August 10, 2008

Handy Hints When Traveling

For the past several weeks I have been traveling and can't wait to share with you my adventures on the Black Sea.

I still get excited when I have the opportunity to visit new places and this was a new destination for me. I had been to Istanbul and Athens before, but had never visited the Ukraine, Bulgaria or Romania. I absolutely loved Romania and hopefully will have an opportunity to see more of Romania in the next year or so.

Before I start my articles on the Black Sea, I want to cover a few subjects near and dear to my heart: reading and understanding your itinerary prior to travel, lost luggage and passport safety.

I can't emphasize enough the need to read your travel itinerary prior to leaving on your trip. Most of the time travel agents go over the itinerary with their clients to make sure all the reservations are correct. However, there are times when clients are in a hurry or they request the travel agent mail the documents.

Even though we strongly suggest the client go through their documents upon receipt, that does not always happen. I have heard horror stories of clients getting to the airport only to find their flight was scheduled for the previous day (or the following day) or the minivan they thought they reserved turned out to be a "minicar." None of this is funny and it's a travel agent's biggest nightmare. The best way to avoid the problem is to read your documents and make sure you have what you paid for and what you expect.

Every passenger hopes their luggage will end up in the same city they are flying into. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Lost or misplaced luggage has become a major problem for the airlines and a headache for the passenger. You would think with all the bar codes, flight numbers and city codes, lost luggage would be a thing of the past. Not so. Here are some suggestions that may help in the future:

When you check your luggage, make sure the agent types in the correct city code. We're all familiar with LAX, but what about Sacramento (SMF) or Nashville (BNA). Know the three-letter city code of the city you are flying into and make sure the luggage tag is correct.

Make sure your nametag is securely attached to your luggage. I slide my business card into my luggage tag so it has my business address and telephone number. It's never a good idea to put your home address on your nametag. You don't want wandering eyes to know that your home is vacant while you're traveling. Also, be sure to put a nametag inside your suitcase, just in case the outside one gets torn off.

When going on a cruise, always go in at least one a day prior to embarkation. Between airline cancellations and missed connections, you definitely want to give yourself an extra day just in case you or your luggage doesn't show up due to airline scheduling, weather conditions, etc. Most cruise companies offer one or two night pre- packages. If they are too expensive ask your travel agent to look for a less expensive hotel. However, when you don't reserve the hotel through the cruise company you may have to find your own way to the port - complimentary transfers are usually not included. In the long run, it may be less expensive to book the hotel through the cruise company.

So what's your next step when the carousel stops and one or all of your bags does not appear? Head to the airline claim counter with your checked baggage tags in hand. If you were on two different airlines, go to the counter of the last airline you flew. Like it or not - they are responsible for finding your luggage.

Next, ascertain if your luggage is delayed or missing. On my last trip I flew from LAX to Istanbul via Frankfurt. In Istanbul my luggage was not on the carousel. I went to the Lufthansa's claim counter and using the barcode on my claim tags we discovered that my bags were still in Frankfurt and would arrive in Istanbul the following morning.

They apologized for my inconvenience and gave me an emergency overnight kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and brush, a T- shirt, hand cream and other incidentals. My suitcases were at the Four Seasons the following morning. I had also packed a complete change of clothes in my carry-on, just in case. They definitely came in handy.

What happens if your luggage is missing? You might think that with all the barcoding, scanning, bag-matching, and security in general, it is impossible for bags and passengers to get separated. Unfortunately, it is still very possible for this to happen, and - suggestion - don't get into a detailed and heated discussion on this point with the baggage claim representative at the airport! It isn't his fault and it isn't something he can control or fix. By all means write a letter to the airline subsequently, but for now, concentrate on resolving your missing bag problem as best you can.

If the baggage claim representative does tell you your bag is completely lost, don't panic. Ninety-eight of all bags that are missing at this stage will be found in the next four or five days, and most of those will be found in the first 24 to 48 hours. Keep in contact with the airline and make sure they know where to find you - even if you'll be on a cruise ship in the Black Sea.

Some airlines now have Web sites where you can key in their lost bag tracking number and get real-time information on the status of the bag. Other airlines force you to rely on old-fashioned phone calls, and usually they do not have 24-hour service at their lost bag centers. Get - and give - as much contact information as possible. Make sure you ask them when is the soonest they might get an update on the bag's status. Ask what hours their lost bag service center is open for taking phone calls. Ask them how they will get your bag to you, and how long that takes from when the bag arrives on a flight to when it is delivered to your hotel/home/wherever.

Also ask them how long it would be before your bag is declared lost and gone for good. Will you then need to fill out a lost bag form (almost certainly, yes). If so, and just in case the worst does come to the worst, can you take a copy of that form with you now, to avoid an extra trip to the airport?

On the brighter side of things, let's hope you bought travel insurance and that your policy contains a lost luggage reimbursement. That, plus airline reimbursement (that's negotiable), should enable you to pick up a few outfits to get you through your vacation. If you bought new clothes for your trip, keep the receipts until you get home. You may need to make copies to send to the insurance company.

Passport security: When you're staying in a foreign city, I strongly suggest you leave your passport in the safe at your hotel. If there is no safe in your room, use the safe at the front desk. I carry a COPY of my passport in my wallet for identification, but not my passport. If you have ever lost a passport when traveling, you understand exactly what I am saying. To get a passport replaced in a foreign country takes time and patience. To avoid the problem, keep your passport at your hotel under lock and key.

Hopefully these hints will prove helpful for your next trip. Have fun and stay safe.

Visit my blog at If you miss any of the articles you can catch up on the blog and see additional pictures and videos. Comments are welcome.

Redlands resident Ilene Cox owns Redlands Travel Service on West State Street.

(c) 2008 Redlands Daily Facts. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.