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Five ways to prevent travel hassles before you go

Many of the common problems experienced by travelers can be prevented before a trip even begins. Of course, you can’t stop an airline from overbooking a flight or a hotel from losing your reservation, but you can do a little prep work so you’ll be better armed in the event that something does go wrong. Plus, you can make sure that you’re not to blame for any problems that do crop up. If you want to ensure that your next getaway goes as smoothly as possible, follow these five tips for a headache-free vacation.

Do your research

It may sound obvious, but if you don’t book a trip that’s appropriate for your family or traveling companions, you’re not going to be very happy when you get there. An older married couple is less likely to enjoy a tour of Europe that caters to the 21-and-single set. Similarly, a family of four on a ski trip may not be so happy renting a compact car.

The best advice we have is to do your research before you book and choose travel providers and components that fit your needs. “Analyze the scope of services that the companies offer,” advises Paul Stifter, manager of public affairs for Hertz. Don’t book with a company that doesn’t offer what you want just to save money. For example, certain car rental agencies won’t let you drive out of state or return your car in a different city. You can avoid the hassle of discovering these details when you arrive (or worse, when you get the final bill) by researching each provider and booking the best one for your trip.

Read everything

Mistakes happen all the time. Perhaps you select “March” instead of “May” when reserving airline tickets, or a hotel assigns you one hotel room instead of two. These issues are easy to fix an hour after you receive your confirmation, but more difficult to fix when you arrive at the airport and you don’t have a reserved seat.

The best way to nip these problems in the bud is to read everything sent to you about your trip. Read your confirmation e-mails and double-check the dates. If something is not correct, call the provider immediately and fix it. Not only will you find it easier to correct a problem early on, it can sometimes be cheaper. For instance, Travelocity will waive its change and cancellation fees if you ask them to correct a faulty airline reservation within 24 hours of your purchase.

But don’t stop there. Read the fine print that says when you must check in or what visas you need to obtain. You should even go out of your way to read weather reports, safety warnings, and travel guides so you’re fully prepared. Laurie Berger, “Travel Q&A” columnist for the Los Angeles Times, says that “the answers to most problems are in the terms and conditions and fine print. You should always read these for your own protection.” These documents will tell you exactly what to expect on your trip, so you can avoid any travel faux pas and be armed with the knowledge of what the provider owes you if it defaults.

Get travel insurance

Berger also “still finds it amazing that most consumers don’t know about travel insurance. They don’t understand the difference between packages or the difference between trip interruption and trip cancellation coverage.” Travel insurance will be your best friend if you’re stranded at an airport, unable to make the start of your cruise or tour, or you have to cut your trip short due to illness. Instead of losing hundreds or thousands of dollars for last-minute airline connections, you’ll be reimbursed for your expenses once you file a claim.

When is insurance necessary? Berger recommends buying travel protection (both trip cancellation and trip interruption) when you spend a lot of money on a vacation, especially if you have to provide a hefty deposit or pay the full amount in advance. In addition, she suggests getting insurance every time you need to make a connection between your flight and the start of your trip.

Reconfirm your reservations

You may have made your reservation in advance with all the correct details, but that doesn’t stop an airline, hotel, car rental agency, or other travel provider from losing or changing your reservation. Your vacation won’t start out on the right foot when you arrive at your destination and discover that your reservation has disappeared. The best antidote is to confirm your reservations a day or two before you depart.

Sanjay Surana, ombudsman editor for Conde Nast Traveler, spells it out. “A couple of days before [you leave], confirm flight times and itineraries. Confirm check-in times for flights. Confirm all connections and transfers.” Make sure that every travel provider you plan on using knows who you are and when you’re arriving. This is also your last chance to get any relevant instructions, such as where to meet your tour group or when your room will be ready.

Pack your paperwork

Even if you’ve done all your homework and prepared well for your trip, mishaps can still occur. Your reservation can go missing or a hotel or car rental agency can be overbooked. It’s up to you to back up your claim with proof of your purchase or show the provider in black and white what they owe you.

Our last tip is to always pack your paperwork, including confirmation e-mails, receipts, brochures, and printouts of terms and conditions. Not only will you be armed with evidence in case a travel provider fails to deliver on its promise, but you’ll have on hand all sorts of helpful information, such as the address of the meeting spot for your tour and the phone number of your B&B.

In addition, you may want to bring photocopies of your passport or prescriptions for medications you need to take, in case your luggage is lost or stolen. You should keep these documents separate, so the originals and copies are less likely to disappear together.

Prepared travelers are happy travelers

Some people may think that doing all of this prep work in advance takes the fun out of travel planning. Why bother reading legalese in tiny print or compiling folders of confirmation e-mails when you could be shopping for a new swimsuit or dreaming about all the gourmet French food you’re about to eat? However, a little extra work added to your everyday chores is infinitely better than finding yourself stranded in a foreign city, missing the cruise or tour you’ve always wanted to go on, or paying hundreds of dollars to find a new flight, car, or hotel at the last minute.

When you follow the above five steps, your next getaway is much more likely to be relaxing and worry-free. Because you can always run into unexpected problems, read our advice for saving a vacation gone wrong. If the worst does happen, at least you’ll be able to handle yourself like a seasoned traveler, knowing that none of the problems were your fault.

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