I've been traveling almost full-time for about three years now. I am not sure how many countries I've been to (over 30, but who's counting?) but I know that no matter how much of an expert I become, there are some mistakes and blunders everyone experiences -- even the experts, against our better judgement!
Here are my top travel mistakes and the lessons learned from them:
1. Snagging a flight that is TOO cheap
I love saving money -- especially on flights. My standards are pretty low when it comes to flying: as long as I can bring a personal bag and comfortably arrive at my destination without crashing, dying, or contracting some life-threatening infection, I'm good to go.
Sometimes though, a cheap flight is just TOO cheap. There have been times when "comfort" was treated as a luxury add-on. I'm not talking about business / first-class comfort, I mean economy seating. Some of those really great flight deals offer that "Oh okay, I'm supposed to bring my knees to my chest as I sit on a London to Paris flight that connects in Russia" type of comfort. Forget a reclining chair. Forget baggage space. Heck, forget a cushion under your tush. And don't you DARE become thirsty. You're lucky to have a life jacket and seatbelt (I've even been on a flight where my seatbelt didn't work, so there's that).
The consequences of booking a discount flight that is TOO cheap:
- no leg room AT ALL
- a broken seat belt (has happened in smaller countries)
- steep ticket printing fees
- no seat recline
- rock-hard seating (oh you thought cushion was mandatory?)
- carry-on fees
- seat-selection fees or no seat assignments at all
- fees for water (and everything else)
- no bathroom
- astronomical change fees
Lesson learned: If it is too good to be true, it might be. Do your research! Leave the too-cheap flights for trips with short durations but make sure longer flights have better standards. You truly get what you pay for when it comes to flying and the more budget the airline the higher the chances of "hidden" fees (for people who don't read).
2. Forgetting to ask questions because you're following other tourists
When you read tips about traveling solo and making friends at hostels, many bloggers and travel sites advise you to befriend other guests so you can tag on to some of their itinerary. It is an easy way to find companions (especially for multi-country backpacking) and takes some pressure off of you, planning-wise. But sometimes following other tourists can be detrimental -- especially financially.
The bigger the group, the more attention you attract. And that attention might scream "money".
Take my time in Bangkok, Thailand for instance: Alex and I encountered a group of travelers who befriended each other at their last destination. In an effort to get some tips about our first ever Asian city, we agreed to hang out with them and explore Bangkok's nightlife. As we sat down to get a drink, we ordered the same thing they ordered, figuring as backpackers they wouldn't get anything expensive. At the last minute we asked for vodka instead of rum in our drink and proceed to enjoy the night with awesome lads.
When the bill came, we learned our drink was $15 USD (theirs was half the price)! To put things into perspective: that was our entire daily budget. We later learned we'd visited the most touristic spot on the street and were warned to always question pricing (even if the people next to you already did).
Lesson learned: Don't get caught up being too laid back; it might cost you. Ask more questions and pay attention. Don't assume the tourists you are hanging out with know the answers.
3. Forgetting about points
You ever fly with a small airline and think, "I am only going to use this company this one time" and don't claim your points? This happens to me a lot. And guess what? I've almost always regretted that decision within the year.
Regardless of whether you think you'll never fly an airline again, COLLECT THOSE POINTS. You never know if you'll need it or if they are connected with another airline that you do use often.
What about credit card points? Am I the only traveler who took forever to get these perks down? I had a hard time finding the right credit card to benefit from my purchases. At first I used Bank of America's Travel Rewards card for a few years but ended up just putting myself in a financial hole trying get more points. It was a mediocre program that took me forever to get out of debt because I wasn't familiar with how to use credit card points to my advantage. These days I find the Chase Sapphire card to be one of the best. My partner and I share the card so the points rack up quickly while traveling (obviously don't do this with just anyone).
My tip: sign up for a card with a huge bonus that gives double and triple points for travel, dining, transportation, and entertainment purposes, and only charge things if you actually have the money to pay it off. These days I rarely even spend money unless it has some form of coupon, promo, or bonus points connected to it.
4. Not planning my work Effectively
You may not be a blogger and freelancer like me, but I am sure you often have some sort of work you need to get done while traveling. My weakness is underestimating how long that work will actually take me while visiting a new location (especially when with friends).
Yes, working alone and in silence might help get things done quickly but I've definitely forgotten to account for crappy internet, sociable travel partners, and less than ideal work environments. This results in working 2-3x as long, becoming frustrated, and producing lackluster results.
My tip: plan a full day alone or a set of "do not disturb" hours when traveling with others. Check reviews about the hotel wifi, locate a backup cafe or two just in case, and plan your work ahead of time.
5. High Season Travel
High season is the best and worst. On one hand, there is a reason why it is called the high season: the weather is usually clutch, certain sites and activities may be seasonal, and nightlife is always just a little bit more exciting -- hence the visitors in droves.
But I hate high season travel.
Flights are expensive, hotel costs are sometimes astronomical, and everything requires advance planning. So while yes, trekking Patagonia during a time when I won't die is absolutely necessary, I don't know that a place like Costa Rica during the low rainy season (lush green jungle and awesome sun showers, anyone?) is necessarily worse than high, crowded dry season.
My tip: Before you plan, consider the activities and sites you want to experience and determine whether visiting during high season is truly the best decision. If seasonality isn't make-or-break, consider shoulder and low seasons for more travel flexibility, affordable prices, and WAY LESS people in your photos.
What travel mistakes have you learned from (or still make)? We're not perfect!