How to handle complaints and bad service when travelling

How to handle complaints and bad service when travelling


As with any situation, travelling can have moments of disappointment. Arriving at a hotel which is nothing like the website, dirty restaurants or aggressive border police can all happen whilst away, and knowing how to handle it can be a big advantage. Feeling like you are getting ripped off or taken advantage of as a tourist can be frustrating, but it is important to remember a few key points. If you find yourself suddenly arguing over a misunderstanding, here are some tips:

The first way to avoid negative experiences is probably to ask around or do some research beforehand. This will help set realistic expectations, and minimise bad surprises once you get there. See if there are any behaviours that westerners consider normal that might accidentally be offensive (such as revealing clothing or staring at people’s eyes), and make sure you avoid these. Try and start on a good foot, so to say, and keep everyone on-side.

If you come across bad service, such as unfriendly or unhelpful staff, remember to not get drawn in. Smile and remain polite, take a deep breath and remain calm. Language barriers can be frustrating and slow, but getting angry is not going to resolve the situation any faster. If there is anyone around who can act as a translator, ask them if they can help you out to make the process easier. It is acceptable to be firm in your requests, but never rude or aggressive.

If a situation is something like a bad hostel or restaurant, you can always mention that you give reviews on websites such as TripAdviser and that your expectations are not being met. Many businesses generate a lot of publicity through review sites so letting them know that you will be telling others about your treatment might help your cause. If giving feedback later, be constructive instead of just openly critical. There are cultural differences and expectations that may have led to this situation arising in the first place, so be aware of that when reviewing.

If the problems you are having are more serious, remember you can always get in touch with your local embassy. Consular services should be able to provide you with help and advice, and legal backing if necessary (hopefully not!). Consider writing down the number and address of your nearest embassy number before setting off, just in case.

Most travellers will encounter at least some issues with bad or difficult service whilst travelling, and you will hear a few horror stories along the way. Accept that this is all part of the adventure and let it go. Don’t let a moment of negativity ruin the whole experience, and in any case, it will always give you a funny anecdote for when you get back home.

Date posted: 15th June, 2015

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