Holiday 101

Post date: Dec 06, 2011 2:8:32 AM

Hi everyone! I came across an article in straits times today which would be useful in case anyone encounters any problems overseas (touch wood). Here goes...

Straits Times Life (6 December)

In distress abroad

Ever gone on holiday and lost your passport? Or found that your wallet with your cash and credit cards is gone? Life! asks travel experts - Lonely Planet author and editor Shawn Low, National Association of Travel Agents CEO Robert Khoo and CTC Travel's senior vice-president of marketing and public relations Alicia Seah

How to deal with nightmare scenarios


Thanks to a combination of bad weather, poor customer service and sheer bad luck, Ms Lim Pow Hong, 33, found herself stranded overnight in San Francisco in the dead of winter in 2007, with no luggage.

Ms Lim, who works in a statutory board, was on a holiday trip in the United States. She had been scheduled to fly on United Airlines from New Jersey to Singapore, via Washington and Tokyo. Instead, she found herself diverted to Chicago and San Francisco, due to a hailstorm and technical problems.

She was forced to spend the night in San Francisco, so as to catch a flight to Tokyo in the morning.

She says: 'I had only carry-on luggage and this was in November, so I had to go out in the cold to wait for a bus to go to the motel they were putting me up in for the night.

'I stayed there without my luggage so I had no change of clothes and I had already spent more than 12 hours crisscrossing the US.'

In the end, she took a total of 48 hours to return to Singapore.

'To add insult to injury, they lost my luggage when I got back home. This was despite the fact that at almost every stop, I had asked if my luggage was flying with me and they kept telling me that it was.'

After numerous calls and e-mail to United Airlines, she was compensated with a US$200 (S$256) travel voucher, 'which I didn't use because I refused to ever fly UA again'.

Fortunately, she had bought travel insurance and could claim more than $1,000 for the numerous delays and her lost luggage.

The travel experts say:

Lonely Planet's Mr Low advises travellers to check the fine print of their travel insurance paper to ensure that it covers flight delays and cancellations.

He says: 'If it's an act of God, meaning a natural disaster, you might be out of luck. But past experience has shown that insurance companies tend to pay up.'

He advises checking with the airlines if they will be providing accommodation and/ or a return flight, in the event of delays and cancellations.

Natas' Mr Khoo recommends 'reading the fine print very carefully' for budget flights.

'You must consider the risks. It's an attractive price but if they cancel, are they going to find you another seat? The most important thing is to know what you're buying,' he says.

He adds that full-service carriers have interline facilities with other carriers, meaning it is easier for the airline to arrange alternative flights. Refunds are usually written into the terms and conditions of the ticket.


People who have been pickpocketed will know the desire to confront the thief and take back their belongings.

Undergraduate Su Ying Hui, 23, who is currently studying for a double degree in engineering and business administration at the National University of Singapore, actually caught the criminal in the act.

While on an overnight train from Prague to Budapest last year, she woke up to find 'a big burly man rummaging through my haversack'.

'In my drowsy state, I asked, 'what are you doing?' He waved at me as if to say sorry, please go back to sleep and left the cabin quietly. He even closed the door properly behind him,' says Ms Su, who remembers that she had locked her cabin door before sleeping.

Fortunately, nothing was taken. But she and her travelling companion were not as fortunate while travelling in Europe over the Easter period last year, despite being 'extra careful' with their belongings.

Ms Su's mobile phone was taken 'right under my nose' in a Spanish hostel. She had placed it on a table while using the computer and the thief had distracted her by striking up a conversation.

Her friend was pickpocketed on a train and lost €100 (S$172) from his backpack which he had left in a cloakroom at a tourist attraction.

The travel experts say:

CTC's Ms Seah advises all travellers to get travel insurance for 'peace of mind' as it covers everything from thefts to misplaced luggage, though there is usually a cap on how much you can claim.

She adds: 'You should put money in different places, some in your luggage, some in your hand carry, so that you have spare cash in case you get robbed.'

Lonely Planet's Mr Low says that insurance policies usually cover items lost in a robbery or theft and adds: 'Make sure you check policy details to find out if there are limits on the value of the items you can claim for. You will need to go to the police to get a statement for the insurance claim.'

But if you have been conned, you may well be on your own. He adds: 'You will probably not be able to claim anything from insurance if you are conned, for example, if you were coerced into paying for expensive drinks after being invited by locals to a bar.'

And his advice if you are being robbed? 'Don't be a hero. Your life isn't worth risking for the loss of valuables.'


When postgraduate student Ho Lian Yi, 31, travelled to Hanoi in 2007 with his girlfriend, he was not expecting to end the trip lying on the floor of the airport and foaming at the mouth.

'My girlfriend and I panicked. My heart was pumping super fast,' says Mr Ho, who suffered the attack when he was minutes away from boarding a budget flight home.

His girlfriend, who is now his wife, rang the Singapore embassy for help but was advised to call an ambulance.

After several frantic calls and a wait of several hours, partly as the airport staff were unable to speak English, an ambulance took him to an international SOS hospital. Doctors there told him he had been suffering from potassium deficiency, which he had never experienced before.

But there was another shock in store for him. Due to a mix-up in the travel dates, his travel insurance had expired the day before he was due to leave.

He ended up paying more than $2,000 for the medical bill, a night's accommodation as his return was delayed by a day, and a full-service flight home.

The travel experts say:

Lonely Planet's Mr Low gives this advice: Travel insurance is 'essential' for a variety of reasons, whether for medical emergencies, theft or flight delays. If you have no insurance, you will simply end up paying out of your own pocket.

Mr Khoo says that if your condition is bad enough to involve repatriation back to Singapore, it would be a 'very costly affair' of six figures.

He adds: 'Travel insurance is a must, no matter where you are going and how safe the destination is. You never know, accidents can happen anywhere in the world.'

If you do need to see the doctor, Ms Seah says: 'It may be advisable to ask your local friends where to seek health care, to go to the right hospital or clinic, so as not to incur extra charges.'

She advises travellers to take along 'basic medication' for ailments such as fever, headache and diarrhaea, as health-care services overseas may be more expensive.

Those on long-term medication should also pack enough medication for at least an extra week, in case their departure is delayed.


A self-drive holiday in Australia in June this year nearly went awry for Mr Alvin Tan, 32, and his girlfriend.

Having spent the day in Wollongong city, south of Sydney, they set out for Sydney in the evening and promptly got lost.

Mr Tan, who works in the finance industry, tried to call CTC Travel, which arranged the holiday, for help. But the couple's mobile phones had died because they had forgotten to charge the batteries the night before.

'We were lost for about 90 minutes and started to panic, as it had gotten dark. The scariest part is that we had no working communication devices.'

The couple tried to navigate by map, as they did not have a GPS, but to no avail. They ended up in a small town where they asked for directions at a restaurant and managed to get back on the freeway.

The travel experts say:

Lonely Planet's Mr Low says that before travelling, you should ensure that your mobile phone has roaming service and it is compatible with the overseas network. If the mobile phone breaks down, go to a local store to ask for directions.

CTC's Ms Seah says: 'If you are travelling alone and going to an unfamiliar place, you should check with the hotel concierge first, to make sure you are heading in the right direction.'

She adds that for those who are hiking, especially if they are going to a remote trail, they should join a guided tour or at least familiarise themselves with the terrain and get a map.


Singaporeans rarely encounter corruption at home, so it comes as a shock to go abroad and encounter less than honest government officials.

Such was the case for teacher Mohammad Moiz Malik, 30, four years ago. Following a typhoon on the Philippine island of Boracay, he and his friends took a taxi without a meter to the airport - and were charged $100. The fare would usually be $30.

He sought help from a police officer at the airport, but to no avail.

After paying, he realised something: 'We noticed that the taxi driver gave part of our fare to the officer. We couldn't do anything for fear of going to jail.'

Two days later, he and his friends were at the Manila airport looking for a flight home. Another police officer who helped direct them to an airline office noticed Mr Moiz's Singapore passport.

'He asked for Singapore money as a 'souvenir',' recalls Mr Moiz in disbelief. 'I had to lie to him that I had no Singapore money or pesos left.'

The travel experts say:

Lonely Planet's Mr Low says there is no hard and fast rule when dealing with corruption, as it is a 'touchy subject'.

He adds: 'Ethically, you should be opposed to paying bribes. If you haven't been stopped for any wrongdoing, there isn't a reason for you to pay a bribe. Ultimately, it's up to the individual's discretion.'

Natas' Mr Khoo says: 'It is a matter of personal safety and it depends on what kind of danger and which country you are in.'

And if you do find yourself forced to pay up, CTC's Ms Seah says: 'Just think of it as tipping.'


Marketing executive Cheryl Wu, 25, was in Marseilles, France, in May with three friends. They stopped at a hiking spot and parked their rental car.

'When we came back two hours later, the windows were smashed and our handbags were gone. Two of our passports, including mine, and our mobile phones and wallets were stolen,' she says. Fortunately, the group still had some cash on them.

After filing a police report and making calls to cancel their credit cards, Ms Wu and her friends drove to the airport to change vehicles. They had planned to travel on to England, but had to forfeit their flight and accommodation there.

As there is no Singapore consulate in Marseilles, they were only able to get temporary travel documents from the embassy in Paris when they reached there five days later. The documents cost €20 to €30 each and were issued within 30 minutes.

The travel experts say:

Ms Seah's advice: 'If your passport is misplaced, make a police report and look for the nearest Singapore embassy to get a temporary travel document.'

Lonely Planet's Mr Low says travellers should note the contact number and location of the nearest embassy at their destination before travelling.

According to the Consular Information section on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (, the ministry can issue you with an emergency travel document if you have lost your passport overseas. These documents are usually issued within a day. You can also call the MFA Duty Officer in Singapore on 65-6379-8800/8855.

Ms Seah adds: 'Travellers should make photocopies of their passports before travelling. If they lose their passports, it will be easier to prove their identities at the embassy.'


Getting through Customs is not always smooth sailing, as Ms Georgiana Phua, 26, can testify. After completing her master's degree course, she was travelling from Madrid to Munich on Christmas Day 2008 when she was stopped by German immigration officers.

She was barred from entry due to a regulation which she was not aware of. As she had a Spanish student visa, she was considered a Spanish resident and needed a residence permit from Spain to enter Germany and other European countries.

She waited all day while authorities tried to process her application for a temporary visa to enter Germany. After spending the night at the airport, she was deported back to Spain. She says: 'I spent Christmas evening at the airport transit terminal and the next morning crying by the telephone.'

That same year, postgraduate student Raj Joshua Thomas, 32, was also held up by immigration officials. He had travelled to Jordan with a friend and gone across the border to the Israeli city of Eilat to catch a flight to Tel Aviv.

'The moment I stepped into the airport, the immigration officials told me to follow them and they took me into a room and started asking me all kinds of questions, like what I was doing in Jordan. I got a bit irritated because they were asking me the same questions over and over.'

He and his travelling companion were questioned separately and finally released after an hour.

The travel experts say:

In such situations, Lonely Planet's Mr Low advises travellers to stay calm. He says: 'If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Getting agitated, angry or frustrated will only arouse further suspicions.

'If you're being interrogated in a language other than one you know, you should ask for an interpreter. There's no reason to call the Singapore embassy unless you're really in trouble.'

It is also vital to ensure that you have all the necessary visas and documentation, especially in places such as Russia and China, where the authorities are very strict, says CTC's Ms Seah.


While established online booking portals offer great savings, not every customer has come away satisfied.

In October, offshore oil and gas consultant Alex Tay, 30, booked his accommodation in Lombok, Indonesia, through

'After a two-hour journey, my wife and I turned up at a dark and deserted hotel without a single person around,' he says.

He rang a mobile number listed in a confirmation e-mail from Expedia and was told the hotel had closed for the low season and did not have any tie-ups with Expedia. They were forced to seek alternative accommodation.

Expedia says the booking fell through as the third-party agency in Indonesia had failed to update the site that the hotel had closed. It is currently working with Mr Tay to resolve the matter.

The travel experts say:

If you turn up at a hotel and find that your reservations have fallen through, Lonely Planet's Mr Low says you should ask the hotel for a room 'in a firm manner'.

'If they don't have one in your price bracket, ask them for an upgrade, or a downgrade plus compensation.'

If you have paid in advance, you can call the credit card company to void the transaction.

He says travellers should check the terms and conditions of their online bookings before proceeding. For example, makes it clear that it is not liable if rooms are unavailable.

Natas' Mr Khoo advises travellers to use travel agencies rather than make online bookings because the association can help mediate in disputes if the agency is a Natas member.

He says: 'If you book online, you are on your own. If anything goes wrong, what can you do?'

So now you're prepared for your trip!!! ^ ^