Even the most seasoned Wanderluster isn’t exempt from things going awry at the best of times. The trouble is that the concept of travel has been romanticised largely thanks to perfectly curated Instagram feeds, and far be it from me to burst that bubble but the truth is that there is a less glamourous side of travel that gets swept under the carpet and forgotten.
This month’s travellinkup topic delves into travel challenges, and I promise you despite the wanderlust inducing posts on my own social media and blog (shameless plugging going on here) I have had my fair share of challenges too and in my years of setting Footsteps Across the Globe, have found that experience is always a great teacher. Here are five challenges I have faced and the lessons learned from them.
1. Delayed Flights
A delayed flight the bane of any travellers existence. The delay becomes particularly annoying when there is a connection at the destination on a completely different airline and you end up missing this as a result of the originating airline’s delay.
Wanderlustmate M and I have had two experiences where we have missed connections thanks to airlines. The first was when we were delayed for no apparent reason from Nairobi to the Seychelles: we just weren’t given a reason by the airline we were travelling on and we were kept waiting for hours with no information! We missed our connection to Praslin once we landed in Mahe and to add insult to injury we literally had to beg the airline to compensate us for what was clearly their fault.
The second was more recent, when our flight to Kathmandu was delayed by more than 2 hours from Bharatpur Airport in Chitwan. Again, no good reason given here which meant that we missed our connection to Delhi and when we finally arrived in Kathmandu, we had no choice but to buy a new ticket to travel back to Delhi.
What we did:
As hard as it was we tried to keep very calm because as much as we wanted to, getting stroppy with the ground staff would only result in them being more unhelpful than they already were. We had to keep reminding ourselves to breathe in and focus on the bigger picture. I wish that airlines would do their patrons the courtesy of giving them information but even in this day and age, sadly there is little to no information shared.
We now ensure that we have a minimum of 5 hours before any connection if it isn’t on the same airline and we are unable to stay in a destination.
Remember that you need to factor in:
1. Transfer time between landing, immigration and luggage (if you are collecting luggage); and
2. Closing of check in for the next leg.
2. Delayed baggage
Another one of those challenges that you can really do without. We had an incident where our bags were just not put on the plane from Nairobi, and we were sans fresh clothes in Johannesburg for two nights. The irony was that despite staying in Sandton next to a shopping mall we couldn’t even shop for new stuff as we were travelling onwards to Botswana and we had a 10kg per person luggage weight restriction!
What we did:
We got our hotel concierge to deal with the airport and the airline for us, which she did super efficiently. The hotel was also kind enough to give us toiletries and launder our clothes for us so even though we were wearing the same clothes for 2 days, at least they were clean! The moral: ask for help, you will very often get it!
What we do now:
We ensure that we carry an overnight bag with a change of clothes and some basic toiletries whether we have a transit or not. I also put a spare set of fresh clothes and underwear in Wanderlustmate M’s suitcase and he does the same in mine so that in case one of our bags doesn’t show up, at least we have a change of clothes readily in hand.
3. Codeshares and Visa Entries
The story here may be of benefit to my fellow Kenyan Passport holders, as Wanderlustmate M and I learned a very painful and expensive lesson when we travelled to Vietnam many moons ago. In this trip, we also combined Cambodia and Bali, and so there was a fair bit of traversing back and forth making Bangkok the base of choice.
Our route was: Nairobi-Bangkok-Siem Reap- Phnom Penh- Hanoi- Bangkok – Bali – Bangkok – Nairobi. This route envisioned us entering Thailand three times over the trip. The plan was to land in Bangkok from Nairobi, spend a couple of nights and then fly onward to Cambodia and Vietnam before returning to Bangkok to travel to Bali, and then back again to get our flight home.
Our first mistake was assuming that as we were not exiting the airport when we did the Hanoi-Bangkok-Bali leg we did not need to apply for an entry as it was a transit leg and therefore we only applied for two entries into Thailand, and not three.
Our second mistake was assuming that the airlines would transfer our baggage from one to the other thereby saving the second entry for when we returned to Bangkok from Bali.
This trip taught us valuable lessons on Visa entries and the importance of airline codeshares. We travelled from Hanoi to Bangkok on Qatar Airways and we had a connection on Air Asia from Bangkok to Bali. Guess what? Being a budget airline, Air Asia did not have a codeshare with any airline leave alone Qatar Airways and Qatar couldn’t transfer our bags straight on to Air Asia from Vietnam through to Bali! This meant that we had no choice but to exit on landing, collect our baggage, go through immigration (being an international flight) and lose our second entry into Thailand…
To add to this we couldn’t apply for an extension for our visa in Bangkok before departure because the immigration office opened at 6 am (when we were supposed to be boarding our flight to Bali) and on arrival in Bali, we found that the Thai Embassy out there had closed for the holidays and wouldn’t open for the new year!
What did we do?
Well, first of all we spent the entire morning on arrival in Bali trying to get a new Thai Visa simply because we needed to get back to Thailand for our flight home. We called the Thai Embassy in Nairobi, the emergency number in Bali and even the Thai Embassy in Bangkok but this was just NOT happening! Then we googled the possibility of sending our luggage to Nairobi on DHL, getting on to Air Asia and transiting through the airport to connect to our flight back to Nairobi only to realise that we wouldn’t be able to board the flight out of Bali without a valid visa to Thailand. Eventually we had to count our losses and give up on both the return to Bangkok on Air Asia and return to Nairobi on Kenya Airways (both of which were non-refundable) and buy the cheapest ticket we could find back to Nairobi from Bali which happened to be on Qatar Airways.
This was the start of our slow and much more sensible travel. We ended the madness of whistle-stop itineraries and have now started to explore a country better versus trying to rush through multiple destinations. We also vowed not to use a budget airline again unless there was no alternative.
We are also super careful with the number of entries we need and we take our time when filling out visa applications to make sure that we have applied for the correct number and type of entry.
This experience planted the seed for the writing of this travel blog. I remember traversing the rice paddy fields in Ubud thinking…if only someone somewhere had written about this, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this dilemma! Well, fellow Kenyans: I hope that my lessons are helpful and prevent you from making the same mistakes I did!
4. The challenge of Time
Alas. I wish that I were a full time Wanderluster with oodles of time (and money) to spend in one destination, discovering it to its fullest! Being a part-time Wanderluster has its fair share of challenges in trying to soak in and discover a place as best as one can with the limited amount of time, because more often than not, travel is incorporated into work/life balance thanks to leave days which sadly aren’t unlimited.
I don’t know which genius decided that we needed to have a month off for every 11 months worked in a year, and the work to leave ratio is skewed. But, it is what it is and because of time constraints we often have to jam pack our days with early mornings and late nights, and make time for photography and penning memoirs such that by the time we get back home we need a holiday from travel! I can’t say I don’t love it though and though time is a challenge, we do try to see the glass as half full and make the best of the situation.
5. The Challenge of Multi-tasking
I am only a part time Wanderluster and with my demanding day job thanks to being a Partner in my Law Firm you can only imagine how hard juggling my passion and my job is. I am not complaining and only accepting the status quo- I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know how some of my blogger friends do it all. I know it takes a heck of a lot of discipline: something that I am working on, but in the meantime, the struggle is real.
Wearing different hats at different times makes Time itself elusive for me. I struggle to prioritise all the things I love: content creation, writing and to add to that keeping up with perfectly curated Instagram feeds which constantly make me feel like I’m not doing enough. Oh, and throw in laundry, grocery shopping and running a home as well as planning travel and travelling: thank goodness for Wanderlustmate M who supports me in every little thing that I do to ease my woes! But, you get it: as perfect as pictures make it seem, this lifestyle though a conscious choice isn’t as easy as it looks but thankfully the fact that I love it despite its challenges makes it all worthwhile. But I still dream of the day that I can pursue my passion full time…
Even with a myriad of challenges, Travel is still my drug of choice and one of my all-time favourite quotes still rings true…
…The best stories are those found between the Pages of a Passport…
This month’s Travellinkup topic is Challenges. What challenges have you foreseen, faced or overcome?
How to link up your post:
Just pop your post up over the first week of the month (the 1st – 7th May 2018), add it to the link up widget found on Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine or on the blog of our lovely guest host Binny’s Food and Travel Diaries.