18 travel mistakes that can ruin your foreign holiday

Two seasoned travellers give you a heads up on the common travel mistakes we tend to make while vacationing abroad

Woman sitting at airport with hands on head; ruined holiday

1. Not checking your passport validity

Passport processing can take up to six weeks or even more. So as soon as you start planning for your trip, you need to check the validity of your passport. Apply immediately if you don’t have it yet. If you already have yours, make sure that it hasn’t expired or nearing expiry. Remember, some individual countries require that you have at least six months on your passport before expiry to be allowed to enter. Also, if you have one of those older handwritten passports, get it reissued as soon as you can, because many countries do not consider those valid anymore.

2. Not making copies of your documentation

Keep a paper copy of your passport, visa and airline tickets in a travel folder, should you lose these essential documents. While many people photograph them and have it on their phones, this can be problematic if your phone is stolen, and the rate of theft of phones left idly on a coffee shop table is high. As a back up, always email yourself scanned copies of these essential documents, or save them on a cloud, so that you can access them anytime from anywhere.

3. Not figuring out airport transfers

Have you given yourself sufficient time between interconnecting flights? Some airports are huge and require a great deal of time to traverse between terminals.

4. Not knowing how to get from the airport to where you are going

What time are you arriving? What airport transfers are available? Do they run all day and all night? Certain airports stop their transfer services between certain dark hours of the night. Many people do not have a game plan to travel from the airport to their hotel, resort or place of stay. This needs to be pre-organised in many cases.

5. Not booking a place to stay—at least for the first night

This is a peace-of-mind decision. Knowing where you will stay on the first night gives a little breathing space and secures a safety net for you. There is nothing worse than standing in the middle of the airport, trying to decide where you will spend the night. This is could be an expensive mistake, especially since you are likely to be too tired to think straight and will go with the first option available to lay your weary head. Inevitably it will cost you an arm and a leg and probably be located in the remotest area.

6. Not factoring in the different time zones when booking your trip

This is one where we have been caught, with daylight savings hours kicking in and out at various times of the year. Check in advance to avoid arriving at your destination at an odd hour. If you have made transport arrangements you may find that these don’t go entirely according to your plans.

7. Not using RFID protectors

This is a prevalent crime where thieves electronically scan your credit card details and empty your account of all of your travel funds. Information can and is stolen electronically by Radio Frequency Identification and an RFID protected wallet made of particular blocking material gives you some peace of mind, though it is not entirely foolproof. We have been using one from Amazon as it came with excellent ratings by other customers. We have had no problem thankfully.

8. Not calling your credit card company

do-you-make-these-18-travel-mistakes-2Have you informed your credit card company and bank that they will see transactions being made from the backwaters of wherever? The banks and credit cards companies might block your card, if they see unusual activity. This is done to safeguard you, should someone use RFID to steal your money; but it is bad if it is you standing in the middle of Chian Mai hoping to get some money for your Thai lunch. Inform your bank about your travel plans so they know that it is more than likely a hungry you. Ditto, if you have been robbed—ring them immediately and have your card cancelled. Most will have a back-up plan to get you your lunch and lodgings, so check that this is included.

9. Not checking your phone plan

This one could cost you the family castle. Ring your phone company and find out about international phone charges, and how much data usage will cost. Then check whether it is better to buy a local SIM card for the duration of your trip. Don’t forget there are other and sometimes cheaper ways of keeping in contact, like Skype and Viber and even a postcard.

10. Failing to research local transportation

Ignoring local transport is a significant problem as the price variations can be enormous. The last thing you want is to be wasting your travel time in figuring out the best and most affordable option to get around. Pre-plan or at least talk to local people who know what works best. Also be aware that train and bus stations are often known by different names locally compared to the official moniker.

11. Not buying health insurance

We all believe that we are infallible and that nothing will happen to us—that health insurance is money in their pockets and not your travel account. We hate to tell you but sometimes things do go amiss and you do not want to be paying out a huge amount in medical coverage or even worse, medical evacuation.

12. Not setting a budget

You need and must set a budget and then add 10 per cent on top of that because not everything will go according to plan, and unexpected costs inevitably crop up. Better still, make it 20 per cent of your allocated budget and then if you are doing well, treat yourself to something fancy—or start planning the next trip.

13. Keeping all your money in one place

do-you-make-these-18-travel-mistakes-3This is a big consideration. Money belts can work for some people, but try not to make it obvious that you are wearing a money belt.

  1. It says loud and clear—here is all of my money and probably my passport, just thought I’d help you out by making it as obvious as I possibly could, and
  2. It makes you look terrible.

Being a woman, I keep my money in my bra though a Venezuelan friend has told me that this is the first place that Venezuelans will go for. How they do that, I have not ascertained. You could also keep money secure in a zippered front pocket or in a thief proof packet or bag, but advertising it is dumb.

14.  Using a currency exchange or money changers

If you change money on the streets, be prepared for inflated exchange rates from some less-than-scrupulous operators. You could change at your hotel, which is marginally better and a lot safer, or use an ATM taking all precautions to be aware of your surroundings and careful with your pin number. Also, when pocketing the money you have withdrawn be discreet. You will need to pay a small transaction fee to your credit card company or the bank, but it is safer by a long shot.

15.  Over packing

Yes, we are all guilty of this but we are advocating the approach of fashion icon Coco Chanel who said, “Before leaving the house, a lady should look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” In case of packing, we suggest you remove more than one accessory and more than one of everything. Seriously, pare down on what you think you need. Remember—you can wash on the road, you can replace on the road. Leave the kitchen sink at home. It is not a competition to look the most stunning; it is about travelling practical so that it allows you to walk a lot and explore your new destination.

16. Not being aware of local customs

A little research on your destination will help you to understand some of the do’s and the don’ts in various countries that you visit. These are important to the local people. As guests, it is a sign of respect to the country you visit that you try and adhere to these. Some countries require a more moderate dress code than Westerners on holidays are used to. Adapt. The sarong can be your greatest asset for covering a bare head and arms. Know where public displays of affection are frowned on and in many countries, so is patting the head of a child or pointing.

17. Not being aware of public holidays or weekly offs

Not a biggie, but public holidays in some places, particularly smaller towns, can render you incapable of eating or catching public transportation. Or, imagine reserving a day for shopping and discovering that it’s a weekly off for the markets.

18. Trying to see and do too much

So many people plan to see too much, just to prove that they have been somewhere. It doesn’t matter if you do not see everything that is iconic. Take your time and get a travel balance going just as you strive for a work-life balance. Have that afternoon nap or get your feet massaged. Give yourself some down time to regroup and also to savour what you have seen and done.

Many people are not honest about their interests, likes, and dislikes. Have an honest talk with yourself about what you actually want to see, and let serendipity have a free ride. See what comes your way, especially things that you were not expecting and had not planned on. These things make travel special and memorable.

This was first published in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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