Look before you book. Pay attention to the details. Pack the right attitude. If you’re traveling this summer, those are the three ingredients to avoiding travel mistakes — and having a successful vacation or business trip.
But every day, even seasoned travelers forget these basics. They stay in the wrong hotel, pay extra for things they didn’t expect – and wind up furious. Needless to say, their journeys don’t end well.
At the risk of sounding elitist, summertime can be amateur hour for the travel industry (but it’s not the only time). Many Americans only get a week or two of vacation time, and many try to take theirs in July or August. I say “try” because they’re inexperienced and make every mistake in the book.
I run the travel industry’s unofficial complaints department, and I see cases from veteran travelers who forget these essentials. They thoughtlessly book airline tickets, failing to double-check the dates (a commonly made rookie mistake!). Then they give the disclosures screen short shrift because they think they know it all.
But worst of all, many of these folks travel while entitled, which is to say, they leave their good manners at home and forget their “pleases” and “thank-yous.” So boost your chances of having the best summer vacation by looking before you book, paying attention to details and packing the right attitude.
Here are some of the travel mistakes and how to avoid them.
Not doing enough research
Sometimes, even the best travelers fail to do their due diligence when planning a vacation and as a result, they fail to understand what they’re buying.
“Read the reviews on a couple of different travel sites,” advises Trae Bodge, a personal finance expert. “Sure, a hotel might look amazing from the pictures that the property posted online, but always look for visitor-generated photos. They might tell a different story.”
You’d be surprised at how many travelers fail to read even one review, simply taking the cruise line, hotel or vacation rental owner’s word for it: “Don’t worry, we’re great!”
Worse, when they have a bad experience – which is bound to happen – they don’t bother to post a review warning others. Instead, they try to forget about their substandard vacation experience for which they overpaid.
Pro tip: Check several review sites and compare star ratings. It’s easy to fool one site with bogus reviews, but to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can’t fool all the sites all of the time.
Booking at the last minute
“The more time you allow for vacation planning, the easier it will be to find deals on various travel needs,” says Andrea Woroch, a personal finance expert. Waiting until the end also ratchets up the stress.
Pro tip: Hire a travel adviser from a well-known brand like American Express, Travel Leaders or Virtuoso.
Not reading the fine print
Novice travelers also tend to gloss over the fine print, which leads to travel mistakes and unfortunate surprises. It’s easy to do that, not only because it’s fine print, which is supposed to be less accessible, but also because you think you know what’s in it. Thing is, you may not.
“Travelers inevitably encounter fine print during the booking stages of a trip, and the mile stretch of ink at the bottom of agreements can seem intimidating,” says Karina Saranovic, an attorney with Delman Vukmanovic in Los Angeles. “Passengers should comb through the terms with a magnifying glass – as it is advisable to do so whenever signing a contract.”
Even a glance at your booking screen could reveal additional fees or restrictions that could affect your trip. Among the most common: mandatory hotel “resort” fees added to your room rate after a price quote, and new airline luggage fees, even for carry-on bags.
Pro tip: If you can prove a travel company didn’t adequately disclose these fees, you might be able to avoid paying them. Not directly through the hotel or airline, mind you, but through your credit card company. Consider a credit card dispute.
Not buying travel insurance
Start looking at travel insurance as an essential part of your travel planning and budget, not an add-on. And book it at the same time you make your reservations.
American travelers think of trip insurance as an unnecessary add-on rather than a life saver.
“Travel insurance can protect you in the event of a medical emergency, a missed flight, lost, or stolen or damaged baggage,” says Justin Tysdal, CEO of Seven Corners, a travel insurance company.
Pro tip: Buy coverage immediately after you book your vacation. That way, you will be eligible for benefits that are time-sensitive, such as preexisting medical conditions.
Bringing too much stuff
Another travel mistake: overpacking.
“It took me a long time to finally figure out how to pack minimally for family trips,” says Amanda Green, a family travel expert. Her advice: Use packing cubes to fit a lot into a small space and bring versatile clothing (black goes with everything).
Pro tip: Green likes to buy supplies at her destination and then donate them before returning. “I’ve even purchased a car seat after arriving in Europe and then sold it online before leaving Scotland,” she adds.
Packing a bad attitude
“When packing for your dream vacation, make sure not to leave behind your sense of humor and flexibility,” says Carrie Pasquarello, CEO of Global Secure Resources, an international risk mitigation company for travelers.
The most experienced travelers forget this, too. Pasquarello says no matter how much you plan, things can go wrong.
“Weather, traffic or a mishap can change your direction,” she says. “But it doesn’t have to derail your well-deserved vacation.”
Pro tip: Take the time to plan a few backup scenarios, and always have emergency numbers handy in case you need to call for help.