Traveling smart in today’s world

Today, more people are traveling than ever before, and total numbers are expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year. Traveling always involves decision-making and at least a modicum of planning. If all goes well, it can be a joyful and exhilarating experience.

Unfortunately, the reality is that travel isn’t always painless. Schedules go awry; tempers flare and complications arise even during the shortest and best-planned trips. Weather delays are common, and there are growing logistical and safety concerns during peak holiday and summer travel seasons.

But that in no way means one should stay home. Even if you’re not a seasoned traveler. Even if you’re a senior citizen. Even if you’re traveling with small children. Even if you opt to travel alone to an unfamiliar destination. It does mean, however, that you should have a plan. No matter what your individual situation, the smart way to travel is to think beforehand about how you might deal with some common travel scenarios.

Think of it as an adult contingency plan, or enlist the kids or grandkids in a make-believe “travel drill.” Discuss why it’s important to know what to do and how to find help. Be matter of fact and confident. Travel should not provoke fear; travelers should exude confidence.

Some of the more common travel concerns today involve changed schedules, missed flights, petty crime, and credit card fraud. On our recent journey to South America and Antarctica, my husband and I encountered all of those, and dealt with other annoyances as well. Here’s how we coped:

Changing airline schedules and the potential of missed flights

Yes, travelers today are at the mercy of weather, overbooking, traffic jams, mechanical problems, and a number of other contingencies that can ruin a plan. Those things happen, and it does no good to give way to anger. Neither should you be consumed by fear of what might go wrong. The antidote to such delays, for us at least, is to plan to arrive at a destination well in advance of the time we need to be there. Wiggle room, even if it involves a night or two at a foreign hotel, is well worth it!

That being said, when we were told that the first leg of our three-flight itinerary from from Little Rock to to Santiago, Chile, would be delayed due to airline mechanical issues, we could not help but groan. Our trip had not even begun, and we momentarily thought it might end then and there. 

The first leg of our journey was to have been a relatively short flight to Charlotte. Then, another flight on to Miami where the plan was to meet up with another couple coming from Pennsylvania to board an overnight flight to Santiago. Making all the connections on time was a requirement, but we had sufficient time in each airport, and the weather forecast was for clear, dry conditions the entire way.

Rule 1: Never trust that your plans will fall perfectly into place. When we were told that there was no timeline for the needed aircraft repairs, we were concerned. With the announcement of a new scheduled arrival in Charlotte that was later than the anticipated departure of the connecting flight to Miami, we were upset.

Rule 2: Don’t lose your cool. I was one of the first in line at the airline counter to ask what could be done to enable our late-night international connection in Miami. I smiled as I asked! As it turns out, there was no way to make that connection. The alternative — suggested by the American Airlines passenger service rep who had helped us check our luggage — was to travel to Dallas and then board a non-stop flight to Santiago, with only about a two-hour layover at DFW Airport. It was a serendipitous solution and he made it happen. In fact, we would arrive at our destination about an hour earlier than previously planned. I asked about rerouting our checked luggage, and was assured that the airline knew where our bags were and where they needed to go. We were issued new tickets and boarding passes. 

Rule 3: Relax and reassess your options. We left a text message for our friends and made our way to our new gate, waiting for the flight to be called. Only then did we breathe sighs of relief. The flight to Dallas was short and uneventful. As promised, we later took our seats on the international flight out of Dallas, and we even slept a bit after being served dinner, awaking to see the sun rise over the Andes Mountains before landing at our destination. Our bags awaited us, as promised, in Chile.

The story doesn’t end there, however

A taxi transfer from the airport to our hotel in Santiago for the four of us had been booked and paid in advance. We had a company name and a confirmation, and we had a phone number. We made our way to the arrivals waiting area, where we expected to be greeted by a driver holding a card with our name on it. Because we were early, we were not overly concerned that no one was waiting.

One of the warnings we had received from previous travelers to Santiago focused on inflated taxi fares charged arriving passengers. We had followed the suggestion to book in advance and not fall prey to unscrupulous operators. We had heeded the warnings, and felt confident about our next moves.

When our friends arrived, it was nearly the time that our driver was to meet us. We were tired, and perhaps impatient, unfamiliar with the language and the airport layout. We tried, to no avail, to call the phone number we had. We checked our email and found nothing.

The details are not important here. Suffice it to say that we knew better, all four of us, but we still were victimized. We gullibly accepted help from a “charming” but ruthless con artist who offered to call our contact number from his phone. He looked at the number and made a call, speaking in Spanish. He reported to us that the company had apologized for the delay, but no car was currently available for us, It would be, he said, more than an hour until another car would be available. He then said that an associate of his had a van available, and would transport us to our hotel for a sum that was less than the charge for the ride we had booked, and that we could pay by credit card. Because we had no Chilean pesos in our possession, it seemed a reasonable solution.  

Should we have known better? Absolutely. We made a mistake, one we will not easily forget.

WARNING: Heed the specific warnings you receive about what to do and how to act in a foreign country. Ignore those warnings and deal with the consequences.

Awareness comes from unintentional mistakes

In our case, the consequences included having to respond to fraud inquiries from three separate credit card companies within hours of our arrival at the hotel. The driver of the van brought us to our hotel as promised, ran one credit card through a portable machine and reported that the charge (for $25) had been declined. Then, he tried another card, and another, with the same result, until we finally offered cash in American dollars, and the offer was accepted. (We actually tipped him a small amount for his trouble.) He unloaded our bags quickly and drove off immediately. 

We are grateful that we had phone service and that our respective credit suppliers are watchful and responsive. The attempted charges — just to make the extent of the problem clear — amounted to several thousands of dollars. (The fare for the cab ride we had originally booked was just under $50. Should we have questioned the $25 offer? Probably.) Our final liability — loss of the prepaid taxi fare. We later received email acknowledgement from the original company and driver that the scheduled pickup was deemed a “no show” after a 30-minute wait for us at the airport arrivals gate.

We consider it a relatively small price to pay for a big lesson learned. Other travelers have not been so fortunate. The experience was sobering, and we are still dealing with the fallout in some ways. It was not a pleasant introduction to a country that we had been prepared to like. Note that we did subsequently find much to like about Chile and its people!

Rule 4: Believe in the good, but prepare for the worst. From hidden money belts to a small cash reserve in the currency of each country you visit, from a credit card with a zero balance and an international reach to emergency numbers stored both on your cell phone and in your wallet, do what you need to do to keep in touch with your financial and personal resources at home.

Rule 5: Leave expensive, showy personal items at home. That includes jewelry, watches, extra electronic devices, and miscellaneous “toys.” Make use of hotel (or ship) safes for passports and travel documents, credit cards and cash, and look up local numbers for the embassy and consulate of your home country in the cities you plan to visit.

Rule 6: Don’t be paranoid, but, figuratively, “watch your back,” and the backs of fellow travelers. Petty crime — including theft of cell phones and cameras, and elusive pickpockets — is rampant worldwide. Again, we had been forewarned about such problems in the South American cities we were to visit, but we were not prepared to be approached by complete strangers in Santiago, in Valparaiso, in Montevideo, and in Buenos Aires, who told us in halting English to hold our phones tightly, to not sling our cameras casually across a shoulder, to remove wristwatches and flashy jewelry, and to hold our daypacks tightly against our bodies. In a way, such admonishments confirmed to us that most people are good; in another way, it was infinitely dismaying that residents warn visitors against the threats posed by their own countrymen. Vandals and bullies exist in all cultures. But I cannot help feel a lingering sadness that it is a way of life in some countries.

Rule 7: Opt for insurance.  Only you can decide what kind of insurance or how much is necessary. But to travel without the peace of mind that can be yours is an unnecessary gamble. Whether it’s reimbursement for lost luggage, coverage for trip delays and cancellations, or provision for medical treatment and emergency repatriation, most people consider some type of protection a necessity.

Whether you travel on your own, with a small group of friends or family, or as part of an organized tour, be aware that bad things can and do happen, perhaps more often than we realize. Don’t give in to fear, and certainly don’t stay home. Talk to others about their trips and their plans, and learn to know the people you encounter as you travel, as well as those you travel with.

Travel is still the best way to meet and learn about other people and other cultures, see new places, enrich your life, experience the wonders of this planet, and have stories to tell that will last a lifetime.

Now that we are home, will we travel again? You can count on it — as often and as far as possible!

About Adrienne Cohen

For more than a decade, Adrienne has been a freelance writer specializing in travel, food and drink, small business, urban agriculture, entrepreneurship, home design and decor, construction and real estate topics. Her bylined work has been featured in numerous print and online publications in this country and internationally. Read and follow her at, or follow her here to get her thoughts on current events, modern life and the complexities of living in a fast-changing world.
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