Christopher Elliott, Special to USA TODAY Published 7:00 a.m. ET Sept. 4, 2020 | Updated 7:49 a.m. ET Sept. 4, 2020
Here are 6 tips to know before you book your flight during the COVID-19 pandemic. USA TODAY
So you had a terrible vacation. Whose fault is that?
As the busy summer travel wraps up, it's too easy to point the finger somewhere at an airline, hotel, or travel agent. Or, if all else fails, you can blame the pandemic. But the truth is a little more complicated.
"Trips are highly anticipated events in our lives," says Joseph Tropper, a clinical therapist who specializes in trauma issues. "They bring the promise of adventure, exploration, or just rest and relaxation. What people often forget, though, are the stress and hassles that come along with a trip."
A recent poll suggests that, although vacations occasionally go off-course, relatively few of them go entirely off the rails. The survey, by travel insurance company World Nomads, says that a majority of trips (57%)are "mostly" fine. But just over a quarter say their vacation had "moments," and just under 1% described their vacation as a "total disaster."
"The reality of travel is there is always something that goes a little wrong," says Phil Sylvester, a spokesman for World Nomads.
A closer look at the vacation horror stories reveals a surprising truth. Occasionally, the mishap is the traveler's fault. Yet travelers are reluctant to take responsibility. That makes them look like the worst kind of entitled consumers.
It's easy to blame an airline for the delay that caused you to miss your next flight. But if you planned the trip, maybe you bear some of the responsibility for the too-close connection.(Photo: RTimages/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Sometimes, there's an obvious villain in your vacation story. It's an airline with a mechanical problem or an agent who mixed up your dates. I deal with these problems every day as a consumer advocate.
But they're rarely as cut-and-dried as that.
For example, consider one of the most common airline problems, the missed connection. It's far too easy to blame an airline for the delay that caused you to miss your next flight. But take a step back. If you planned the trip, do you bear some of the responsibility for the too-close connection? Maybe.
Here's another common travel problem: visas and passports. People arrive at the airport and aren't allowed on board. They blame their travel agent or the airline. And certainly, those parties should shoulder some of the responsibility. But in the end, having the right passports and visas is your responsibility not theirs.
"Believe it or not, the blame is pretty shared," says Zach Smith, CEO of the travel site Anywhere.com. "In the digital age, collective expectations have soared as we've grown accustomed to getting what we want, when we want with the click of a button."
In the end, having enough validity left on a passport and the right visas are the traveler's responsibility.(Photo: YinYang/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A lot of the vacation horror stories I hear sound like Lindsay Nieminen's. Last summer, she visited the pyramids in Egypt with her two young kids, and almost everything went wrong. Nieminen and her guide didn't click, she missed a museum because it closed, and she almost didn't see the Sphinx.
"I ended up in tears," remembers Nieminen, who publishes a blog about traveling to the Middle East.
But when she inventories all the things that went wrong, there's an inescapable conclusion: "This one was my fault," she says.
It's true. Everything that went wrong, she could trace back to her lack of planning. That's an expensive lesson learned. But her admission is also rare. When I hear from readers, they're more likely to pin the blame on everyone but themselves.
The result of this collective denial is that travelers look like entitled jerks. When everything isn't perfect, they take it out on their travel advisor. They unleash a barrage of obscenities when the hotel has the room reservation for the wrong night a room they booked online. And they blame the airline for everything, including the weather.
Let me be clear: This is an "us" problem. The first step to fixing it is to accept some responsibility for our planning, or lack of it.
That's not to let the travel industry off the hook. For every one poorly planned tour, there are probably a hundred cases where blame all of it falls squarely on the shoulders of an incompetent travel company.
But sometimes, it's just you. Jeremy Bassetti, a college professor and travel blogger from Orlando, says too many people are looking in the wrong place when assigning blame for a terrible vacation. "People with bad attitudes will have the same attitudes back home or abroad," he says.
Or, to paraphrase the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca, your faults will follow you wherever you go.
To paraphrase the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca, your faults will follow you wherever you go.(Photo: izusek/Getty Images)
Experts recommend looking at the big picture when your vacation is a bust. For example:
Where did you get your vacation advice? Was it a tip from a friend? Did you work with a travel agent or advisor? Or did you pick something up from one of those travel blogs that try to sell you a credit card? From some sources like an agent there's accountability. For advice received online, not so much.
Did you screen the travel company? Did you carefully vet your airline, car rental company or hotel to make sure you're working with a reputable operator? Or did you choose the cheapest one without reading any of the reviews?
Who helped you plan your trip? Did you do it yourself? Did you have help from a reputable travel professional? Are you working with a tour operator? If you're working with a pro, you might have some recourse. And if you have a finger to spare, you can point it at them.
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