When Vacations Go Bad…

Expired Passport

Expired passport with no renewal notification? Oh no!

Normally, I talk about Marketing on my blog, but today I’m going to talk about Customer Service. You see, my family and I are supposed to be in the Dominican Republic right now enjoying our vacation with friends. So why am I writing this blog post? Well, when you travel internationally you need this thing called a passport. And it needs to not have expired…and that’s the part that tripped us up.

I try to be an organized traveler. I check out the destination and resort reviews and even ask my friends on Facebook for recommendations on where to visit and which hotels/resorts are best for our stay. I read all the travel checklists and make sure I’ve got the right documentation for my itinerary – whether it’s hotel confirmation information, airline tickets/boarding passes, round-trip airport-to-hotel transfer or rental car paperwork. Then I confirm the transportation arrangements and check-in at the airlines in advance.

I was checking in Friday for our Saturday flight and entered the passport info for my husband with no problems, entered my passport data, too, then as I got to the field for the kids’ passports, I looked at the expiration date – WHAT??? How could they possibly be expired??? My passport isn’t expired and we all got them at the same time. Oh, wait, I remember that the kids’ passports are valid for a shorter time than adults. But it hasn’t been that long, has it? Besides I never got a notification that their passports needed to be renewed…

Did you know that no one notifies you when your passport is about to expire? I get renewal notifications for my drivers license, or my car registration, or even to renew magazine subscriptions, so you would think in this technologically-advanced age, someone, somewhere would send out a postcard or an email, or even make an automated phone call when you need to renew your passport. Apparently not.

After several frantic calls to the State Department, Customs and Immigration, even the Dominican Embassy, I resigned myself that we weren’t going to make Saturday’s flight and if we wanted any hope at all of joining our friends on the trip that we would need help to expedite the kids’ passport renewal. I started making calls and found that many passport expediters were closed on the weekend since they can only process the renewals Monday through Friday. I left messages for several companies and finally one called me back and walked me through the process of how to renew an expired passport.

In the words of my husband (at 1AM – three and a half hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport), “It’s like a nightmare and you just can’t wake up.”

Since the kids were under 16 when their passports were issued, they actually needed to apply for new “adult” passports instead of a standard renewal. That meant we needed to find a passport acceptance location that a) was open on Saturday, b) would take an emergency walk-in to verify the passport application information and c) we could get passport pictures there as well. My husband and I both started calling everywhere in a 10-mile radius and we got all the way to “W” in the alphabet before we found one that fit the criteria and would fit us in if we got there before the post office closed. I’d like to give a HUGE “thank you” to Darnell F. who refused to take me up on my offer to write a letter to his boss telling them about how he went above and beyond to get the paperwork done!

The fantastic customer service we received by people like Darnell who worked so hard to help us get the kids’ passports processed almost makes up for the dozens of calls that went unanswered or voicemail messages not returned by other agencies and locations. Now all we need is for the passports to be processed so we can try to take another international vacation before the kids have to go back to school. Wish me luck!

Twitter Chats – Fantastic for Insights and Visibility

Just two short months ago, I wrote Top 12 Twitter Chats by Day and already I participate in so many more that it needs to be updated. But that’s a post for another time, although I did want to take a moment to thank Robert Swanwick for both his Twitter Chat Schedule (where you can find MANY more than my top picks) and for his post on options for Twitter chat tools.

In my Jack of All Trades, Master of One post, I told you about #SMChat and my involvement there, but I’ve found a new (to me) Twitter Chat on travel that needs to be added to the Twitter chats that I try to participate in each week. Tomorrow, I will be hosting #TNI – nothing like jumping in with both feet to social media community chat moderation! Since I love to travel and my employer is an international travel medical, security, and assistance company, it makes sense both personally and professionally for me to not only join the chat, but to offer to moderate it for the founders. #TNI was founded by the ladies of ZipSetGo.com – April, Rachel, and Sara Beth – and their site seems to be built for corporate travel planners as well as “Travel Addicts” like me.

T2 & T3: Adventure Travelers
T2 & T3: Adventure Travelers

Here are some questions I proposed for Thursday’s adventure travel topic:

  • What do you consider “adventure travel”?
  • What’s your favorite adventure travel activity & why?
  • Where are your favorite destinations for adventure travel?
  • What happens if you get hurt?

Anything else I should ask? What do you want to know about travel, especially adventure travel? Please join me at the #TNI Twitter chat this (and every) Thursday, 4/1/10, from 3:30-5P ET! (No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke. Yes, I do have a tendency to moderate on holidays.)

So…that’s great, @sharonmostyn is at it again by joining in the conversation with Twitter chats, but WHY? Well, as Meryl K. Evans pointed out when describing her list of Twitter chats, “Twitter group chats offer a clever and effective way to meet people with like interests and to share insights into the topic of discussion.” What better way to connect with people via social media who have the same interests and are willing to talk about it! If you’ve got something valuable to add to the conversation then it allows you to showcase your knowledge and perhaps be thought of as an industry leader or subject matter expert. I have learned so much in the chat sessions, and I like to think I have provided some valuable insights to those who participate as well.

Do you participate in Twitter chats? Why or why not? Please leave me a comment below and let me know…or come join the conversation during #TNI or #SMchat!

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