When my husband’s grandfather passed away, we were living in Argentina. There was no question whether he would travel home for the funeral. We just had to decide how many of the five of us would make the trip. And we had to decide fast.

We don’t live near an international airport – on either end. With the very best connections, travel time from our home in rural Argentina to our Canadian home is 20 hours. Many routes take closer to 30 hours in transit.

This left us with less than 12 hours to book flights and get on a plane.

Just three hours before takeoff, my husband and girls were in a cab, en route to the airport. I was on the phone, still trying to get their flights confirmed.

This was our first time booking international travel in such a hurry. It was intense. Here are a few things we learned:


Take-away #1 When booking travel at the last minute, do not book online through travel sites. Pick up the phone and call said travel site.

I booked tickets online about six hours before departure. I anxiously checked my email over and over to see if the tickets had arrived. They never came.

When I finally called, I learned our credit card transaction had been flagged as suspicious because the booking was so last minute.

But I received no notification to tell me what was going on.

I was able to confirm the flights by phone, but only an hour before the plane boarded.

 

Take-away #2 Know the requirements for one parent traveling alone with children. 

In Canada, most child abductions are done by estranged parents, not strangers. This problem is prevalent worldwide. As such, immigration officials are diligent about kids traveling across international borders with just one parent. Know what paperwork you need.

The Canadian form is simple to print and complete. Have it witnessed when you sign. Having it notarized is probably better.

The Argentine process was far more complex. Forms needed to be signed in the presence of a notary, certified, and stamped. It was also recommended that these forms be legalized in the provincial and national offices. Leaving on 12 hours notice precluded paperwork in Buenos Aires or Cordoba (capital cities 700 km and 100 km away, respectively).

This limited our flight options. Without paperwork legalized by the national office, Jamie could not take the girls out of the country via Buenos Aires. They had to leave the country through the smaller airport in our own province.

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Last minute online bookings can be flagged as suspicious. Pick up the phone and call the travel site or airline, instead of reserving online.

Take-away #3 Plan for the unexpected

Sometimes, life happens on short notice.

Dave Ramsey and others advise keeping an emergency fund. Expat jobs can be quite lucrative, but before you start living big, set aside some money for the occasional unexpected trip.

Weddings. Births. Big anniversaries. Illnesses. Deaths.

And you don’t get to choose whether they happen during the off season. Cheap tickets may not be an option.

Where possible, keep wiggle room in your budget so you can make those important trips without undue financial stress.

 

Take-away #4 Know where your winter boots are.

This funeral service was during a snowstorm. Quick access to our own packed-away gear and some borrowed hats and mittens were a big help.

You can’t predict what will happen during your stint abroad, but you can save some headaches by knowing what is needed when the time comes for last minute travel.

Share your experiences with last minute travel in the comments. The deals and the challenges!

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