My cruise ship had barely left New York Harbor when an ominous message came over the PA system: “We’re expecting rough seas from now through tomorrow morning, with three- to four-meter swells. If you’re prone to seasickness, take your medicine now.” I gulped and reached for the Dramamine, feeling apprehensive but not yet realizing that this would be just the first chapter in a vacation gone wrong.
A sleepless, seasick night of rocking and rolling was followed by a missed call at Newport, Rhode Island, due to the storm, and then by a mechanical issue that left our cruise ship stuck in Boston for another two days. Nearly a week into the trip, we’d seen just two of our five scheduled ports: New York City and Boston. It wasn’t exactly the tour of picturesque New England towns that I’d envisioned.
How to Salvage a Vacation Gone Wrong
Most frequent travelers have encountered vacation problems of some kind or another—like missed flights, rental car breakdowns, lost passports, endless rain, or the all-too-common traveler’s diarrhea. But what do you do when a minor inconvenience turns into a full-scale vacation gone wrong?
Purchase Travel Insurance
Travel insurance can’t protect you against every vacation gone wrong, but it does offer peace of mind in the face of common snafus such as delayed baggage, health issues, or changes of plan due to natural disasters. Be sure to shop around and compare policies and read the coverage types carefully before buying.
Know Your Risks
Are you traveling at a time of year (hurricane season in the Caribbean or early spring in New England) when unpredictable weather could have an impact on your trip? Did you book a brand-new hotel or recently listed Airbnb that hasn’t yet been vetted and reviewed by other travelers? If you’re taking a cruise, are you aware that port calls can be changed or eliminated at any time?
Going into a trip with an awareness of what might go wrong can help you manage expectations and prepare a plan B, such as indoor activity ideas for bad-weather days or an alternative hotel in case your first lodging option doesn’t work out.
If something goes wrong that’s within someone else’s power to fix, don’t suffer in silence. For example, let the front desk know right away if you aren’t happy with your hotel room, so the staff has a chance to make repairs or move you to another room. The same goes for suitcases damaged in flight (file a claim with your airline immediately) or restaurant meals that are cold or undercooked (don’t be afraid to send the dish back).
When making your complaint, clearly state the resolution you’re looking for, whether that’s a refund or a new cruise cabin.
Yes, this is easier said than done in the midst of a vacation disaster, but few problems are solved with rage or panic—especially if you’re trying to convince a customer service agent to give you what you want. If you can’t be kind and respectful to someone trying to help you, wait until you’ve cooled down. Taking a walk, reading a good book, or even just taking a few deep, slow breaths can help you get your emotions under control.
Keep a Paper Trail
For complaints that can’t be resolved right away, keep track of conversations you’ve had or emails you’ve sent during your attempt to get compensation. You’ll also want to provide any photographic evidence that supports your claim (such as pictures of bedbug bites during a hotel stay or a suitcase damaged in flight).
Focus on the Positive
Your vacation may have gone off the rails, but chances are there are still a few things about it you can appreciate. For example, it was frustrating to be stuck on a cruise ship in Boston, but I was well fed, there were plenty of fun things to do nearby, and hey—at least I wasn’t seasick anymore.
Maintain Your Sense of Humor
This may not apply to true crises such as natural disasters or medical emergencies, but for run-of-the-mill vacation fiascos, there comes a point when things go so wrong that all you can do is throw your hands up and laugh. As our mechanical problem—and our Boston stay—dragged on, my fellow passengers and I came up with a new motto for the trip: “Boston forever.” The running joke turned our frustrations into a source of hilarity—even after we finally set sail up the coast.
Make It Into a Story
Maybe you couldn’t salvage that vacation gone wrong; maybe it was a debacle from beginning to end. But these are often the trips that make the best stories later. Ask me to tell you the one about the Caribbean vacation that involved a burglary, a rental car breakdown, and a head cold that wouldn’t quit. It was miserable to live through, but 11 years later it makes one hell of a yarn.
More from SmarterTravel:
Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.