Arriving in America Tips to Know Before You Go
Part of the essence of travel is to experience people and places and to enjoy the fruits of your hard earned holiday without any hassles or mishaps. Yet, not surprisingly, every year many people run in to trouble and make some basic errors when travelling
Insurance: We all say, “Never go anywhere without insurance”. But if there is one place you really need that little bit of security, it is in the USA. True story - A good friend of mine took his children and wife to Lake Tahoe for Christmas and New Year to escape the heat of a long Australian summer and they had a great 3 weeks in Nevada’s Incline Village and the Diamond Head ski resort. On the last day before they were due to return home their 17-year old son had a face-to-face, body-to-body encounter at high speed with a much bigger skier. With a lacerated spleen, broken ribs and bruised left kidney the lad spent 10 days in ICU and another 10 days in a hospital ward. However, the insurance paid for his father to stay in a local motel and took care of all the rescue costs, medical bills and flight rescheduling… all US$33,000 worth of it.
Lost Baggage: Besides having insurance it is worth reading the small print to figure out before you fly how much the airline you are flying with will reimburse you if your bags are lost, stolen or damaged enroute. It takes a bit of time but it is worth finding out what the airline policies are and how quickly you will get cash to buy toiletries, clothing and emergency requirements. I always carry my laptop and cameras in my hand luggage so the expensive items are close at hand. On a longer flight I pack a change of clothing and a small business class size toiletry bag to tide me over in the event my bag goes missing. Another good idea is to always double-check the seat pockets (just like the crew tell you to) as digital cameras, phones and laptops are easily left behind. It happens on virtually every flight. I know first hand, as I left a mini laptop on a plane once.
Missed Flights: Through no fault of my own I’ve experienced a missed flight. My itinerary had indicated I needed to leave for the airport in Hawaii at about 6pm for my evening flight from Kauai to Hawaii and on to Los Angeles. My arrangements showed I had the whole day to drive and hike a beautiful canyon. As it happens, at 12.25pm, when I was eight miles into my hike was the time I really should have been sipping cocktails on my flight. I have to say the lovely United Airlines check-in staff in Kauai sorted out the unfolding mess by not only getting me on a different route and flight but they also upgraded me to first class. In that instance I made my connecting flight to Denver and on to Orlando. Remember to stay calm and not get frustrated with airline personnel. It will also do you no good to shout, scream or cry. Smile and use your accent and add a little humility and
they will always take care of you.
Excess baggage: It can cost you a tidy sum in excess baggage charges in the USA, especially for unsuspecting Down Under travellers with e-tickets. Arriving off an international flight is probably easy enough but then once you come to the automated domestic ticketing machines you’re liable to get hit with a US $25 excess baggage charge. Always check-in the old-fashioned way and explain you came off an international flight as you then have up to 30 days to keep the excess baggage charge fees from being swiped off your credit card!
Gels liquids, water and fruit: We have probably all done it, but getting caught and paying a huge fine for bringing in fruit or, as I saw recently, two well-heeled Aussies having their special bottles of 20-year old rare whiskey confiscated is not a pleasant experience. It is all part of travelling in today’s environment. The secret is to pre-pack your hand luggage and main suitcase in plenty of time so that simple mistakes don’t creep into your travel schedule. Websites are great ways to do some research on what you can and cannot carry through customs and immigration. Make the mistake once and you’ll certainly learn for the future.
Mobile Phone and Email Costs: Global roaming is a term I would rather refer to as “global robbery”. Just recently I needed to change my airline ticket to a different date. Using the USA 1-800 free telephone service to call an airline stripped $85 off my account in less than 10 minutes. A trick many savvy travellers are now cottoning on to is to buy a cheap phone and new SIM card on a one-month plan for about US$60 with unlimited calls in the USA and to mobiles. Email is another way that hotels capitalise on travellers needs. Some hotels charge between US$12 and $20 for 24 hours on the Internet, so do some homework before you go and check online if the hotel chains you’re staying at charge for the service and it will save you hundreds of dollars over an average three-week holiday.
For today’s travellers use common sense, stay calm, smile and don’t get flustered. There is little you can do to alter the circumstances once fate has grabbed you by the… scruff of the neck. However, the job to rectify the problem is the responsibility of the people you are facing. Airlines and hotels are service industry providers, it is their job to sort out your problems and make things good again. You’re on holiday remember, so try to relax… and enjoy it.