There are thousands of travel planning mistakes that sabotage your every trip. Most of them you’re making unconsciously.
Starting with planning your itinerary in an ineffective way.
Through transportation fails.
And ending up with cultural differences issues.
All of them might cause lots of negative memories after coming back home.
But don’t worry that much! Trust me, they’re all fixable. In a simple way!
But first, you need to get to know them. So go through this list and remind all the travel planning mistakes that you make on your own (I’m guilty too!).
This post is a part of the Travel Planning Series.
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The worst travel planning mistakes you can make
Some of the listed travel planning mistakes I made personally. They cost me time, money, and nerves. I gathered all of them in one place as a warning for you.
Save this list and check it out again and again before each trip to be sure you’re making them too! [pinnable images at the bottom]
#1 Traveling only during summertime
Most of us, while thinking of vacation, imagine the summertime at the first place.
I get it when you travel with kids who have a strict school schedule. But when you’re freer to choose your travel time, why not go out of the box?
Summer is usually the highest peak-season for visiting the most interesting places. But there are a few other months which are perfect for visiting places which are independent of the part of the year.
I’ve been traveling to Milan and its surroundings in November and I think it was a perfect time for visiting this part of Italy! Same for traveling to Malta or Canary Islands in January and February. The weather was lovely to enjoy the islands’ features!
And the biggest benefits you’ll get from traveling in low-seasons: ultra-affordable prices and relief from tourists crowds!
#2 Underrating non-touristic places
I know you probably have your private bucket list, don’t you?
Experience the gondola ride in Venice, take a selfie with Eiffel Tower, or explore the interior of the Egyptian pyramids.
But with fixing your focus on those most popular attractions you can miss a lot of unique experiences.
Think about what uncommon adventures you miss by following only travel agents’ brochures.
#3 Not doing research where to go and what to see
You also miss a lot by being too carefree about the attractions you want to see in your destination. Assuming that when you’ll be in a place and automatically know where to go and what to see might lose you.
I suggest you try to Google “best things to do in…” and find as many promising spots as you can. You never know if you’ll not be more interested in visiting a less known botanical park instead of another must-see war museum indicated in every guide book.
You don’t want to miss those little gems, don’t you?
#4 Not researching the history
Even if you’re not the history fan, I highly recommend you to search for some historical curiosities about your destination. Sometimes the knowledge for what that place was recognizable for in the past or who important was doing what in there might spice up your own journey!
For instance, did you know that the café where the stracciatella ice cream flavor was invented is still active and prospers well in the Bergamo’s Old Town, Italy? And tasting ice cream there is a memory that I will remember for a long time.
#5 Relying too much on the guide
Guide books are a great way to find the best attractions in the chosen destination.
But relying only on them and visiting only the places other billions of tourists visit each year would be a silly idea.
If you’ll only hear any recommendation about a certain place from a local, go follow it (wisely of course)!
The great place to find those kinds of suggestions is Couchsurfing.com. You don’t need especially to sleep in someone’s house. But you can always ask for some recommendations from local inhabitants.
#6 Too-tight travel schedule
A lot of active tourists make this mistake. Planning everything strictly to the schedule and leaving no time for loose hanging around might kill your vacation joy.
You should definitely reserve some “free time” in your travel plan. This method creates the opportunity to sink in the real daily life of your destination.
Take your time to have a coffee in a local café. Dedicate those 5 minutes to turn into this charming small street leading nowhere. Give yourself a moment to sit on a bench and watch the people living life in their own culture so different from yours. Enjoy all of these little moments to truly experience the place.
You should also be flexible to change your plans on the way. Sometimes you might get opportunities you didn’t think about before. Give yourself a dose of spontaneity and live through this adventure.
#7 Not making clever use of public holidays and your work vacation days
This is where the art of frequent traveling starts.
Many full-time workers use their vacation days blindly. If the public holiday falls on Thursday, they take the day off on Friday just to… sit in a house and do nothing.
That’s a huge mistake if you want to travel more.
When you don’t have any specific plans for this day, I’d suggest you rather go to work. Save this day for a better occasion and longer travel. Plus, the emptiness in the office guarantees a calm workday which could be as pleasant as staying at home.
#8 Planning on behalf of your friends
Traveling with friends of family sounds great but… often ends up with a fail.
Unless you travel with your trusted team and know exactly what they expect from a journey, you should not plan too much on behalf of your travel buddies.
You might be disappointed when you’ll plan an exciting itinerary filled with attractions and sightseeing and at the end find out that a new girlfriend of your best friend prefers to stay at the hotel pool, have drinks and sunbath.
So always be sure to consult your travel plans with the whole group and find the golden mean.
This travel mistake takes the most time to learn to avoid.
Lastly, I usually travel with carry-on baggage only. And can you believe I still overpack it?
When you pack for a vacation, I am pretty sure you will not be using at least half of things you take with you.
And overpacking has a lot of negative influence on your travel experience. Starting with worrying what to pack for each occasion, through toting this huge suitcase between airports and hotels, and ending up by stressing if you didn’t exceed the airline luggage weight restrictions.
Trust me, overpacking might be the biggest of your travel planning mistakes.
#10 Not checking opening hours and national holidays
Often while traveling our brain switch on the “vacation mode”. We think that the whole world supports our happy time.
So we often forget that there are working people on the other side. And that museums are closed on certain days. Or that the country we visit has actually the public holidays and everything will be closed during our trip.
I had it while traveling to Wrocław for the first time. It was a city break and I dedicated Monday to visiting museums. Until I find out that all of them are closed on that day. And yes, by standing in front of one of them.
#11 Not buying tickets online
Standing in queues is usually the biggest time theft during travel. And you’re making a huge mistake by not purchasing tickets online.
The biggest world museums and attractions create this opportunity and convince to use it for a reason. Online tickets will help you avoid spending hours in a neverending snake in front of a cash desk.
Plus, some places have daily visitors limits. You should remember it because I didn’t while visiting Alhambra in Spain. I just came in place what ended up with not visiting the beautiful Nasrid Palaces. Learn from it.
#12 Disorganized hand luggage
Still in the queue subject. One of the common travel planning mistakes is not preparing your hand luggage for quick passing by security gates on the airport.
Many people seem to be surprised again and again when they need to pack out the whole bag to dig into the liquids at the bottom only to pull them out and place in a separate box.
Not being clever about wise packing your hand luggage ends up with the stressful moments when the security and rest of passengers stare at your hands with impatience.
#13 Not checking if your documents are valid
Such a prosaic thing as checking your ID expiration date might save your holidays.
Identity cards and passports might be valid for a dozen years. That’s why we usually forget that they even expire.
Don’t repeat my travel companion’s history: he didn’t figure out that his ID was expired when we were sailing from Croatia to Montenegro. He didn’t pass the clearance and must totally change his travel plans.
#14 Not checking visa requirements for connection flights
Another confusing thing. While planning long flights with connections in different countries always check if you don’t need a visa to use for this connection.
My fellow travelers from Chilimango (check out their adventures HERE) were traveling from the Caribbean to Europe with the connection in the USA. A few days before the flight they figured out they needed an American visa to even enter the airport. They needed to revise their plans and in the end, prolonged their trip and spent the whole month in Mexico to balance the new flight tickets costs.
#15 Not having “emergency” budget
Most of us are financially carefree when it comes to planning travel expenses.
And I don’t mean booking the most expensive trips, but assuming that flight tickets, accommodation, and some food will be the only expenses.
On the journey, you usually spend much more money than you think. Snacks, souvenirs, bus tickets, tipping, there is a lot of them. Not mentioning emergency expenses like an expensive taxi when you’re lost, unpredicted accommodation when you miss a bus, or even medicaments or hospital treatment in the worst case.
#16 Not bringing spare cash or another bank card
Money is in general tough subject but you should learn how to be smart about it. In Western countries, we assume there will be no problems with paying only with cards. And usually, that’s right. There are even countries where sometimes you can pay only with card (I couldn’t pay with cash in a Norwegian bus – they accepted only cards).
But sometimes technology will not support you. Having only one type of card might be confusing. In the Netherlands, I was not able to pay with my Mastercard in many places (luckily it still worked for ATMs). Fortunately, my travel friend had VISA credit card which worked and saved us many, many times.
Also, in many countries, you can still pay only with cash. Not having it with you is one of the huge travel planning mistakes.
#17 Not getting insurance
This might be obvious but many of us forget about getting insurance.
Or forget about precisely checking its conditions.
Let me warn you. A friend of my parents went to Austria one day. He purchased really good insurance. But there was a small hook inside which he didn’t notice. He had some health problems during this trip and must spend a few days in a hospital. After coming back home he was refused to get the refund from the insurance company because of his thyroid disease. He didn’t find out that the purchased insurance did not cover people with… chronic diseases.
#18 Not getting vaccinated
Lots of people are incredibly careless when it comes to health. They pack tons of medicaments for headache, diarrhea, and hangover, but they underestimate the serious problems.
Even if a country where you travel does not require vaccinations like yellow fever, there is still some suggested treatment against other diseases. Everywhere around the world.
There are diseases like hepatitis A or B, or tetanus which you can get but catching an infection even in your own country. So better be responsible and check out if you don’t need to take a booster dose.
#19 Too-tight flight connections
Sometimes while booking flight tickets we rely too much on search engine recommendations.
I know that no one likes to spend long hours on the airport but having too little spare time between connections might end up with losing a flight. And money, if both flights are operated by independent companies.
We also underestimate the time we need to get from one terminal to another on the biggest airports. Sometimes you will even need to take a train to change the gate (Paris Orly for instance). So always plan some spare time.
#20 Not checking the countries’ allowed baggage restrictions
Nothing is worse than the information on the airport that you cannot export this delicious yet smelly cheese that you bought for your friends in hand luggage. Or that you must pay a fine for this beautiful seashell found on the beach. Or that using plastic bags is not allowed in a country anymore (which is actually a great thing).
So always double-check what you can and what you can’t bring into the country or take with you to home.
#21 Being too optimistic about local transport
The citizens of well-organized countries are used for efficient public transport. But during the travel, your expectations will be revised.
I am much more careful with timetables since I almost stuck in Masca Valley in Tenerife when I thought I missed the last bus because of my carefreeness. Or when I was never sure if the bus will stop or not on my bus stop in Malta. Or if it will ever come in Guadeloupe or Martinique.
You should always have a plan B and never rely too much on night buses.
#22 Not using common sense if it comes to the safety
The world is full of scammers and shameless thefts. In many countries, tourism is surrounded by people willing to make quick money on unconscious travelers.
Even if the offer that pushy salesman proposes to you sounds great and delightful, always rethink your decision. If there is even one thing that you’re suspicious about, better trust your common sense and refuse politely.
#23 Not having copies of all documents
During a trip, everything could happen. Your documents could be stolen, destroyed, or simply get lost.
Proving your identity in the embassy might be complicated, so for this case, you should always have your documents copied. Especially when you travel outside your travel comfort zone (like outside the EU in my case). You’ll never regret having a paper copy of your ID, passport of hotels confirmations with you. Ideally, store it also in a cloud so you can access it while having WiFi.
#24 Relying too much on WiFi and Internet access
We easily get used to comfortable things. Like Internet access for instance. I admit to also repeat this mistake over and over again.
We usually suppose that the Internet is such a common thing that we can use it everywhere. Nothing more wrong.
While traveling even in Europe, I was a few times surprised when Google Maps did not suggest any bus connection, or when I couldn’t check the directions to get to a place. Sometimes we catch ourselves up to be the slaves of modern technologies.
Not checking all the essential information before travel and assuming you’ll get them all in the last minute leads directly to travel fails.
#25 Not knowing local habits and traditions
You should always take at least a while to read a bit about local habits and traditions of the region you’re going to. This will help you avoid many embarrassing moments.
It is always good to know in which countries shaking head means yes or no and where a thumb up is an offensive gesture.
#26 Not learning the phrase in the local language
Knowing at least a few words in a local language might give you a lot of benefits and sometimes even save your skin.
Simple saying good morning or thank you in a restaurant or a hotel will make the stuff perceive you better and open the gates for useful relation if you’ll need any help.
And actually asking “how do you say in your language…” works magic! People feel appreciated and will be much more willing to help you with any trouble.
#27 Not checking local tipping habits
You might never think about it but tipping standards vary from land to land.
In the Americas and many European countries, tips for serving are a standard. But in East Asian countries, like Japan let’s say, leaving a tip sometimes may be received with sorrow cause it means “you should try harder”.
#28 Not bringing your own reusable utensils
In a consumptive world, we used to single-use items. Which is one of the biggest fail also in a travel world.
If you love our plant (and I bet you do since you wanna travel) you should focus on avoiding single-use materials. That’s why packing your own reusable utensils like a foldable lunchbox, cutlery or water bottle is one of the smartest things you can do.
Besides this, your own items will be useful while packing snacks for trips or eating street food.
#29 Forgetting pen and paper
Today we rely on technology so much that we often forget about the simplest things like pen and paper.
But it’s clever to have them with you because you never know when they’ll be useful. Hand drawing might save you while trying to communicate with people talking in another language. Or to simply write down the address of the attraction or draw a simple map to get to a hidden gem.
#30 Not preparing a written plan
When you plan a trip totally on your own you might get lost among the possibilities.
That’s why having a written plan and pre-filled lists of things to do will make the whole process a much easier for you. And will help you avoid many travel planning mistakes.
So take a piece of paper and a pencil and start writing all the ideas and important information down! You will be surprised by how much it will help you.
As you can see there is plenty of travel planning mistakes you can make on your road. And no matter how hard you would try you will never faultless in this field. Simply because there are too many factors, sometimes independent of your decision.
But you can avoid many of those mistakes by simply knowing about them. Then you can prepare for many circumstances. Also, your own travel experiences will only master your planning skills with time.
I am curious what was the biggest travel planning mistakes that you made during your own travels? Share them with me in the comment section!
Get some more awesome travel-related resources:
- How to pack eco-friendly travel toiletry bag?
- Perfect weekender backpacks comparison: CabinZero vs. Doughnut
- 5 exciting TED talks about exploring the unexplored
- Multipotentiality: how to give up being a specialist, quit everything and travel the world?
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Dominika is a founder of Sunday In Wonderland and she recently switched her life to be local independent. She aims to travel the world and admire all of its wonders. She is much focused on sustainable life, self-development and making this world a better place.