“Sir – we cannot check you in for your flight to Hong Kong as you do not have the authorization letter for your ultimate destination Vietnam!” – those are the LAST things you want to hear when checking in for your trip! That just happened a few hours ago!
There are a lot of blogs out there that talk about ‘picture perfect’ trips. Perfect trips with no deviations. Well – this post is dedicated to help you navigate the reality that S#it can happen in travel as it does in life -the best way you can deal with it is to be prepared. Your ability to think on the spot is the biggest lesson you take from travel experiences that applies to life as well! Unexpected events are a reality of travel – some you can avoid – some you can’t. These tips apply in both situation! Enjoy the narration of the last 20 hours to get tips that will prepare you for that uncomfortable or unexpected development in your next adventure.
The process is the same – whether I are dealing with a trip situation or a management consulting project crisis. The biggest tip is “Smile J” – do not let the situation overwhelm your ability to process information, analyse options and develop a game plan to get you your ultimate objective. Be flexible and work with people as opposed to getting confrontational.
“Excuse me. I must have mi-understood. I thought you said I CAN’t board the flight” I replied. “That is correct Sir – you do not have the approval visa letter.”
Tip 1: Do your diligence! So – having travelled around the world extensively – usually I am quite good at doing my due diligence. This has NEVER happened before in the last 65 countries. I checked on the internet for visa requirements and it mentioned that Visa will be given on arrival. In all that was happening in life, I did not do the next level round of diligence which would have told me that “as a Canadian citizen Visa is given on arrival BUT you need prior authorization form the Vietnamese government and written letter”. I saw on the blogs that many travellers have had this challenge which messed up their trips.
“Are you sure?” “I have been working here for the last 15 years – of course I am sure! Your best chances are to wait in Toronto and fly when you have the visa” She was getting defensive!
Tip 2: Work with people. At this point, I realized I was losing the check-in person who is my best bet to get to my destination. The normal reaction is to get confrontational. It wouldn’t help. Smile. Work with the person. Disarm the conversation so she/he comes on your side to help you resolve it.
“I am not questioning your authority. I am just looking for a way for my trip to proceed. Madam – you have extensive experience as you mentioned. What are my options that get me on that plane to Hong Kong”
Tip 3: Immediately assess the next best scenario. Keep an open mind. At this point, my priority was to board the Hong Kong flight. It is Chinese New Year tomorrow so travel is hectic. If I get stuck in Toronto – I am NOT getting out of here on any reasonable flight for the next 5 to 6 days!
“Well – you could go to Hong Kong and immediately apply for the visa online from Toronto Airport. There is a small chance you may get it in your email before you arrive so you can still catch your flight to Ho Chi Minh City if you ‘show us the letter’”
Tip 4: Decide when given an option quickly. The only two options at this point were if I stay in Toronto or in Hong Kong. It’s an easy choice. The whole trip is unclear but at least I will be enroute. Fully prepared to have a wonderful new year in Hong Kong if need be
“Absolutely! Can you please notify Hong Kong that in the case I do get my visa then they do not forfeit the seat to Vietnam. If I don’t get my visa letter, I will happily spend the New Year in Hong Kong “
Tip 5: Be Flexible. Probably the most important lesson is to keep an open mind. I find people ‘lose their cool’ if anything they didn’t plan on their dream vacation doesn’t happen exactly how they wanted. If the room with the view to the ocean was obstructed. If the floor was 2nd vs 3rd. Well – the bigger objective in travel and in life is to have a good time and the best thing to pack with you to make that happen is a positive attitude. In my situation, my ‘worst case’ with this new option was a Chinese New Year in Hong Kong! I mentally snapped on that and was already imagining dancing dragons and full on festivities.
So after checking in to only the Hong Kong segment, I proceeded through security to get to my gate with 40 minutes to boarding time. It was time to give the visa a shot. I researched on the internet and applied. There was an urgent 1 day processing option. As soon as the application went through, I called the number provided and managed to get to an official. He was able to verify that they received my application and I can expect the visa ‘after the Tet New Year’ on 2nd Feb! Hmm.. at this point the Hong Kong New year was becoming a reality. I asked him if there was ‘any chance he could help me given that I am the first time visitor to his country and committed to volunteering’
Tip 6: Create a personal connection. Be polite. The tone changed and he said he will do what he can as I have paid the urgent processing fee. In the 10 minute conversation, filled with why I was coming to Vietnam, the officer went from ‘no -its not possible’ to let me see who I need to talk with to get this done. He said if it was to happen – it would happen in the next 2 hours as the offices were closing for the next 5 days.
After thanking him profusely, I went back to imagining dancing dragons in Hong Kong. This was going to be a LONG SHOT. I landed in Hong Kong 2 hours ago and was happily surprised that my Vietnamese approval letter was sitting in my Inbox. There was a person at the door from Cathy Pacific with my name on it who escorted me to the transfer desk to help me handle the whole ‘get my bagged check to Vietnam process’.
Tip 7: If you have a choice, go with a good airline that has a big base in the city you are visiting. They have infrastructure that will come in handy if a situation arises. Cathay Pacific was absolutely awesome in this whole journey.
The attendant in Toronto had gone above and beyond to help me because our interaction was very cordial and not confrontational. I got my boarding pass, my visa approval letter and I leave in 40 minutes!
Tip 8: People are People! This is my last and final tip. Always remember, people are people, if you make a real connection – they will go above and beyond to help you. If you make it confrontational or judgemental – you will lose them.
This post sets the tone for my blog. It’s going to be real. From the frontlines of travel. Not curated content but real stories with real tips that can help you navigate your next adventure. Remember – as long as you are smiling – it’s a good trip. The plans can adjust as need be – don’t freak out when S#it happens next time in your travel – just be prepared for it !
One of the people who made this happen for me today!