There’s no way to plan for every potential setback that can arise on a trip, but there are definitely steps you can take to prevent common travel mistakes from turning your vacation upside down! To help you avoid these classic pitfalls, I’ve put together a list of handy travel tips you can use to guarantee an amazing time abroad.
This is probably the most frequent mistake that travelers make. I see it all the time. You start thinking about every possible scenario that could befall you when you’re on the road and before you know it, you’ve stuffed your entire closet into your suitcase. (“But what if I bump into the Queen? What if there’s a monsoon? I have to be prepared!”)
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, it never fails. Let’s be real, though, you’re not going to wear all those outfits you’ve packed. Be choosy about the clothes you decide to bring — go for multipurpose items, wrinkle-resistant fabrics, and colors that mix well. With a little bit of planning, you can avoid pesky annoyances like checked baggage fees and overweight luggage.
Short layovers (and not booking enough time between flights!)
I am typically a non-stop girl, but if I fly out of a smaller airport like Gainesville (instead of JAX or MCO), the transfer in Charlotte or Atlanta can have me scrambling to make it to my next flight. Travel is notoriously unpredictable — I have ended up waiting in an airport for almost 18 hours and once missed a connecting flight due to a maintenance failure. Flying internationally tends to make connections even tighter, and you need to be prepared for unexpected lineups, security checks, and gate changes. Making sure you have a healthy buffer of time between the first leg of your trip and the next will help assure your flight is a smooth one.
Not buying travel insurance
This is a biggie! Some people view travel insurance as a bit of a money grab — an optional extra that tacks even more money onto the cost of their trip—but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You need to think of travel insurance as an investment rather than an expense. If I knew I was going to be spending over $3,000 on my next trip, then why wouldn’t I pay the extra $29, $59, or even $100 to guarantee that I’m covered if something goes wrong? Like we said before, travel is unpredictable — and nothing ruins a trip faster than a stolen passport, missing luggage or sudden injury. Certain types of travel insurance will even reimburse you for things like an extra meal at the airport if your flight was delayed. Be practical about potential risks and ensure that your dream getaway won’t turn into a nightmare if something unexpected happens.
Being too much of a tourist
Of course, you will literally be a tourist if you’re visiting a foreign country — but there are tourists and then there are tourists, you know? Spending your entire trip in your hotel or on the resort might sound relaxing, but smart travelers make the most of their time abroad by getting out and exploring the amazing place they’ve spent good money to visit!
Talk to locals, wander the backstreets, try new cuisines and ask around to discover experiences you might otherwise have missed. Not only will you have an incredible time, you will probably also save some cash by getting off the beaten path and living more like a local. Tourist traps are real and will quickly drain your travel fund if you don’t avoid them. When possible, stay away from the restaurants and shops near major attractions and opt instead for local joints — the food will be better and the price will be right.
We’re not saying that guidebook of yours needs to go in the trash, but it doesn’t have to be your travel bible, either! Get off the tourist track every now and then — we promise it’ll be worth it.
Not reading the fine print on your mobile plan
I committed this particular travel sin once, and it came back to bite me later in the form of a surprise $400 phone bill — not exactly what you want to come home to after a trip! It happens to the best of us, but you can protect yourself from data roaming fees by checking your mobile plan to see what’s covered before you go abroad.
If your plan covers you internationally, then you’re golden! Otherwise, make sure to turn off your data before you get on the plane and leave your phone on airplane mode (don’t worry, you’ll still be able to connect to WiFi). If you can’t get by without using data while you’re away, either look for an international plan that covers the destinations you visit most often or buy a local SIM card after you land. Most airports will have kiosks selling SIM cards to arriving tourists, but you can often find even better deals if you poke around local convenience stores or phone shops outside.
Note: T-Mobile is great when it comes to jet-setters. I switched last year from AT&T, who I had been with for years. T-Mobile has plans geared specifically to travelers’ needs, including in-flight WiFi through Gogo. Customers will also have access to Netflix, which is great for long flights!
Not checking your destination’s visa requirements before traveling
Every country has its own entry requirements and visa regulations. Not bothering to check if you need to apply for a visa before traveling can be the costliest mistake you can make (both in time and money). Imagine arriving at your destination, excited and ready to go, and being turned away because you don’t have the proper documents — horrible, right?
Your government’s website should specify whether or not you need a visa to visit a specific country and if so, talk you through the process of applying for one. Doing your homework beforehand will prevent a whole lot of headaches down the road.
Leaving your valuables out in the open
Use the safes, people — they’re in your hotel room for a reason! Lock up anything you don’t need to carry on you (important documents, jewelry, expensive tech equipment, etc.) and make sure the items you walk around with are stowed away out of sight. It’s a good idea not to be too flashy when visiting a foreign country, as clueless tourists wandering around with fancy watches or pricey cameras in hand make perfect targets for pickpockets.
Consider buying an RFID-blocking wallet or case if you carry your credit cards and passport around with you — this will protect your belongings from being skimmed using special radio frequencies by scammers. It’s also a good idea to make copies of any important documents; keep both a digital and a hard copy, and leave a copy with a family member, close friend or neighbor while you’re gone.
Trying to save money at the expense of your time
PREACH! This one I see a lot. Planning and booking everything yourself might seem like a great way to cut costs, but you need to think carefully about how this will affect your vacation time. If taking a bus between cities instead of flying saves you 30 bucks but means an entire day spent on the road instead of an hour, is it worth it? What about showing up at an attraction and standing in line for hours just to save $5 on the ticket instead of booking in advance and paying full price? When planning your trip, your time should be equally as valuable as your money. You’re spending a significant amount to visit a destination — you want to make sure you have time to actually enjoy it!
Travel agents know your destination inside out and can save you hours of agonized online searching. They can often score better deals on flights and hotel rooms thanks to their experience and connections, and you will end up with your dream vacation — minus all the sweat and tears of trying to plan it yourself. If you find yourself overwhelmed by all the choices online, please ask for help! You’ll be happy you did.
Trying to do everything in one day
This one I am very much guilty of — my husband would say that I try to build Rome in a day. Let’s just say that I don’t want to miss anything while I’m there!
Despite my own do-it-all tendencies, trying to squeeze in every last tour, attraction, and experience on your trip is a bad idea for even the most seasoned of travelers. I totally understand wanting to make the most of your trip, but traveler burnout is most definitely real — if you run yourself ragged hopping from place to place you’ll lose a lot of the joy that comes from exploring more slowly. You need to remember that you are on vacation and relax. You don’t want to come back home and feel like you need another vacation to recover from the one you just took! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the things you want to do, just make sure to pad those plans with downtime and city-strolling in between.
Worrying about EVERYTHING (to the point where you can’t enjoy yourself while you’re away)
Worry is the evil twin of high expectations, and both will suck the joy out of a vacation faster than you can say “bon voyage.” Mistakes and mishaps are bound to happen on one trip or another — especially when you add kids, pets or in-laws to the mix, but you can’t spend your time worrying about things that are out of your control. Stuff happens, and it’s not the end of the world. Don’t let a missed flight, lost suitcase, nasty restaurant or any other unpleasant experience ruin your trip.
Travel is about the connections you make, the people you meet, the new sights you see, and the wonder you feel at exploring a different corner of the world. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to do it and you can only plan so much. If you can get into this frame of mind when you travel, the small stuff won’t seem worth sweating at all. The only thing that matters is that you just do it — go, explore, learn and enjoy!