Travel Mistakes Not to Make

Your travel time is precious! Don’t let these common snafus trip things up for you.

Written by Ben Luthi / March 17, 2022

Quick Bites

  • It’s all too easy to make common mistakes while traveling, even if you’re experienced.
  • Some mistakes can cost you extra money or even ruin your trip.
  • Common mistakes include forgetting to renew your passport, using currency exchange kiosks and more.
  • Travel insurance is an extra expense, but it may be well worth it.

It’s Murphy’s Law: Just when you’re packed for your Caribbean getaway, you realize your passport’s expired. If you’re lucky, you can get expedited renewal and still make it, but it’ll cost you.

No one wants to deal with headaches instead of relaxing in the sun or gazing at a Van Gogh. A little extra planning can help ensure your trip runs smoothly.

Here’s how to avoid the many travel pitfalls that are all too common, from the booking process straight through to the end of a trip, so you can enjoy yourself and save money while you’re at it.

Inside this article

  1. Mistake #1: Expired passport
  2. Mistake #2: Brand loyalty
  3. Mistake #3: Closest airport
  4. Mistake #4: Exchange fees
  5. Mistake #5: Visa requirements
  6. Mistake #6: Not reading reviews
  7. Mistake #7: Not buying insurance
  8. Mistake #8: Passing on rewards
  9. Mistake #9: Neglecting safety
  10. Mistake #10: Last-minute packing

Mistake #1: Not checking your passport until the last minute

If you’re planning a trip abroad, it’s crucial that you check your passport’s expiration date long before your scheduled departure. Even if you think you’re good because it expires after you get home. “Certain countries will not allow you to enter with a passport that has a validity of less than six months,” says Lieze Neven, who lives in Nepal and blogs about travel at Glitter Rebel.[1]

What’s more, the process of renewing your passport can take two or three months. It’s possible to get the process expedited by visiting a local passport agency, but appointments are limited, and walk-ins are not allowed. If you can’t get your passport renewed in time, you may have to cancel your trip altogether.[2]

Mistake #2: Sticking with one airline or hotel brand

Airlines and hotel chains offer loyalty programs to encourage travelers to only fly or stay with them. But it’s highly unlikely that you’ll always get the best deals without shopping around. This is especially important if you live near an airport that acts as a hub for multiple airlines or if your hotel brand of choice has few properties at your destination.

While you can earn elite status if you fly or stay with one brand enough, it’s incredibly difficult to meet the requirements unless you travel consistently throughout the year.[3]

Instead of checking flights and hotel stays with individual airlines and hotel chains, use websites like Google Flights, Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz to ensure you get the best deal.

Mistake #3: Only booking flights through the closest airport

It’s generally more convenient to book flights through the airport that’s closest to you, but it’s possible to find better deals from airports in nearby cities or even states. For example, Denver International Airport tends to offer cheaper international flights than nearby Salt Lake City, so you may be able to save money by booking from Denver to your destination, then adding a separate flight from Salt Lake City to Denver.

Also, be careful not to skip over regional airports. Depending on where you need to go, you could find much better deals than if you were to depart from a major city.

Mistake #4: Getting cash from a currency exchange kiosk

Currency exchange companies like Travelex offer a convenient way to get the currency of the country you’re visiting without having to leave the airport. But these companies often charge a markup, says Neven.[4]

Instead, Neven recommends using a multi-currency card like Wise or another travel debit card to take withdrawals from local ATMs. Some U.S. banks, such as Aspiration, even offer international ATM fee reimbursements if you have a qualifying account. Even if you don’t have a card that offers ATM fee reimbursements, you’ll get a better exchange rate from an ATM than from Travelex and similar companies.[5]

Mistake #5: Not checking visa or health requirements

Some countries require you to obtain a visa before you can enter the country. It’s important to start the application process far in advance of your trip, so you can make sure you meet all the requirements.[6]

In some cases, the country may require you to get certain vaccinations or take a COVID test before you arrive. If you don’t meet these requirements, you may not even be able to get on the plane to your destination.[7,8]

You can use websites like CIBTvisas to get an idea of what’s required in your destination country. To find health requirements, visit the country’s tourism board website.

Mistake #6: Not reading reviews

The pictures you see on the websites for hotels, hostels and vacation rentals are often done by professional photographers with the goal of making the place look as appealing as possible. You’ll also typically get a list of amenities to give you an idea of what your experience will be like.

But instead of relying on this marketing material, use websites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews to learn more about what other travelers have experienced at the property. These reviews may tell a very different story and can help you avoid spending money on a bad experience.

Mistake #7: Not buying travel insurance

Travel insurance doesn’t typically cost a lot, but if you’re already spending hundreds or even thousands on a trip, it can seem like a permissible omission. If you’re traveling internationally, though, it’s almost always a good idea to take on that extra expense.

That’s because travel insurance often covers things like medical expenses, lost or delayed luggage, last-minute cancellations and other things that aren’t covered by your insurance policies back home. Just be sure to read the coverage details and exclusions and compare several policies before you buy.[9]

Mistake #8: Avoiding credit card rewards

Credit cards can get you in debt if you don’t use them responsibly. But if you’re generally good about paying off your monthly balances, they can provide a great opportunity to earn points or miles that you can use to save money on travel.

Travel rewards credit cards often offer sign-up bonuses worth hundreds of dollars and also allow you to earn more rewards with every purchase you make. Some even go the extra mile and give you special perks when you travel, such as trip expense credits, airport lounge access, elite status, free checked bags and more.[10]

Mistake #9: Not taking safety precautions

Regardless of where you travel, it’s important to make safety a top priority. Otherwise, you may be easy prey for pickpockets, swindlers and other criminals.

Neven recommends a few things to maximize your safety while you’re traveling. For starters, avoid looking like a tourist. “Shorts and white Nike sneakers—you know, the dad grilling outfit—are a dead giveaway that you are an American tourist, and chances are you will attract many swindlers,” Neven says.

She also suggests making sure your phone is always charged and has data access, that you know where local hospitals are and that you learn a few phrases in the local language. The latter recommendation could make you appear to be an expat rather than a tourist, making it less likely that you will be hassled.

Finally, it’s a good idea to register with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), so you can receive security updates from the local U.S. embassy or consulate.

Mistake #10: Waiting until the last minute to pack

If you’re not careful, it’s possible to either overpack or underpack. If you pack too much, it could increase your costs in the form of baggage fees, and you’ll be stuck lugging around a massive suitcase everywhere you go. On the flip side, if you don’t pack enough, you may have to purchase items you have at home but need at your destination.

Instead of putting off packing until the last possible moment, start the process early by creating a list of items you’ll need. Walk around your home and make a note of the items you use every day, and think about specific items that will make your flight and other parts of your trip a better experience. And while it is a good idea to plan for emergencies, you probably don’t need eight pairs of underwear for a four-day trip.

Article Sources
  1. “Cruise Ship Passengers,” U.S. Department of State, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelers-with-special-considerations/cruise-ship-passengers.html.
  2. “Passport Services Available Now,” U.S. Department of State, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html.
  3. “So, what exactly is elite status in travel — and how can I get it?” The Points Guy, https://thepointsguy.com/guide/elite-status-travel.
  4. “Fees & Limits,” Travelex, https://www.travelex.co.uk/travel-money-card/faqs.
  5. “Can I use my debit card when traveling internationally?” Aspiration, https://funds.aspiration.com/faq/Spend---Save%3EAspiration-Spend%3ECan-I-use-my-debit-card-when-traveling-internationally-.
  6. “International Travel Issues for Americans,” USA.gov, https://www.usa.gov/americans-abroad.
  7. “Requirement for Proof of Negative COVID-19 Test or Documentation of Recovery from COVID-19,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/testing-international-air-travelers.html.
  8. “Traveler’s Health,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/south-africa#vaccines-and-medicines.
  9. “What Is Travel Insurance and What Does it Cover?” Nationwide, https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/home/articles/what-is-travel-insurance.
  10. “Chase Sapphire Reserve Travel Credit Card Rewards and Benefits,” Chase Credit Cards, https://creditcards.chase.com/rewards-credit-cards/sapphire/reserve.

About the Author

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi

Ben has been writing about money since 2013. He's been on staff at NerdWallet as a credit card writer and for Student Loan Hero, where he covered student loans and other personal finance topics. Ben's work has appeared in U.S. News, The New York Times, Experian, FICO, Credit Karma, Bankrate and more

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