When you have to cope with unexpected travel changes:
I created a luggage barricade outside the Starbucks in Cusco, but it didn’t stop the two 5-year-old girls from asking me to watch their backpacks while they played tag. The first hostel of the day said it was raining in my room, and the hostel they sent me to was so far up the mountains, I could feel the altitude sickness making a comeback. September 2017 was the most active hurricane month ever to hit the Atlantic. And with an unexpected extra week in Peru, I needed to find a place to stay…quickly.
There’s no foolproof way to prepare for hurricane season, but here are a few tips (more to come!) for dealing with delays.
What to do before your hurricane season trip:
1. Pay close attention to your connecting flights.
If you’re connecting through Florida, Texas, or Louisiana, consider searching for another flight. These states are particularly vulnerable during hurricane season because of their proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. When flying to Central or South America, try to find a flight through a more northern city such as Atlanta or New York City.
No luck? Search for a flight from your home airport to your desired connecting city. Then, search for a flight from the connecting city to your destination.
2. Buy travel insurance.
It can be pricey, but if a hurricane hits, you could either lose the money you spent on your plane ticket or the $100 or so you spent on travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect your trip investment. If you hear about a hurricane that’s going to hit Florida while you would be on vacation there, you can contact your airline and either cancel that booking with a full refund or push back your vacation a bit. Make sure you read the company’s policies before you buy travel insurance; check the fine print to see if weather-based emergencies such as hurricanes are covered under the company’s plan.
3. Pack for as many situations as possible.
When you’re stuck on vacation for a few extra days, you might find that you needed a hoodie after all, or that umbrella you took out of your suitcase right before you left actually would have helped. If you might face unpredictable weather, try to cover all your bases when you’re packing. Here’s a clickable packing list to get you started. Take at least one outfit for each type of weather you could encounter.
In addition to clothing, make copies of all your important travel documents and credit cards. Store these in your carry-on, and ensure your original documents are in your personal item or front pants pocket. In unplanned situations when you need your passport or ID and you left it at the hotel, storing pictures on your phone can be a lifesaver.
What to do when you make it to your vacation destination, but your trip home is delayed because of severe weather:
1. Contact your airline directly first, even if you booked through a 3rd party site.
The airlines usually (but not always) can reroute your flights and/or refund your money more effectively in severe weather situations. Once you’ve talked to your airline, call the 3rd party site and review your flight changes. When you’re on the phone with them, ask the 3rd party site if they also have other flight options.
If your flight transfers are free, book them no matter what. You can always cancel and rebook, but that last seat on a flight might not be available if you hang up and call later.
2. Rebook your flight sooner rather than later.
Paying for an extra flight might be the furthest thought from your mind, especially because last minute flights can cost hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars. Lengthy flight delays can be emotionally taxing, so take the time you need to collect your thoughts; then, start looking for a new flight home with the help of awesome apps like Hitlist. If you bought travel insurance, your airline (if they can’t reroute you through a different city), should be able to refund your original ticket cost if you did your research properly.
3. Don’t always rely on your phone.
When you’re trying to make new travel plans to accommodate unexpected vacation days, your phone is your lifeline. Have an external battery and a charger on hand at all times for peace of mind. Especially during hurricane season, bring a laptop or tablet on vacation as well. An additional way to communicate will offer you extra assurance for travel-related needs and will also allow you to work remotely in case it comes to that.
When cool stuff happens because of unexpected travel changes:
It was 3:30 p.m. by the time I found a hotel that day. My friend from Semester at Sea, who was also visiting Cusco, was leaving at 5:30 p.m. With only two hours left, I thought reaching out was pointless, so I started walking to my favorite local restaurant. And she happened to walk right in front of me. We excitedly talked about the five years since we had seen each other, took a picture by an ornate fountain, and bought alpaca scarves and sweaters. It was too short of a reunion, but she had to catch a bus to Bolivia.
The hostel cancellations, the exhaustion – I never cried that much in public before that day. Despite the craziness, it was one of my favorite days in Peru. Plus, after my friend left, I went to the bank to exchange some money and got a date with the security guard instead. Travel is funny that way. Some days you wonder why you bothered to fly to a country where you only half speak the language and other days you’re sitting on a bench with a Peruvian guy, dodging paper airplanes that children are throwing at you – it’s up in the air.
Want more tips? Check out part 2.