Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, you want your trip to go smoothly. There are no guarantees, of course, but careful planning and foresight can help avoid problems that can be embarrassing and costly. Being a smart traveler is about knowing what not to do, so you can spend more time doing the things you want to. Here’s a list of some of the most common errors, to help you steer clear of them.
Not enough preparation time
Nothing beats good planning, especially for international trips. Do what you can to maximize the time you have to get ready. If your job or business often calls for traveling on short notice, then be prepared all the time. Keep a bag of separate toiletries, cosmetics and other sundry items ready to go. You can do the same with clothing if you can afford it.
Not setting a budget or going over the one you’ve set
Running out of money when you’re abroad is a sure way to ruin your trip. Even if the company is paying your expenses, it’s important to always be aware of how much money you have and how much more you’ll need. Prepare a budget beforehand, taking everything into account, including transportation, meals, lodging, entertainment and anything else that’s likely to come up. Add in enough for emergencies and once you’ve come up with a figure, stick to it.
Packing too heavy
Traveling light will save you money and time. If you’re flying, each extra bag means more money at the airport, and even your first bag has a weight limit. On long stays, you’re going to be doing laundry at some point, so you don’t need to take everything in your closet. Items like sun screen can probably be purchased at your destination. If you don’t really need something, don’t take it and take some time to learn how to pack light.
Not carrying document backups
It’s more common than most people think to lose your ID, passports, credit cards or other important documents while traveling — or worse, have them stolen. In either of these events, time is not on your side. Having hard copies of those items in a secure place will save time, worry and quite possibly money if something does happen.
Falling for Timeshare Freebie Pitches
A vacation should be a vacation, but many people get suckered into attending timeshare presentations with the lure of free shows or other entertainment. The problem is that these presentations last far longer than you are usually told and the freebies may come with hidden costs. If you happen to break down and actually purchase a timeshare, you will find yourself what is often referred to as the timeshare trap of owning a depreciating asset with rising yearly fees that can be extremely difficult to even give away.
Leaving valuables in your motel room
Most of us carry an incredible number of valuable items on vacation and business. How much do you have invested in your laptop, iPad, smart phone, DSLR, or other electronics? What about that ruby necklace you brought to wear to dinner and your extra cash? It’s all secure, behind the lock on your motel door, right? Wrong. You’re not the only one with a key. Don’t tempt the wrong people. Use the hotel safe or carry those things with you. Better yet, leave them at home or with a trusted friend if you don’t really need them.
Missing connections because of short turnaround times
Getting from one gate to another at the airport can take a surprising amount of time, especially if you’re not familiar with the terminal. Missing a flight can be disastrous, since there’s no telling when the next seat (or seats, if you’re with the family) will be available. You might end up having to stay overnight. Make sure there’s enough time between flights and get a map of the terminals where you switch planes. Your booking agent or the airline desk should be able to provide you with one.
Exchanging too much currency
It’s easy to exchange more cash than you need, especially if this is your first trip to a particular country. Not only does this leave you more open to theft (It’s easier for thieves to spend their own country’s currency.) it means you may come home with a surplus of foreign money to convert back. Exchange rates can change dramatically overnight and you could end up losing money. Swap just enough funds to meet your needs, when you need them.
Not knowing your cell phone is roaming while you are
Don’t come home to find hundreds of extra dollars charged to your cell phone account because you didn’t have international coverage on your plan. Take the time before you leave to make sure you know your plan, including both voice and messaging and make sure you have global coverage. Those 50 text messages from the kids could cost as much as a few international calls.
Getting hit with extra fees on your cards
Both your credit card and debit card can incur extra fees on foreign transactions. This applies even when charges are in your own currency. If you’re going to use your plastic while you’re away, know what it’s going to cost you. You may be able to upgrade to a different bank account to avoid the charges. Go to your local bank branch and discuss your options before you leave.
Overfilling your itinerary
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of visiting new places and plan more recreation than you have time for. The result is usually not having the time to enjoy the things you get to do. Think carefully about the number of days you have, how much time will be devoted to business, and what your priorities are. Focus your leisure time on the things you’ll enjoy most and make sure you have the time to fully appreciate them.
Jeffrey Strain is a digital nomad and personal finance writer.