I remember the first time my credit card was declined because I hadn’t called the bank in advance to notify them of my travels. I was traveling alone to Belgrade, Serbia, and I’d just found an ATM machine at the airport to get cash so I could pay for a taxi to the hotel. DENIED! I learned that one the hard way, and you can bet I’ll never make that mistake again. I spent the first three hours of my trip trying to get the bank to release the hold on my card. One of the biggest travel mistakes ever.
There is an inherent amount of risk and circumstance that befalls every trip, no matter how well planned and executed. There will always be those things we just can’t plan for, can’t avoid and can’t control.
However, with that said, you do hold a lot of the responsibility for how smoothly your trip goes, and you’ll be off to a really good start if you avoid making these 26 biggest travel mistakes that all seasoned travelers (including myself!) have made themselves a time or two. We’ll have you acting like a travel professional before we’re done here!
To help you avoid trouble, here are 26 of the biggest travel mistakes you might make and how to avoid them
Passports have an expiration date, so you’d think they’re good up until that date, right? Well, not necessarily. Some destinations require at least 3-6 months remaining on your passport in order to travel. If you need a visa for your trip, this is mandatory, but check the rules for your destination long before the trip begins.
Not doing your homework
I have some friends who think you’re not doing it right if you travel with firm plans like hotel rooms already booked. To them I say “have fun sleeping outside when you can’t find a room.” At least know where you’re going to stay and how to get there.
Not reading reviews.
This is akin to not setting proper expectations (see below). Read the reviews for your hotels, tour companies, transportation options, etc. It will save you tremendous disappointment when you learn that a train runs through the hotel every hour, on the hour or the tour company recently jilted customers. We read Trip Advisor reviews before making any choices.
You don’t need to reconfirm everything, like airline tickets and hotels, but do reconfirm drivers, tour companies and special dinner plans a day or two in advance. In Mendoza, I didn’t think it necessary to reconfirm with a driver I’d contracted with, but of course he was a no-show, which ruined almost a full day while we arranged a back-up plan.
Not double checking your plans.
I know you/your mother/your travel agent is a brilliant planner and cannot have made any mistakes, but do have one last look over everything you;ve planned to be sure the dates are all correct, you know exactly which airport/train station to go to, where the pick up location is, etc. Mistaken flight times is probably what has actually kept the airlines in business all these years. Do you know how expensive a last-minute ticket to Prague is?
Not packing a change of clothes in your carry on.
In 2013, the airline industry lost about 21.8 million bags, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology company that tracks baggage performance. It’s likely this will happen to you eventually, so make sure you put a change of clothes and any “must-have” items in your carry on. If you need a carry on that will fit in almost all overhead bins, check these out.
Putting medicine and other valuables in checked baggage.
If there is something you absolutely must have when you step off the plane, you better make sure it’s with you in your carry on. Medicines have no place in checked baggage. Neither do expensive items like iPads, cell phones and jewelry.
Please! It’s so not worth it. Read up on how to pack light before your next trip and stop overpacking! You’re going to have to cart all that luggage around with you. Wouldn’t you rather it not contain 3 extra pairs of shoes and half a wardrobe that you won’t even wear? Use these awesome eBags Packing Cubes to organize and compact your luggage.
Using your cell phone without a plan.
You can’t just turn on your phone in a different country and use it without incurring a $1000 phone bill. Before boarding the plane, put your phone in airplane mode to avoid unwanted charges. If you need your phone for voice or data while away, be sure to negotiate the plan with your carrier before leaving, research a SIM card to buy when you arrive, or just use free hotel wi-fi.
Not buying souvenirs right when you see them.
I buy a T-shirt for my nephew in every country we visit, but I’ve repeatedly passed up a perfectly good one, only to never see another shirt for the rest of the trip. If you see it now, buy it now. You may not have a second chance and sometimes that’s a tragedy when you find something you love.
Trying too hard for a bargain.
I love a deal, but I promise you won’t be glad you booked the cheapest hotel or spent 14 hours on the bus from hell rather than forking out for the more expensive option. Some things just shouldn’t be done on the cheap.
Using expensive money changers.
This goes right along with trying too hard for a bargain. Sure, there are “best places” to exchange your money for the best deal, but do you really want to hunt around the city for said place for an extra $.10 on the dollar? We always withdraw cash from the ATM at the airport. It’s a fairly favorable rate, it’s convenient, and you won’t have to wander the city penny-less until you find that change bureau you heard about.
Not negotiating a taxi rate beforehand.
Many countries don’t have meters in taxis and the price is negotiable if done in advance, but exorbitantly expensive if neglected. Even if you’re sure you’re not going to be overcharged by a taxi driver, ask for the price in advance anyway and save yourself the burden of being ripped off.
Taking too many pictures.
You know what I mean if you’ve ever walked around sightseeing with your camera glued to your face and then couldn’t remember the actual experience afterward. Take a picture, but then put the camera down and experience the moment in real life. I mean, do you really need 300 photos of a Buddha statue. We love to take photos of our food (who doesn’t!), but that usually means we eat a lot of cold food. Set the phone down and enjoy it for once!
Not having the proper visa.
When you leave for a country, you’re expected to know what visas you need to be let in. Don’t be shocked when you are turned away at Immigration for not having the proper visas. Do your homework long enough in advance that you can secure the proper visas before you leave. This can take a month or longer, in some cases.
Trying to use your credit and debit cards without alerting your bank.
We did this approximately one time before we learned our lesson. Now banks make it easy to let them know you’re traveling. Just look for a “travel notification” link on your bank’s website. This will ensure you won’t be locked out of your account when you desperately need cash.
Drinking the water.
I know how much of a pain it is buying bottled water and making sure you have enough to last the night (even to brush your teeth with!), but I also know the pain of Montezuma’s revenge. End of story. If you’d rather not have to buy a ton of bottled water, look into getting a water filtration device like this SteriPen Classic that can purify the water before your drink it.
Not printing or saving the details.
If you’ve made specific plans, like hotel and dinner reservations, or you need detailed directions for something, be sure to save it all in one easy-to-access location, like a smartphone app. I like to use the Kayak Trips app. You can share those plans with someone else, too, in case you get stranded somewhere.
Spending all your time in transit.
We like to hop around when we’re on vacation, which leads to increased transit times. Make sure you book early morning or late night journeys to avoid spending your entire day in the airport or train terminal. There’s nothing worse than losing a whole day in transit.
Not having the right credit card.
You should be aware that many credit cards charge a 3% International transaction fee, and if you’re using that card for everything for a week or two on vacation, the fees really add up. Get a card with no transaction fee, even if you only use it for travel.
Paying for rental car insurance.
You do need some form of car insurance when renting a car, but it doesn’t have to be the exorbitantly expensive insurance given by the rental company. Credit card coverage and even your own home car insurance can often cover you. Just be sure to read the fine print and learn the details before you leave home. The coverage varies by country. Rent a car from $11.95 a day at CarRentals.com!
Paying for rental car damage.
Have you noticed that more rental car companies are not doing a pre-check of the vehicle before you drive away? Don’t let that get you in hot water. Take pictures and note all damage to the car before you take it. If there is damage caused while you had the car, you’ll already know what to do because you read our guide on rental car mistakes to avoid, so you won’t be wrongly charged.
Setting expectations too high.
We all do it. It’s hard not to when you’ve spent tons of hard-earned money and a week or two of your saved-up vacation time on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, but you really need to set a reasonable bar for your expectations. Nothing is as perfect as it seems in a brochure or online enticement.
Too tight connection time.
I’ve been tempted by short connections a number of times. But it’s usually a huge mistake. If your first flight is delayed even 15 minutes (and let’s be honest – what flight isn’t?), it could spell disaster for the rest of your trip. If there’s a choice, go with the longer layover.
Packing liquids and other valuable “no-nos” in your carry on.
I still regularly see people attempting to cart full-sized bottles of expensive lotions and hair products through security at the airport and look dumbfounded when the bottles are tossed. Got a Swiss Army knife you treasure? Don’t take it with you or you’ll never see it again.
Hanging your purse on a chair in a restaurant.
This might sound benign — afterall, we hang our purse (find a good travel purse) over the chair at a restaurant all the time at home, right? That doesn’t mean you should do it on vacation (or ever, really!). Nothing is worth losing your passport and credit cards. That’s why we recommend using this Travelon Anti-Theft Classic Messenger Bag.
What are the biggest travel mistakes you’ve made and how did you overcome it? I’d love to hear about your travels in the comments. Let’s help each other out so we don’t have to learn the hard way!
Laura Lynch is the creator and writer of Savored Journeys, an avid world traveler and lover of great food and wine. She has been a travel writer for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.