How To Turn Travel Disasters Into Travel Opportunities.

Labuan Bajo how to get to Komodo Island Indonesia

I have always said travel disasters can often become your best travel stories, but there can be a more practical advantage when things go wrong too, if you know how to take advantage of them. Be creative, stay positive and learn how to turn a problem into a golden opportunity when you travel.

Backpackers tend to be pretty hardy people at the best of times. They have faced pretty much everything the world has to throw at them and have learned through experience to take it all in their stride. Cancelled flights, a missed ferry to that tropical island, the bank blocking your card again, all of these are annoying sure and have the potential to ruin your day, but most travellers can take it on the chin and not let it affect their travels too much. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

But the most experienced travellers don’t just let it go and move on with their day, they turn lemons into a whole bars worth of big arse lemonade cocktails and take advantage of the situation to benefit them! Here are just a few ways you can benefit from problems that occur on the road. 

Turn delayed or cancelled flights into compensation plus freebies.

Airport layover

I once had six essentially ‘free’ flights in a row because of what many would consider a string of really bad luck. Want to know how? I knew my rights under the law as a passenger, and more importantly I knew how to exercise them.

Now in many cases flying from outside of Europe or the UK passengers have a lot less rights due to inconsistent and wanting laws regarding airline compensation, but under the EU passenger rights legislation you have a lot of rights if your flight is to, from or within the European Union.

By claiming everything I was owed by one cancelled flight I was able to get my free accommodation, free food and transport and was still able to get to my destination when they booked me onto the next available flight. More importantly I claimed 600 Euro compensation and used that to book myself another long haul flight on a different trip! And this happened six times in a row! (Okay one of those was with an added airline voucher for assisting with an on board medical emergency but it still counts). I have done this many times over the years but that was an epic unbroken streak of free flights!

A delayed or cancelled flight can be an absolute pain in the proverbial yes, but claim what you are owed and turn it to your advantage! Airlines wouldn’t think twice about screwing you over so don’t have any qualms about doing it to them.

Long delays can mean a mini city break.

Delays can happen and yes they are annoying, but sometimes that means you can explore a destination you never expected to and enjoy a mini city break. Now this obviously depends on the length of the delay and the timing of it as well, but it isn’t unusual to have delays of anywhere between 6 to 24 hours. If this happens on one of your transit stops and you leave the airport armed with a free hotel and transport voucher, why not take advantage of a city tour for a few hours? Many airports offer them direct from the terminal. If not you can always get transport into the city and spend a few hours exploring one of the major sites there. It may not be much but it certainly beats sitting around in the airport. If that all proves too impractical, if you arrive late at night or you can’t get a visa on arrival or something similar, then at least get to the hotel and head straight for the pool and steam room and treat yourself for a bit! (Pro tip, apart from the obvious missing luggage, this is why you always carry at least one emergency change of clothes and your swimwear in your carry on!)

Overbooked flights can mean big money.

Overbooking flights should be illegal in my opinion. It is a despicable practice that airlines continue to get away with, so I have absolutely no qualms about taking advantage of them when the situation arises.

Overbooking flights is basically the practice of airlines selling far more seats for a flight than they actually have, expecting that some won’t show up. So essentially they are selling some seats twice. Now often some people don’t show up for flights, the airline fills the plane and they get away with essentially pocketing the money for some of those seats twice. 

Unfortunately however sometimes all the passengers do show up and that is when they are overbooked and are looking to bump passengers. Now at the very least here if you get bumped you should claim compensation because it is essentially the same as them cancelling a flight. But if you volunteer to get bumped then this can mean some decent money for you, if you play it right.

Airlines will initially offer a small sum of compensation for anyone who volunteers to get bumped, and this will often keep going up until they have balanced the numbers out. Now this does still of course include a seat on the next available flight so you will still fly with them just with a bit of a delay, so if you have no set plans, are travelling long term and not in any hurry, it may be worth getting paid to sit around the airport for a few more hours. The trick is knowing how much to ask for. The airlines will start low and keep going up but it is absolutely your right to tell them what it will cost them to inconvenience you. You determine what your time and inconvenience costs, no one else. That doesn’t just mean a lump sum either, it can also include an upgrade on your new flight or whatever. The problem is if you ask for too much and someone undercuts you, they win, but at least you still get to fly!

Problems with accommodation can mean upgrades or big savings.

Michael Huxley upgrade to a flashpacker

If you manage it right and complain in the right way, then depending on the situation you can really luck out here. That disgusting room that doesn’t match the one you booked online, that broken shower, the dodgy air con system, whatever it is, can either get you a decent upgrade or a chunk of money knocked off the room rate. Either way, it’s a win for you!

You just have to know how to haggle and negotiate, complain direct to the most senior person around and do so politely. Don’t go in all guns blazing at first, explain why it is a problem for you and give them possible ways to make it up to you. I’ve had nice upgrades to a bigger/fancier room, money off the rate I am paying for the night or even perks such as a voucher for the fancy spa. Obviously it is up to you and what you ask for will depend on the severity of the problem but it never hurts to ask. 

Now not every problem can be turned to your advantage of course, some you just have to take on the chin and roll with it as part of your travel adventure. At the very least it may become a funny story at some point in the future. But where you can, it is always worth trying to find ways to turn things to your advantage whenever you can.

It’s all about finding creative solutions to the problems you will come across when travelling, and learning to have a positive mindset where you can turn it into an advantage.

Cancelled trips can mean personal downtime.

Sometimes things happen that are completely out of our control. Recent events have taught us that anything can happen at anytime The unprecedented worldwide lockdown due to the COVID19 outbreak meant that everyone’s travel plans got rudely cancelled and every traveller was grounded somewhere. It’s hard, there is no denying that, but you know what? Cancelled plans also mean that you can take some you time. Yes I know most travel tends to be you time, but how often do you really take the time to sit and read a book from cover to cover in one go? Take the time to take up that new hobby or learn a new skill? It’s not very often is it? Well when your travel plans get put on hold for a while you have the perfect opportunity!

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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12 comments on “How To Turn Travel Disasters Into Travel Opportunities.
  1. Hannah says:

    Love the positivity! Exactly what is needed right now I think.

  2. Paul says:

    This whole virus of a thing has got people scared. Personally i think all this will subside with time. This is not the first time the world has to be scared of a disease such as this and guess what.. !!WE SURVIVED!! Thanks, Amigo!

  3. Gina says:

    Yes! I hate airlines that overbook flights! They get no sympathy from me at all.

  4. Karl says:

    There are a lot of things airlines should do, that doesn’t mean they will.

  5. Chloe Gunner says:

    LOVE this outlook! And great tips too!

  6. Alex says:

    I think 2020 os going to be one large travel disaster. How are you going to spin that?

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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