travel

Common mistakes travellers make. And how to avoid them.

By Marc Llewellyn

Cheap flights and cheap hotels are all well and good, but what if you miss your flight because you misread your ticket? Or you arrive at your destination and the taxi driver takes you to the wrong hotel in another part of town and expects you to pay the fare?

And what if you are loaded down with luggage, and your passport has gone missing and you haven’t got a photocopy of it, and you are racking up a huge phone bill trying to sort things out? Things can go wrong on holiday, but if you take note of this Skyscanner Australia guide your life could be easier.

Overpacking

As a professional travel writer I’ve managed to get packing down to a fine art. I have two suitcases, a small carry-on bag for summer and a medium winter one for those extra jumpers, fluffy socks and ski gear. Having a small bag means you can often put your luggage in the overhead locker on a flight. You get out of the airport quicker and you can save money because you don’t have to book a bag into the hold. If you book a hire car you can also get away with a smaller and cheaper vehicle.

Anyway, a big bag is heavy and a pain to travel with. So be brutal with your packing. You don’t need guidebooks – travel with an app on your phone instead. Pour shampoo into a small travel bottle. Take three changes of clothing and no more. Everything needs to be thin and as light as possible. And always note what you didn’t use, so that you can leave it out next time you travel.

Forgetting to check documents.

I fly with my wife and two kids twice a year to Europe. Last year we forgot to check our passports and realized a few days before our flight that my oldest son’s passport had expired. It cost us a lot of worry and money to get it renewed in time.

In the past I’ve turned up a day early for a flight to London, and a day late for a flight to Japan, because I didn’t check my air tickets properly. I’ve been stopped from entering a country too, because I had less than six months left on my passport – a lot of countries insist you need that long. I’ve also been stranded in Italy because I didn’t check my itinerary and my tour coach went without me. So, check, check and triple check.

LISTEN: The Mamamia Out Loud team debate an unwritten rule of plane etiquette. Post continues after audio.

Not being covered by travel insurance.

I always buy travel insurance, especially if flying to Europe or elsewhere outside Australia. I just don’t want to take the risk of getting seriously ill or losing everything. I check that my travel insurance covers the excess on hire cars, and I take out additional cover if I’m doing snow sports. Insurance cover is vital if you fly to the USA, because a medical bill can bankrupt you if you are hospitalised.

Not making copies of important documents.

Firstly, empty your wallet of everything you don’t need before you travel. Do you really need your Myer store card when you are visiting Hong Kong? Or all those credit and debit cards when you are travelling in Europe? Replacing things takes time and effort if you lose them. Importantly, take photocopies of your passport and driving licence. If you lose them, or they get stolen, you can save a lot of hassle if you need to replace them quickly.

Don't just stick to the tourist traps. Go exploring. (Image via Getty.)
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Sticking to the tourist traps.

In my backpacking days I mostly visited and stayed in places recommended in Lonely Planet guidebooks. I called myself a traveller, but really I was just a tourist with a bag on my back, following my peers around the world like an ant on a scent trail. These days, people do something similar with TripAdvisor. They put an itinerary together based on the top ranking sites, restaurants and hotels.

Over the years I’ve learnt that the best experiences come from getting off the tourist trail. Get lost in Venice. Choose a bistro in Paris by the number of locals eating there. Live for a week or more in a village, or an outlying suburb of a city like Tokyo or Barcelona, and get to know your neighbours.

Attracting pickpockets and bag snatchers.

Luckily I’ve never had anything stolen by a pickpocket or bag snatcher (touch wood) despite travelling to more than 60 countries. I have simple rules to avoid it. Number one is to blend in. We’ve all seen tourists sporting clunky watches, with huge cameras around their chests and money-stuffed travel pouches around their waists. Thieves look upon people like this as walking ATMs.

Only carry enough cash as you can afford to get stolen. Dress down. Don’t wear fancy jewellery. If you have to carry a bag make sure it’s got little of value in it, or it’s an anti-theft one that you can buy online. And never leave your hotel with your passport if you can help it. Leave it in a hotel security box or with reception.

Not going with the flow.

Things go wrong. Your flight is delayed and you miss your connecting flight. Your baggage goes missing. The taxi takes you to the wrong hotel. The room’s not as nice as the photo. The meal is average. The hire car breaks down. It doesn’t stop raining. You argue with your travelling companion. Relax! Or at least try to. Things going pear-shaped is part of the travelling experience. Some of my best stories have come out of experiences that didn’t go to plan.

Being culturally insensitive.

Plenty of travellers do offensive things when they travel overseas. Dress codes are a big issue in some countries, and just because you see other tourists disregarding local culture doesn’t mean that you should. Eating with your left hand is not the done thing in places like India, Sri Lanka, and Morocco. Laughing with your mouth open is impolite in Japan. Crumpling a banknote or pointing your feet at someone is offensive in Thailand. And the list goes on.

Not knowing how your technology works.

My father-in-law recently returned from a trip to Italy. He used his iPad to email people, upload photos on Facebook, and download newspapers and the like, not realising that he was using data roaming. He clocked up a bill of $4,000 during his six weeks away. If you want to use an iPad or smartphone overseas turn off data roaming and use free wi-fi spots and local SIM cards instead.

Trusting everyone.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people out there willing to scam unsuspecting tourists. Taxi drivers in some countries rely on ‘broken’ taxi meters, ‘overbooked’ hotels, and ‘closed’ attractions to rip you off or get you where they want you. Your bank details can be stolen over a public wi-fi network. Gemstones turn out to be fake. Liquid manure is squirted onto your shoes so that someone can charge you to clean them. Someone offers to take your photo and runs off with your camera. It's good to travel with an open mind, but keep your wits about you too.

What mistakes did you make on holiday?

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