avoiding travel problems

Unless you have the money to always travel by private jet and have a personal concierge on the other end each time, it’s hard to feel special these days when you travel. Everyone is a number on a spreadsheet while in transit. When things go wrong, those with Platinum Elite status at every airline and hotel are only slightly better off than the masses who are also delayed with no luggage.

It’s clear that most airlines in this hemisphere have given up on doing anything more than cramming their planes as full as possible. Some airports are running at full capacity and the outdated flight control system gets overtaxed every time the weather is not perfect. You can easily come up with a long list of other things making the A to B part of your vacation the least pleasant and most frustrating part. If you go in prepared for the worst, however, you can avoid many of the problems that will slow you down.

Pay Attention to the Seasons

If I had $5 for every person who has asked me if it really rains a lot during rainy season in Central America, I could buy a business class ticket to Costa Rica. It’s rainy there for about six months, including right when most North American kids are on their school vacation. Throughout the region, roads get washed out, bridges close, storms cause flight delays. If you must go where you’re going during the worst time for weather—and that includes hurricane season in the Yucatan Peninsula—then don’t cut it close on when you need to be back home. Build in some extra days.

Costa Rica green season

Take an Early Flight

When airports have delays, the backed-up flights start stacking up like factory items falling off an unmanned assembly line. If your flight was one of the first ones, you’re next in line. If you’re flight was to be at 4:00 p.m., you’re probably spending the night. Yes, it’s incredibly unpleasant getting up and lugging suitcases to an airport before the sun has even come up. But hey, you’ll skip the morning traffic then too.

Pay for Peace of Mind

Travel insurance is one of those things you hate to lay out money for, but then you’re very glad when your number comes up and you need it. I’ve heard plenty of stories where people avoided losing thousands of dollars or got out of a jam because of the policy they had for their travels, from medical emergencies to lost luggage to trip cancellation issues. To see a full list of benefits provided through a policy, visit Allianz Travel Insurance.

Carry Your Luggage

travel peace of mindPeter Greenberg likes to say, “There are two kinds of bags: carry-on and lost.” The 2014 statistics show that your chances are not quite that bad if you check a bag. The major U.S. airlines averaged a loss rate of 3-4 bags per 1,000 passengers and most of those bags made it back to their owner intact. Understand though that you are taking a big risk if you have multiple connections and you’re not staying in the same city as the airport after you land. Imagine the scenario if your bag didn’t land until 36 or 48 hours after you did. Where will you be then?

The other reason to carry on is in case there’s an airline problem, which is of course the most frequent kind of travel problem. If you have to switch to another plane all of a sudden or the flight gets diverted to a different airport, you still have your luggage. Anyone who checked theirs doesn’t. Last, on prop planes from the likes of Nature Air in Costa Rica, you pay by luggage weight, both in terms of fare class and excess charges. If you bring a huge suitcase, you may end up spending more for that than you did for your flight. Pack light and do some laundry mid-trip.

Have Some Help in Your Pocket

I once found out my flight was cancelled just as I was about to head to the airport. Using nothing but Twitter on my phone, I was able to get booked onto another flight from a different airport via @DeltaAssist and was on my way a few hours later. If you use something like TripIt Pro you get alerts for any delays or gate changes, often before the workers at the gate even announce them. If you have the app for the airline you’re flying with, you can often get rebooking help while others are waiting in a 30-person line.

What about you? What steps do you take now to be sure your trip has less risk of going wrong?