Disasters happen to the best of us, and it's rare that you can travel today with no incident (whether it's sitting on the tarmac for hours with no food and water or finding that though you arrived at your destination, your bags didn't). Unfortunately for us, Frommer's staffers don't get preferential treatment when we hit the road -- we hit the same bumps you do. Here we offer tales and triumphs of our travels:
Food for Thought
One of the great joys of traveling is discovering new foods, but occasionally dietary restrictions, unsanitary conditions, or simple distaste may deter you. I used to live in a country where I couldn't stomach the food. I lost 10 pounds my first month there, and my diet consisted of yogurt and beer. Where did I go wrong? Here are some tips I've picked up that'll ensure your survival, without having to resort to the local Golden Arches.
- Plan ahead. I always pack some meal-replacement bars and packs of nuts in case desperation strikes. You might also want to book accommodations that include a kitchen, so you can cook your own food. I also like to check out ex-pat message boards for my destination; they'll give you an idea of what to expect and point you in the direction of good restaurants.
- Keep trying. Just because your first meal in a foreign land isn't to your liking, don't give up on the cuisine immediately. Check out a phrasebook (www.frommers.com/bookstore/frommers_phrase_books.html) that includes a food dictionary, and see if any other local dishes look more palatable. It may also be helpful to learn the words for "not spicy" and similar food preferences.
- Go veggie. Most cities have a couple of vegetarian restaurants with options that may be more to your liking. While Prague can be fried-food heaven, it nevertheless has several tasty vegetarian buffets. Even in Argentina, land of red meat, I discovered a terrific vegetarian restaurant and health food store in Buenos Aires.
- Hit a grocery store. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is check out a local grocery store. I always find myself mesmerized by all the unique options (say, aloe juice and dried watermelon seeds in Thailand, or green tea-flavored pancake mix in Korea). Many grocery stores will also have fresh-baked bread and good cheeses -- an instant sandwich for a picnic lunch. -- Jamie Ehrlich
Out of Service
What to do when the tram service suddenly ceases, leaving you stranded in a far-flung location like long-term parking at a major international airport?
With more than 45 minutes until takeoff, I immediately checked in for my domestic flight via laptop. A few long minutes later, I feverishly began hailing drivers, who -- thinking I might actually be deranged -- wouldn't even roll down their windows. An airport bus conductor, with his feet up on the dashboard, claimed that he couldn't transport us to the terminal without word from dispatch. The lazy misanthropist flat-out refused to contact them for clearance, closed his door in our faces, and dusted myself and the other zombies who had clustered in prickling hope around the vehicle. I finally begged a ride to the terminal with the mechanic who assists with vehicular breakdowns. A few other would-be tram passengers crammed into the small, tool-laden minivan for the ride (for which we all tipped very well). Though a good Samaritan, he dropped me at the wrong terminal, where I breathlessly secured a boarding pass and was told to "run like hell." Far too late to check luggage, I surrendered my more than-3-ounce toiletries at security and rocketed through the terminal, clearing the gangway just in time for them to seal the cabin doors as I triumphantly took my seat.
Luck was on my side that day, but just in case, jot down your airport's customer service number before you leave home, and look into Travelers Aid (www.travelersaid.org), who staffs help desks at 25 North American airports (as well as a few in Australia) to answer questions and assist those in need. Otherwise, don't be afraid to roll those dice! -- Alexia Travaglini
Flat Out of Luck
Nothing can deflate a trip faster than a flat tire, but if you take the proper precautions, some torn rubber doesn't have to totally ruin your trip.
I recently rented a car in Costa Rica and only journeyed a few miles away from the rental car parking lot before discovering that one of my rear tires was punctured. Since I was driving in San Jose, which isn't one of the safest cities in the world, I knew that much more was at stake than an inconvenient change of tires. I'd read in Frommer's Costa Rica, in fact, that some San Jose thieves slash tires in order to force tourists off the road; that gives them an opportunity to offer assistance and take off with the car and passengers' belongings. With that warning in mind, I waited to pull over at a car repair shop, where some very helpful mechanics fought off the thieves who'd been following me and patched the tire up for a mere $3. Ultimately, the experience shook me up (next time I'm in Costa Rica, I'm going to constantly check for tire slashers in the rearview mirror), but was far from disastrous.
The moral of this story? If you're driving in a dangerous area and get a flat, do as I did, and pull into a car repair or gas station instead of going over to the side of the road. Better yet, if you're planning on driving, bring a cellphone and jot down local emergency numbers in case your car malfunctions. That way you're guaranteed to be back on the road again, quickly and safely. -- Jennifer Reilly
It's a problem that some people only dream of having: running out of pages in your passport. It's a predicament I found myself in while living abroad and planning a multi-country trip that would require space in my already six-year-old and visa-laden passport for two visas and eight stamps.
A U.S. passport is valid for 10 years. Each time you travel overseas, you should (technically) receive four stamps (one for leaving the U.S., one for arriving in the foreign country, one for leaving that country, and one for returning home). Considering that U.S. passports contain 24 pages that each hold four stamps, if you traveled abroad twice every year for 10 years, you would run out of pages. Visas take up whole pages, so it's easy to see how an avid traveler could easily use up all the pages in their passport before its expiration date. The State Department defines "running out of pages" as having less than four blank pages in your passport. The only solution is to have pages added. In the U.S., you can mail in a form, along with your passport, to the National Passport Processing center in Philadelphia. This process can take several weeks (just like renewing your passport), or for an extra fee can be expedited in two to three weeks. Visit http://travel.state.gov for further information and to download the form. There is no fee for added pages.
But what if you're living or traveling abroad and running out of pages? The U.S. embassy or consulate in your home-base country can insert the pages for you. Depending on the demands and strains on your local embassy or consulate, this can be done in less than 24 hours or take several weeks. -- Melinda Quintero
Your Attention Please
I can point to a single reason for most of my travel disasters: I wasn't paying attention. Anything that wasn't my fault usually turned into a challenging opportunity, and afterward, a good story. The time I rode the train to the end of Wales instead of getting off halfway through (it's not a very big country); the time I went to LaGuardia instead of JFK; and the time I fell down the steps at Montmartre ... not paying attention
The lesson I have taken from all this is that I will always have moments of inattention, one of which will probably be the lead sentence in my obituary some day. Until then, I always try to have a Plan B, some kind of backup or cushion that can help me out of the mess I've gotten myself into. My first, very simple rule: Carry some cash. I never head to the airport with less than $60 (with lots of ones) when I'm traveling domestically and the rough equivalent in the local currency when I've traveling overseas. When I went to LaGuardia instead of JFK, I hopped into the nearest cab and made it to the farther Queens airport for $40 (which included a good tip). I have found you can also get cab drivers to take you very long distances if you have cash in hand, up front, and if you are a good conversationalist. They want stories to tell their friends, too.
Secondly, you can depend on the kindness of strangers (most times). When I was 19 and completely lost in Wales, a policeman put me in his car and took me all the way back to the station I should have gotten off at. As a travel editor, perhaps I should not be confessing this.
Thirdly, always ask where the all-night diner is. Cops and taxi drivers need places to hang out. Whether it's an Eat & Park in rural Pennsylvania outside Harrisburg, a chrome-covered Art Deco style joint on Route 9 in New Jersey, or a Waffle House in South Carolina, things will always look more promising once the sun rises. -- Kathleen Warnock
I always thought my mom loved me, but when she made me wear shorts as a teenage girl in India, I had my doubts. We'd spend about a month visiting family during our summer vacation, and while we were used to the heat in Arizona, the sun in India was a different beast. I'd navigate the dusty streets of Delhi with my mom and aunt, all the while my bare legs soliciting inappropriate songs from rickshaw drivers and store clerks (one song basically translated to "your 'stuff' is very nice"). And while today you'll find bare legs, arms and everything in between when walking around certain parts of India, there are still areas there and around the globe where less is definitely not more. So what do you do when you find you're exposing more of yourself than what's acceptable? I always carry a shawl with me (it doubles as a blanket on less-than-generous airlines), which can be used to cover your head while visiting places of worship or areas where women traditionally cover their hair (predominantly Muslim regions often adhere to this). You can also wrap it around your waist sarong-style or throw it over your shoulders to cover body parts that might not be appropriate to expose in the area you're visiting. Try the Zari Dupatta ($29) and Kota Lehriya Dupatta ($16) from Fabindia (www.fabindia.com). While some may take the attitude that the locals are the ones who should adapt to visitors, I urge you to take to the local dress. You'll find that you'll feel more comfortable interacting with the locals and that you'll get treated a lot better if you try to blend in. -- Anuja Madar
Lost & Found
In the past year, incidences of missing and lost luggage have skyrocketed. Although your chances of winning this dubious lottery have increased, you need not let a missing bag ruin your vacation.
Prevention, of course, is the best method for avoiding lost luggage hardship. If you can't carry all your luggage on board and don't have the budget or desire to send it ahead of you via FedEx (www.fedex.com) or Virtual Bellhop (www.virtualbellhop.com), it's paramount to make certain that all of your bags are tagged with your home address and phone numbers. Also, be vigilant at check-in to ensure that all of your bags get properly tagged with the appropriate three letter destination code (and that you get and save your baggage receipt) -- this can go a long way toward avoiding lost luggage or getting it back quickly if it's lost. If you're traveling with someone, consider packing a few extra outfits in each other's bags in case one of your bags gets lost. Having had my bags lost twice in the last year, I've also learned the value of packing an extra outfit in my carry-on bag. Trust me, there's nothing more humiliating than showing up on Miami Beach in a sweater and mukluks. If, despite your better efforts, your bags fail to appear on the baggage carrousel, go immediately to the luggage service desk near baggage claim, where staff can set about reuniting you with your bags.
Though 98% of lost bags are returned within a matter of hours, make a point to ask about the airline compensation policy. You may be surprised to learn that your airline will reimburse you on all, or at least part of, new purchases up to a certain limit depending on how long your bags are missing. If you traveled on a more civilized airline, you may get a kit with grooming necessities and perhaps a fresh T-shirt. Before you leave the agents at the baggage service counter, get the local number of the lost luggage desk, and call it daily. If you're at a luxury hotel, don't be shy about asking the concierge for help; the best in the profession can work miracles in this department. If you're among the unlucky 2% of travelers whose bags take longer than several hours to arrive, continue to call the airline daily for updates and don't lose faith; odds are it will catch up with you. In the meantime, head to a mall or shopping district where the locals shop. If nothing else, you can use this as an opportunity reinvent your wardrobe. -- Marc Nadeau
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