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This One Time In Sicily, And Other Travel Surprises

Ed Ronco
The view from a room at the Hotel Nacional, in Havana, in a room that surpassed expectations. When the opposite happens, and reality falls short of your expectations, there are ways to cope, says KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley.

Picture it: Sicily, 2012.

KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley is in Palermo, checking in to a B&B for the night. They tell him the room has low ceilings.

“And that’s OK,” he said. “I’m not a tall guy.”

An older woman in a flower-print dress leads him up some winding stairs, to the very top of the old house.

“And there’s this little door that’s about three feet high,” Brumley said. “The ceiling was about five-and-a-half-feet tall. They’d cut down the chairs and the legs of the bed to the point where it looked like a normal room … but it wasn’t.”

Surprises can happen when you travel. Maybe you saw the website that said “Ocean views!” but missed the fine print that added “just down the street.”

Or perhaps “free internet” isn’t wifi, but actually a 15-year-old computer in the lobby.

Don’t worry. There are ways to cope.

Research Carefully

Your best weapon is a pre-emptive strike. Know where you’re going and be careful about the promises and guarantees made. Also, ratings services like TripAdvisor useful, but it’s important to know what category you’re looking at.

“A lot of people will just want to stay in the No. 1 place (listed),” Brumley said. “They’re not paying attention to whether that No. 1 place is a youth hostel or a grand hotel on the beach.”

There’s nothing wrong with the former, unless you’re expecting the latter.

Review Carefully, Too

It’s tempting, when faced with disappointment, to take out one’s angst on social media sites like Facebook and twitter, or to write an angry review on a website like Yelp.

Think before you type, Brumley said.

“You can destroy a small, family-run hotel by writing a couple bad reviews,” he said.

Make sure you’re reviewing your experience based on how well a place fulfilled what it promised.

Courtesy Solves Problems

So, you showed up at the motel, but you could have sworn it said “hotel” when you booked. You pictured a full-service resort, and ended up at a motor lodge.

You’re going to get much farther if you set aside your frustration.

“Have a nice conversation with the owners (about the problem),” Brumley said. “Most hotel owners would much prefer to negotiate with you than receive a nasty review.”

The bottom line, Brumley said, is to be ready to roll with some punches. No one wants to be disappointed, but if you pack your sense of humor, you’ll be much better equipped to deal with the unexpected.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.