Common travel mistakes
Whether it’s your first overseas adventure or you’re a nomadic explorer, travelling is all about discovering the unknown, so it’s no surprise that there can be a few hiccups along the way. The good news is, we’ve been in the travel business for 35 years now, so we’ve heard all the things that can go wrong. With a little forward planning and learning from these common travel mistakes, you can focus on enjoying your trip without the worry.
Lugging around a huge, heavy suitcase can put a serious dampener on your holiday. Too many packed items can lead to a messy hotel room, a sore back and way too much dirty laundry.
Overpacking starts with choosing a travel bag or suitcase that is larger than necessary. Begin with a carry-on bag, and only size up if you really need to. Select everything you think you’ll need, and then try removing half of the items. This exercise helps you to narrow down your selections to the bare necessities. Keep your travel wardrobe neutral so you can mix and match every item. Also, try to choose clothing that can be used for multiple activities, so you can pack fewer items.
2. Dining close to major tourist attractions
It’s likely that cafes and restaurants close to popular tourist attractions are going to be more expensive than if you ventured a little further afield. You’re likely to find a better selection of more affordable and better-quality foodie spots if you head to where the locals eat.
Do a bit of pre-holiday research into your destination on websites like TripAdvisor or ask your accommodation provider for tips once you arrive. When you book accommodation through websites like Airbnb, the hosts often include a list of ‘things to do’, from places to eat or attractions to visit. This local insight is often invaluable, giving you a better taste for the culture and more enriching experiences, rather than following the same well-worn path of other tourists.
3. Carrying valuables
When you carry expensive jewellery, cameras and other pricey items, you may attract the attention of pickpockets. Even if theft isn’t a problem at your travel destination, it’s all too easy to lose things while you’re travelling, so it’s best to leave any irreplaceable items at home.
If you do need to carry some valuables, however, make sure you do it mindfully. Consider bringing a jacket with zip pockets or wear a bum bag for carrying your cash and credit cards. Remove any items from your wallet or purse ahead of travel, such as loyalty cards or work passes. Extra cards will make your wallet fatter, which could attract the notice of thieves. It’s important to never leave your items unattended, as this would mean you wouldn’t be covered under our International Comprehensive travel insurance policy if the items were stolen.
4. Creating an overambitious itinerary
So much to do! So much to see! Visiting nine countries in eight days may sound great on paper, but your trip will be such a blur that you may not be able to remember where you were in all the pictures.
Restrain yourself while you’re creating your itinerary and build in some unscheduled time, so you can immerse yourself in the culture of a place and spend some time relaxing. Give yourself enough breathing room that you have time to soak in your destination’s unique ambience.
5. Underestimating time required for security
Too many travellers have missed flights because they just didn’t give themselves enough time to get through security. Nothing sends the blood pressure skyrocketing like watching your flight time creep up while you stand helplessly in the queue.
In most cases, you should arrive at the airport three hours before an international flight departs. If you’re travelling at a busy time of year (such as school holidays), expect longer lines than usual. It never hurts to be early for your trip, so you can find a spot in the airport lounge to relax ahead of your flight.
6. Booking flights too close together
Booking your flights as close together as possible is tempting. After all, you don’t want to eat up too much time in getting to your destination. But this strategy can backfire. Any delay in your flights could throw off the rest of your trip.
Where possible, try to give yourself at least a two-hour layover so you have time to get through security, grab some food and stretch your legs before the next flight, without the stress of rushing to get to the gate. This also means you have a buffer if your flight is slightly delayed.
7. Not having the correct visa
One mistake with your visa, and your well-crafted holiday could be over before it even began! If your destination requires a visa for entry, double check every piece of information on the visa, including the spelling of your name and your planned entry date, and address any issues right away.
Check the Smartraveller website to find out how far in advance you need to apply for your visa, to ensure it arrives in time for your trip.
8. Forgetting to inform your bank about your trip
Most banks have automated fraud-protection systems in place, and if you suddenly use your card in Bangkok when the bank expects you to be in Australia, your card could be flagged and put on hold.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to avoid this frustrating situation. Just phone your bank and your credit card company ahead of your trip and tell them when you’ll be gone and where you’re going.
9. Losing money in exchange transactions
Changing your money at the airport is the surest way to lose money in exchange transactions. Rates and fees are generally higher at the airport, so learn about your other options, such as exchanging it at your bank, a foreign exchange shop, or withdrawing cash at your destination.
10. Neglecting to factor time zones into your trip
We’ve heard stories about unlucky travellers missing their flights overseas because they didn’t consider the time zone change between their current location and the airport they would be flying out of. Avoid such problems by always considering time zones when you’re planning your flights.
11. Not checking your cell phone plan
Here’s an unpleasant surprise: your cell phone doesn’t work in your destination, and you were supposed to phone the hotel for a shuttle upon your arrival!
Avoid this situation by checking on your cell phone plan ahead of your trip. If you find that your phone won’t work in your destination, order the appropriate SIM card so you’ll never be caught without your data.
12. Not learning any local phrases
Without a few local phrases at your disposal, you can feel completely helpless in a new place. Even worse, the locals may not be very willing to help you if you don’t make an effort to learn to say things like “thank you” and “please” in the local language.
It doesn’t take long to learn essential phrases, and you’ll always be grateful you took the time. Use a language app like DuoLingo or Google Translate to learn basic words and phrases.
13. Neglecting to organise your trip details
A dose of spontaneity is always helpful on a trip, but too much spontaneity can lead to disaster. Make sure you spend some time sorting out the details of your travel. These efforts will help you to stay calmer on your holiday, and you’ll also be more likely to see sites that require careful planning. Some museums, for instance, require advanced bookings, including a prescribed time of arrival. If you leave details like these until the last minute, you might miss out on some once in a lifetime experiences.
14. Not understanding the local culture before your trip
Without an understanding of the local culture, and political and economic state of your destination, you could miss out on so much. Additionally, you may offend the locals if you neglect to give the nod to their social customs. You may also want to check what is and isn’t legal in your destination. This may sound like a strange suggestion, but some countries have laws against things you wouldn’t expect, for example Singapore has a law against chewing gum and people who break this law can face fines up to $100,000 SGD.
Read up on your destination’s history and culture before your trip. Prepare yourself to be an informed visitor rather than an uninformed tourist and take your social cues from the locals you meet during your holiday. Not only will your travel be smoother, but you’ll also learn much more while you’re there.
15. Napping when you arrive
Travel can be exhausting, and when you arrive at your destination after a long day, a nap may sound like the best idea ever. But resist that urge!
Napping may extend your jet lag and make it harder for you to recover from the time zone change. Push through and try to stay up until your normal bedtime on the first evening of your trip. If possible, spend some time out in the sun to help your body acclimatise more quickly.
16. Living on social media during your holiday
When you’re taking beautiful pictures and loving every minute of your trip, it’s tempting to want to post as much as possible on social media, but this is yet another common travel mistake.
Social media will still be there when you return home from your trip, but you will no longer be able to soak in the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of your holiday. Try to limit the amount of time you spend on social media while you travel. Oversharing on social media can also show that you’re away from your home, which could potentially put your home at risk of being burgled, so adjust your privacy settings if you do plan to post content online.
17. Staying on the beaten path
Another common travel mistake is staying on the beaten path during your holiday. Popular tourist destinations tend to be crowded, overpriced and a bit inauthentic. And while you’ll probably want to hit a few of these attractions, make an effort to wander further afield as well.
Research your destination thoroughly so you know of any lesser-known attractions in the area, and once you’ve arrived, talk to the locals. They’ll be able to point you to local favourites that tourists don’t often know about.
18. Leaving belongings on modes of transport
It was a great flight! You met an interesting person, took a little nap and collected your luggage without any problems. That’s when it hits you: you left your phone in the seat pocket on the plane. This can also happen on any mode of transport, whether you’re in a taxi on the way to your hotel, or exploring your destination by bus or train.
Prevention is the best protection for this rookie mistake. After you’ve finished using a personal item from your bag, put it right back where it belongs. Continue this habit all through your trip, and you’ll avoid leaving your items on buses, in hotel rooms, and everywhere else you go.
19. Failing to check the weather forecast before you leave
Since you’re going to be packing light (see Travel Mistake #1), you’ll need to make sure your clothing is weather-appropriate. Otherwise, you may find yourself suffering from being too hot, too cold or too wet all through your holiday. That’s no way to spend your vacation.
Even if you know your destination well, check the weather forecast regularly in the days leading up to your trip. Make adjustments to your packing if necessary and consider whether you’ll need to change your itinerary. If the forecast calls for rain, for example, you might want to trade a day at the beach for a day at a museum.
20. Not reading your travel insurance policy
Without understanding the terms and conditions of your travel insurance policy, you might engage in activities that aren’t covered, or you might not know what to do if you experience an unexpected emergency overseas.
Read through your cover ahead of time and put our contact information in your phone so it’s always ready if you need us. With your travel insurance ready to go, you can travel to your heart’s content with complete peace of mind.
Have you ever had a travel mishap overseas that you’ve learnt a lesson from? We’d love to hear it! Send us an email at email@example.com and tell us more.
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