He was robbed, he said, but he didn't want anyone arrested. Yet there ought to be a law, he mumbled. His wife finished the story for him.
They had visited Britain. Before going, they'd contracted to rent a home on wheels, a "motor caravan." They expected what is known here as a recreational vehicle. And, yes, what they got was a recreational vehicle. Only how were they to know that one British version does indeed look like "nothing but a rebuilt pickup truck," as they described it?
Told more than once to expect something "small," in their minds eyes they still saw a kind of supersized Volkswagen bus and never dreamed of demanding a picture. In person, their caravan had a separate cab and a built-on cabin - "tacked on," in their indignant view.
Without a doubt, travel does have its share of ripoffs. But a vast number of consumers' complaints can be directly traced to the same two things that fouled up this couple's trip - unrealistic expectations and abundant innocence.
First-time travelers, in particular, experience a wide variety of expensive misunderstandings. The most common sad stories? Well, ones related to the following still regularly fill up complaint files:
The "You mean THIS is my seat?" problem. Yes, some airline seats are snug and, as fares go down, they'll get still snugger. At present, charter flights still pack in more people than scheduled flights, but these days getting there is unlikely to be half the fun in any case.
Certain seats do offer slightly more legroom than others, so if you feel seriously threatened, the choices are pay up and go first-class on a scheduled flight, fly "off-peak" on the days and hours when planes are likely to have their smallest loads, or get the airline to pinpoint the extra-roomy seats and ask ahead to get one.
The "double" trouble. So there they were on the Grand Tour, but hardly in the grand hotel room. Too small to swing a mouse in, much less a cat. Nonetheless, with a double bed it constituted a double room, so that was that; they were getting what they'd been promised.
But "that" needn't be that for customers who do an advance bed check and then specify what they want from what's available - two king or queen-sized beds perhaps, standard twins, one king, maybe even a four-poster (at an inn).
Moral: A "double room" can be virtually anything, including what's nominally a single room with a double bed, so it's only good sense to go into details.
Air fare facts. When you hear hot news about a new cheap air fare, don't just figure it's the same service with a newly knocked-down price. Cut prices come with certain inconveniences, usually restrictions on when you can fly, how long you can stay and when you must pay. Moreover, many cheap seats are available only in limited numbers - and sell out fast. For instance, the airlines offering "standby" and London can sell up to maximum number of these tickets, but they're not required to offer any, so at holiday and other heavy travel periods you may find only economy fares.
Hotels quotes rates a variety of ways, some with all the extras, some without. The extras, especially abroad, add up fast - for example, another 15 percent for service (tips), or 8 percent more for taxes.
In U.S. big-city hotels, there may also be hefty parking charges. Abroad, there are still occasional tabs for heating and air-conditioning. It's further advisable to ask if you're required to take your meals at the hotels. Few hotels deliberately hide such charges. But beginner travelers often don't know enough to ask questions about such add-ons.
Play it again, Sam (because words that sound like one thing can mean another). See the funny air traveler. Look how he frowns. At times, it's because he's just learned that "direct" means something quite different from nonstop. "Direct" flights get you where you're going, but with stops and starts at in-between towns they may take a lot longer. Similarly, flight may "connect" - but still involve a change of airport.
Also, bear in mind that "oceanview" hotels may indeed offer an ocean view, though not necessarily from all guest rooms. Forego even assumptions about a "superior" room in an oceanview hotel. "Superior" just means the hotel considers that the space, decoration and/or amenities make it one-up on its "standard" rooms. to insure an ocean view, it's essential to aks for it, period. Never confuse an oceanview room with an oceanfront room; in the former, you may have to do some hard leaning out your window to glimpse the sea.
Do-it-yourself disasters. Some travelers simply don't understand that some trips may be paradise for others but purgatory for them. For example, Peru's fabled Machu Piccu regularly does in certain elderly visitors who haven't had the good sense to recognize high-in-the-sky spots as physical challenges they shouldn't risk.
Still others - of all ages - book things like one-week charters to Hong Kong, overlooking the fact that such long journeys have been known to wipe out even reasonably sturdy sorts for a major portion of the alloted time.
The No. 1 thing, of course, is to understand that these days, pleasure travel can only be a pleasure when you start with questions, not assumptions.