Last year, my partner and I booked a tropical escape to Samoa. The brochures looked stunning, the fares were cheap, and the flight wasn’t much longer than three hours. We used a local travel agent to secure the flights, then surfed the net to book our own accommodation.
We chose three different resorts for our five-night stay, spread across the two main islands of Upolu and Savaii.
My partner and I chose to spend the majority of our time on Savaii. We liked the idea of being more remote. This meant less activity and more rest and relaxation. However, the one big thing we did not do was to check the weather forecast. We knew the flights were cheap, but we should have questioned why. It turned out we were holidaying in the wet season. Whoops. The dates we chose also happened to coincide with the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Gita. Whoops again.
Gita’s visit brought howling winds and violent rain. By the time we departed, Savaii’s roads were severely flooded, large trees were up-rooted, roofs peeled back and windows smashed. We were without electricity for days. Ferries were cancelled, flights were cancelled, hotels and shops closed up. As travellers, we sat stranded with no accommodation, very wet luggage and a soggy rental car. Our tropical escape turned into a harrowing nightmare. Looking back, I learned a lot about Samoa that week and travel in general. Never again will I book a holiday in the carefree manner I always have. I recommend the following to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes we did.
1. Do your own research. Don’t expect your travel agent to tell you everything you need to know. Register with Safetravel (safetravel.govt.nz) which is an amazing website that lets the NZ Government know who is in what country, should a disaster occur. It also provides weather reports and local tips.
2. Always organise mobile roaming on your phone before you travel.
3. Let your bank know where and when you are travelling so they can monitor your card’s activity.
4. Leave an itinerary with friends or family, along with any important emergency contacts. If you wind up stranded, at least someone can contact your employer or keep feeding your cat.
5. Print off all relevant travel information and have it on hand in your cabin bag. Print-outs of bookings, phone numbers, addresses, maps and so forth will be a godsend if you can’t use your phone.
6. Purchase travel insurance with your flights. If any hiccups occur before or during your holiday, you are backed up with assistance and reimbursement.
7. Hire a car or scooter for stays of more than a couple of days. Don’t rely solely on taxis or hotel shuttles. Car hire is often cheap, flexible and a lot more comfortable. If you are heading to Samoa like we did, keep in mind that the country has quite a few roaming dogs and some of them don’t like scooters.
8. Always keep a secret stash of local currency packed somewhere safe.
9. Don’t expect to eat ‘Kiwi food’ abroad. If you don’t fancy trying the local cuisine, then stick to the resort restaurants.
10. Don’t expect that you will always feel welcome. Sometimes tourists can be met with hostility from the locals, so keep your wits about you.
11. Last but not least, make sure you take plenty of photos. A trip that seemed hellish at the time might just turn out to be a comedy classic.