayed, you’re landing in a city you’ve never traveled to before, the kids (and you!) are cranky, and you just want to get to your hotel. But you’re thinking about the last time you rented a car: it took 20 minutes to get to the rental depot and another 40 minutes before you turned the key and pulled out. But you need a car for the weekend. Enter: Getaround (getaround.com). The company provides a nifty service that blends the Airbnb sharing model with the accessibility factor that defines bikeshare program. So grab a cab or the train from the airport, check into your, shower, and figure out the car thing later. How It Works Getaround basically provides a way to rent a car from someone in the vicinity. Like all sharing platforms, it starts with the app. Once you download it, the company vets you, verifying your credit card and Department of Motor Vehicles record. As soon as you’re cleared, you have the capability to unlock and start the vehicle you book, thanks to technology the company developed and patented. The car is fully connected, so you can use the app to identify where it’s parked, unlock the door, and start the car. At the same time, the car owner can use the app to see the precise location of his vehicle. Getaround aims to make errands or day trips a breeze. You can rent a car--the style of your choice--by the day or by the hour, which is the key feature that differentiates the program from traditional car rentals. There’s $1 million in insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance and customer service. How It Started Getaround launched in 2011 and is available in 300 cities in the U.S. and Europe today. Founder and CEO Sam Zaid developed the idea as talk about self-driving cars became more and more of a widespread discussion. “We were looking at the future of transportation and imagining if all the cars on the road today were fully connected and maybe even self-driving or partially self-driving," said Zaid. "Also, think about it: if you owned car, would you park it for 23 hours a day? Or would you let friend or family member use it? If you can imagine a world where your car is connected and it’s easy to move around, the idea of sharing cars isn’t that crazy.” Given how so many other industries are moving towards a sharing model, it makes sense that it was only a matter of time until driving services evolve even beyond ride-hailing apps. “We feel that transportation is moving away from ownership to a shared model. What we have today is not sustainable,” said Zaid, noting that there are 250 million cars in the United States; they sit in parking spaces and garages for a total of six billion hours each day. “If we’re more efficient with cars, it could solve a lot of problems.” A Positive Environmental Impact According to independent studies by the University of California Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, every shared car removes 10 cars from the road, which translates into 100,000 pounds of carbon pollution. The studies also say that 1,000 shared cars can offset up to 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to addressing solutions to pollution, Getaround is proving to be in sync with the lifestyle of millennials. According to studies conducted by the company, 51% of millennials believe car-sharing is better, compared to car renting, at providing opportunities to try something new or different. Of people who car-share, 91% say that the service, along with ride-sharing and public transit, allow them to live completely car-free lives.