Even if you are an experienced traveler, it’s easy to make costly travel mistakes.
As the peak summer travel season gears up, here’s how to avoid some of the worst travel mistakes, and save time and stress along with saving your travel budget, because sometimes saving money costs more in the long run.
It’s called penny wise and pound foolish.
How to Avoid Airline Travel Mistakes
Always book an airline seat assignment, even if it costs extra.
Never purchase an airline ticket without getting a seat assignment. Not only will you get the leftover (and dreaded) middle seat near the bathroom, but passengers without a seat assignment are the first to get bumped off off a flight when it is oversold.
If you purchase one of those “basic” tickets, you won’t be able to get a seat assignment at purchase, to save aisle and window seats for passengers paying more.
Check your booking record a few days before your flight when unbooked seats usually open up.
Check in online before your flight. Airlines routinely email you 24 hours before your flight to check in. It will save time at the airport, especially if you have to check a bag.
Print out your boarding pass. Yes, I’m old fashioned.
I like a paper ticket, just in case my smart phone goes stupid and runs out of battery, or I have no third hand to juggle my carry-on, my handbag and also my phone.
Advantages of TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry
Over the winter, I traveled with my adult son to a family event. I have TSA Pre-Check, he doesn’t. I whisked through security at JFK in moments, then had to wait nearly ten minutes for him to clear the line with the “masses”.
We were lucky, since a three-hour-plus wait to get through passport security and customs is not unusual in peak travel season at the busiest US airports, including JFK, LAX and ATL.
Additional advantages of TSA Pre-Check include not having to take off your shoes or remove your laptop or liquids out of your carry-on.
Every time I go through the short line at TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry, I say to the security officer, “This is the best $100 I ever spent.” $100 for five years.
$20 a year to save time and stress and leave my shoes on is what I would call a good deal.
How to Avoid Hotel Mistakes
The cheapest lodging isn’t always the best experience
Searching for the lowest hotel prices usually means less desirable locations, and you’ll end up spending more time getting to the heart of things.
Spending a bit more for a downtown hotel gives you more time to enjoy the city. And a beachfront hotel gives you more time to enjoy the beach. Also, you won’t have to build your schedule around the hotel’s scheduled shuttles to and from the beach.
Check the fine print in online condo or private home rentals, to be sure that the photo you see is the accommodation you get, and if you are not sure, phone the rental site.
A few years ago, I booked a condo for a family vacation through the booking site of a well-known resort. The online photos looked great. What we got was not.
The resort’s booking site did not say that condos are individually decorated by their owners, rather than adhere to a standard. Ours appeared to have been filled by outdated, soiled and rickety furniture from the local thrift store. It was a horror, and since it was a holiday week, there was nothing else available.
- ecoXplorer tip: Beware of so-called resort fees, which can add $25 or more to your daily room rate, and “cleaning fees”, which can add a similar amount to condo or private home rentals.
How to Avoid Sightseeing Mistakes
Look into special access tickets, line-skipping privileges and private tours. Sure they cost more, but they are worth the money if you have limited time, or your kids will have a melt-down standing on line.
Strike a balance: split your time between sightseeing on your own and taking a guided tour with a local guide and/or driver to optimize your time, and the experience.
- ecoXplorer tip: It goes without saying to book your rental car in advance, too. You’ll get a lower rate than same-day booking at the airport , and you’ll be able to just hop in your car at and go.
- Read the ecoXplorer article on do’s and don’ts of car rental
How to Avoid Over-Scheduling Mistakes
Allow some down-time, especially traveling with kids. Pool time or quiet time daily is an absolute necessity, as any parent who has ever travelled with kids – as I have – knows intimately. It also gives the grown-ups a chance to mellow out.
It’s great to plan tours and activities for each day, but also leave time for unplanned, experiences, like getting lost. While that can be annoying, it’s easy to get lost in cities like Venice and Paris, and you just might discover a charming cafe or boutique that adds to your trip memories.
- ecoXplorer tip: Pack an extra copy of your itinerary inside your checked bag, just in case the one in your carry-on goes missing or too dog-eared to use. I also email a copy of my schedule to myself, and to one of my family members, for extra insurance.
Avoid Overpacking Mistakes
Start thinking about your packing well before your trip, and don’t wait until the last minute to pack.
I make a list of daily activities and plan what I need to wear for each, built around a couple of colors so I can mix and match and everything matches.
Always take a sweater or jacket for cooler evenings and what I call meat locker air-conditioning in hotel meeting rooms. My must-have accessory is a multi-purpose pashmina shawl, tucked into my carry-on, in case I need to use it as a blanket in-flight.
- ecoXplorer tip: Always pack an extra luggage lock and baggage tag, since they go missing en route on a regular basis.
Avoid Mistakes With Your Travel Documents
Many countries will deny you entry if your legal, valid passport is due to expire in three months or less, even six months. Don’t take the chance of being turned back on arrival. Check your passport now, and apply now for a renewal if your trip is within that cut-off limit.
Ditto, you could be prevented from applying for a visa if your passport is nearing its expiration date.
If you are travelling internationally, let your credit card issuers know, so they don’t suspect fraud and freeze your account.
- ecoXplorer tip: Make old-fashioned paper copies of your Passport, credit cards, important medical prescriptions, international driving permits and itinerary, including booking codes, and put one in your carry-on and the other in your suitcase.
Avoid the Mistake of Not Having Travel Insurance
Travel insurance protects you if your luggage is delayed or stolen, if you miss your flight, if your tour operator goes bankrupt and leaves you stranded, if your hotel does not recognize your reservation, if you have a medical emergency and need to be evacuated, even if there is a family emergency before your trip and you have to cancel your trip.
Some tour operators require medical insurance to participate in their trips, because it also protects them as well as protecting you.
Which travel insurance policy is right for you depends on many things, including your age, destination and where you are traveling.
- Read the exoXplorer article on travel insurance.
This article was inspired by one which appeared in the Boston Globe