45 Travel Mistakes You Must Avoid This Year

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Do you have a resolution to travel this year? Does traveling stress you out? Save time, money, and sanity by avoiding these common travel mistakes.

1. Buying every travel accessory ever made

You do not need to bring a portable reverse osmosis water filter to Peru. It won’t help you. You don’t need a carabiner in the off chance you MIGHT decide to try mountain climbing. You won’t. Pack for the specific trip you are taking. Pack for the weather. Pack things you will need and use. My favorite modern travel item is a Ziploc bag. They come in all sizes, they are reusable, they are waterproof, they keep things organized, and they are cheap.

2. Under preparing for Emergencies

People laugh at me for this. When I travel I always bring a small first aid kit. It contains: pain meds, stomach meds, band aids, bug repellent, antihistamines, and sometimes antibiotics. It always comes in handy. When preparing for your trip you have to think of the unexpected. What if vampires attack?? What if a giant Mantas Shrimp punches you in the face?! It’s great to think that nothing bad will happen, but sometimes IT HAPPENS. Even if you are thinking “No, I’ve done this before.” What about your travel partner?! The Mantas Shrimp punches them and now you are a selfish jerk. Don’t be a selfish jerk. Being a little cautious could save a life and in my case has saved us from a few hospital trips.

3. Staying in the ‘safe’ areas of a city

No place is 100% safe. The media likes to scare the crap out of us to think we will all die in most places. You can get robbed in a metro just as easy as an alley. The key is to be aware of your surroundings. Some of the best places I’ve been were off the beaten path. Be aware of local advisories and talk to people. Go in a group if you feel more comfortable. Don’t avoid interesting parts of a city from one bad story.

4. Trying to look glamorous while backpacking

Backpacking is NOT glamorous. Here is a short story: One time I threw up on a bus. I had nothing to wipe it up with so I used a t-shirt in my bag. If that T-shirt were Gucci I might have had a worse time. (Just for the record I don’t own anything Gucci.) Living out of a backpack isn’t easy. It’s the main way I travel. I’m a girl and I like pretty things, but you have to make sacrifices if you want to learn anything and have awesome experiences. Like throwing up on a bus…

5. Standing in long Customs and security lines

The newest advancement to security screening is  a program called Global Entry. The Global Entry program allows members to skip long lines and tedious shoe removal. This works for domestic and International flights. To get a membership you’ll need $100 and an interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. An added bonus that most people don’t realize is by having Global Entry you also get TSA Pre-Check which works on most domestic flights. For More information and applications check out the Global Entry site.

6. Avoiding new technology

This is a big travel mistake. Get with the times! Seriously. Who avoided a smart phone for years to save money – me. Who can’t live without it now – me! It has helped me during flight delays, translating words, emailing, getting directions – AND in the USA you can use your phone on a plane now! Also, you probably have the wrong apps. Get the right travel apps! Triposo, Flight tracker, AirBnB, Hotels.com, Uber, Lyft, FlyDelta, PackingPro, Xe Currency… So many apps just to make your life easier.

7. Tipping mistakes

To tip or not to tip. This seems to be the big question people want to know. In Japan it is actually insulting to leave a tip. With this awesome infographic we know the answer and won’t continue to throw down money just because we don’t know.

8. Packing too much

Stop packing everything in your closet! This is a travel mistake I see way too often. When you are leaving for a few days there is no need for 3 different suitcases. Bring only what you need. Make a list of things you might do and check the weather in your destination prior to arrival. Pack items you can wear more than once. This will save you time, money, and sanity.

9. Skipping group tours

Group tours have a bad reputation for being touristy and expensive. My first year of traveling I never went on group tours because I thought I was getting ahead by touring sites myself. After being forced onto a few tours (no other way around it) I found that you can actually learn more this way. I’m in no way preaching that all group tours are good and you shouldn’t see some things on your own. Bus tours are pretty pointless. Ask around for tours that could be worthwhile. The tours will be less crowded if you go in the low season.

10. Packing the wrong items

If you are going to Canada in winter do not bring shorts. Duh. Before you travel check the weather and have a trip itinerary idea. It will make packing so much easier. You don’t need a pair of shoes for each outfit and most items people think they need they never use. If you take time to pack right you will have lighter bags and less to carry. In rainy season bring a poncho and a few Ziploc bags – you don’t need a rain coat and an umbrella and a towel and waterproof everything, etc. – you get the point.

11. Always flying for long distance travel

I love flying, but it is not the only way to get around. When traveling to your destination think about all of your transportation options. Taking a bus or a train may be slower, but will save you in travel costs. Really, if you have never been on a train you should try it at least once. A fun advantage is seeing more of the scenery and having a different kind of experience. You might miss out on a great bus vomit story like tip #4.

12. Flying at the wrong time or day

Don’t get stuck cursing at everyone in the ticket line! There are better times and days to fly. If you travel mid-week tickets are cheaper.  If you can book flights early the airports won’t be as crowded and you have a better chance of dodging delays. If you can, try to avoid planning your trips only on weekends.

13. Not preparing for TSA

Everyone who has flown since the 90′s has been through the super fun TSA line. It goes something like this: take of your shoes, throw your liquids and belongings in a bucket, get glares and random pat downs, feel violated, move on. I really wish people would make this more simple for themselves. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are easy to slip off and on. Take your liquids out while you are waiting in line to get to the conveyor belt. Do not complain out loud the entire time. Small things make the line move faster for everyone.

14. Ignoring reviews

These days everyone has an opinion. It’s easier than ever for them to share it with the entire world! There are a ton of great sites you can find for just about anything you plan to do. Check the reviews before staying at hotels and eating at certain restaurants. Especially if traveling to a developing country. Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Google are great sites to check before you travel.

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15. Not Considering Hotel proximity to city sights

Your itinerary is mostly in the city center and your hotel is about 30 minutes away. Okay. Did you think about transportation costs and time? When booking accommodations a big money saver is how close they are to the activities you plan to do. It makes way more sense to walk or bike if you can. Taxis and rental cars can be a pain with fees and parking issues.

16. Being too cheap

Saving money is great – but SO is sleep. Being cranky in Belize will not impress anyone. You will not be able to enjoy anything if you are tired and hungry. Get that neck pillow, take a nap, book a decent room, buy a sandwich, upgrade to first class – whatever you need to! Just keep your body energized so you can make the most out of traveling.

18. Forgetting about cultural time differences

When traveling out of the country remember that you are traveling out of your home country. Many places don’t open right at 8am. You will find that hostels and hotels don’t let you check-in until 11am or as late as 2pm. Restaurants may not open until about 9am or just close completely on Sundays. Luckily, most hotels will hold your bags behind the desk until your room is ready. These are things to consider when you are making travel plans. Find out the customs and don’t get stuck on the street for 3 hours with all of your bags like I have.

19. Forgetting travel entry restrictions

Make sure you know what documentation you need before you show up at the immigration line. You do not want to be stuck in immigration or SENT TO JAIL! (Insert creepy laugh). This information can be found online; e.g. when traveling to India everyone needs a Visa. You have to apply for the visa on the Indian Embassy site and the process could take over a month.

20. Not accommodating for flight connections

If you only have 15 minutes between flights I hope you packed running shoes. When companies offer cheaper fares it is usually because there is some crazy connection you have to make. While booking your flights make sure to leave enough time for your connections. Airlines get delayed daily for multiple reasons we can’t understand or control. Flight apps like FlightAware Flight Tracker and Delta will track your flights and tell you if they overlap or what gate your connecting flight is at.

21. Not having all of your shots and medical

In 2014, mosquitoes and water can still kill you. Before traveling it is important to protect your health. You can find a list of vaccines needed for any destination on the CDC website. The most common vaccines are Hep A & C, Tetanus, and Typhoid. Some vaccines take weeks to work and early planning is important. Malaria pills will often be recommended, but are really only necessary if you are spending time in the dense jungle or around water. In Guatemala and Peru I was fine using OFF repellent. It is also important to take vitamins and wash your hands frequently to keep cold germs away.

22. Avoiding public transportation

Public transportation WILL save you a ton of money.  Sometimes ignoring the scary stories of “this one time on a bus…” will be in your benefit. The key is to be smart. Don’t go into sketchy places after dark. Don’t flaunt your valuables. Be aware of your items and trust your instincts. Buy day passes instead of individual trip passes and look for student and AAA discounts.

23. Too much Alcohol

Oh Alcohol – how I love thee. Sometimes you just have to say no. I usually don’t drink when I travel. My exception is trying a local beverage or if I’m traveling with friends. Internationally the cost of alcohol is so ridiculous. Skipping fancy beverages will help you stay on budget. Also, predators hang around the places people will be getting intoxicated. Save yourself from being an easy target.

24. Traveling in high season

Traveling south in the winter or north in the summer is more expensive. Schools are on vacation and everyone wants to be warm in the winter. Who wants to be cold ever??? Avoiding rainy season is also not necessary. Rainy season only means there is a chance of rain, not “please avoid this part of the globe because for these three months it is unlivable.” Low season is ideal for lower rates on everything from transportation to hotels and tours.

25. Going out to eat for every meal

I’m not someone who can afford a luxury meal 3 times per day. A banana and a protein bar are usually great. Eating some meals on your own can be its own adventure. Since breakfast is easy to make you can head over to a local market and find some fresh pastries and fruit. Another simple trick is to pack granola bars and snacks from home in your bag. This way you aren’t always going out to eat and you have a few emergency snacks in case you run into travel delays. For some meals it’s worth it to skip the expense – plus taking a walk through the local markets can be enjoyable.

26. Forgetting to haggle

When shopping in local markets outside of the USA prices aren’t always set in stone. The areas that are touristy will try to mark up your cost because they think you have money. It’s not unusual for people to negotiate lower prices. The artisan would usually rather have the money than not. Just be courteous of developing countries where your money gets stretched. Some of these people could use a few extra dollars.

27. Ordering the wrong airplane cocktail

It’s an airplane not a bar… unless your airplane has a bar, then lucky you.  If you are going to spend $7 on a drink don’t get the wrong one. Getting the wrong drink will make you sad. You don’t want to be sad. The safe choices are beer, wine, coffee with Baileys, and some simple cocktails. Stay away from Margaritas, Cosmopolitans, and Bloody Marys. Remember the cabin pressure will make you feel the alcohol more quickly than you’re used to. This sounds cool until you have to run to the bathroom after one drink.

28. Having a credit card with International fees

An easy way to get around money exchange fees is to have a credit card without them. You’ll always get the best exchange rate with a credit card. These three cards were listed in the top ten travel cards of 2014: Capital One Venture Rewards, BankAmericard Travel Rewards, and Chase Sapphire Rewards. Each of these cards gives you points on dollars spent and they have no foreign transaction fees. 

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29. Not Packing for the weather

It’s easy to look at a beautiful beach destination and assume it is warm all year. Some islands are not warm in the winter months or even in the summer months. The water will be nice to look at, but it may be the wrong season to swim. Higher altitudes can be warmer and wind could be a factor.  Check the weather a few days before you leave. If you are traveling to a few areas during your trip check the weather for all of them. Look for travel writers who have been to your destination and ask them how the weather was.

30. Avoiding Hostels

Don’t write hostels off totally. Yes, they are different from hotels in the amount of comfort most offer, but there are also hidden gems. Research you options. You can find hostels for $20 per night that are just fine. Some will offer breakfast and transportation to the airport. If you can find a decent room for $20 a night you will be able to add so much more onto your trip budget.

31. Avoiding Hotels

There’s this stigma that real travelers stay in hostels – that’s not true. Hostels are usually cheaper, but writing off hotels because you want to be seen as a traveler is dumb. Depending on your location, hotels may be a better choice. You will learn a lot about yourself only having cold water in a hostel, but if you aren’t in your early 20′s and you can spend a few extra dollars the fact that you have shampoo and hot water could make a huge difference in your enjoyment level.

32. Only eating comfort foods

Why did you fly all the way to Spain to go to McDonalds? McDonalds isn’t exotic! Even their Iberian Big Mac sounds gross. Eat the local food – it’s what traveling is all about! Try something new. Try something weird. Foods are prepared differently in different areas; scrambled eggs in Vermont are not close to scrambled eggs in Morocco. Only eating foods you know is a waste of a trip.

33. Not knowing the currency

Did you know that the world has over 150 different types of currency?!?  Paper, coins, Loonies, Yen, Sol, Euros…Know which one you are using. Know the exchange rates and taxes. Most people don’t think about the additional cost of taxes. The OANDA site has an easy converter for most currencies.

34. Drinking the water

Water is a controversial topic. In developing countries the  water sucks, it really, really sucks (The Waterboy anyone?). This means no brushing teeth with faucet water, no ice, no foods washed in water, no drinking water out of anything unless it has a sealed cap. In some areas of Europe you will be charged for water at restaurants and it isn’t cheap.  Don’t try to trick them by bringing in your own water because you will be kicked out Waterboy style – I know this from experience.

35. Using an iPad as a camera

As a professional photographer this really bothers me. This should be the number one way to look like a tourist. You are waving a very expensive iPad in the air! Please consider the people around you and that you are probably blocking their view.

36. Pre-booking

This will usually cost you more upfront and changing your plans won’t be as easy. Especially with tours, unless you have to reserve a ticket in advance, the local rates are usually cheaper.

37. Trying to do everything in one day

You are a traveler not a contestant on the Amazing Race! The point of your trip is to enjoy what you can- not how many sights can we see in 24 hours. Highlight the top things that you want to do and do those first. They will ultimately be the most important to you. If you don’t like museums and churches – don’t tour those things. Even if the travel guides say they are great you don’t have to like them. There are going to be times you will miss something and you have to accept that.

38. Not bringing emergency snacks 

There are many things that could come up preventing you from eating. Travel delays, restaurants closing, not having time to exchange money… Packing a couple of protein bars will keep the hangry away. If you are a coffee addict – bring instant coffee packets! Not all hotels have coffee. Even in America! It’s a tragedy, but thankfully Starbucks makes VIA packets which are easy to mix and save your body from caffeine withdraws.

39. Avoiding the local language

This just in: Not all countries speak English. They shouldn’t have to. Even places that are Westernized have locals that choose not to. Instead of getting upset just understand that many people have national pride and this isn’t a bad thing. Learn a few key words and phrases. This is important for so many reasons I’ll probably make an entire post about it. The locals will be friendlier if you show effort and it will save everyone long games of charades. Technology makes this easier than ever. Some great apps for translating are:Google Translate and iTranslate. I also have found the Lonely Planet pocket language guides to be great.

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40. Only bringing one ID

One thing you usually don’t find out until you are stuck, is that Customs will ask for multiple photo ID’s. This sounds absurd when you have a government issued passport – but they don’t care. I’m not sure if they are just trying to be tough, but more than once this year I have been stuck in immigration because they have a problem with my passport. Bring another ID just in case they give you a hard time.

41. Not having multiple forms of currency

In some countries cash is still king. Most think that credit cards must be accepted worldwide but this is false. Although in America you can get by 99% without ever having an actual dollar the rest of the world is not like that. Especially when paying for public transportation. Take out some emergency cash to get you by in the event that your credit card gets lost or you are stuck in a cash only situation.

42. Checking a bag

You don’t always need to check a bag. Actually 80.95% of the time checking a bag is not necessary. I have gone on one trip in the past 3 years that I checked a bag for. It was a work trip and I had to bring a ton of photography equipment. If I can leave for 2 weeks without checking a bag I believe anyone can. Only bringing carry-on luggage will ensure you get to your location faster, you don’t lose anything, you didn’t bring too much, you can change your plans in an instant, and you have less baggage fees.

43. Losing your Identification or money

This would be horribly inconvenient. Keep your money and identity close to your body. Separate your cash and Id’s and carry them in different places. Pick GOOD hiding spots like the mini-fridge. Trust NO ONE.

44. Getting angry at gate agents about flight delays

Someone please tell me what is wrong with humanity. Customers are beating ticket agents?!? Your flight has been delayed because there is a zombie apocalypse earthquake and you’re mad because you won’t get home on time? Have a little courtesy. These people didn’t delay your flight. If your flight was changed due to weather you should be happy that the people of ABC Airline value your life and would rather you enjoy your trip than not make it at all. Kicking and screaming your way to the ticket counter it just a sad way for a grown adult to act.

45. Not Traveling

The biggest travel mistake you can make this year is not traveling! Plan a trip today and make every effort to take it. Even if it’s a small trip – start now! If you can go without a fancy coffee everyday and save that money in a jar (yup, old fashioned jar) you will have money to put towards your trip! (Notice how I said fancy I know no one can live without coffee.) See! It’s as easy as coffee – or something like that.

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Joy Does Stuff | Photography | Travel Writer

Written by Joy Hmielewski

Joy Hmielewski

Joy is an American chick with a fearless love for adventure and loathing of cubicles. She became a professional photographer and traveler through major dedication and an addiction to good coffee. Her mission is to live life in happiness and inspire people along the way.

Next Stop: Bahamas

*All photography by Joy Hmielewski except where noted