Summer has arrived, which means there's a good chance you're packing your bags and escaping the real world for a while. But before you board a plane and get tipsy on fruity cocktails, make sure you're aware of these common travel mistakes.
1. Waiting too late.
Dreaming of vacation is perfectly fine, but it doesn't actually get you any closer to your destination. The early bird gets the worm when it comes to travel, so put your money where your mouth is and lock in a great deal in advance. Booking a summer trip at the last minute is equivalent to throwing money out the window – and you're going to need that money to spoil yourself with on your vacation.
2. Overspending on hotels.
Do you really need a 5-star hotel in the middle of the action? Of course not. If you're doing your vacation right, you're out sightseeing and having a great time. That means you'll barely be spending time in your room. Choosing a modest hotel a little further out can save you tons of money and encourage you to burn the calories you're undoubtedly going to be consuming every day.
If you're a honeymooner, disregard everything I just said. You won't be leaving your room, so you may as well invest in a nice one.
Yes, you look great in those high heels. And that sexy dress with the sequins. But let's face it – you probably aren't going to wear either of those on your vacation, unless you're a Kardashian.
Pack the essentials, and be smart about it. Comfort is literally everything, especially when it comes to footwear.
And don't worry about packing light and not having enough clothes – most hotels have a washer & dryer so you can just do a load of laundry one evening. Bonus points if you can fit all of your clothes into a carry-on, which can save you time and hassle (and sometimes money) at the airport.
4. Falling into the 'market price' trap.
Sure, that fresh lobster looks great. The restaurant even lets you pick which one you want to eat. But wait – there's no price. The server says it's "market price." You say okay, and freak out when the bill comes.
This is a common tactic used on tourists, with restaurant owners knowing good and well that the average person isn't going to kick up a fuss when they realize their meal cost them far more than it should have. Be smart.
5. Buying a hop on/hop off bus ticket.
You've seen them before. Double-decker buses that sell tickets to tourists. They make stops across the city and market themselves as a great way to get around town for 24 hours. But this isn't usually the case, as walking and public transport are typically a lot cheaper. Not to mention that if you want to actually enjoy the sights at each stop, you're not going to be on the bus very much. Travel like a local instead.
6. Mistaking 'trendy' locations for good locations.
Vacation destinations are like works of art. Some of them get all the attention, while others which are just as good – or better – are ignored. Just because George Clooney was spotted someplace doesn't mean it's the best place to visit. Invest some time in researching the best places for you.
7. Looking like a tourist.
Leave the visor and fanny pack at home. Don't wear your camera around your neck. Blending in as much as possible has plenty of perks – you're less likely to be taken advantage of and you'll look less stupid. Two pretty good advantages.
8. Being too nice.
If you visit a major city, you're likely to get hassled. A common trick in Europe is for people to put a bracelet on your wrist when you didn't ask for it. They'll refuse to take it back and you'll feel obligated to pay them for it. To avoid getting taken advantage of in these situations, remember this mantra: You don't have to be rude, but you don't have to be nice. Carry on walking, go about your business, and keep your wits about you.
9. Underestimating the value of sunscreen.
Few things can ruin a trip like an extreme sunburn. Don't take the chance. If you're sunbathing on the beach, wear sunscreen. If you're trekking through the jungle, wear sunscreen. If you're going to an amusement park, wear sunscreen. If it's an overcast day and you think you don't need sunscreen, wear sunscreen.
10. Not absorbing local culture.
Don't go to a new country and do the exact same things you'd do in America. Branch out and try new things, especially if locals swear by them. This can mean anything from throwing tomatoes in Spain's La Tomatina festival or partying until the wee hours at Carnival in Brazil. When traveling somewhere, don't be a square.
11. ... Or trying local cuisine.
There's nothing worse than walking past a Hard Rock Cafe in a foreign country and seeing a line of Americans waiting to get in. Delicious food is one of the best parts about traveling, so go outside your comfort zone. Taste snails in France. Try kangaroo in Australia. Take a bite of guinea pig in Ecuador. You may hate it, but it's not going to kill you. Be brave and live to tell the tale.
12. Joining a tour group.
You will never experience local culture by being part of a gaggle of tourists and operating on a tour guide's timetable. The temptation to join a big group is understandable – one fee generally takes care of everything, and you have to put in very little effort. But you most certainly will not receive a true, genuine, authentic experience from being a number in a crowd. Go off the beaten path and allow yourself to get lost in your destination. You won't be sorry.
13. Wearing elastic pants.
This might seem like a strange one, but imagine eating your way through Italy for two weeks while wearing stretchy pants. You won't realize the damage you've done to yourself until you get home and muster up the courage to weigh yourself. The struggle is real.
14. Not packing a sense of adventure.
You're on vacation, not at the office. Go skydiving. Glide across the forest on a zip line. Take a hot air balloon ride over wine country. You're going to forget the plot of the book you chose to read while lounging by the pool (not that there's anything wrong with reading), but you're never going to forget the rush of adrenaline that came from trying something new.
15. Taking too many photos.
In the age of social media, most people struggle with living in the moment. Don't get so obsessed with taking pictures and posting them on Instagram that you forget to take a deep breath and enjoy your surroundings. Your memories and experiences will be worth a lot more than any "likes" you receive on Facebook.
16. Not talking to locals.
Some of the best moments of your vacation could come from talking to the right person at the right time. Imagine hidden eateries and secret bars that only operate through word of mouth. Or a really great place that looks horrible on the outside but serves up the best meal you've ever eaten. Locals have plenty of suggestions that you'll never find in a guidebook.
17. Not trying to speak the language.
Yes, your French may sound ridiculous. You may not have practiced Spanish since your junior year of high school. That doesn't mean you don't need to try when you're visiting a foreign country. Your efforts will be appreciated, because no one likes the American that travels abroad and expects everyone to speak English. Just go for it.
18. Not packing your essentials in a carry-on.
It's no secret that airlines lose luggage, so why take the risk of being left without anything but the clothes on your back when you arrive at your destination? Carrying the basics in a carry-on can give you enough clothing and toiletries to last until your luggage (hopefully) gets delivered straight to your hotel door. The last thing you want to do is go shopping for new everything when you arrive in a new place.
19. Not letting your bank know your travel plans.
You've just landed. You're excited. All that stands in the way of you and your hotel is a short taxi ride. You spot an ATM and try to get some cash so you can pay your driver. But wait a minute – you can't get anything out because your bank is afraid there's suspicious activity on your account. After all, you live in Milwaukee – not Mauritius. Don't get caught in this situation, especially since you can avoid it with a simple phone call or setting up a travel alert online.
20. Not checking your cell phone plan.
It's really great that your phone works when you're thousands of miles away from home. Oh look! A Whatsapp from Mom! However, it's not so great when you get your monthly bill and see an astronomical number. Do your research. If your phone plan is going to cost you an arm and a leg, opt for a local sim card when you arrive or go without a cell phone (gasp) and enjoy your trip like people used to.
21. Not being mindful of native customs.
In Japan, it's considered rude to stick your chopsticks inside a bowl of rice. In Russia, you should never give someone an even number of flowers or shake hands underneath a doorway. These things may seem silly to you, but you need to respect them while visiting a new country. Don't be that tourist who knows the rules and still ignores them.
22. Cramming too much into one trip.
Americans are particularly guilty of this. It's understandable to want to fit as much in as you possibly can, but it's important to remember that a good trip is about quality – not quantity. Don't spend most of your time in a car or train just so you can tick a certain number of boxes. Relax.
23. Not buying travel insurance.
You're probably asked whether you want to buy travel insurance when you buy plane tickets. You probably always say "no" because you don't want to spend the extra money. But what's $30 when you're already booking an expensive vacation? You'll be incredibly grateful you spent it if you end up in the hospital or need to rush back home for an emergency. You're not invincible, so don't act like you are.
24. Not checking visa requirements.
It's a story that's far too common. You book your flights and hotels, pack your bag, and arrive at the airport. But when you head to the check-in desk, you realize that you were supposed to apply for a visa beforehand. You're now forced to forego your plans or, at best, pay over the odds when you arrive at your destination. They just look like stickers inside your passport, but visas are extremely important...so don't overlook the possibility that you might need one. And remember that any visa mistake will be seen as solely your fault, so don't expect to get reimbursed for your plane tickets or anything else.
25. Expecting too much.
Far too many people allow their entire trip to be derailed if it doesn't go exactly as planned. This is a particular problem because nothing ever goes 100% to plan. Be flexible and open to changes in your schedule. Go with the flow to avoid disappointment and realize that unexpected surprises and spur-of-the-moment decisions are often the best parts of a vacation.
If you've made it this far, you should be well on your way to having the vacation you've dreamed about. Now hurry up and do all the responsible things so you can focus on having an amazing time.