14 Travel Mistakes From 14 Years on the Road

Honey, where are the passports?’

We’d just arrived at our hotel in Kuala Lumpur after a very long journey and my husband was holding out his hand for the passport wallet at the check-in desk.

As my face drained of all colour I realised I’d left the wallet in the back of the taxi with our passports and money inside!

Thankfully after a frantic couple of hours with the hotel calling cab companies, the very kind and honest taxi driver returned with our wallet in hand and all present and correct.

Suffice to say he got a big tip!

We were crazy lucky. Forget the money, the effort it would have taken to replace all 3 passports for me, my husband and daughter doesn’t bear thinking about.

This is just one of many travel mistakes we’ve made over the years.

Here are some of my faves with some tips on how to avoid making similar mistakes when you’re travelling!

cartoon image of a woman with camera on her hand travelling with many luggages and bags and looks exhausted

1. Losing Passports

Following on from my story above, thankfully this is the only time I have lost the passports (she says touching anything wooden around me).

However, here’s a tip.

When travelling, your best bet is to invest in a bum belt (or fanny pack they’re called in the US), for your passports and money. This is then physically attached to your body at all times, plus it’s almost invisible under a t-shirt or jacket, making it more difficult to be swiped in the airport or when you’re out and about.

Once you’re on the plane, it’s small enough to be transferred to your backpack or handbag, and can then be attached to you again at the other end until you can safely stow your belongings away in the hotel safe.

It’s also super handy if you’re in a cheaper hotel without safes or an area where you feel more comfortable having your belongings with you at all times.

screenshot of belt bag for sale online

2. Forgetting to Apply for a Visa

A few years back my husband had gone to Australia early (I can’t remember why) and my daughter and I were following on.

It wasn’t until we were checking in at the airport and the lady at the desk was asking where our Australian Visas were, that we realised we had completely forgotten to get them! 🤦‍♀️

Thankfully we were staying in an apartment at the Marriott in Mai Khao Phuket for the week, and had checked out early to catch the plane. So they were able to check us back in for the weekend until we got our visas sorted!

my picture holding a wine glass with red wine
Me, stuck in Paradise for another couple of days!

Pro Tip

Don’t forget to get your visa! 😂

But in all seriousness, you do need to do your due diligence when travelling to different countries. Many countries now have electronic visas which can take from an hour to a couple of weeks to approve. Some have visas on arrival and some require much more paperwork than others.

Use a site like ivisa.com to get the latest info on Visas and always be prepared!

3. Forgetting they don’t allow Google in China

My sister & I arrived at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport at around 10 pm from Hong Kong on our Asian City Tour.

I eagerly swapped the sim in my phone to quickly find our hotel and work out the fastest route to get there.

However, panic ensued when it suddenly dawned on me that there was no Google in China! The taxi queue looked to be about 2 hours long and we were tired and didn’t fancy standing around for that long.

Unfortunately, my VPN didn’t want to fire up so eventually with the help of the lady at the phone desk, we accessed an English metro map and were able to find our way back to the hotel.

screenshot of online map to show the road

Pro Tip

  1. Always have a VPN ready to go on your phone for when you might need it. I’m not sure why mine didn’t work at the time, but most VPNs work anywhere in the world, so just do a quick check that your VPN covers where you’re going.
  2. Work out your route and how you’re going to get to your hotel ahead of time! These days Google Maps has a feature that allows you to download a map to use offline.

Here’s how;

  1. On your phone or iPad open the Google Maps app
  2. Search for your destination as you would normally
  3. Then at the bottom of the screen tap the name of the place, then tap the 3 dots on the top right hand corner and ‘Download offline map’
  4. Then when in an area with slow or no internet, just use Google as you would normally and it will guide you to your destination.

NB: If going to China, do this before you leave the country you’re in!

4. Missing the Cherry Blossom in Japan

As part of the same trip, our next destination was Japan and it was a bucket list item for my sister to see the Cherry Blossom in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, we’d got the dates wrong and were about a week, maybe two, too early.

My poor sister was devastated!

Pro Tip

Do your due diligence!

Don’t just rely on the first search result in Google. If something is super important to you, you need to do the research and make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

For info, the cherry blossom in Japan is blooming anywhere between March 19th – May 4th, but it depends on where you are! Tokyo is March 30th, but Sapporo isn’t until May 4th. It’s a big country!

Do your research!

5. Bad Budgeting

This is more of a general travel mistake than a specific example of a time we ran out of cash. Though there have been a few hairy moments.

The fact is, it’s so easy to overspend when travelling. You think you’re doing a good job by setting up spreadsheets and tracking hotel costs, flights, trips, etc.

But all of a sudden a couple of weeks in you start to wonder where all your money’s gone. Especially in the cashless society we live in now. It’s so easy to swipe and go.

Pro Tip

The trick to great budgeting isn’t just to track your expenses, but to forecast your costs and then pick a spending limit you stick to!

If you can have a separate travel account/card from all your other expenses, even better. Create a weekly budget, put enough cash into that card for just the following week, and spend only that and no more.

If you have bookings that need to be paid for in advance, factor them into your forecasts and ensure you only transfer the balance to your spending card for that week.

When you can physically see how much you have left just for that week, you become so much more aware of what you’re spending and your funds will go much further.

Apps like TravelSpend and Trabee Pocket can help you set budgets and track expenses, use them!

screenshot of travelSpend download App

6. Flying by the Seat of our Pants

I’m not going to lie, I love flying by the seat of our pants. In other words, we are not really planning ahead and just deciding what our next move is on the fly.

But I have no doubt it’s cost us money over the years.

A few years back, because we were staying at the Marriott in Mai Khao so often, they gave us the option of staying in one of the apartments for 12 months at a very special rate.

Because we were unsure of our long term plans we had to turn it down, and continued our stay at the rate we were on. Unfortunately though, for the length of time we were there in the end, we would definitely have saved a decent amount!

On the plus side, planning last minute means you can get some good discounts, take advantage of offers, and get all the benefits that come with maximum flexibility.

On the downside, however, some things will undoubtedly cost more.

Leaving long haul flights to the last minute, for example, would likely result in increased flight charges.

Also, if you know your plans upfront, and are perhaps planning to stay somewhere for a longer period of time or rent a car for a few weeks, etc, then it’s possible you can negotiate a better, more long term deal.

Pro Tip

If you know you’re going to be country or city hopping for a while and your goal is to explore as much as possible, then don’t be afraid to leave bookings until the last minute and be a bit more flexible.

If you think you’re going to want to engage in slower travel and spend some time in one particular area or region, then it’s worth being a bit more forward thinking and planning ahead.

7. Planning too Far Ahead

On the flipside of flying by the seat of your pants is being a little too prepared and planning too far ahead.

When my sister and I arrived in Bagan in Myanmar, the hotel that I had booked upfront was not where we wanted to be.

Out in the middle of the sticks with nothing around us, the hotel and the surrounding area were barren and a bit uninspiring.

The following morning on a hot air balloon trip, I spotted the hotel that I wanted to stay in. A beautiful structure slap bang in the middle of all the temples and stupors that made up the UNESCO heritage site.

aerial view of a hotel surrounded by green trees and near body of water

Thankfully, due to my ‘fly by night’ attitude, we only booked one night at the hotel we were staying in and were therefore able to easily transfer over to the new hotel and have an amazing stay.

Had we booked a week at the hotel we initially arrived in we may have been locked into that and been unable to move and have the same experience.

Pro Tip

You’re not always going to win. Sometimes you’ll decide to only book a night or two only to find that the hotel is beautiful and now booked out, other times you’ll book a week or two ahead to get a bit of security, only to find you’re in the wrong area and should have only booked for a night or two.

The more you travel the more you’ll know when to book ahead versus when to ensure maximum flexibility. However, your goal is to try to maintain a balance as much as possible.

Roughly plan out your trip on a spreadsheet. Find the hotel you want to stay in, even if you don’t book it yet. Work out if you need trains, buses, rental cars, etc in between, and then, depending on your risk levels, book as far in advance or as little in advance as you feel comfortable with.

Where possible book rooms, cars, and experiences with easy cancellation clauses, just in case your plans change.

8. Not Travel Hacking

In my post about travel hacking, I talk about how my husband and I executed our biggest travel hack ever 15 years ago when we bought into the Marriott Vacation Club program.

However, apart from that one stroke of genius, we have not taken advantage of all of the different travel hacking strategies over the years, and I’m certain we would have a significant amount of points and rewards by now if we had.

Pro Tip

Start today. Even if you’re not travelling yet.

Sign up with a credit card that offers great signup bonuses and has an established points and rewards scheme, and start purchasing all of your everyday products on that card from dining out, shopping trips, and weekends away. The more you buy, the more points you’ll get awarded.

Then, when you’re travelling, sign up for hotel loyalty programs, airline loyalty programs, you name it. Sign up for everything, it’s free.

Always remember, however, that the more consistent you are with one airline alliance one hotel chain, or one vacation club program, the more points you will accumulate and the more rewards you will benefit from.

Check out my post on travel hacking for more details.

9. Not Having any Cash

A few months ago, my daughter and I went to Singapore for the weekend for her birthday.

I completely forgot to take any kind of cash with me, but luckily Singapore is such a cashless society that I actually didn’t need to draw out any Singapore dollars for the entire four days we were there.

Then just before Christmas, we went to Tokyo for a few days and I made the same mistake turning up to Tokyo airport with not a single yen on me.

Unfortunately, Tokyo isn’t quite as cashless as Singapore and within a few minutes of entering the country I needed cash to buy a train ticket.

Luckily, I have a Wise account which allows me to quickly and easily draw out local currency, wherever I am around the world. However, it’s not always that easy, and you are running around looking for an ATM machine.

Pro Tip

As we become more cashless, we start to forget about cash, and yet there are so many countries, particularly some of the smaller Asian developing countries, that still rely solely on cash.

Whatever you do, you do not want to be exchanging your money at the airport as the exchange rates are awful and fees are extortionate.

My recommendation therefore is always to arrive in a country with just a little bit of the local cash in your pocket, exchanged at your local post office or bank before you leave.

Plus get a wise.com account so you can easily transfer money into the local currency and avoid huge currency conversion fees every time you withdraw cash or make a payment.

screenshot of Wise log in page

10. Overpacking

meme of a women in front of a large red luggage

When I went backpacking across Europe with my sister in 2022, I was also heading back home to Thailand after the trip from an extended stay in the UK over the summer.

I had sent some essentials in advance and attempted to pack only what I needed for the Europe trip. My backpack weighed 11 kgs.

Invariably I still took some items I didn’t wear/use and the pack was crazy heavy when heaving it onto trains, buses, and walking any distance.

No matter whether you’re packing for a 2-week summer break or an extended trip across the world, you still need less than you think you do.

Save yourself the luggage fees and pack less!

Pro Tip

Outline your trip by days, detailing the activities and places you’ll be visiting. Then, get into planning mode for your outfits. The goal is to create a mix-and-match wardrobe where, for example, one t-shirt pairs well with two different trousers and vice versa. This not only maximises your outfit options but also minimises what you need to pack.

Then, once you have your outfits planned, (here comes the challenge), take a moment to review and then halve the amount.

It might seem like a stretch, but experience has taught me (even with a carefully packed 11kg backpack for my European adventure) I still ended up not using some items.

Cutting down your initial pack list can save you from carrying unnecessary weight and make your travel more enjoyable. Remember, packing less is often more than enough.

11. Name on Flight Booking

A few months back, I was flying one of my Filipino team members over to Thailand to work with me for a couple of weeks.

When booking his flight I accidentally mixed up his middle name and his last name on the booking.

Bearing in mind, all three names are on the passport and it’s clear it’s the same person, you’d think that would be enough right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

If any detail on your booking does not match up precisely with the details on your passport, you will be unable to fly.

The same thing recently happened to a good friend of mine who was bringing her daughter’s friend over with her on holiday to Thailand. Unfortunately, because she booked through an agent rather than directly with the airline, and she was being passed from pillar to post days before the trip, she ended up having to book an entirely new flight.

Knowing my friend she won’t stop until she gets a refund, but the hassle that you have to go through from a simple mistake isn’t worth getting it wrong.

Pro Tip

Carefully check all details before pressing that confirm button, The extra few minutes to make sure it’s correct will save you time and money in the long run!

12. Pulling Cash Out – Currency

Whenever you are abroad and you’re pulling money out of a cash machine or you’re at the shop and the merchant asks if you want to pay in your own currency or the local currency, please always always pick the local currency.

That means if you’re in Thailand pay in Baht, in Vietnam, pay in Vietnamese Dong, in Mexico, pesos. You get the picture.

If you allow the ATM provider or shop owner to do the currency conversion for you, then you will be liable for something called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC).

This means that the bank or merchant will charge their own currency exchange rates on your cash and will undoubtedly add a bit extra for their troubles.

If you pick local currency, it means that the currency exchange is done by the network or card provider’s rates which will be much cheaper.

Unfortunately, before I knew this little tip, I always used to pick my own currency and would have therefore paid over the odds.

Pro Tip

Get a wise.com card and account. Transfer your cash instantly into the local currency paying standard exchange rates with minimal fees and use your card across the globe to pay in local currency or draw money from the ATM.

It’s also a lot easier to use than a bank these days. They’ll never ask you to ‘go into the branch to verify your details’, which when you’re in Australia and your bank has frozen your card in the US, is mighty handy!

13. Tina – Machu Picchu stamp

Back in 2020, just before the Covid outbreak and subsequent lockdown, my husband and I sneaked in our dream wedding on a beach in Phang Nga, Thailand.

En route a friend of mine from the UK, but living in Spain had been stopped at the airport and was unable to board due to the fact that she had a Machu Picchu tourist stamp in her passport.

When visiting Machu Picchu a year or so prior, they’d asked her if she wanted her passport stamped. Like any other unsuspecting tourist might, she eagerly said yes.

However, because this was simply a tourist stamp and not a legal document it meant that she had essentially invalidated her passport.

Thankfully, she was able to get a new passport pronto and made it to the wedding. However, a harsh lesson was learned.

passport stamp in Machupicchu

Pro Tip

Do not under any circumstances allow anybody to put anything inside your passport, unless it is going in or out of a country at immigration or at a Visa office and is an authorised legal marking/document.

Also don’t leave your passport in the pocket of your jeans when washing them. Apparently, as we discovered first hand, a washed passport will invalidate it! 😂😂

14. Living like an Expat

Last on my list of travel mistakes we’ve made over the years is the trap of living as you would in your home country, simply in another country.

My goal was always to travel the world and immerse myself in the local culture, learning about the people, the food, the history, etc.

However, putting my daughter through an International school here in Thailand meant living in an expat area and building a network of expat friends.

Me and a group of friends helping out at international day at school
Helping out an International Day at the School

I don’t regret it for one minute as I have the best group of friends who I will know and love forever, and my daughter has had a fantastic start to life.

However, it’s been expensive, and even though I live in paradise I sometimes feel stuck in a rut, and a bit ‘Groundhog Dayish’, much like many of us feel in our home country.

To now go ahead and meet my true goals, it’s time to step well out of my comfort zones and immerse myself in the destinations I’m looking forward to visiting!

Other Mistakes to Consider

Dining Near Major Attractions

A classic misstep is opting for meals too close to major tourist spots. It’s a quick fix for hunger, but the prices in these areas often reflect their prime location rather than the quality of food.

This mistake can lead to overspending on mediocre dining experiences and missing out on authentic local cuisine that’s usually just a short walk away.

Neglecting Passport Validity

Another easily overlooked blunder is not verifying your passport’s expiration date. Don’t get caught off guard and learn too late that the country you’re going to requires your passport to be valid for six months beyond your travel dates. Always ensure you have six months on your passport and you’ll be good to go.

Forgetting to Notify Your Bank

A very frustrating experience is when your credit card gets declined at midnight as you’re trying to check in to your hotel in Japan because your credit card company thinks it might be fraud. Let your bank/credit card company know you’re heading overseas and to look out for some unfamiliar charges!

Overlooking the Weather

Don’t get caught out by not checking the destination’s weather before packing. You might be surprised to learn it’s a few degrees cooler than you were expecting or vice versa!

Skipping Research on Local Customs

Did you know that if you make any disparaging remarks about the royal family in Thailand you can get jail time? And if caught chewing gum in Singapore you’ll most certainly get a fine. Failing to familiarise yourself with the local customs and regulations of your destination is a mistake that can lead to uncomfortable, and sometimes legal, predicaments. Do your research ahead of time to avoid inadvertently offending locals or breaking laws.

Wrapping Up

I’m certain I’m only scratching the surface of mistakes we’ve made over the years and look forward to making many more in our future journeys!

The more mistakes we make, the more different things we’re trying.

I hope my insights can help you on your travel journey. The key is to remain adaptable, curious, and always prepared to embrace the unexpected twists that travel throws our way.

That way we become more astute and resilient travellers with lots of stories to tell!

Have fun out there 🙂

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