Sometimes when we travel things can simply go sideways no matter how much careful planning and research we do.In a future article I will address “natural disaster” meaning you get sick, injured, and other things nobody can control. In this piece I want to focus on problems wiht the hotel/restaurant/tour/things you paid money for aspects of your trip. When there are mice running across your feet at a fine dining restaurant or when your hotel room bed is dirty and clearly used. (yes, both have happened to me among many other things)
Today I want to share some thoughts on what to do, and how to deal with things without letting it get the best of your trip.
First of all when these things happen ask yourself what can be done right at that moment, or if you need to let it slide until a later time. Note that I only consider things that are actual health/safety/reasonable expectations of what I paid for to be things I would speak up about. Here are a few examples of when I have spoken up immediately:
- Hotel room is dirty
- Hotel room is not in good repair (air, leaky faucet, etc)
- Your bill is incorrect
- Person doing drugs regularly on balcony next to your room (yep, really happened!)
- Any restaurant issues worth discussing (inedible food, server issues, bill incorrect…)
- Your rental car is damaged/wrong in any way
- You aren’t getting something you paid for (event, tour, etc) and you are in position to inquire
Basically: if something is going wrong and you are talking about something time sensitive and it can be fixed if management knows, you need to give them the opportunity to make it right. Fixing the problem is of course the best, easiest, and happiest way for all involved to resolve the issue(s).
But what about when bringing it up in the moment will cause a big disruption to the trip or you know it can’t be fixed or resolved in that moment? Here are a few very real examples that have happened to me personally where I did not speak to anyone until after the fact:
- Private tour cancelled and changed to a different tour upon arrival of famous site. Plane leaving hours after the tour so choice was accept the tour we didn’t want, or stand around outside since site was sold out for the day!
- At restaurant (outdoor) spotted multiple mice darting about during large birthday celebration
- Paid extra for VIP meal and seating at event where it was over sold and caused us to be so cramped that it got claustrophobic.
- Really rude experience with management on duty, general manager not present
- Spotted large cockroach as we were leaving an apartment rental – notified owner via email at later time.
In each of these situations (and more I could list!) I would have simply been making a fuss over something that couldn’t be fixed that minute and interrupting precious family vacation time. There was nothing to be done in the moment that could have possibly improved the situation or resolved anything. For me, that is the deciding line on if I bring something up immediately or not: can anything be done to fix it right now?
Just because it can, doesn’t mean it will!
In Paris there was a train strike and I had to go to the station to try and move our tickets to another train. On arrival guess what? Not one person there to help me and the kiosks said my ticket type couldn’t be changed. In this situation I had no choice but to walk away after spending $10 and an hour of my time getting to that station to try and fix it. Whenever I travel I assume there will be hiccups, minor problems, and issues that are a part of the experience. Now in this train case? I emailed the company I used (Rick Steves/Rail Europe) to book these tickets and they replied the next day offering a full refund due to the strike. In this case I had to both try in the moment, and contact someone later for resolution which sometimes sadly can be the case.
So while I always try to fix or make right any true issues, I understand that it can’t always be made right in that moment because I don’t control who is in charge, what choices they will make, or what authority they have to fix something to my satisfaction. I also always know (and buy travel insurance!) that a lot of things are simply beyond my control as far as what can be done.
I hate confrontation – how do I do this?
I do too, but here’s what I do. If it is something that can be fixed now I approach and ask for a manager or ask the person working and available for some help. I speak quietly, bring up the issue, and ask for help in fixing the problem. I always begin assuming the person will want to make it right and help me – no matter the issue.
One big point to remember: the person in front of you in most cases is NOT the person who caused your problem.
This is an important point because so often seeing the person in front of you as your ally, as someone there to help you will adjust your own tone and help you connect with them in a way that yelling at them out of the gate never will. I also find that it is less upsetting and disruptive to assume the person will help (or find someone who can) for my mental state. The more calm you can stay, the better!
What should I ask for or expect?
It really depends on the situation, and if it is something that can reasonably fixed or if it is beyond repair. I do not ever expect free stuff, upgrades, or perks from a situation although sometimes that can happen. Before I approach someone (or email them after) I have in my head what I would ideally like the outcome to be, and what I would settle for. In most cases a full or partial refund for something that can not be fixed or made right is what I expect depending on the situation.
Who to contact?
If we are talking about ‘contact later’ situations it is important to make sure you know who to contact. If possible I ask in the moment who the manger is or how I’d contact them. If not, I will call back and ask if it is not available online. You’ll want to keep records of who you email or talk to, when, and what is said.
When contacting via email, I always try to apply the same rules: I assume whomever I am speaking to is not the person who directly caused problems, and I assume they want to help me fix or make the situation right. I keep my message brief, to the point, and fact filled. “This is what happened, this is the problem, and this is what I would like because of it.”
What if it can’t be fixed or compensated?
It’s rare – but it does happen! Sometimes a situation simply is awful and doesn’t get fixed and you’re left with a tale of horror and nothing more. Do remember that if you’re feeling in some way you were scammed or have to charge back/dispute the charge, then you’ll want to contact your credit card company if all else fails. It’s a huge benefit of using a credit card for travel!
Go forth expecting things to be marvelous!
While rare, problems do happen and I always try and be prepared for some issues on the road. We can take some precautions (booking directly and with reputable companies, researching), but even then everyone has a bad day! If you catch a business on a bad day do your best to fix it or repair – and carry on with that fabulous vacation! There’s no need to suffer in silence.
What to do if you get sick or other disaster strikes? more on that another time…