Hand holding U.S. passport

Do You Know How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Mistakes?

Nobody likes making mistakes, especially travel mistakes. After dreaming of a destination for what feels like forever, you want everything to go smoothly.

But, in the excitement of researching new destinations, finding deals, and making reservations, it’s easy to overlook the small, yet very important, details that could lead to some serious travel mistakes!

Whether you’re a once-a-year traveler or have the travel bug, like me, preparing and planning are the best ways to (hopefully!) avoid the most common travel mistakes!

How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Mistakes
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How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Mistakes

Passengers lining up at check-in counter at the modern international airport
Are you at the airport 2 hours in advance but 2 days late?

Travel Reservations

Have you ever showed up to the airport for your flight home only to find you’ve booked your return for that date in the wrong month?

Or maybe you’ve purchased a cruise that departs the day before you arrive in the port city? What should you do?

Before Booking:

Keep that click-happy finger under control! Don’t purchase that flight, cruise, hotel, or vacation package until you’ve double-checked all the details.

  • Are the dates correct?
  • Did you select the right flights?
  • Is your name spelled correctly?
  • Have you chosen the right destination?!
  • Are you flying into or out of your intended airport?

After Booking:

If you catch a mistake within 24 hours, it’s possible to cancel an airline ticket with no penalty. Keep in mind, even if you immediately rebook, you may not end up with the same deal.

If More Than 24 Hours Has Passed:

Watch for schedule changes to flights.

If an airline changes a flight’s times, you can cancel or rebook for no fees. This is also useful if you need to cancel for any reason. Wait until 24 hours before your flight to cancel in the hopes of a schedule change getting you out of paying a cancellation fee.

Call the airline, hotel, or booking agent and explain what happened.

It’s not entirely unheard of for an airline or travel company to cut its customers a break. My sister was lucky enough to have JetBlue waive fees for her family of 5 because of a booking mistake simply for calling and politely(!) pleading her case.

Take advantage of travel insurance. 

Whether you purchased a travel insurance policy through a marketplace like AARDY or paid for your trip with a credit card that offers coverage like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, find out the terms protecting you from changes, cancellations, and even delays.

Understand you may have to pay for your mistake.

It’s never fun learning the hard way to double-check travel reservations. Just don’t let it put a damper on the actual trip!

Passports

Hand holding U.S. passport

In 2007, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect requiring a valid passport for international travel. This includes travel from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada. Adult passports are valid for 10 years while a child’s passport is valid for 5 years.

ProTip: Starting May 3, 2023, a new REAL ID law will go into effect. You will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license for domestic flights. You can also just use your passport or other accepted IDs like a U.S. Military Card or a Global Entry Card.

Before Traveling:

Do you need to apply for a passport?

First-time passport applications must be done in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility. Allow at least 4-6 weeks to receive your new passport or be prepared to pay extra for expedited service.

Is your passport valid?

Check the date on your passport. Many countries require travelers to have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond their return date. Passport renewals can be done by mail or, if need be, in person at a Passport Agency. The timing as above for first-time applications applies here, as well.

Does your passport have enough pages?

As of 2016, you can no longer add pages to your passport booklet. Be sure your passport has at least 2 blank pages or else you may not be permitted to depart for and/or enter your destination.

Is your personal information all correct?

If you notice any errors, like a misspelling of your name, incorrect date of birth, or even the wrong gender marked, schedule an appointment right away at your state’s Passport Agency.

Make copies and take photos of your passport.

You can leave the paper copies at home with a trusted friend or family member just in case you need to verify your residency. You should also take a photo of your passport and save it to a cloud-based service, like Dropbox or Google Drive in order to access the photo of your passport from abroad should it get lost or stolen.

Do you need a visa?

Check the visa requirements for the countries you’re visiting. Some have a visa-on-arrival system at the airport while other countries require an advance application.

I almost missed one of my Patagonia flights because I didn’t have my Argentinian visa sorted out correctly. (No longer needed, by the way.) The bottom line is to do your homework so you don’t get stuck at the airport.

Santiago Free Walking Tour
Are you carrying around your passport?

While Traveling:

Many accommodations will ask for your passport upon check in to record the necessary legal information. In some cases, you might be asked to leave your passport at the front desk for a short time because the paperwork is lengthy.

First, trust your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, smile and say you’d prefer to wait. Otherwise, check back within 30 minutes to get your passport back.

Don’t carry your passport on you.

Lock your passport in the hotel safe with other valuables. Use a Pacsafe to secure your bag if you’re staying at hostels, guesthouses, or other accommodations with no safe.

If you need a form of identification, get a passport card. The card is separate from a passport and not suitable to use for international travel on its own, but it is an I.D. card and serves as proof of U.S. residency should your passport get lost or taken.

If you think your passport is lost or has been taken…

Take a deep breath and be sure it is, in fact, missing. You don’t want to report a missing passport, only to find it shoved under your socks in your suitcase.

If your passport is truly missing or has been stolen, report it to the U.S. embassy as soon as you confirm it is gone.


Traveling soon?

Don’t go without travel insurance. AARDY is a marketplace that lets you compare different types of coverage to suit your trip and the type of traveler you are.


Medical Emergencies

Close-up of tonometer by patient’s arm during blood pressure measuring at medical consultation

No one thinks they’ll be sick or need medical care while traveling abroad, but it can happen to anyone. Reduce the risks by planning ahead and being prepared.

Before Traveling:

Check with your doctor and consult the Centers for Disease Control.

At least 3 months in advance, find out the necessary and recommended vaccinations and precautions for the countries you’ll be visiting. In some places, certain vaccinations like Yellow Fever are required to enter the country, and in some cases, you might find a shortage of the vaccine in your area.

For my trip to Africa, I went to a clinic specializing in travel vaccines called Passport Health.

Get travel insurance. 

Remembering the $10k Coast Guard helicopter ride to airlift you off of a Caribbean Cruise is surely not the lifelong memory for which you were hoping. Whether you have a bad bout of travelers’ stomach or slip getting into the shower and break your wrist, sickness and accidents happen and most domestic medical coverage plans won’t cover you outside the country.

Program your travel insurance emergency number into your phone…just…in…case! Do you really want to be searching for it or trying to connect to shoddy Wifi when you’re sick or injured?

Bring all prescription medications.

Make sure you have what you need for the amount of time you’ll be traveling. Avoid security questions by carrying your medications in clearly labeled bottles.

Consider Travel Probiotics

Probiotics are believed to help digestive health but also overall immunity. I take travel probiotics before and during travel to help my body fight everything from airport germs to unfamiliar foods.

Check the CDC for Food & Drink Travel Safety

The CDC gives knowledge-backed recommendations on what foods and drinks are safe to consume.

Modern bathroom faucet
Are you sure you can drink that water?

While Traveling:

Call your travel insurance’s emergency hotline.

As soon as you know you need medical attention, make the call.

They can give advice on the nearest medical facilities and advise you on what paperwork you need for reimbursement. They can even help get a family member to you or assist with a minor child in your care.

Have a credit card with “space” to charge medical expenses upfront.

Most insurance policies will reimburse you after the fact meaning you’ll need to pay all medical bills on-site. Some credit cards also come with basic travel insurance protections and can help you get reimbursed later on.

Keep all receipts, bills, and paperwork related to the testing and treatment received. 

Store all copies of papers securely. Take photos of the documents as well. Be sure you can get reimbursed later without any hiccups!

Acts of Violence/Natural Disasters

Unfortunately, this makes the list, but only as something to be aware of and certainly NOT something to stop you from traveling. Living in fear and not doing the things we want only signals victory to criminals, terrorists, and others who would do us harm.

Even natural disasters can wreak unexpected havoc on the most carefully developed plans.

Before Traveling:

Check for travel alerts.

But absolutely DO think rationally about the information. Never let sensational media stories make up your mind to travel or not. And, keep in mind, many countries urge their citizens NOT to visit the United States because of the risk of gun violence.

If you’re headed abroad, particularly to a place or a part of the world experiencing unrest, enroll in STEP. The U.S. Government will keep you in-the-know with important information and alerts about your destination and can offer assistance while away from home. STEP is a benefit in the event of acts of violence, natural disasters or even a family emergency back home.

While Traveling:

If you’ve been the victim of a crime, report it to local authorities and the local U.S. embassy immediately.

In the event of unrest or natural disaster, contact your family as soon as possible to let them know your whereabouts. Posting on social media, like Facebook, is a great way to let people back home know you’re ok.

You should also contact the nearest U.S. embassy for advice and assistance on how to proceed safely.

Most travel mishaps can absolutely be avoided with a bit of planning! For those unexpected things that creep into your travel plans, being prepared eases your mind and can prevent anything further from derailing your trip.

Have you made any travel mistakes? How have you handled travel mishaps?

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38 thoughts on “Do You Know How to Avoid the Most Common Travel Mistakes?”

  1. You have hit all the key mistakes that can happen while traveling. I hope many travelers whether first timers or vagabonds will read this, its full of useful information.

  2. This is very comprehensive, and you know what, I completely agree that it’s so easy to overlook things. I haven’t had a major fail (knock on wood) but, booking online can be crucial. One tiny mistake can cost a lot of money sometimes!

  3. Great list! My husband should have read this before booking our trip to Washington. Even though we had been married for 8 years at this point he booked my airline ticket under my maiden name! Complete fail. We didn’t catch it until a few days before when we were double checking our flight information for what time we had to be at the airport. I spent hours on the phone trying to get it fixed. Luckily, we were able to change it.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Good thing you double checked because that could have really hung you up at the airport! Glad you were able to fix it with it affecting your trip.

  4. Great advice! Travel mistakes can happen to anybody though. Even me! I recently went to the airport on the wrong date (fortunately earlier, no later).

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Phew, Anda! So lucky that worked out for you and proof that even frequent travelers make mistakes. 😉

  5. One of my biggest travel mishaps in 2015 was when I left our passports in the hotel! Long story short, we missed the plane from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, thankfully they are cheap tickets. This taught us to buy tickets that are refundable because we would have been able to take the next flight without the extra costs.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Great tip, Brenda! I usually use miles to book flights, but I must admit, when I pay for airfare I never pay for the refundable ticket because I’m trying to save money. Your advice makes me rethink this!

  6. This is a very extensive list. Once I booked a stay at Hilton and decided to check two days before I traveled to make sure all was OK, only to realize that I had booked the wrong date which was in fact two days earlier. You got to check and double-check.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So true! Those 5 extra minutes of checking and double checking can make all the difference in making your trip a success. 🙂

  7. That’s a very useful tip. I always right down the dates and times of my arrival and departure if I have connecting trips such as plane and train or bus. I also pay extra for rebookable tickets in case there is a delay in my first leg of the trip. Stupidity and carelessness can cause you an arm and a leg.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Really good point, Jem! Many people don’t book the refundable/rebookable ticket because it costs more, but you’ll pay much more if something happens.

  8. I made a huge passport mistake before. I booked a ticket in my married name and my passport still had my maiden name. I don’t know how I did it. I book tickets all the time. I travel regularly but I just rushed through the page and missed it. Rush passport it was for me. Luckily, I was able to correct the mistake before my trip but it could have been a costly mistake.

    I also never get travel insurance, which could be one of the most costly mistakes of my life. I keep hearing horror stories. Maybe it’s a sign to finally book that insurance.

    Great tips. I’ll refer to this again before I travel next.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Yikes! Good you caught that, Lesley! I’ve rushed like that a booked the correct date, but in the wrong month (wishful thinking?). I think we all think of some catastrophic event where travel insurance will come in handy. But, it’s actually for those silly little things that happen like slipping in the shower or eating a food with something you’re allergic to. I’d take another look at it. 🙂

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Great advice, Fiona! Pickpockets strike all over the world. Leaving some cash and credit cards back in the hotel safe keeps you from being stuck!

  9. What a lot of people forget about visas is that you need them for a lot of ‘boring’ countries. A lot of people think they’re just for dangerous countries at war but TONS of countries require a visa and usually it’s a very simple process of just filling out some paperwork and forking over your cash.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Such great advice, Vanessa! That’s exactly what many people think, only to find out differently when they’re stranded at the airport. Always double check visa requirements.

  10. Awesome tips! I got stuck once with not enough pages in my passport. I caught it just in time before I set off on a long journey but it literally was just in the nick of time. You have to watch what countries you need a visa for too. Countries I thought I could get into easily actually required a visa: always make sure to check.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Alice. I think you’ve nailed it with the visa tip. There are so many countries people feel they can get into, but then find out otherwise. Great advice!

  11. Wow! This is one comprehensive list of traveling tips, I learned a lot and I considered myself a pretty professional traveler. Had no idea about that CDC app of what foods to eat in a certain location. Cool stuff. Thanks for all the tips.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Melody! A fellow traveler suggested the CDC app. It’s pretty straightforward and can give sound advice without a lot of internet searching.

  12. Lots of great tips here. I agree on your point to think rationally about safety alerts. If you follow the State Department’s advice you’d never go anywhere! If I’m unsure about the safety situation I try to find a friend or travel blogger who can give me some first hand knowledge.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Exactly, Amanda. You need to get several trusted viewpoints because government warnings, although based on their information, tend to be blanket statements and err heavily on the side of caution.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Great advice, Karla! I’m sure that will serve as a good reminder for others. Getting left behind does not sound like a fun experience.

  13. Hi Jackie,
    You rightly pointed to maintain and I quote “credit card with space to charge medical expenses upfront”. Yes, that’s exactly I missed last time which landed me in serious trouble.

    Other than that, honestly speaking the second mistake which I did (don’t want to recall as well) I didn’t create a balance between the two connecting flights, which almost landed me in serious trouble. But as luck would have, I “just” managed to board the other one, since my first flight was late.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Afzal,
      Thanks for sharing and I’m glad you just managed to board your connecting flight! I’m sorry to hear about your medical troubles while traveling and I hope you recovered from it ok. Thanks so much for reading.

  14. I had my bag snatched, with passports, in Phnom Penh. It was an expensive mistake. If you don’t have a safe in your room, it’s hard to decide if you should take it with you or leave it behind. I’d vote for leaving it behind. Always have a photo of it on your phone because most places that require you to show your passport (with the exception of airports) will allow you to just show a photo. Another thing I learned that you touched on here also is how important it is to research your destination and the common crimes that happen there. PP is known for purse snatching and although it can happen literally anywhere, maybe if I had known this is advance, I might have been more thoughtful about it. Great post by the way, such useful information for travelers of all kinds.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you, Jessica! That really horrible! I’d agree with you that I’d leave valuables behind even if there wasn’t a safe. Great tip about having a photo of it on your phone. I do this, too. I also store it on a cloud so even if my phone is stolen, I could access that passport photo from any device. Thanks so much for reading!

  15. Always take pictures of important documents with your phone. Then if something happens to that document you always have a copy of it handy! Make sure the pic is in the cloud and then you will be able to print it out if necessary.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Gail. Yes, so important. I always have a photo of my passport and other documents in the cloud.

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