Living is learning, but some travel mistakes are so ubiquitous that we can and should learn from each other and so avoid them ourselves, especially as the consequences can be rather disastrous at worse, or sour your trip at best.
So let’s have a rundown of the world’s most common traveller faux pas, with the idea that we all pay attention and commit ourselves to not becoming another stressed-out or harassed statistic.
1. Not paying attention to flight details
One of the worst examples of a flight snafu is the young German Tobi Gutt who didn’t study the details of his itinerary and instead of reaching his destination of Sydney, Australia, where his girlfriend awaited him, wound up bemused (and rather cold) in Sidney, Montana.
The point here is that you need to study your itinerary to ensure everything is in order. One of the more common errors is to book too little time between flights. International airports generally have more than one terminal, sometimes quite far apart, so unless you enjoy an energising sprint through the airport or a tense sit on a shuttle, you should ensure you have plenty of transit time.
Also, if you’re booking connecting flights, it’s extremely advisable to book both with the same airline, as the responsibility then lies with them to see you to your final destination should the first flight be late and you consequently miss your connection.
2. Packing without thought to what you’ll need en route
There are certain things you know you’ll need while in transit, such as your ID or passport and wallet, a book to read, a jersey if it gets cold, your overnight pillow and toothbrush, and so on, so pack like a pro with them on the top of your hand luggage and easily accessible. Don’t be a rummager.
But also don’t of course forget about the rules of the airline – make sure things like liquids and sharp objects are packed in the right suitcase, kept to the restricted quantities, placed in clear plastic bags, and so on. The airport’s beady eyed security personnel will have no compunction about forcing you to give up your R2,000 jar of Essential Age-Defying Extravaganza Gloop if it’s 5 ml more than the allotted amount.
3. Packing like an amateur
Unless you’re the Michelin Man, there’s no reason for your clothes to overflow your suitcase. Little is more annoying than travelling the world burdened by too much luggage, with the littlest bag being forgotten on the subway bench and the biggest bag bruising your leg every time you take a step. Rather keep your bags to two or three pieces at most, and if you’re going to be on and off buses or travelling in rustic areas, take a backpack. If you’re headed somewhere urban, however, invest in a suitcase with wheels.
Always, always have at least one warm outfit with you, even if you’re headed to Bali, as you never know what situation may arise. Take clothes and shoes you know to be comfortable – walking the streets of Rome is not the place to break in new pumps.It’s advisable to cling wrap your suitcase to protect it from being scuffed as well as snooped in. Also tie some sort of bright, identifying marker on your bags. Don’t neglect to attach your name and contact details to each item.
Take a small first aid kit with you. Feeling terrible at home is terrible, but feeling terrible in a foreign country is heinous, and depending on language barriers you might not be able to achieve 100% certainty that the painkillers you bought aren’t actually laxatives.
And if you really want to graduate to becoming a packing pro, you’ll start leaving photocopies of your itinerary and important documents with someone back home.
4. Making assumptions about your hotel
The more exotic the destination, the less you can assume. So always look an establishment up or make enquiries. Some questions might include: Are towels provided? Is there an iron in the room, and/or a laundry service? Is there Wi-Fi? Do you offer lactose-free-meat-avoiding-gluten-expunging meal options?
Knowing about the hotel or accommodation will also help you to pack better; for example, if a hairdryer is provided then you can leave yours at home. In addition it can let you pre-select a room based on personal preferences; a street-facing room may, for example, offer the best view but it might also be too noisy for you.
5. Not thinking through money matters
Avoiding money troubles involves a few things, like keeping your cash and cards – as well as your essential documentation – on your person at all times, and out of reach of pickpockets. Another pointer is to let your bank know that you’ll be making distant and/or foreign transactions and withdrawals, and then … confirm it with them. Mistakes happen and such a mistake could leave you deserted in a foreign country with no cash. Eish.
Also find out how common and where ATMs accepting your card are usually found, what charges you’ll suffer when drawing cash, and so on.
Take our travel insurance, the more extensive the better. Insurance can cover your flight (should the airline go under), it can cover your luggage (should it be lost, stolen or damaged), and then – most important of all and really non-negotiable for the traveller with any smarts – it covers your health and safety (should you become ill or have an accident). Without health insurance one slip on a pavement could land you a hospital bill that plunges you into debt for years. Don’t be that person.
Also don’t be the person who overspends. Nothing is worse than paying for a holiday that you’ve already had. Plan your budget, with a sharp eye to the exchange rate, and then stick to it.
6. Not checking all your gadgets are in order
Here are some things to consider: Do you have roaming on your phone? Have you packed your charger and an adapter that will definitely work in the country you’re travelling to? For that matter, do you have your whole bevvy of chargers, for your camera, tablet, and so on? Do you have a place to back up your photos, because if your camera is stolen or broken then at least you won’t have the sobbingly sad situation of no pictures?
7. Skimping on research
Too many travellers come unstuck because they hop on a plane, train or in a car with very little idea of the place they’re headed. It serves well to do some research beforehand, and with the internet making information so accessible there’s very little excuse not to.
Some important areas of research could include: Can I drink the local tap water? What is the tipping situation? How reliable is the weather? Do locals tend to speak English? On this last point, it seems almost negligent not to learn at least a few basic phrases, which will not only help to oil your travels but will also encourage the sort of friendly helpfulness that comes with locals appreciating that you’re making an effort.
Finally, the traveller really must pay attention to local customs. Why, for example, walk into a sacred place in clothes that are considered disrespectful? That doesn’t do anyone any good. Also, a failure to do your research may mar your day significantly; the French, for instance, don’t serve meals between hours, and very often close up shop as well, so if you rock up hoping for a 3pm lunch, you’ll be going hungry for a few hours. A hungry traveller is an unhappy traveller, and we don’t want you to be unhappy, so better always to do a little homework and have the best trip possible!