24 Common Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

24 Common Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

It is common to make a few careless mistakes when traveling and exploring the unknown.   But sometimes these mistakes can turn your trip into a disappointing and money wasting experience.  Here are 24 of the most common travel mistakes.  Let’s hope these tips can help you avoid falling victim of these boo-boos.

1. Having an over-ambitious itinerary

Instead… Be flexible; don’t be afraid to change your plans due to weather or money shortage.  Be aware of the time it takes to get from “A” to “B” (not by distance, but by travel method: car, bus, train, etc).  Factor additional time for possible delays as well as extra time to rest.  Remember, you don’t need to see the whole country in one visit; planning to do so will make you feel unaccomplished.

Travel Mistakes and Frustrations

2. Overpacking

Instead… Pack only what you need and know you’ll use, not what you think you’ll use.  Buy the rest at your destination (possibly at a fraction of the price).  Once fully packed, review everything you have and try to reduce the load a little bit more. Check out 15 things you don’t need to pack to avoid carrying that extra weight.

3. Blindly trusting the first directions you get from a local

Instead… Cast a broad net of directions.  Ask more than one person for directions to the same place.  If the person hesitates or looks up like searching for an answer, kindly accept their help and look for additional help at the next street.  Go with the general consensus.

4. Relying totally on Guide Books

Instead… Guidebooks are made to inform your travels, not to define them.  Put the guidebook down and interact with other travelers and people at the destination.  Allow yourself to explore and use on your own initiative; there is a lot more to a place than what is in any guidebook.

Having no Money

5. Forgetting the budget and running out of money

Instead… You should consider your budget as a as a way to experience the place more creatively and more authentically; not as a restriction.  Create a realistic budget you can stick to and allow some breathing room for unexpected expenses.  If traveling long-term, schedule weekly transfers from your savings to your checking (like a paycheck), so you know exactly what you are allowed to spend.

6. Not backing up pictures and losing them due to a stolen camera or virus

Instead… Backup pictures on a CD/DVD/USB Drive on a regular schedule or host them online on sites like Picasa and Flickr, or at your own blog’s FTP.  This mistake is very heartbreaking, so it’s best to avoid it.  Your memories are one of the most valuable things you get from your trips.  If possible, backup more than once.

7. Booking connecting flights with a short transit time, thus, missing your flight

Instead… Give yourself at least a couple hours between flights to allow for any possible “delay” scenario (flight delay, long customs line, long distance between terminals, etc.).

8. Not double-checking your documents and bookings for errors

Instead… Double-check your documents and reservations for everything from hotels, flights, trains, buses, etc.  Always corroborate the time and location, and make sure they are scheduled correctly.  Also, check that your name is correctly spelled on your flight reservation.

9. Not Buying Insurance

Instead… Spending those extra few dollars will give you the benefit of feeling more secure in case something happens (lost baggage, trip delay or cancellation, medical emergency, etc.).  Read the fine prints to see what is included and if it suits your needs. You can learn more about travel insurance here.

10. Not notifying the bank of future foreign transactions

Instead… If you want to avoid having your debit card cancelled due to “unusual activity”, notify the bank beforehand of all the countries you will be visiting so they know it’s you who’s using the card.  Plus, many international banks have foreign branches and joint ventures that will forfeit their ATM fees.

11. Not factoring the different time zones when booking your trip

Instead… Corroborate the different time zones between places “A” and “B”, how long does it take to get there, and how many time zones are you crossing.  Factor this in your reservations’ scheduling.  Also, consider the possible effects of jet-lag during your first days, or better yet, learn how to prevent jet-lag.

Passports

12. Not making copies of important documents

Instead… Have a hard copy of your documents (passport, IDs, travel insurance policy, credit cards) with you, and a digital copy safe (if possible, as a password protected .pdf) on a “secret” email account you can easily access.  In case of losing your original documents, copies facilitate your identity verification and quicken the renewal process.

13. Making large currency exchanges before leaving home

Instead… Exchange just enough to cover you until you get to the first ATM or good-rate exchange kiosk at your destination.  Or, withdraw money from an ATM right when you get there, but don’t use the airport exchange kiosks.  They have horrible rates and fees.

14. Arriving at the wrong airport

Instead… When traveling on big cities that have more than one airport, double-check your reservation to corroborate which is the correct airport and correct terminal.

15. Sticking to the tourist trail

Instead… Dare to explore outside the commonly done and seen.  Create your own unique experiences; don’t just follow what others have done.  Go off the beaten path, often time the best experiences and the biggest opportunities are hidden there.

16. Tempting pickpockets with flashy items

Instead… Use common sense and don’t expose your valuables.  In fact, if you don’t need them, don’t wear them.  As for DSLR cameras, laptops, and expensive gadgets; carry them with you, hidden in a locked pack and use them as necessary.

17. Being culturally insensitive

Instead… Try to understand the culture and the surrounding in which you are traveling.  Having an open mind will help you blend better, enjoy and absorb the culture in a more interactive way, and avoid insulting them unintentionally.

Empty pockets

18. Having all your money in a single place

Instead… Don’t put all your “eggs” in the same basket.  Avoid carrying too much cash and store it in various “safe” places.

19. Not knowing the hidden foreign charges in your credit card

Instead… Call your bank to make sure what the transaction fee for foreign purchases is.  Have in mind, even when foreign companies charge you in your normal currency (i.e. US dollar), they still can charge the “foreign transaction” fee. This page explains more about the best credit cards for travel.

20. Not doing research

Instead… Avoid arriving to a destination a not knowing what to do by at least doing a small Google search.  Get information of possible things to do and interesting history of the place.  The more research you do in advance and the more you know; the more chances you have to enjoy the place.

21. Drinking too much

Instead… Drink in moderation and find other ways to relieve the stress and have fun!  Drinking too much will not only sucks all your money, it will also put you at a higher risk of getting robbed or injured.

22. Ignoring local’s advice

Instead… Pay attention to what locals say; put into consideration and evaluate their advice.  Who knows, maybe their advice will save you from getting robbed or help you save a couple dollars here and there.

Getting Angry

23. Getting angry at the foreign country

Instead… Even if you had a lousy time and were not treated as expected, consider it as part of your experience and learn from it.  Sure, express your frustrations if you need to, but remember, you are a guest at that country.  Just because they don’t do things the way you’re used to, doesn’t mean that they are wrong.  Practice patience and tolerance.

24. Having unrealistic expectations

Instead… If something goes not as planned, go with the flow.  Have a realistic expectation and don’t expect your trip to be perfect.   Better yet, don’t create an image of expectation and arrive with a fresh and open mind that will help you accept things as they come.

If you fall victim to any of these mistakes don’t get disappointed.  Keep enjoying your wanderings and use it as a learning experience.  Hey, I’ve made most of these mistakes, if not all of them, but they have helped me grow and learn as a traveler and person.

Which mistakes have you made?

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Original images by – reuben –, swamysk, jaaron, stuartpilbrow, and ohhector respectively, taken from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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47 thoughts on “24 Common Travel Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”

    1. Thanks Tandem World! I though it would be good to share this. Of course, we all learn from our mistakes, but I guess it would be cool to learn before making them.

  1. #1 is the greatest lesson I’ve learned over the years. So when my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Borneo this summer, we allotted 16 days split between two places. Know what I learned? Sometimes you can be overly ambitious to spend a lot of time in one place! Eight days is WAY too long to be in the Kota Kinabalu area, for example. But hey, now I feel no need to ever go back!

    1. lol… Good to know about Kota Kinabalu (for the future!). I’ve had that situation too, where I have too many days on a single place that can be seen in just a couple days. Sometimes I just suck it up and enjoy it, but other times I manage to be flexible, cut the days short, and move to another place of interest.

  2. Also, as a guidebook writer by profession, I will agree with you on that one, as well =) There are so many great places I’m either not allowed to put in the guides because then we’d have to add a whole other city section just for them (and don’t have the space) or either keep out on purpose as I don’t want them overrun by tourists!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that information. Yeah, I guess guides are always a balancing act of what should be included (publishing wise), saved for other versions/alternates, or simply kept out of the “tourist masses”. I’m sure the picking process must be really hard. I wonder how many great little “jewels” are kept out on purpose? 😉

  3. Great list.
    Luckly I avoided many of those on the list. But it’s still hard, for example catching up your budget. It’s easily forgettable. I consider my travels as relax as possible. Not just lying there and sleep-relax, think easy and consider many factors come to me. 🙂 Great list Norbert!

    1. Thanks Juno!
      Haha! Nope, not me… I did make most of those. But luckily, I learned from them. 🙂 I agree with what you said, just think easy and let things flow… that’s the best way to have a great travel experience.

  4. Tend to be super guilty of number 1 – have to visit every art museum a city has to offer, and even when dreaded museum fatigue sets in, I still keep on going…haha. I’ve gotten better lately – no more than 2 museums a day.

    Great list! I always cringe when I see people do #7 – missing my flight is one of my biggest fears when traveling.

    1. lol… I’ve done #1 so so so many times… lately I’ve been taking it easy by doing less things on a single day, but enjoying them more, and being more flexible. Oh dear #7, the first (and hopefully last) time I did that one was last month with my connecting flight to Cuzco. lol

  5. This is very well put together, I have to learn how to be flexible because I always want to do everything on my list at the same day..lol

      1. Haha Yes Norbert! When was in Montreal for 3 days only, I try to see every museum I can see and I always end up so tired when I went back to the hotel and fall asleep within 5 minutes. hahah

          1. haha I agreed! When I’m back couple of friends was asking, how was the bar or club there. I was like I didn’t go anywhere, and the were like shocked. They think that’s the fun part! haha

  6. Nice piece! I bet a lot of us went – oh yeah. :))
    Cardinal sin #1 in my book – drinking Starbucks in coffee capitals of the world, such as Paris.

    1. Thanks Pola! Lol… what a sin! I don’t drink coffee, but that would be a no-no for me if I did… But, Starbucks is everywhere. I guess it’s somewhat unavoidable to not drink their coffee or go into their store. 🙂

  7. Trans-Americas Journey

    Great list of common mistakes, wise advice. 1 and 2 are the most common mistakes, and can be real killers.

  8. Fantastic article, thank you… sums up absolutely everything nicely. I think number 14 is just outrageous, but I know people it’s happened to – I personally double and triple check all the time, I would be extremely stressed if I missed a flight or a train… Phew, just thinking about it has my palms all sweaty 😉 So yup, double-checking and follow-ups are essential.

  9. Very useful info! After reading it, i think i will never forget again to take a copy of my passport with me!
    What is a common mistake too is to plan exactly the whole trip and then dont have time to do everything as planned because or we spend more time doing something than we thought we would, or on the way we find something interesting to see/do, too.

    1. You’re totally right! That’s what happens when we overplan. We make everything so tight that breaking the plan becomes unavoidable. It’s always good to leave some free time to play with and bump extra activities we didn’t think of before.

  10. we have to admit that we commit the mistakes, i appreciate that you have revealed the mistakes now it makes it easy to avoid them. nice stuff

  11. Jeremy @ Our Trip To

    Thanks for this list. One more, if I could be so old as to suggest, is to check dates on things like passports and credit cards. There seems to be more scrutiny on how far out your passport is going to expire to be allowed to cross. Also, credit cards expiry is something to watch.

    1. Oh yes, that is a good one to add, especially if you’re traveling long term. You don’t want to start a long term trip and find out that two months in your trip your credit card expired and have no way of getting a new one abroad. Same with passport…

  12. I have a similar post on my blog. I focused on the planning portion of a trip, but I like how you extended your post to include both planning and the mistakes to avoid during the actual trip. I love #23 and #24. Going with the flow is a must! Things happen, we have to adjust and be OK with that. Also, it is so easy to fall into a negative trap by judging the things other cultures do and thinking they are “wrong” for the ways that they run things. Embracing those differences can actually make the trip so much better, so much more enjoyable. I mean is that not why we travel? To experience new things and see the ways others live. 🙂 Tolerance and patience — you are EXACTLY right.
    http://www.msbtravels.com/common-mistakes-people-make-when-planning-a-road-trip/

  13. Throughout our years of travelling we’ve definitely made the “Not Being Sun Smart” mistake (a few times) before! I’m sure every traveller can relate to at least one of these, unfortunately, haha.

  14. I agree with taking it slow. Adding my own to tip towards that –

    If you’re going to a theme park, try splitting the visit into several shorter ones. Many places offer a multi-day ticket that isn’t that much more expensive. When we visited Legoland California with the kids back in 2009, adding another day only added $10 to the price of the ticket. It was well worth it. We went twice and felt like we had a LOT of time to explore at leisure.

    I also agree about vacation rentals. It provides you with space and also means you stop at the same place for longer, giving kids time to settle in and relax (well, ok, it’s good for the grown-ups too ? ).

  15. Some of the mistakes I already did, yet doing them showed me how to do it right next time and that is the place I ideally correct it and not planning to repeat any of them.

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