Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Not-So-Savvy Traveler

Having travelled around 50,000 miles (give or take) since February, I feel like I have gotten pretty good at travelling. I can pack quickly and compactly, I have a good organizational system for my carry on luggage and important documents, and I'm not afraid to ask for directions. If nothing else, I keep reminding myself that even if I forget something, as long as I've got my passport, tickets, and some money, I can figure out the rest later. And that mindset was working well--I made this far never getting seriously lost, and the only things I've misplaced are one pair of pants and one pair of underwear (I don't count the socks that our washing machine eats because I didn't start losing those until I moved into my flat in Wellington).

Being the savvy traveller, I figured my trip back to New Zealand would be easy. My flight from Detroit to LA was a little late, but I had checked my luggage straight through to Wellington, so I figured my only potential holdup would be security. Still, I was well prepared with my slip-off shoes and ziploc bag of liquids (under 3 oz of course) in hand. But the holdup came at the Air New Zealand check-in counter. First the check-in guy shuffled through my tickets about 20 times. They were all there. Then he flipped through my passport over and over. I pointed out my visa, the stamp in my passport showing that I'd entered New Zealand in May and had activated it, plus the line on the visa that said "multiple entry permitted." He called over a supervisor to take a look. "You need a return ticket," she told me.

I have one, of course (I had to send proof when I applied for my visa), but being the savvy traveller who does not carry valuable things I don't need, I had left it in New Zealand. No sense in hauling it to America and back, right? The supervisor woman asked if I was flying Air New Zealand back--maybe they could just look up my reservation? Unfortunately, being a savvy traveller, I'd booked an open-ended ticket to allow for changes to my itinerary. So there was no reservation in the computer. Did I have a copy of my ticket? Of course--the savvy traveller carries photocopies of all important documents. But being an idiot, I had packed the copies in my checked luggage thinking that I wouldn't need them. Still, I was extra-prepared and had left an additional copy with my parents, so could they fax it over? The woman told me that no, since it was an open-ended ticket and not a proper reservation, I needed the real thing.

My options? Stay in LA or buy a new ticket from Auckland to LA. They talk about carrying a credit card for emergencies, and this was definitely an emergency. I'm never very excited about making $1,000 charges, so it was especially painful considering it was something I'll never use. The woman assured me the ticket was refundable, but she also qualified that with "Well, maybe not completely." Great.

Fortunately, all my good travel karma (or something) swept in at the last minute and literally just as the guy was about to take my credit card, the woman "made a call to New Zealand" and told me I could get on the plane without the new ticket. I thanked them about a million times, decided it was not a good time to ask if I could have a window seat, and ran off to security. I was going to write a letter to Air New Zealand thanking them for having such a great staff, but then thought better of telling the company that their employees potentially let someone (a person with a non-Anglo name, no less) on the plane without proper documentation.

So long story short: I'm safely back in New Zealand (the immigration people in Auckland mentioned nothing about a plane ticket), and when I leave the country again in a few weeks (Tonga? Vanuatu? Still deciding) I will definitely be taking my Auckland-LA plane ticket.

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