How to Be Your Own Travel Advocate

I’m about to blow your mind with travel advice that’s also life advice: be your own advocate. And also, be proactive. These two little tidbits will get you through some rough patches, help you think outside the box (or travel outside the suitcase!), and keep you from being disappointed in many situations—travel or no travel. Because Steve and I have traveled so much, we’ve been met with all kinds of less-than-ideal travel situations.

There was that time we were nearly trapped in Quito because a volcano “exploded,” the situation where Hurricane Harvey in Houston almost had us stranded on Easter Island, and who could forget the time our flight to Auckland left us (and 20 other people) behind in San Francisco? None of these was ideal, but they all could have been much worse if Steve and I hadn’t been willing to do some extra legwork. No one else was going to do it for us! Here are a few ways to be your own travel advocate so YOU can have your best travel experience—despite the unexpected!

Keep Every Confirmation

Create a separate folder in your e-mail account and call it “Travel.”

If you’re old enough to travel on your own, you’re definitely old enough to be just a little bit organized! Or if you frequently plan multiple trips at a time, create subfolders for each destination, too. This way, you can keep every confirmation e-mail, phone number, physical address, and other essential info in one place. That means restaurant reservations, tour reservations, flight information, hotel reservations, etc. If you make a change to a reservation, keep all communication about that change.

Not sure if you’ll have wi-fi or cell service at your destination? Download the TripIt App and put all your trip information in it. You can even set it up to have all your travel confirmation e-mails automatically delivered to the app!

Don’t miss out!

Why is this important?

Because companies change “systems” more frequently than you might think, and things fall through the cracks. Also, people are not perfect: they make mistakes.

Should this happen? Of course not. Does it happen? Yes, and alarmingly frequently! Having a confirmation e-mail, confirmation number, and especially the name of the person with whom you made the reservation will prove that what you’re saying is true and you’re not just trying to pull one over on anyone. It will also prove that you deserve what you paid for or reserved. Most companies will try to make it right when they realize they made a mistake, but sometimes, you have to prove it.

Wanna make sure that helicopter ride happens? Keep Your confirmation!
More here: The Best Apps for Travelers

Re-confirm in Advance

Take two minutes out of your 24-hour day and call to confirm your reservations.

You can be proactive and get ahead of any potential reservation problems by simply calling to confirm a day or two before you leave for your trip. Just make a phone call, send an e-mail, or send a message on their website. Be sure to have your confirmation number and other relevant information on hand so they can confirm the information for you. Ask any questions you might have: How early do you need to arrive? Do you need to bring anything with you for practical or safety reasons? Where are you meeting? What’s the name of your tour guide? Is there a dresscode? Ask any questions, no matter how silly they might seem—if you don’t know the answer, you need to ask the question!

You went to the trouble of booking that sought-after restaurant reservation months in advance… better make sure they still have you on their books a day or two before!

Why is this important?

Would you rather straighten out the problem when you’re calm and excited for your trip, or when you’re jetlagged and the boat’s about to leave without you? You can prevent a great deal of frustration and disappointment if you just take the time to call and confirm in advance.

That desert excursion is expensive and takes precious travel time; better make sure they have you down for the right dates!
More here: How to be a Prepared Traveler

Anticipate Delays Before They Happen

It’s easier than you think!

Even if the weather is clear at your current location, odds are good that your plane is coming from elsewhere, and the weather may not be so great there. Regional flights that bounce around from airport to airport are notoriously delayed, and the domino effect can cause hours of delays the later the day gets. If you’re connecting to a flight that only goes once a day (like San Francisco to Auckland or D.C. to Qatar), it’s essential to be monitoring your connecting flight or flights the day of, or even the day before!

How? Put your flight information into the Flight View App, and in your airline’s app. Many airlines have flight trackers right in their apps. Just go to “Flight Status” or similar and type in your flight number and date. Either app will tell you where your incoming flight is located in real-time, and where your plane is coming from. The apps will tell you if your flight is cancelled or delayed before the gate agent makes the announcement, so by monitoring your flight’s status in advance, you can get a jump-start on damage control before anyone else!

Getting ready to take off!

Why is this important?

Being your own advocate means you’re the person looking out for number 1—that’s YOU! By anticipating a potential problem, you could have a solution before anyone else even knows there’s a problem. That means while the other 180 people on your cancelled flight are scrambling for the next available flight, you could already be sitting pretty on your new flight, possibly even enroute to your final destination sooner!

Jetting home from Tokyo with Mount Fuji in the background.
More here: Top 10 Travel Hacks

Know the Rules and Your Rights

Do a little research. Have a little backup plan.

This one applies most, but is not limited, to flights, cruises, train travel, and any other transportation you’re using to get to your travel destination. Have a Plan B if there’s a delay or cancellation, meaning when you speak to a customer service representative in person or on the phone, you can tell them EXACTLY what new flights you want.

The best way to be prepared is to read blogs (especially my Air Travel Page) to find out what common situations you can be prepared for. You can’t prepare for every situation, but just having some awareness of your rights and how things are supposed to work will go far in getting you where you need to be!

Also, find out what reasonable compensation is, and don’t be afraid to request it. For instance, ask for an Electronic Certificate (or “e-cert” if you want to sound like you’re in the know) as compensation for a mechanical flight delay. If you’re offered a choice between airline miles or an e-cert, remember that the rule of thumb is that 1 frequent flyer mile is equivalent to $0.01. So, if you’re offered 10,000 frequent flier miles or $150, the $150 is a better deal!

Better know the rules of the skies if you want to make the rules work for you!

Why is this important?

Bloggers give examples from real-life situations that you often won’t find a solution for on airline websites. We (bloggers) also happily share our hacks and shortcuts so you can actually avoid our own mistakes! So do a little Googling for research. Know what your rights are as a passenger.

Research the rules and your rights. It can vary by airline!
Here’s what to do in the worst case scenarios:
What to Do When Your Flight is Cancelled
and What to Do When Your Miss Your Connection
Traveling in Europe? How to Get Your EU 261 Compensation

Use the Right Terminology

Communication can only happen when you use the right words.

You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t need a degree in travel to talk to customer service representatives, but using the correct verbiage helps a lot. Using the right terminology will give you a little extra respect, as well as better results. For instance, if you walk into a vet’s office and say “My dog is hurt,” that’s not enough information for the vet to do his job correctly. But if you go in and say, “My Bernadoodle puppy swallowed a lego,” that gives the vet a much clearer picture of what they need to do to help your dog.

So, to put that into travel terms, if you say, “My flight’s not going,” that’s not enough information for the customer service representative to know how to help you as quickly as possible. If you say, “Hi. My name is Whitney O’Halek and my flight 3514 to Nashville just got cancelled, I’d like the next available flight, please,” he or she will know exactly what happened and how to help you. The goal is to help them help you. Don’t make them drag the information out of you if you want the situation to be resolved quickly!

Pop quiz! What’s the difference between a “non-stop flight” and a “direct flight?”

Why is this important?

You’d be surprised at how ineffective the words “thing” and “stuff” actually are when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t know you or your meaning. “That thing” you scan to get on a plane? That’s a “boarding pass,” not a “ticket.” “That stuff” you brought with you? That’s “luggage.” I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but just using the right words will go a long way in getting your point across. Using the right terminology will earn you extra respect and possibly a little extra help from the people who can help you!

Be prepared for anything!
Need help? Here’s a quick Guide to Travel Lingo!

Try Multiple Solutions

There’s always another way.

I learned a long time ago that there’s always another way to do everything, whether that’s folding towels (married couples will totally understand that one), packing a suitcase, or finding a travel solution. Here are some examples:

  • If you’re at the airport when things go wrong, stand in line for cutomer service and call the customer service phone number. You will get through to one of them first, but you won’t know which until you try them both.
  • If you’re at your hotel when your flight gets cancelled (as happened to us in Quito, Ecuador), get on the phone to speak with cutomer service and get on the Internet to look up other flight options.
  • If the airline you planned to fly has to cancel their one flight a day (as happened to us on Easter Island, Chile), find out who’s in their airline alliance (such as the Star Alliance or One World Alliance) and find out if any of those airlines can get you home.
  • If there’s a strike and the trains aren’t running and there’s no one around who works there to give you information (as happened to my friend Bianca and me in Paris), find someone on the street or at a hotel’s front desk to tell you how to get to the airport so you don’t miss your flight.

There’s always a way; you just might have to look a little harder for it!

Avianca saved the day when United couldn’t get us home due to disruptions from Hurricane Harvey! Avianca and United are both Star Alliance partners!

Why is this important?

Because tunnel vision is the source of missed opportunity. I came up with that saying myself. When you hit a roadblock in your travels, you just have to find another way. Trying the same thing over and over again won’t get you anywhere, but trying something else might. Getting away from the “one right way” of doing anything mentality will not only open up more options, it will get you ahead of the person who’s unwilling to do anything a little differently.

We rarely do things the same way, but we always make our travels work for us!
Read next: 9 Habits of Successful Travelers

Be Kind

Don’t be a jerk; customer service training does not include mind reading.

Along the same lines of helping the customer service representative help you, just be nice. Customer service representatives can be snippy, frustrated, and condescending, but you know what? You probably would be, too, if you answered the same basic questions multiple times a day, dealt with rude people, and were cussed out over the phone when a customer didn’t get their way through no fault of your own. Here are three ways to be kind to customer service representatives:

  • Greet them using their name (they have to tell you their name when they answer your call)
  • Ask how their day is going
  • Have some empathy; your problem won’t be the only problem they’re dealing with that day
This is me enjoying an unexpected upgrade just for being nice to the gate agent!

Why is this important?

Just as you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, you get better results from being nice than you do from being mean or rude. Remaining calm and being nice to someone else not only helps them have a better day, it gives them a reason to go the extra mile for you. That could mean an upgrade as a consolation prize for changing flights at the last minute to help the airline on an overbooked flight, a complimentary hotel stay for a missed connection that leaves you stranded overnight, or food vouchers that can be used anywhere in the airport for a delayed flight!

Just be kind, especially when it’s not easy.

When in doubt, be kind!
Check out the time a little kindness got me an upgrade!
Why Your Should Be Kind to Your Airline

Want more like this? Check out my Travel Tips Page!

What about you? Have you had to be your own travel advocate? Comment below to tell your story!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Hey there! I am an avid traveller and adventurer, and you're always welcome to join me! The things I love most are God, my husband Steve, and seeing new places! My favorite places include Sydney, Australia; Ise City, Japan; and Bergen, Norway--but there's always room for more favorite places!

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