Even as a veteran traveler, I’ve made some of these mistakes in more recent years. I’m definitely on the spontaneous end of the traveler spectrum, which means I roll with the bad things and take them as they come. But I’ve neglected to follow some key rules, costing me a LOT of unnecessarily wasted money, time, and tears. Learn from my [any many others] mistakes and don’t ruin your vacation by overlooking the details!

1. Not checking your passport validity

Step one: before you even THINK of looking for flights, CHECK YOUR PASSPORT VALIDITY! And when I say this, I don’t just mean if it’s valid during your time of travel. Most countries require your passport to be valid between 3 and 6 months after your intended return date [with some spare blank pages], so make sure to check the requirements and renew it well in advance.

2. Not arranging your visa in time… or knowing you needed one

If you’re doing a trip to just one place, you’ve probably at least checked the visa requirements {if you haven’t, shame on you!} and you’re all set in advance. Some countries are easy and offer visa-on-arrival, but certain ones {ie India, Vietnam} require you to fill out an application online in advance and have the approval notice when you arrive. This can take 72 hours and the airline you fly with may require you to have the visa as proof when you check in. Don’t make the same mistake I did and think you can just fill out the form during your 14 hour layover… you may be denied boarding.

3. Not arranging departure airfare to coincide with visa days

*Another very frustrating mistake that not just rookies make. When a visa (say for Indonesia) is good for 30 days, they mean exactly 30 days. Don’t book your departure flight based on one month from date to date, actually count out 30 days and book it one day sooner just in case. For each day you overstay, there is a fine to be paid in cash at customs.

4. Not having proof of onward travel

I’ve not been denied because of this (though I know plenty of people who have) because I’ve gotten away with claiming my onward method is a bus or train [Southeast Asia, parts of the Balkans, etc]; however recently, I was questioned heavily and made to sign a waiver saying that I won’t hold the airport accountable if I’m denied entry upon arrival because I didn’t have an onward ticket. I’ve also been given a lot of grief about not having a return flight from the Schengen (you can only stay 3 months and I’m applying for my visa so I didn’t have a return of course). They may make you buy a ticket on the spot, so either have a good excuse or buy a cheap bus ticket out of the country just for customs.

5. Overpacking

Hang on while I beat a dead horse for a minute. I didn’t position this at the top or bottom of the list but it’s hands-down my most important piece of advice. Believe me when I tell you, you will be too busy and excited while traveling to even see the items at the bottom of your suitcase or backpack. When packing, lay out everything and cut it in half. Pack basics that go with everything or things that you don’t mind wearing over and over. Make sure those things are a non-wrinkling material (if you care about that) and can dry quickly/don’t retain odor. Bring items that double as other items (dresses that can be coverups that can be scarfs that can morph into a butterfly). I’ve been on team carry-on for over 2 years now and I can’t repeat myself enough: Don’t overpack.

6. Bringing too many carry-ons for budget airline flights

Bigger airlines are so generous with what they let you carry on. I was spoiled prior to flying with discount airlines and now I feel like a first class citizen when I’m not forced to wear half of my luggage on a major flight. Discount airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair don’t care that you consider your ginormous weekend tote to be your “personal item”. You are allowed one carry on (with strict dimension policies) and sometimes not even a personal item, or that item needs to be super tiny and a backpack doesn’t count. Therefore, pack light, invest in space bags (which have recently changed my life), and go for an underseater type of carry-on just in case the overhead bins get full. Double check the regulations if you’ll be taking a discount airline flight during your trip and take them seriously or pay the consequences.

7. Not bringing sunscreen and expecting to buy it later

This seems silly, but I still make this mistake. Remember when I said I was team carry-on? Well I constantly forget to pick up travel sized sunscreen and I just think I can go without it or that I’ll buy it when I arrive. Time and time again, I either go somewhere that doesn’t have it OR it’s so insanely overpriced. My FAVORITE sunscreen is the Hawaiian Tropic Shimmer Effect because it gives you a shimmery glow while protecting you from the sun. They don’t make a travel size yet but I’d check a bag just to bring this with me. Bring sunscreen. Use it.

8. Not letting your bank know you’re traveling & Not checking foreign transaction fees

Let your bank and credit card company know you’re traveling before you go. Nothing is worse than having your card declined when you need it most and then having to figure out how to call home to fix it.

9. Not having travel insurance

Insurance is a funny thing. Insurance sales people have such a bad rep and it’s kindof a well known thing to always decline that unnecessary insurance, right? Well I would have agreed with this a few years ago, but since I’ve been hospitalized multiple times, spent a lot of non-refundable dollars on medicines and shots, and seen so many people have to cancel their trips without getting a cent back… I’ve changed my ways. There are just so many factors that can go wrong before and during your trip that aren’t in your control. Weather, incidents with family member, medical issues, strikes, you name it – I’ve seen it. I’ve since signed up for a credit card that provides me with comprehensive travel insurance but however you want to play it, play it safe and cover your trip.

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10. Exchanging currency at the airport

Let’s be honest, if you’re in Europe, the US, or Australia, most everywhere takes credit card these days and it’s fairly safe (just check your banks foreign transaction policies). You’ll probably need cash for Asia, Africa, and South America but don’t do it at the airport. Convert some at your bank before you go to cover you initially and then convert the rest once you’ve settled in and someone from your hotel or homestay can point you towards a place with a really good rate. If you don’t have any foreign transaction or ATM fees, maybe wait until you’re in country to see if you even need it or how much and take out a lump sum once you have your bearings.

11. Roaming Fees / Data

Yeesh this one will ruin your day when you get back from vacation. US carriers are notorious for sucking out your soul via roaming charges. I don’t even advise you to go with your carrier at all while you’re abroad, even if they offer international packages. While traveling, pickup a SIM if you’ll be in the country long enough and download Magicapp (if you’re from the US) and Whatsapp to stay in touch with people back home and abroad. If you’re on a short trip, wifi is typically available for free at almost all cafes, restaurants, and hotels; so break away from being connected and jump on when you stop for a coffee.

12. Not taking transit time into account & Over-planning

I understand you only have 2 weeks per year to take a vacation and you want to see all of Europe and maybe some of Antarctica in that timeframe. It’s normal to think this way, but as your travel agent, I’m telling you: It’s not realistic and stop it. Not only will you wear yourself out trying to bounce around and cram everything in, but you’re not taking time to practice slow travel. You’ll never remember anything about the trip if you don’t take the time to savor it. The stress of moving around (and potentially missing a flight) just negates the entire purpose of the trip itself: to learn about a new place and make memories there.

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13. Not checking for festivals before traveling

This mistake won’t result in quite as a dramatic scenario as some of the others, but you will really kick yourself if you plan to visit Koh Phangan the day after the Full Moon and it’s been on your bucket list since forever. Another reason to check is for general closings or fully booked accommodations throughout the city. If you’re booking your hostels as you go, you don’t want to show up to a city with nowhere to sleep. You also don’t want to be in a closed ghost town while everyone’s living it up an hour away.

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In all honesty, I NEVER used to plan or check for festivals but I’d ALWAYS find myself in the right place at the right time. I’ve just luckily been in the right cities/countries for Holi festival, 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, biggest drinking day of the year in Copenhagen, Full Moon in Koh Phangan, and many more. This was when I was traveling permanently and could afford to change my schedule with no time crunch. You should be flexible but a little research goes a long way.

14. Eating in the most touristic spots rather than wandering or asking around

I’ll label this as a general poor choice rather than a mistake, because deep down you know it’s not right, but you do it anyway. The restaurants right in front of that iconic Gothic cathedral are going to be very expensive and probably won’t have even remotely tastey food. You’re on vacation and you planned to spend a little extra on going out to eat – that’s great and power to ya! But heed my advice when I say that there are delicious, traditional restaurants elsewhere just waiting for you to discover them and eat to your hearts content! Just grab a drink at those prime locations while you gaze at the architecture and people-watch, then spend your hard earned money on real, authentic food elsewhere. Talk to people [more on this topic below] and ask around for the best eats. Use apps like Yelp and Foursquare to check the ratings but also the price range and reviews. If you’re gunna spend the money and put on the vacation weight, make it worth it!

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15. Not interacting with locals

This is high up there on my list of mistakes you should not make. The locals (and even other travelers) can honestly change and make your entire trip. After all, what is a city without the people who bring it to life? You will learn about the country, the history, and even yourself by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and mingling with everyone you possibly can. Also, that Full Moon party you just missed because you didn’t check what festivals were going on? If you just chatted with the bus driver or hostel owner a few cities back, they probably would have dropped that valuable information right in your lap. There are times during traveling to be pensive and keep to a good book and there are times to make a connection with a total stranger that could potentially become your best friend.

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That pretty much sums it up! Of course you’ll still make plenty of mistakes along the way, and that’s ok; but don’t let the big ones ruin your dream trip.

What rookie mistakes have you made that others can learn from?


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