Our 10 tips to surviving summer travel chaos could get you to your destination on time, ensure you’re not sleeping on an airport floor, and help you find your lost luggage if you ignored our advice and put it under the plane. It may be the last month of summer, but travel in August won’t be easier than June and July.
Once upon a time, my top 10 tips to surviving summer travel chaos would have been focused on how to escape the summer crowds in Europe. But these days, travellers are more concerned with how to avoid missing flight connections and lost luggage. Crowded beaches are busy cities are the least of their concerns.
Summer travel in Europe in August will probably be worse than it’s been the last two months and it’s been absolute chaos. But for many, thanks to Covid, there’s never been a time that we’ve been more aware of our own mortality and more prepared to suffer for the joy of a blissful summer holiday in a place we’ve always dreamt of discovering.
For many travellers that means a European summer escape. If you’re one of the countless travellers still dreaming of a summer vacation in Europe after two and a half years of staying at home, there are still flights to be found and accommodation available, especially if you get to off the beaten track summer destinations, even if it’s to places just beyond the obvious, make a beeline for lesser-visited, underrated second cities, explore Europe by train, or rent a car and do a European road trip.
Whatever you do, you need to be prepared. August has always been the busiest period of the European summer as it’s when most European schools close and European families head to the beaches and lakes. Many businesses in Europe also close for August, which means cities are quieter but islands and coasts are hectic.
In addition to that, you’ve probably got friends who’ve returned from holidays with horror stories of gridlocked traffic to the airport (take public transport if you can), lengthy flight delays, full planes with mask-less passengers (wear a mask; here are 33 reasons), hours sitting on the tarmac (take a good book), cancelled flights without assistance to book accommodation, let alone new flights, missed connections, and arriving at their destinations without their luggage.
Much of this travel trauma can be avoided or the pain at least eased if you follow our top 10 tips to surviving summer travel chaos.
10 Tips to Surviving Summer Travel Chaos
Buy Flights Direct from the Airline
Don’t buy flights from a travel agent unless you’ve been using the same agent for years and know from first-hand experience they’ll answer their phone in the middle of the night on a weekend to get you out of trouble after a flight cancellation. Even then, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to resolve the problem immediately (especially if it’s 11pm on a Sunday) which is when you need it fixed.
Dealing directly with the airline you bought the tickets from, especially if you’re at an airport when they cancel the flight, is far more likely to result in a speedy resolution, which is to get you booked on another flight quick-smart. If check-in staff can’t re-book you, the airline will have a ticketing desk or ticketing office if it’s a major airport – or a head office in the nearest city.
I’ve found that it’s often faster to physically go to the office if it’s nearby, ie. if we’re not at the airport and are staying at a city hotel, and to sit in front of airline sales staff until they get us on a new flight. They can’t ignore a person in front of them as they can so easily ignore an email or someone on hold on a phone.
If the airline can’t get you on a flight that gets you to your destination, it’s easier to arrange a credit on the flights directly with the airline then and there than through a travel agent in another country. Don’t do nothing and assume you’ll get credit. Depending on the ticket rules, you may not if you don’t re-book the seats at the time. Before purchasing new tickets with another airline, contact your travel insurer.
Buy Travel Insurance
For most travellers, buying travel insurance is the last thing they do before flying out. I have to confess I’ve been known to buy travel insurance online from the airport, at the gate, minutes before boarding. I know.
With flight delays, flight cancellations, missed connections, and lost luggage increasingly common travel experiences, it’s essential to purchase travel insurance as soon as you purchase your flights. A good travel insurer will cover these kinds of issues.
While there are plenty of travel insurers around, you’d be wise to do research and shop around. We’ve used most of the major travel insurance providers over 22 years abroad and travelling the world for work and pleasure and we’re liking Safety Wing’s Nomad Insurance right now, which includes coverage for travel delays, lost checked luggage, emergencies, natural disasters, and personal liability.
Safety Wing’s Nomad Insurance is also a global travel medical insurance that covers accidents and illnesses abroad, including Covid-19 coverage – which is essential, seeing we’re still in a pandemic.
Unlike most travel insurance packages, you can buy Nomad Insurance online if you’re already overseas. But don’t leave it that late! Buy your insurance the second you buy your flights, so those delays, cancellations, missed connection, and lost luggage are covered.
Book Early Morning Flights
Not all airports operate 24-hours, believe it or not, and if you’re departing from a city with an early opener then book the first flight out no matter how early you’re going to have to get up in the morning.
That’s because problems snow-ball, so if there are a couple of delayed flights they’ll impact other flights and things will just get worse throughout the day. Get on the first flight and it doesn’t matter if your flight is a little delayed – unless you have a tight connection en route.
And when it comes to connections, airlines used to advise allowing a 2-hour transfer time between international flights, depending on the size of the airport, of course. There have been many cases when we’ve had an hour or less between flights, which wasn’t fun.
These days, based on what I’m hearing, I’m recommending allowing 4-5 hours between flights – which you can spend very enjoyably at airports in Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Book a massage, enjoy a meal, do some shopping.
If you’re taking public transport to the airport, or you don’t live in a city but are travelling from the countryside, then it’s probably advisable to travel the day before and stay overnight in the airport hotel – which can also be a bit of an adventure.
Book Non-Stop Flights Direct to Your Destination
Once upon a time, a stop-over was something desirable – a break of a day or two mid-way on that epic long-haul flight. A stop-over gave us a taste of an extra destination to experience, however briefly, while helping to alleviate the dreaded jet-lag.
Back in the day, even a transfer wasn’t so bad if there was enough time to leave the lounge for an hour or two and it was at an airport such as Changi, Hong Kong or Dubai, with good duty-free shopping and eating and drinking.
These days, direct flights or non-stop flights are what you want, especially on the out-bound flight to your holiday destination. If you fly non-stop direct to your destination, you don’t have to worry about delays from your home airport shortening your stop-over time or impacting a connecting flight.
Because it’s those missed connections that are separating so many travellers from their luggage, not to mention ruining holidays if the airline can’t get you on the next flight to your destination and other airlines are just as booked-up.
Take Carry-On Only
The best way to avoid losing luggage is not to take any! Take carry-on only. If you only have carry-on, then you don’t have to worry about whether your luggage is even travelling on the same plane as you. There’s nothing worse than taking off and seeing your bags sitting on a trailer on the tarmac.
By contrast, it’s nice to feel that sense of relief you get watching your bags being loaded onto the same plane. It makes it worth all those years counting points and spending them on an upgrade to business class so you’ve got something to celebrate when the glasses of bubbly are poured.
Summer is the best time for travelling with carry-on only, unlike winter, which is impossible when you have to take heavy coats, woollen jumpers, thermals, boots, and scarves and the like. In summer, your clothes and shoes are fewer and they’re significantly lighter.
Summer clothes are also cheaper to buy, especially if you’re heading to Southeast Asia or to a beach destination, where you can pick up cheap clothes and flip-flops at tourist markets, which you can then donate before you head home.
Make sure to check the airline’s carry-on allowances and ticket class restrictions before you buy your tickets. You’ll have to pay for carry-on if you’re taking low-cost airlines, and while carry-on is usually included on premium airlines, these days they are strict and are checking weight of carry-on bags before passengers board.
Don’t get caught out with over-sized toiletries and cosmetics. In fact, take the bare essentials – your toothbrush, a mini toothpaste and mini deodorant. Treat yourself to a travel-size set of cosmetics from duty-free and make a beeline to the nearest supermarket or mall when you arrive for your favourite shampoo and conditioner.
If You Take Check-In Luggage, Label It Thoroughly
If you must take check-in luggage – maybe you’re going skiing or travelling with kids – then label your luggage thoroughly by attaching good old-fashioned luggage tags to the handles with your name, phone number, email, and multiple messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Line etc). Pop the same info on or business cards inside an outer pocket in case the luggage tags get torn off.
For security reasons avoid including your home address, though you could add your hotel, resort or villa address if you’re settling into a lodging for a week or longer. However, do keep in mind that in some cases luggage is being lost for weeks, even months, so you don’t want a situation where your bags arrive at your villa in Sicily after you’ve arrived at home in Sydney.
The days of relying on the information airlines store on the barcodes on the long white sticky strips check-in staff attach to your suitcases when they issue your boarding passes are long gone. As have the days of airport staff not letting you leave the terminal with luggage until you produce the stubs stuck on the back of the boarding pass so they can match the number to the strips.
The two biggest causes of airport chaos, particularly the never-ending queues and lost luggage, are a) a lack of skilled staff, who were probably fired during the first year of the pandemic when borders closed and planes were grounded, and b) new un-trained staff, because airports and airlines are now out-sourcing services they once provided, such as airport security and baggage handling.
So that information about you on those sticky airline strips is pretty useless if the baggage handling companies are so overwhelmed that they’re simply letting luggage pile up at baggage carousels, on trolleys outside airports, and in their own warehouses and offices.
Fortunately, there are good people out there – other travellers with time on their hands between connections or because their own flights have been delayed – who have been working their way through suitcases lined up in Arrivals halls filled with lost luggage, text-messaging owners to let them know where their bags are.
Purchase an Apple Air Tag or Similar Tracking Device or Service
In addition to good old-fashioned labelling, if you must check your luggage under the plane, tuck some Apple Air Tags or similar tracking devices in each of your suitcases or subscribe to a lost luggage recovery service.
Because while reports have been overwhelmingly positive from travellers who have managed to track their bags use Air Tags when airlines and baggage handlers had no clue as to where their luggage was, there have been complaints that some tracking tags haven’t worked or have ran out of battery.
Apple Air Tags are the most popular, however, if you can’t source Air Tags and don’t have an iPhone, there are similar tracking devices, some with recovery services included in the price or available for an additional fee.
The Dynotag Smart Luggage ID Tags are made of steel and have unique QR codes. You need to activate it on their website and create an account. When your bag is found, the finder scans the code and you get a notification that it’s been recovered.
The Amcrest GPS Tracker, which you can pack in the bag or clip to the handle, offers subscription tracking services. Spytec Portable Tracker has a two-week battery life, a monthly fee that can be cancelled in between trips, and you can track your luggage on Google Maps. It continually updates within seconds apparently.
The ReturnMe Luggage ID Tags also have unique ID numbers with incentives for finders, recovery specialists who coordinate the return of your luggage, and for an additional fee, VIP services such as overnight shipping.
Fly Off-Season – Skip the Summer Holiday This Year
We all get the appeal of a summer holiday – especially summer in Europe – but peak season means peak travel chaos due to the sheer number of people travelling and the number of flights being cancelled.
Why not skip the summer holiday this year and take a spring or autumn or fall break, which are the shoulder seasons, when fewer people are travelling, there are fewer flights and therefore less chaos, and the whole travel experience will be far more enjoyable – and safer. Because while the travel industry might want you to forget about the pandemic, I’m sorry to break it to you, but Covid hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
Don’t Fly – Travel Local and Take a Train or Do a Road Trip
Until the airports, airlines and baggage handling services sort things out, it may be best to postpone that overseas trip and stick close to home instead – or at least in your country – and take a train or do a road trip by car, campervan, caravan or motorhome instead.
More Travel Tips if You’re Travelling this Summer
- For travelling between cities, skip flights and use European trains.
- We recommend Klook for buying European train tickets, as well as bus and ferry tickets.
- Keep in mind that during the European summer the best accommodation can be booked out months in advance, so book accommodation as soon as you book flights.
- We like both Klook (link above) and Get Your Guide for booking local tours and hiring guides, as well as tickets to attractions, after-hours museum tickets, cruises, and so on.
If you’re heading to Europe this summer, these are some of our favourite European summer escapes, some off the beaten track European summer destinations we love, the European train trips you need to take this summer and the underrated European cities we adore, an A-Z Guide.
If you have any advice to add to our top 10 tips to surviving summer travel chaos feel free to leave a comment below.