10 Travel Mistakes I’ve Made (And What I Do Now)

The art of travel is born from experience. No matter how much research you do before your trip, every adventure is a learning experience. Over the years, I’ve made my travel mistakes and grown. Here are the top ten travel mistakes I’ve made and what I do now.

1. Left my credit card at home. In general, I try not to use my credit card too much in my day-to-day life. I build up my credit, but rely on debit or cash transactions. I save my credit cards for emergencies. As such, in my early days of travel, grabbing my credit card was not be on the top of my list.

In my early 20’s, I didn’t realize that there would be a significant upcharge to rent a vehicle with a debit card. I fortunately budgeted a good buffer for the trip in my bank account, so the charge didn’t put me too far back. Nonetheless, I was an unpleasant surprise and taught me 1. always bring the credit card and 2. always expect hidden charges.

2. Overpacked. It’s important to be prepared. But it’s also important not to be overprepared. It’s tempting to bring the extra outfits for every possible contingency or the extra shoes and accessories. But that equates to a bag that’s difficult to haul and high baggage fees for extra weight.

Piles of GLORIOUS fabric from Discount Fabric Warehouse, Hilo, HI

On the topic of overpacking… if you need to bring extra gear or if you are expecting to bring extra items back, don’t consolidate it in a single bag. Instead, spread out the gear and product into a couple of bags. When I’m not working my day job, I run a small craft business with my mom. It isn’t unusual for me to pick up products or supplies while I travel. The last time I visited Hawaii, I picked up a boat load of fabric, which I put into a single suitcase with some of my other gear and more raw crafting materials. As you can imagine, the single large suitcase was too heavy. I would have been better off paying for an extra checked bag rather than the extra weight in the single suitcase.

3. Crammed too many planned activities into one trip. I get it. It’s exciting to visit a new place. You want to see it all! But if you spend so much time running from one place to another, you won’t be able to slow down and explore. You’ll miss local gems and will be too tired to relax. Take a deep breath and, as my friend likes to say, “schedule in time to stare in awe.”

Space Needle in Seattle

These days, I schedule a few “big activities” that become the centerpiece of the trip. I leave the rest of the days with a loose itinerary, leaving plenty of room to adapt, slow down, and explore.

4. Didn’t branch out. When you visit a touristy area, it’s easy to stay on established paths. These are the areas that cater towards tourists. It’s usually easy to find, easy to schedule, and easy to navigate.

However, sticking to those areas means missing out of local gems. That really cool coffee shop. The hole-in-the-wall local cuisine. The beautiful local park. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of tourist central and take in the local, un-catered environment.

5. Rushed booking accommodations. It’s easy to breeze through booking accommodations. Is this hotel in the right city? Right budget? Sold!

That’s a sure-fire way to get into trouble. Take a step back and make a list of requirements to double-check. Do you have pet allergies? If so, make sure the room is pet-free. Do you need to be in walking-distance of public transit? What are the reviews saying? If you’re booking through Air Bnb, do you just want a room or the entire place to yourself?

I know that it sounds silly listing it out, but it’s easy to miss these important details when you get into the moment of researching and booking an accommodation. For example, my parents recently booked a weekend visit at a nearby beach town. They have a lot of very specific needs, including a kitchenette, located in a very particular area, and the room and adjoining rooms need to be pet-free. They found what seemed to be the perfect rental and well within budget, except when they arrived they found that the room was not pet-free. By making a check list early and double-checking before confirming your reservation, you can avoid unfortunate pitfalls.

6. Didn’t bring a waterproof/impact-resistant phone case. If you’re anything like me, you bring your phone everywhere. A phone isn’t just used for making phone calls anymore, after all! It’s my camera, my yellow-pages, my GPS, my map, and my planner. Not to mention, I need to stay active in my Pokemon Go account.

Rainbow Falls State Park in Washington State

My phone used to sport a cheap, slip-on case. That is, until I didn’t realize that I hadn’t zipped my pocket on a trip. I was climbing a tree (that’s a story of its own), and my phone slipped out of my pocket and landed in a puddle on the asphalt below. Needless to say, all of my phones are now outfitted with waterproof and impact-resistant cases.

A lot of the places I visit are very wet. My friends and family needed to keep their phones in their bags and pockets to protect them from the elements. I, however, was able to continue taking pictures and using my phone, regardless of the weather.

7. Didn’t notify the bank of travel plans. This is especially important when travelling abroad, but the bank has frozen my account during domestic travel, too.

Las Vegas photo provided by Canva.

A number of years ago, I was visiting my grandparents in Utah. I flew in early to Vegas to check out the Titanic artifact exhibition in the Luxar Hotel and Casino. My bank flagged my ticket purchase as unusual activity and froze my account. I wasn’t given a notice until I tried to use my card again to buy coffee (coffee WOULD be my downfall).

Alerting your bank when you travel to a high-tourist destination can avoid a lot of headache and panic. Some banks are incredibly sensitive. My mom’s bank account was flagged recently after a trip to Monterey, CA. If you are going a distance away to a tourist destination that is irregular, save yourself the trouble and make a quick phone call before you take off.

8. Didn’t bring enough cash. I live in a card-happy city. Especially after Covid-19 hit, many local stores and attractions refuse to take cash. When I travel, it’s easy to keep the habit of carrying limited cash. Cards are so convenient; they are my primary transaction.

However, that isn’t the case everywhere. I especially love to visit small communities. Due to credit card charges or a lack of Wi-Fi, many of these locales only accept cash. You don’t want to turn away from a cool coffee shop or local park simply because you don’t have cash.

9. Didn’t pack the right gear. Research! Research! Research!

Before you go on your trip, double check that you have the correct gear in your suitcase. Be sure to peruse guide books, blogs, and YouTube vlogs. Don’t take a destination for granted.

My mom (in appropriate layers) at the summit of Mauna Loa

The first time I visited the Big Island of Hawaii, I was excited to visit Volcanos National Park. Who wouldn’t want to visit an active volcano? I did some research and knew that it would be in the low 60’s, so I packed an extra sweatshirt to go under my raincoat.

Unfortunately, I did not read much further than the weather report. If I had done my due diligence and read up on blogs I would have learned that the temperature at Volcanos National Park might read in the low 60’s, but that is not the temperature at the top of Mauna Kea. The average temperature at the summit is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Even when it’s a warmer day, the wind chill combined with the humidity makes it feel a lot colder.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, I was THAT tourist wrapped up in my sweatshirts and raincoats huddling next to the natural steam vents. I have no regrets visiting the park, but you’d better believe that next time I was better prepared.

10. Booked my trip too early. I am a planner. I like to have everything booked and ready to go as soon as I can. But, this isn’t usually the best strategy. There is a fine balance when travelling in booking too early and too late. It’s better to track rates (like hotel and transit rates) and then book. Wait for the deals.

When booking airfare, the sweet spot tends to be three months out. That’s when airlines begin to actively fluctuate prices. Before that, the prices tend to be at a slow moving, higher, price.

Bonus: Fell sleep on the beach before reapplying sunscreen. I love reading on the beach. I love taking naps on the beach. I burn easily. These three facts combined can lead to disaster! More than once I became engrossed with a book or fell asleep, only to later realize that I obtained a not-so-welcome souvenir from the experience.

This is my typical sandy beach set up

When I go to the beach, I make sure to slather up more than I think I need, to be safe. If I am particularly comfortable, my beach buddies and I will help remind each other to reapply. If I’m by myself, I might set alarms in my phone. Otherwise, I’ll regret it later.

Stay safe! Happy Adventures!

Learn how to have an eco-friendly, fun vacation!

Looking for a new travel pack? Read about my experiences with the Pacsafe Venturesafe Pack.

Heading down to Monterey? Put these four coffee shops on your list.

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