26 biggest travel mistakes and how to avoid them
26 biggest travel mistakes and how to avoid them

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

Passport Issues

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. Save with Booking.com, Planet Earth’s #1 Accommodation Site. No booking fees ever!

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.

Not reconfirming.

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.

Overpacking.

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.

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 the details.

I’m not one to advocate killing trees to print everything, but sometimes you just have to. I know it’s a digital world, but what if your battery dies and you can’t access any of your plans. I did this once and was left standing in the street in Dublin with no idea where my hotels was located.

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!

55 thoughts on “26 Biggest Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

  1. Morgan Sullivan says:

    Love this list! 14 and 20 are definitely my worst offenders. Got stuck in Taiwan once with the wrong credit card and had to make my limited cash last for almost ten days :O Really helpful, especially for new travelers 🙂

  2. Borjes says:

    Travel kit charger, one time I paid 15 bucks for a usb cable which last 3 charges and die 🙁

    Check the voltage of your destination country before hand.

    Cheers!!

  3. Dale Bogart says:

    Excellent and very thorough article. I have relied on these tips for years of worry-free travel!
    I might add….when preparing to leave a rental car, taxi, bus, train, etc. start gathering your things up well in advance of exiting and check, check and double-check that you have everything. (Mental inventory…not just a glance back at your seat!)
    I lost a brand-new digital camera when it slipped under the seat of the rental car I was dropping off. I realized my mistake in less than 10 minutes, but the rental car company claimed the car had already been taken out and nothing was found when ‘cleaning it’. I made a police report (they were already onto a theft-ring), got money back on my car insurance, but lost the photos of course!
    We all learn from our mistakes, but it is so much nicer to avoid these incidents with tips such as yours! Thanks Laura!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Thanks Dale. Very good point to make about checking around for things long before your trip ends. It’s so easy to leave things behind, especially when we’re in a rush! So sorry to hear about your camera and photos.

      • Rena says:

        Double check then triple check! We learned that one the hard way too after leaving a special bottle of wine in the rental car at drop off in Venice after driving it from Germany. Same trip my husband left a pair of very nice italian shoes in a hotel in lucca. We called from the next town but they never called back. All the tips in the list are great but it is a very sad day when you just forget to check.

        • Laura Lynch says:

          I’ve done that myself, Rena. I left some lovely canvas paintings I got in Peru in the airport by accident. Luckily I got them back eventually, but it was devastating. It takes an extra minute, but having two people check everything twice is always a good idea!

  4. Elisabetta says:

    Thank you for these great tips. I ‘ve recently traveled to the Expo in Milan(August 2015) and ALL our luggages(5 total, plus 3 duffle bags) were stolen from the rental car. So my tip, ( very hard lesson ) is to keep bags in the trunk at all times. And get travel insurance. Thankfully, our homeowners insurance reimbursed us. We lost over $9,000.00 worth of stuff. Very devastating experience.

  5. Cindi says:

    When my daughter and I were traveling in Europe for the first time our suitcases were too heavy for the smaller local air lines. We had to buy another bag $$$ and divide our suitcases into 3. Of course then we had to pay extra $$$ for the 3rd bag. The cheap air fair was no longer a deal!! Again, check the fine print.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Yes, that’s a big concern when traveling on low budget airlines, like RyanAir. They have really stringent baggage rules. It definitely pays to look up the info before leaving home and make sure your luggage fits within all of the airlines restrictions that you’ll be traveling on. Thanks Cindi!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Oh that sucks. I’ve always been scared of setting my bag on the floor or hanging it on the back of the chair, too, because those are easy targets for thieves.

  6. Ray says:

    Know the three-letter identification code for your destination or you, or your bags, could end up at the wrong airport. This is particularly important when traveling to a city like Chicago (ORD, MDW), Houston (IAH, HOU). or any place served by more than one airport. Knowing that international code may also prevent you from being ticketed to one place with a return from another. A travel agent had me flying out of Houston to Washington Dulles (IAD) on a business trip. Later that day, while in a cab halfway to Dulles, I checked my return ticket and saw I was booked out of Baltimore. Or, like my daughter-in-law learned the hard way, Aer Lingus ticketed her from Dublin to JFK, connecting to IAH, only to learn upon arrival in New York, her connecting flight to Houston was departing La Guardia. It was a tough lesson, particularly with eighteen month old twins in tow.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Ray, that is a very good addition! That has happened to me in DC and unfortunately there’s no good way to get between airports there, so you’d have to spend a fortune on a cab, and since it’s so far between them, you risk missing your flight. But flights often get ticketed with multiple airports.

  7. Angie Schmidt says:

    Very good points! I would add that if traveling with your spouse, to each carry a different credit card. On one of our trips, we spent a week in Florida before heading to the Caribbean and I managed to lose my wallet in Florida before we had even left the country. Thankfully I did not lose my passport but I lost my holiday money, a Visa card, American Express card and a debit card. We had to cancel all of credit cards as they were connected. We left the country with only our daily limit of cash from our debit card, which we withdrew before we cancelled it, and one American Express card (they had different numbers). We thought we would be fine with an American Express, but discovered upon arrival that the island that we were visiting did not take AmEx. It was a good thing that we were heading for a prepaid all inclusive destination, or we would have been in trouble!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Great tip, Angie! It’s really too bad that we have to learn these things the hard way sometimes. Having two credit cards is a great idea. You never know when things will be stolen or lost.

  8. Katy says:

    The worst mistake I made was booking a hostel simply because it was close to the train station. I was only overnighting in the city because of the train schedule and I booked the cheapest hostel that was the closest to the train and it ended up being the worst part of the trip. It was 2 blocks from another hostel with the same name (that looked much nicer) and it was tucked between a strip club and an escort service. The rooms were filthy and the fridge was filled with food older than me. If I were to do it again I would definitely book one in a better area and either do the extra walking or take a cab.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Katy, I feel for you on that one! I did something very similar in Serbia. I still think about it regretfully to this day. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to book the easy option.

  9. Beverly Gilliland says:

    This summer we were flying from Charlotte, NC, to Venice, Italy, with a stop in Philadelphia. Boarding the plane for the flight, the stewardess said all the luggage compartments were filled so they would just send our carry-on bags on to Venice. I had about 1 minute to realize my medicines and other important items were in the carry on bags; grabbed the meds and the carry on bags were gone. If they had gotten lost on the way, it would have been disastrous; make up and cochlear implant batteries would have been gone. So, have the absolutely irreplacable items in your purse. That never happened before.

  10. Linda Bruce says:

    Any tips on money? We’re going to Thailand in February and I’m really flummoxed as to how much to carry, and how to get more while there? Have read all about places to exchange money etc., but don’t want to carry a whole bunch of cash to exchange. Are traveller’s checks still en vogue? Any assistance would be appreciated.
    Thanks

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Linda. We always use ATMs to get additional cash. Thailand is so inexpensive that you shouldn’t need to carry much around. Bangkok restaurants mostly take credit cards. Smaller villages will only take cash, but it’s inexpensive. ATMs can be found all over and there’s only a small fee. Definitely don’t go with travelers checks.

  11. annemiek says:

    I remember i made the same mistake.. with my bank.. it took me to long so i get money from my mother and finaly when i came back i give back her money.. it was horrible haha.. just because i didn’t had the same phone number as in the Netherlands..sooo i go also to the bank before i travel again haha…

    • Laura Lynch says:

      It’s a universal problem that we’ve all been through! It’s definitely wise to always contact the bank before traveling. It’s no fun being stranded with no money.

  12. Mollie McCune says:

    Here’s another suggestion: Make a photocopy of the credit cards you carry as well as your passport and store them in your room safe. Just in case someone DOES lift your purse or wallet!

  13. Stefanie McLaughlin says:

    Make a photo copy of your passport/ID and put it in your carry on. If you lose your wallet, this will be helpful to get back home!

  14. the island logic says:

    Wonderful post!
    I have done few of them, but doing them taught me how to do it right next time and that’s where I hopefully corrected it and not hoping to repear any of them.

  15. Hush Travel says:

    At first thank you for these important points. I have bookmarked this page if i will not make mistakes those you mentioned. During traveling i don’t want to make any mistakes as i have to face any problem. Facing problem in traveling spoils the pleasure of tour.

  16. Rehana says:

    – Have certified copies of your travel insurance, ID and passport and keep a copy locked in your luggage or in your hotel safe. Have copies of your tickets as well and do the same (no need to certify these). As a further back-up, scan and email copies of all these documents to your own email address which you can access from your phone or a computer if you need to.
    – Keep the number of your country’s embassy on hand. If you’re travelling to multiple countries, make sure that you have all the details. You never know when you may need their help.
    – Give someone you trust a copy of your itenerary – you may not always have wifi but they can leave a message at your hotel if they need to contact you urgently.
    – Backpacks may be convenient but pack a small shoulder or slingbag or go without when visiting museums. Many museums in Europe don’t allow backpacks because of the increased risk of being pickpocketed.
    – Send photos to your own email address – that way you have a back-up in case you lose your phone or camera, or it crashes. Uploading photos on Facebook also serves as a back up.
    – Although it is convenient to book everything before you leave, it can be very expensive. Day tours are often offered in cities and can be much cheaper than when booking from home. We did a day tour from Amsterdam to Brussels, and one from Paris to Disneyland Paris, and another to the Eiffel Tower – the latter were via Viator and proved to be much cheaper… also the Eiffel Tower tour whisked us past the thousands of queuing tourists – after all, who wants to spend their day in a queue in a magical city when they could be doing something better? And because we skipped the queue, we even managed to squeeze in a visit to Versailles on the same day.
    – Although the adventure of finding your own way from place to place can be fun, it can be frustrating and time-consuming. Tours (such as Trafalgar, for example) mean that you don’t have the stress of lugging your bags from place to place, up and down stairs at train stations – which can be an unforgiving experience – and you have your room and transport sorted. It may sound expensive but adding the train and taxi fares and the time wasted waiting for transport, frustration, etc. Having an organised tour is priceless.
    – Don’t convert currency all the time (doing the math is good but there are times when you should just enjoy the experience… of course within your budget)- especially when it comes to food. It’s a good idea to know what you’re paying, but if you constantly convert, you will never eat.
    – Most people use their phones as a camera, so avoid not being able to capture the memories by ensuring that you have a power bank with you, and keep it charged.

  17. Lynda Pohlmann says:

    Great comments! My biggest boo-boo is losing sunglasses! Lost 3 pair before we even got to our hotel in Cuba. Now l know to have a chain or something on t hem so they hang on my front when not needed.

  18. eki says:

    Hi Laura,
    I’m kinda solo traveller person so I have to make sure everything is organised before leave home, that includes bringing lots of cash with me and avoid take money from ATM. Why ? I just feel afraid or paranoid if the machine swallows my card . Any suggestion about that, please ?

  19. Joelle Schmidt says:

    When carrying American dollars, do not expect to exchange $100 bills. We traveled to Ireland with someone that had all of their cash in $100 bills and no one would take them for exchange, not even banks. Not only that, he forgot to inform his bank and credit cards he was travelling, so we paid for EVERYTHING during the trip. I also make sure I leave with a fist full of $1 bills for tips and the local equivalent for tips when I get to my destination, if tips are acceptable.

  20. Laura Lynch says:

    Scams are definitely a major issue when traveling, especially when you’re in another country and can’t necessarily tell if it’s a scam. Thank for the comment Afzal.

  21. Yokebeth says:

    Thanks for sharing, Laura! Those are really a reminder for us to be well prepared. I want to share few more tips, hope you don’t mind 🙂
    I prefer to look money changer as our homework. That way, we don’t have to waste our time looking for ATM that accept card.

    Also, store separate ID card, credit cards from wallet. It’s a preventive step if the wallet stolen.

    Do not store the cash only in a wallet. We might take our wallet several times during shopping and we don’t want to steall the others attention to the cash.

    Take a picture of the ticket, passport and visa destination. I learn from Samantha Brown, she said some airlines still allowed us to pass the security even if we missed the printed version.

  22. Jane Kelly says:

    Left passports in the hotel room safe. Hang a scarf or something on the doorknob as a reminder. We are more conscious in Europe but only recently had to bring a passport from Canada to the US.
    Also put your photocopied documents in your toiletries bag with a bit on extra cash.

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