Travel can be unpredictable. At least that’s what Socrates Anastasiadis will tell you when you ask him about his recent Vantage River cruise from Basel to Amsterdam.
When he arrived in Switzerland, the cruise line dropped some bad news on him: Because of low water levels on the Rhine, part of his cruise had turned into a bus tour.
If you’re traveling somewhere this summer, there’s a strong chance that you’ll also experience the wonderful unpredictability of travel. From low water on the Rhine to high temperatures that could ground your flight, you never know what Mother Nature or Lady Luck will throw at you.
The key to overcoming unpredictability? The right attitude, a little research — and an airtight travel insurance policy.
“Unknowables are something that we have to confront,” says Ory Owen, the business operations manager for Zaloo’s Canoes, an outdoor adventure company based on the New River in the mountains of North Carolina. This year, they have included electrical storms that make river conditions unsafe, water that is too high and moving too fast and a rabid beaver terrorizing the river.
“The beaver prevented us from operating for a few days,” Owen says.
Anastasiadis, a retired financial adviser from Chino Hills, Calif., says he didn’t mind the detour. “People complain about their cruise turning into a bus tour,” he says. “Well, excuse me, but when you’re on a river cruise, daily sightseeing involves getting on a bus. You eat and sleep on the riverboat. Yes, it’s more romantic being on a boat and going port to port along the river — but the bus ride is unavoidable.”
Even so, Vantage sent him an apology and offered him a $1,200 credit for an upcoming cruise. It’s a welcome contrast to travel companies that are too quick to invoke the “act of God” excuse to leave their customers high and dry.
Anastasiadis makes an important point, generally reserved for the end of stories like this: Attitude counts. If you fly to Europe this month expecting hot summer weather, for example, you might be disappointed. If you can’t pack a positive attitude, then at least bring an extra sweatshirt, because as someone who lived in Europe for almost two decades, I can tell you summers are sometimes downright frigid.
You can avoid surprises by doing your homework when you plan your trip. That’s what Linda Anderson, a retired saleswoman from Ellington, Conn., does. She checks the site Strike Informer to find out if any work stoppages could affect her trip. Another favorite resource is online newspapers for the country she’s about to visit.
“There is at least one site that has the news in English,” she says. “I start reading usually two to three months before my trip. You not only find out about strikes, weather, civil unrest but also about the newest exhibits, museum openings and closings, concerts, restaurant reviews and other helpful information.”
A travel agent can help, too. Knowledgeable professionals are trained to do things vacationers typically don’t, such as monitoring the financial health of tour companies and keeping abreast of health risks at their customers’ destinations.
“There are sooo many things that can go wrong with any trip,” says Mary Emanuel, the owner of Premier Group Travel, a travel agency based in Mount Dora, Fla.
But there are ways to manage the randomness of travel. Choosing a tour operator or cruise line carefully tops the list. For example, if you book a cruise with Emerald Waterways, it comes with a river cruise guarantee at no extra cost.
“If they can’t sail due to high or low water, Emerald offers the traveler a few options,” says Nish Patel, president of Mayflower Cruises and Tours, which has the same parent company, Scenic Group. “You can either fly home and get a refund or stay on the ship and get a prorated refund based on the number of segments we have to do via a motor coach.”
Travel insurance is another way to protect your vacation against life’s vagaries. Burnham Arlidge, a senior editor of Expeditioncruise.net, a guide to adventure cruises, advises shopping for a policy carefully. A standard travel insurance policy doesn’t cover every type of vacation. If you’re going on a cruise, for example, be sure to let your travel insurer know. “They will give you an updated — and often more expensive — policy that covers you,” he says.
Insurance is particularly important when it comes to weather delays. Study your policy carefully to make sure trip delays and cancellations are covered, otherwise you may find yourself high and dry after a storm. Also, check to make sure that shore excursions are covered. Often, they aren’t.
There are other limits, says Anna Ransom, owner of Destination Yours Travel, a travel agency in Las Cruces, N.M. “Many travel insurances won’t pay for the difference between a bus tour and a river cruise in case of drought,” she says.
Instead of leaning too heavily on insurance, which is helpful in some but not all circumstances, Ransom prepares her clients for what could happen. You know, the whole attitude thing.
“My goal with river cruises is to prepare my clients to be flexible,” she says. “Having a good sense of humor about the things you can’t change makes them much more bearable — plus they make great stories to tell your friends at home. If having to do a portion by land is really a hardship then a river cruise might not be the best option.”
That’s good advice for any summer trip.
Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at email@example.com.