Even the most seasoned travelers can encounter unexpected snafus, from flight delays and inclement weather to lost passports. But while you can't do much to prevent those mishaps, there are certain things you can do to make sure you're as prepared as possible if and when they happen.
Ahead, 10 rookie mistakes travelers make — along with advice on how to avoid them. These tips will save you time, money, and more than a few headaches. After all, you worked hard to plan (and pay for) your vacation. You deserve to enjoy every minute.
High fives to you for having a valid passport. (And if you need to renew yours, give yourself plenty of time to do so.) Still, just because you have a valid passport doesn’t mean it’ll get you where you need to go. Some countries, including Russia and China, require that a passport be valid for six months past the date of your return flight. Additionally, 26 European nations require passports be valid three months past your departure.
It’s also key to make sure your final destination doesn’t require a visa, which presents a whole different set of red tape and paperwork that will need to be sorted out well before you go. In other words, do your research and don’t risk finding out at the airport that you can't board your flight.
The world may be much more connected than it was 20 or even 10 years ago, but one thing that hasn't quite caught up is the high cost of using your phone abroad. Before you take your phone off airplane mode, be sure to verify with you carrier that your phone is operable and find out if coverage is available in in your destination.
Try to determine how much data you’ll need based on past bills and usage, then estimate your international data consumption according to the length of your trip. You might even want to consider switching to a temporary international calling or data plan; in some countries, you can also swap out your SIM card to avoid expensive roaming fees.
How many times have you gotten off a plane, seen a currency exchange window, and forked over $200 "just in case," without even knowing whether you'll need it immediately? Well, that's a huge mistake. Exchange rates at airports are infamously steep and paying them is an amateur move.
Instead, place an order with your bank or credit union for foreign currency before you go or look for in-network ATMs for withdrawing day-to-day funds. Confirm foreign transaction fees with your bank in advance. If you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, even better.
Some airlines will let you make ticket changes within 24 hours of booking, while others will charge a smaller penalty if you make a change 60 days out. Before you book your ticket, familiarize yourself with your airline’s policies so you don't get stuck paying exorbitant prices due to an unexpected change in plans. Also, if you do have to change a ticket, it's almost always cheaper to rebook your flight on the same day as your original departure if at all possible.
With checked bag fees so high to begin with, nobody ever wants to hear, “Your bag is overweight.” Avoid this awkward (and expensive) situation by
packing smart and really thinking about what you'll need and use during your trip. I’m a diehard carry-on only kind of flyer. If I can’t schlep it, it doesn’t come with me. Pack versatile clothing and streamline your skin-care and cosmetics routine when on the road. When it comes to travel, less is generally more.
We've said it before, but we'll say it again: No matter how careful or vigilant you may be, sometimes things go wrong. Loss, theft, or any number of other mishaps can turn your perfect vacay into a nightmare faster than you think.
Be sure to pack photocopies of your passport, visa, credit cards, and other important documents — and leave copies with a trusted friend or family member at home just in case. It can’t hurt to pack (and stash!) an extra set of copies, as well. Hopefully, you won't need them, but if you do, you'll be very glad you did.
Don’t forget to let your bank (and credit card companies) know that you’re going to be traveling, especially if you're heading overseas. Most banks have fraud-prevention systems in place and if they see that you live in Seattle, but are racking up charges in Salamanca, your card may be declined at a very inopportune time. Trust me, nothing sucks more than having to call your bank to remove the hold on your account when you're supposed to be out exploring a new place.
I'm very much a think-big kind of person. When it comes to life, I don’t want to miss a thing. But when it comes to travel, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to practice some restraint.
It’s rarely possible to “do it all” in any single trip. Setting unrealistic expectations will leave you exhausted and disappointed. You don’t have to do/see/sip/bite it all at once. You can always go back. Chances are, you'll enjoy the activities you make time for a lot more if you really take the time to experience them, instead of focusing on how quickly you can move to the next thing.
If you want to get a handle on the local scene, you can't just rely on Yelp or the concierge at your hotel. You need to mingle with the locals.
Cozy up to the nearest non-hotel bar or café and start chatting. Be friendly while exploring and you’ll be surprised at what kind of insider intel you might glean from the people who really know the area. Their insights are 100 times more valuable than whatever guidebook you packed.
Please, pretty please, don’t be
that tourist. Do yourself a favor and do your homework before you ever step on a plane bound for a foreign country. Whether it’s picking up a few polite phrases in the local language or wearing appropriate attire when visiting religious sites, it’s important to be respectful of the local culture and etiquette. What's normal in your city might be viewed as wildly offensive in another. Making assumptions can not only be embarrassing, but even downright dangerous.