Lessons learned from my recent international travel fiasco

I just returned from a whirlwind work trip to the beautiful country of Nepal. While my experience in Nepal was extraordinary in every way, my experience getting there was…not. Here are some lessons learned from three tiresome days filled with lengthy flights, long lines, delays, and lost luggage:

Demand all of your boarding passes at the beginning of your trip

My outbound itinerary consisted of three legs:

  • Dulles->JFK
  • JFK->Abu Dhabi
  • Abu Dhabi->Kathmandu

When I checked in at Dulles, I was given my boarding passes for the first two legs, but not the third. The attendant at the check-in counter told me that I would need to get my third boarding pass at the airport in Abu Dhabi. “No problem,” I thought. “That’s just how things are done. I have a four-hour layover, so it will be fine.” Not so. Due to fog issues, there were massive delays and glacially-paced queues at the Abu Dhabi airport. My travel companions and I seemingly had no shot at getting our boarding passes in time. By the time we actually found an airport official to help us, still an hour before our flight, our seats had been given away to stand-by passengers because we hadn’t checked in. Of course, employees at the Abu Dhabi airport were confused as to why we didn’t already have our boarding passes in the first place, and said we could have gotten them at the initial Dulles check-in. Sigh. We wound up being re-booked on another flight to Kathmandu the next day, spending the night at a hotel in Abu Dhabi, and arriving a day later than planned.

Take a carry-on

While the two colleagues with whom I was traveling took carry-on suitcases, I decided to check my bag. “My last international trip went so smoothly,” I thought. “There won’t be any problems.” I must have forgotten to knock on wood, because my suitcase did indeed get lost somewhere along the line. I arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday, and didn’t hear any news about my bag until Tuesday afternoon (it was found, hooray!). Due to my schedule, I wasn’t able to pick it up until Wednesday. Thank goodness my colleague was able to loan me some work-appropriate shoes in the interim. In the future, I am planning to bring only a carry-on suitcase on international trips, especially for trips that are less than two weeks in warmer climates. This brings me to my next tip…

Pack lightly

I have a tendency to overpack, as I suspect most travelers do. But being without my suitcase reminded me how little I actually need on a trip. For five days, I lived a blissfully simple existence, with zero clothing choices and only the most basic of toiletries. On future trips, I intend to pack a very simple wardrobe with easily-washable items and no frills.

If your luggage is delayed, be sure to get a WorldTracer ID number

When your bag doesn’t show up at baggage claim, you are required to fill out a passenger property form to report it. The attendant should provide you with a 10-digit WorldTracer file reference number that you can use to track your bag. For whatever reason, the person I was working with did not write the number on my form, and I had to call United Airlines later to request it.

Take photos of all of your boarding passes and bag tags

I’ve gotten in the habit of snapping quick photos of all necessary travel documents with my cell phone. You never know when you might lose one of those tiny pieces of paper…or be asked to provide one to an airline staff member and not get it back.

Remember your travel power adapter

Invest in a worldwide power adapter and keep it on you. You never know when you might need to charge your cell phone and not be able to find the right kind of outlet. I completely forgot that I needed a travel adapter and had to borrow from others.

Build in an extra vacation day at the END of a work trip

My original itinerary had me arriving in Kathmandu with a day to spare before my conference, during which I had planned to explore and enjoy the city. However, due to my travel delays, I arrived a day later than planned. Thank goodness I had that extra day built in, or else I might have missed the first day of my meeting. However, from now on I am going to build in any vacation days at the end, rather than the beginning, of my work trips, to ensure I don’t miss out on the opportunity for some free time in a new place. I also think that one is more prepared (and less jet-lagged) at the end of the trip for doing some relaxing and exploring.

Despite my travel troubles, it was all worth it for this view of the Himalayas from my airplane window:

IMG_4565

Do you have any rules of thumb to make sure your international travel experiences run smoothly?

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One thought on “Lessons learned from my recent international travel fiasco

  1. I got a bunch of good tips from this, Julie. Thank you! Never heard of WorldTracer and didn’t know about a worldwide power adapter – glad I know now. I agree with the part about simple, washable clothes, and I wash (in the sink) and wear the same stuff over and over on trips, so can take a three week trip with just a carry-on, maybe longer but haven’t had that opportunity yet. Lately I’ve taken my favorite clothing item, jeans, on international trips. Hard to wash in a sink since they take forever
    to dry. Any suggestions? I wear jeans 360 out of 365 days a year and can hardly wait to put them back on whenever I wear anything else at home or traveling. Any great substitute available?

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