I really can’t believe I haven’t covered this topic yet. To be honest, I think I have this idea of myself as the cool girl city traveler who plans everything to a tee, has an answer for everything, and never has that “oh shit” moment on vacation. LIES. All Lies to myself.
Sometimes we just make mistakes, and things can go from sorta wrong to very wrong. So here are 1o major mistakes that I think people often make when traveling, and how to sort of avoid them (but you’ll still make mistakes, don’t worry). These are accompanied by my own stories to make you feel better about yourself, cause I’m real.
1. Using a Third Party to Book a Flight
Third party booking sites have great deals, there’s no denying that. What do I mean by third party booking sites? Think Expedia, Momondo, Travelocity, Priceline, etc. The problem with using these sites is that they can be insanely unreliable. At the end of the day, be aware you’re using a third party. That means if anything goes wrong with the airline you’re flying, you have a nice middle man headache in front of you. These sites can also be unreliable because they aren’t always up date with the flight information for each airline. So essentially, you could be booking a recently sold out flight and not even know it. So fun!
Use third party sites for searching and planning purposes only. When you’ve nailed down a flight with a nice price, check the airline and see if you can find the flight. If the price is more, don’t be afraid to call the airline and ask for a lower price. For domestic flights, I am more open to using a third party because the risk of a canceled flight or something going wrong isn’t that big of deal to me as it would be with an international flight.
2. Using a Third Party to Book a Hotel
Likewise, stay away from third parties when booking a hotel. Rates can often be cheaper when you go through the hotel itself. Always call them as well if you find a cheaper price somewhere, and try to get them to honor the price you found.
Story Time: My friend and I traveled to San Francisco on a road trip a long time back. Our host fell through so we had to grab a hotel at the last minute. I pulled up the first site I found which was a third party booking site. I booked directly through them because I was frantic. The whole experience was weird. When we got to our ‘hotel’ it was more like a hostel. I’ll never forget the look on my friend’s face when we found out there was a shared bathtub at the end of the hallway (yes, bathtub, not shower). Also, some lovely gentlemen couldn’t take his eyes off us the whole time. We couldn’t stay there. Needless to say when I tried to cancel our reservation they said it couldn’t be done because of the third party we used. We pleaded with them and I think they recognized how scared we looked, and they finally gave us our money back. We fled faster than a child opening a Christmas present. We laugh about it now, of course.
3. Not Checking Your Layover Times
This is probably the biggest mistake I think that’s made when people travel internationally. You want to check your layover times so they hit that sweet spot. What’s the sweet spot? Somewhere in between 2 – 3 hours for a layover. An hour and a half may seem like enough time, but when you’re heading in and out of customs, it’s a reality check that they don’t give a crap about the flight you’re about to miss. Some cites have super stick customs and others are just more relaxed about it, but you never really know. For larger airports such as De Gaulle and Heathrow, you need at least two hours to make it through. Personally I will always try for a three hour layover for my first major stop (going out of the country or entering). It’s also nice to be able to chill and grab a snack or a coffee before you head off again. Do pay attention to your layover times when booking. Anything under an hour I consider myself screwed.
Tip: Find out from the first person who checks your bags whether or not you’ll need to pick your bags and check them again at your first international stop (if you have one). This does happen sometimes. Another reason to love a longer layover. Or, you could just take a carry on. Woot woot!
4. Not Double Checking Airports
Chicago Midway or Chicago O’Hare? Heathrow or Gatwick? Do be aware that larger cities have multiple airports. Okay, DUH EMILY. No but seriously, double check your flights before you purchase. Not all airline websites are the same and how you may be used to seeing an airport written, may be labeled slightly differently according to the airline. You also might have that box checked that allows for multiple airports in your search. Also be careful when selecting your airport that you use the name of the airport (e.g. Chicago O’Hare), and not just ‘Chicago – all airports’ which will pull in all Chicago airports. So when in doubt, check it out.
Story Time: Flying to Paris was fun. Flying back from Paris was even more fun. My mom booked us flying through Chicago O’Hare for the way there, and a layover through Chicago O’Hare on the way back. That seems fine, only that after our ‘layover’ we were flying out of Chicago Midway. Thank god these airports aren’t too terribly far from each other. A $50 cab ride later (and a lost purse which I left on my flight at O’Hare (I was sick as a dog and not thinking straight)) we arrived at Chicago Midway from O’Hare. Thank god we had a three hour layover or not sure we would have made it.
5. Using a Taxi
With Uber now, why even bother using a taxi? Uber is in most major countries at this point and it’s so much simpler to use. Instead of potentially getting ripped off from a cabbie, with Uber you know exactly how much you’re going to pay and I can tell you it’s a whole lot cheaper too. Also be open to using public transportation. Using public transportation can be a fun challenge as well as significantly cheaper than most taxis. I do recommend not trying to figure out public transportation when you land your first day. With bulky luggage and not knowing anything about the city just yet, Uber is best to get to your destination on day one.
6. Over Tipping/ Not Tipping
Over tipping is quite common with Americans overseas. Before you leave, make sure to look up the best tipping practices for the countries you are visiting. More than likely all you need to do is round your bill to the nearest dollar, and that’s what you leave for a tip. Another common mistake really only applies to your first day. Usually we don’t have any change on us the first day we travel. While our credit cards work for a quick coffee and croissant before we arrive at our hotel, most likely you cannot leave a tip on them. So make sure to get a few coins of change before you leave the airport for a pit stop. You don’t want to be exchanging loads of money at the airport because it’s a rip off, but getting change for a few dollars is a good practice.
Story Time: This literally happens every time I travel with someone. We look down at the morning coffee bill and think “oh crap, we don’t have any change on us yet.” That usually proceeds with “walk fast and don’t look back.” Definitely ashamed to admit this, but hey, it happens!
7. Telling Strangers Too Much
Picture yourself with a friend telling some gentlemen where you’re staying, and all of the sudden you see your friend disappear through the window of the other room. Then you call your dad because you don’t know what to do, but you hear them coming for you now. You run and hide under the bed, and then…
Okay that’s totally the plot of Taken I’m describing. I got a little dramatic. But please, make sure you pay attention to what you’re telling people. Meet a fellow American on your travels? Still, be careful to give them or anyone you meet details about your trip. My favorite one is when I see someone stop and ask someone else for directions and they say “sorry I’m not from around here.” Now they’ve just let that person know they are a stranger to the city, which could potentially make them pray for a pick pocket or something else. Watch the information you’re giving out even if it seems innocent.
8. Trying To Do Too Much
Trying to hit every sight can sometimes be overwhelming. I think the best vacations are when you leave a day or two without an agenda and you just wing it. I am a total planner like most people, so I know it can be hard, but you never want to go home feeling like you either just left, or you didn’t take a break at all. Sit back a day or two and have a picnic in the park nearby. Cheese and wine make for a great day.
9. Relying On Someone Else
If you’re traveling with someone else, make sure you both are holding your own. What do I mean by this? Say the person you are traveling with is Fluent in Spanish, should you learn Spanish? Most say no, but it’s a large burden to put on one person to do all the speaking. So try and up your game and make the duties equal. Maybe one person finds dinner one night and the other breakfast in the morning. Or one day is completely planned by you, and the next day is planned by that other person. That way one day all you have to do is tag along and enjoy yourself. It makes trips less stressful if you’re both working together.
10. Not Getting Travel Insurance
Let me just shake my head at you before I even continue. Yes you need travel insurance. I think Brook Saward explains it best: If you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Declining travel insurance is is a huge mistake I see people make. If you’re sick in a foreign country, you are taken care of. If your bags are lost, you are taken care of. Murphy’s law people! Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. So save up and purchase that insurance.
Now that you’ve made it through, hopefully I didn’t lecture you too much. I’ve made literally every single one of these mistakes, except for booking multiple airports (sorry mom, that one’s on you)! I hope these help you along some of your travels. Mistakes are the only way we learn, but it’s my pleasure to have hopefully made these mistakes before you did. Live and learn… and then relay the info.
Now I want to hear your mistake stories! Leave me a comment below telling me the worst mistake you’ve made.