No one ever wants to talk about what goes wrong when you travel. In a world consumed by posting and tweeting every sugar-coated moment of our vacations on social media, we strive for the approval of others - or to put it bluntly - we strive to make others jealous. What our followers rarely see are the stresses that come along with traveling. Things like missed flights and lost passports are rarely showcased in our Instagram posts of us on beaches in South-East Asia, or in our Boomerangs of us popping champagne in front of the Eiffel Tower.
As much as I love traveling and everything it represents, there are faux pas' every first time traveler (and even seasoned veterans) make. Here are my top 10 travel mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. Choosing the wrong luggage
I am such a culprit of choosing the wrong luggage to bring on trips. I often over-estimate my carrying abilities and forget that I'm 5' tall and lack the strength (or will power) to carry a backpack as big as me through an airport for hours. While the term "backpacking" may sound edgy and cool, there is nothing fun about pulling out your back before even getting to your destination. If you're bringing only carry-on luggage for a trip over four days, I strongly urge you to consider something with wheels.
Also be mindful about the way airports treat luggage. Suitcases are tossed, throne, scrapped and dented while in the care of airport baggage handlers. Don't check-on your three thousand dollar Louis Vuitton luggage without expecting it to come out with imperfections on the other side. If you're really worried about your suitcases condition, plastic wrapping is offered before check-in at most airports, but it doesn't promise much.
Overpacking and I have a very toxic relationship. Before setting off on a trip, I swear I need it all. Open toed stilettos for going to Scotland? How could I live without them? A cocktail dress when I have nothing planned that requires one? What if I get asked by a foreign stranger to go to his sister's wedding with him and I then have nothing to wear? Just stop right there. You don't need it, and if you do, buy it there. No article of clothing is worth arriving to the check-in counter only to realize your bag is fifteen pounds overweight and you now have to pay an extra $150 (been there).
Forget cosmetics at home. Unless you need a special product, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, etc., purchase it once you arrive. When traveling abroad, keep in mind that travel steamers, blow dryers, and hair tools often blow a fuse and die due to insufficient voltage. If you really think you need one of these tools, buy them at your destination instead of bringing yours along and wasting space. Another tip is to ship back home anything you've purchase that would cause your luggage to be overweight. It's often cheaper to ship a box home than to pay for an overweight bag.
3. Not checking your flight status before getting to the airport.
It's so important that you make sure everyone you're traveling with is getting text or email updates when flying. Airports will often send you on your flight, even if your connecting flight has already been cancelled. I've only been in this predicament once, however, once was enough.
Although I'm usually responsible for flight information while traveling with friends, I had gotten my cell phone stolen while on a weekend trip in Florida and therefore didn't have access to my text updates from our airline. While we could have stayed at our location for another day, not knowing our connecting flight had been canceled the previous day caused us to get stuck in Logan International until the next afternoon. Luckily, my best friend lives in Boston and allowed us to sleep at her place until our flight out the next day. However, seemingly still not learning our lesson to check our flight information before arriving to the airport, we then found out after going through security that our replacement flight had also been canceled. So, for the sake of it not taking you 48 hours to get from Florida to New York, check your flight status before getting to the airport.
4. Booking a short layover
Although certain airports are easier to navigate than others, it's always smart to have at least an hour and a half to a two-hour layover while traveling - especially when going through major airports. When traveling internationally, you often have to switch terminals, re-go through security, and/or go through customs. You'll want to make sure you have ample time to complete all of this so that you don't miss your flight.
I'm not an overly emotional or angry person. I'm typically extremely understanding of people who are just trying to do their jobs and think it's obnoxious and inappropriate to cause scenes in public - this all goes out the window in JFK International airport. JFK is an absolute horror show; with long lines that seem to be going nowhere, employees that all have different answers, and multiple confusing terminals that all require individualized TSA security, this airport is what nightmares are made of. While on my first trip to Paris, I had a layover at JFK that could have pushed me into early retirement. With forty-five minutes until our flight took off (all while international flights board an hour early), we had to get our luggage from the carousal, get to a terminal on the other side of airport, check on our luggage, re-enter through security, and arrive to our gate. We made it just as final boarding was being called.
So don't be me, running through the airport like the McCallister family in Home Alone 2, and book a longer layover.
5. Not researching restaurants
Getting stuck at touristy restaurants with Americanized menus is one of my major pet-peeves while traveling. In order to find authentic, delicious food in your destination, it's important to do your restaurant research. I use Instagram food guides such as @Stockholmfoodguide and @london.foodguide, travel food blogs found on Pinterest, and of course, Rick Steves' guides for restaurant advice. Also, make sure to ask the locals what their restaurant recommendations are! One of my favorite restaurants in Sorrento, Da Filippo, wasn't on any blogs or travel guides, but was recommended to us by the chef at a local take-out restaurant.
Avoid restaurants that have a peddler outside asking you to come in (big in Italy), restaurants whose entire menu is in English in a country where English is not the main language, and as much as it pains me to say this, street food - just because there's a Netflix special on it doesn't mean it wont give you cholera.
6. Not planning an itinerary
I am the itinerary queen of traveling. Although I don't like having a strict schedule to follow, I think it's important to have a list of things to do, means of transportation, and food options in the area so that you don't end up lost in a new city with nothing to do. Planning an itinerary also gives you the opportunity to purchase skip-the-line tickets for museums and activities, saving you time and sometimes even money. Check out guide books, travel blogs, and Instagram accounts/hashtags to get inspiration for your itinerary.
I've been on so many trips where no plan leads to walking around aimlessly in tourist trap areas trying to come upon something to do. Save yourself wasted time by planning one or two things to do each day, even if that includes more relaxed activities such as shopping or a bike ride in a local park.
7. Not knowing about foreign transaction fees and other credit card issues abroad.
Foreign transaction fees on credit cards and bank cards are not uncommon, so you always want to check with your bank before traveling abroad to make sure your fees aren't unreasonable. While most fees vary from 1%-3%, some banks charge up to 7%. As carrying hundreds of dollars in cash is unsafe (refer to #9), you'll want to make sure you get a card that has either a low fee or doesn't charge foreign transaction fees at all.
Also make sure to notify your banks that you're traveling and bring along multiple credit/bank cards as certain cards aren't accepted everywhere. When traveling to Paris for the weekend while living in Italy, my American Express and Discover cards denied all over the city, even though I didn't have a balance on them and had notified my banks that I would be leaving Italy. Luckily, I had my Visa bank card on me which worked fine.
8. Not knowing what International phone plan to get
For God’s sake, don’t be the person who thinks they don’t need a phone while traveling abroad. Not only is it unsafe, but you asking Becky to check your Instagram on her phone every hour is not going to win you points with anyone.
On my first trip abroad, I called my cell phone carrier to sign up for their international phone plan. This was my first mistake. Most American phone carriers such as AT&T and Verizon have extremely expensive international plans. Not knowing any better, I paid the $10 a day that my carrier, Verizon, charges for a three week trip, paying almost $210. When I was leaving for a two month trip to Italy the next summer, I knew I had to find a different tactic. On this trip, I bought an international sim card at Vodafone that costed me about 30 USD for 10 GB of data. Although I didn't have SMS texting or calling outside of Europe, having an iPhone allowed me to use iMessage as a means of instant messaging and I made calls through Facetime, Facetime audio, and WhatsApp.
9. Not looking out for pick-pockets
Although I've never been pick-pocketed while abroad, I have seen it happen. In cities such as Barcelona, Naples, and Rome, it's so important to keep an eye out on your cell phone, money, and most importantly, your passport. Don't keep anything valuable in your back pant pockets and make sure your purses can't be easily cut as pick-pockets may slash the bottom of your bags or your shoulder straps. When traveling to high-risk cities, I often use Travelon products to protect my valuables against thieves. Remember to also keep your credit cards and passports in RFID blocking sleeves to avoid people from stealing your information through RFID-readers.
While living in Sorrento, Italy, we saw someone get pick-pocketed every time we went through the Naples train station. Areas of mass transit are places where your money and travel documents are usually accessible, therefore are hot beds for people looking to steal from you. Street performances are also often simply distractions to hoard groups of people together so that someone can pick-pocket you. Make sure to take extra care of your belongings on trains, metros, and in tourist trap areas.
10. Forgetting to update your travel documents
Not realizing your passport has expired or not applying for a travel visa on time can ruin everyone's vacation plans, so make sure to take this into consideration before booking your trip. Passports can take up to six to eight weeks to be processed in the United States, and you'll have to pay an extra $60 to have it expedited if you need it quicker. Only after a group of friends and I booked a trip to Bali did we realize our passports must be valid six months after our arrival. Luckily, we were able to catch this early and update our passports before we're set to travel.
Depending on how long you're traveling for and your destination, you may need a travel visa. Visa applications usually cost around $160 and can take up to two months to receive. To find out if you'll need a visa for your next trip, check out Travisa.
NOTE: If you happen to lose your passport while traveling, you'll have to go to your country of citizenship's embassy to have it replaced. Make sure to bring copies of your passport and other forms of identification on your trips with you in case this occurs.
What are some of your travel horror stories and how did you work through them? Let us know in the comments below.