When you've been dreaming of visiting and fly fishing Patagonia for as long as you can remember, and have finally made the commitment to do so, excitement can reach a fever pitch during the last few days leading up to the trip. We'd planned to arrive in Buenos Aires on the 30th, spend a day exploring the city, and hop a flight to San Martin de los Andes the following day on the 31st, where our Patagonian fishing adventure would begin. Bags were packed, gear was organized, cameras were travel ready and so we spent the last few days trading emails and text messages and phone calls, stoking each other's flame for the trip. And then the email came.
"The latest news from Argentina is that there is going to be an airline strike on the 31st," it read.
Airline strikes in Argentina aren't what you'd call common, but they're not unheard of either. But this was ridiculous. A one day strike that just happened to fall on the day we were scheduled to catch a short flight that would get us to Patagonia?
We needed to act fast to ditch our day in Buenos Aires and catch the flight to San Martin on the 30th. The alternative was losing days off our itinerary, blowing it entirely, or thousands of dollars in expenses to rent a car (if we could even get one) and drive it 13 hours across Argentina. The web showed that all the flights from Buenos Aires to San Martin were full for 3 days on either side of the 31st, due to a bevy of switches caused by the strike news. But word from inside Argentina was that there were a handful of seats still available, we only had to reach the airline to snag them.
The first call to the airline went immediately into a hold queue. After 80 minutes, the line rang, and disconnected. For the next five hours, countless attempts to reach the airline were greeted with a busy signal. The lines were tied up. We were screwed. Just days away from fulfilling a lifelong dream, that dream was about to be canceled.
Enter LOL Argentina.
LOL is a "travel management" company that operates out of Buenos Aires. They assist you with booking travel, paperwork, airport transfers, luggage, dining and shopping and so on. LOL's services are the sort of hand holding that so-called-experienced travelers like myself frown upon. Which is why, when our outfitter originally recommended we work with with LOL when planning our travel to Patagonia, I balked and decided to save a little scratch. "No thanks, we've got it," I said, or something similarly dismissive.
As it turned out, however, LOL saved our trip. Enlisted by our Patagonian outfitter, LOL contacted us and gathered the information they needed (flight particulars, identification and so on) to assist. After a few hours — during which LOL's Gaia Macchiavello traveled in person to Buenos Aires' international airport and stood in line for over an hour to speak to a representative at the counter — we got another email: our flights had been changed, with no charge from the airline, and we were booked on the only flight out of Buenos Aires and into San Martin de los Andes on the 30th.
The reality was that quick thinking by our outfitter and LOL's willingness to intervene on behalf of two travelers that weren't even their clients saved our trip at the last minute — preserving our trip of a lifetime that turned out to be just that. But, had we arranged our travel through Buenos Aires with LOL to begin with, the issue would have been resolved with a great deal less risk, drama and heartburn — and likely before we even knew it existed.
Rare is the travel experience from which you don't learn something, but this one had a great deal more to teach us.
Don't be penny wise and pound foolish
I searched high and low for an idiom to relate this same concept without using this well-heeled cliché, but there doesn't seem to be one, so perhaps it is so often used for a reason. The idea expressed here, of course, is that it doesn't make sense to be protective of comparatively small amounts of money at the potential risk of relatively large amounts of money.
In this case, trying to save the cost of working with LOL almost cost us our entire investment in a trip to South America, and that's very, very bad math. And LOL did more than just fix our flights, they showed up out of nowhere and pulled us out of a very long and confusing bus line at the airport, got us across a traffic-soaked Buenos Aires to the domestic airport in time to make our flight to San Martin and filled us in on a bunch of other particulars that were of considerable value to know — and not in a way that made us feel like pampered, spoiled Americans, but in a way that felt like we had friends in Buenos Aires helping to make our travel through town dramatically easier.
Our one experience doesn't mean that every extra or service is warranted or worth the expense. Explore the possible contingencies, take careful consideration of the recommendations made by your outfitter or others experienced with travel in the region and weigh your decisions carefully. But don't be cheap.
Protect your investment
Get travel insurance. Not always, but when you know you need it. Travel insurance is another thing I've long balked at, but one which I won't again go without when I know I should have it. I don't buy travel insurance when I fly from New York to Los Angeles, because I know there's a thousand-and-one ways to get there. I also know my not being there on time won't set of a waterfall of consequences that will lay waste to the rest of my time in California.
But when I'm traveling to more remote or more exotic destinations, where travel is not only more prone to disruptions but also more affected by those disruptions, travel insurance just makes sense.
Don't just book your flights and pay your deposit to your outfitter and stick your head in the sand. Understand where you're going, what your travel options are should things get disrupted, and have a rough idea how you'll react if things don't go as planned.
Work with the right people
Everyone has a different level of service that they require and a different level of service that they can afford. Some prefer to travel in the lap of luxury, with only the finest accommodations. Some need little more than transportation to their destination, a tent and camp fuel. Whatever your personal level or preferred service, explore your options within that realm and choose the best one you can afford. Honestly take the time to research each lodge, outfitter or travel operator. Talk with others who have made the trip before. Resist the impulse to save 10% or even 20% if you have less faith or perceive less value in the option that saves you money. Whichever you choose, you're investing in heavily, and so it makes sense to protect your investment by choosing the best option.
Look at the big picture
Traveling to places like Alaska, Russia, South America, Christmas Island and so on typically carries with it more complications than traveling almost anywhere in the contiguous U.S. — but that's a big part of why the fishing is so spectacular when you get there, and almost every complication can be dealt with by carefully planning and properly investing in your trip. In practically every way you can imagine, it's worth it.