Even the most experienced travelers make mistakes when traveling. If you want your first big overseas trip to be memorable for the right reasons by avoiding the most common rookie travel mistakes all travelers do, keep reading. I hope you will be able to learn from some of the mistakes I’ve done in the past.
1. Not checking the passport requirements
Most of the rookie travelers think that having a valid passport is enough for traveling abroad. Although, that is true in most of the cases, there are some exceptions and this leads to one of the most common travel mistakes you can make. Some countries, including China and Russia, have regulations that require your passport to be valid at least 6 months after the date of your return flight. Also, there are more than 20 countries in Europe that have the same rule for 3 months. And if your passport is still valid, but expiring within this time window, you might unnecessarily complicate your trip.
2. Booking Every Single Thing In Advance
This happens with most travelers that go abroad for the first time. They want to book every part of their trip: every hostel, every meal, every transfer… It sounds good in practice, but after you start your trips you see that you have to sacrifice a lot of your flexibility. I would only book the big things and make my trip as flexible as possible. The journey is unpredictable and you should leave enough buffer time.
3. Being Afraid Of Locals
First time travelers are usually easy to spot because they do one of the most common rookie travel mistakes. They don’t really interact with locals, closely guarding their possessions, with suspicious faces. It’s hard to distinguish the friendly locals from the scammers. The vast majority of locals aren’t out to get you. And if you have a positive approach, you’ll end up making a lot of new friends. If you want to distinguish genuine locals from scammers, check out my article about the most common scams in Southeast Asia and in Europe.
4. Ignoring Local Customs & Etiquete
Every culture has its own set of customs and etiquette, and not being aware of them can lead to embarrassing or even offensive situations. Research the local customs, such as appropriate dress codes or dining etiquette, to show respect for the local culture and avoid unintentionally offending anyone.
5. Connecting Flights Schedule Mistakes
This one can be a real nuisance. You can’t find a direct flight and you have to find a connecting flight, but there’s not enough buffer time between the two. You end up missing the flight, or sweating really hard, and almost missing the flight. The latter happened to me, despite already being a seasoned traveler. If you have to do this, it’s important to have proper insurance that will have your back when things go south. In six years of traveling, my go-to choice is always World Nomads.
6. The Cheaper Airport Mistake
Some big cities will have multiple airports. One of those airports is usually the main one, which charges higher fees from airlines and has a bit more expensive flights compared to the ones at the other airport. However, more often than not, the main airport is better connected to the city. Never book your flight ticket depending on the flight fare only. Make sure to research all the transportation options as well. The price of the two can actually end up being the same. You might spend all the money that you saved on the flight ticket for paying a cab to your hotel, when you could have used the much cheaper public transport at the other airport, for example.
7. Exchanging Money At The Airport
I’ve seen a lot of people exchanging large amounts of money at the airport. That’s a terrible idea and one of the most common rookie travel mistakes. Needless to say, everything including money exchange is more expensive at the airports and you’re practically getting ripped off. If you don’t have cash, try exchanging a small amount that should cover only the transportation to your hotel and exchange the rest of your money in the city after you get to your hotel.
8. Booking Everything Through A Travel Agent
It’s certainly not easy to plan an entire trip on your own, and it’s understandable that you want to feel safe in a foreign country by hiring a travel agent. I almost never use travel agents and that saves me a ton of money by looking after everything by myself and honestly, it’s not that hard.
9. Not Planning Where Do Do Laundry
I know this sounds a bit odd, but trust me it’s important to plan this properly. If you’re taking a long trip or you’re backpacking through a whole region, you will need to do your laundry at least a few times. That’s why you should make a rough estimate and plan where and when should you do your laundry. You might end up in a hotel that doesn’t do laundry and all of your clothes are dirty. In some cities, doing your laundry can be really expensive. Even worse, you might end up having to wait a couple of days if you leave your clothes. The last one happened to me in Kolkata and that postponed my entire trip.
10. Packing Too Many Things
One of the most common rookie travel mistakes is packing too many things and ending up not wearing most of them. You don’t need your first aid kit, three pairs of shoes, 5 pairs of pants, etc. My rule of thumb regarding this is:
Always take ½ of the clothes you think you need and x2 of the money you think you need. And that brings me to my next point:
11. Not Knowing Prohibited/Restricted Items On A Plane
When traveling to countries which have strict Islamic laws, it is important not to bring any obvious form of sex toys with you as they are considered illegal. You may end up being interrogated with the immigration office and they will most likely confiscate your item.
12. Underestimating The Travel Costs
Keep this in your mind: everything is going to cost more than you think it will. Starting from the flight tickets and their added costs, through commuting within the cities to the few extra beers you had that night in the bar. Throughout the years, I noticed that I almost always spend double than what I initially planned to spend.
13. Not Calling Your Bank
This is one of my worst rookie travel mistakes. When you go abroad and you don’t tell your bank, they might end up blocking your card because they find it peculiar that the transactions are coming from the other side of the world. That’s what happened to me in Cambodia. My luggage was exceeding the weight limit and I had to pay around $15 extra. My card got blocked at that exact time and I ended up missing the flight because well, I wasn’t willing to leave my stuff in Cambodia.
14. Ignoring Travel Insurance
Many travelers overlook the importance of travel insurance, thinking they won’t need it and this is one of the biggest travel mistakes you can make. However, unexpected events like flight cancellations, lost baggage, or medical emergencies can quickly ruin your trip. And there are companies out there like SafetyWing that can help you protect yourself from these unwanted situations as low as $45 per month.
15. Buying Too Many Souvenirs
I know you want to buy something for your family friends and relatives, especially if it’s your first time abroad. But this increases the weight of your luggage and decreases your mobility. It can also cause you unwanted nuisances as I mentioned in the previous point. Plus, if you’re trying to cram too many things in your luggage some of them might break during the trip.
15. Eating The Food That You’re Used To
Most rookies are afraid of getting food poisoning so they eat the things that they eat at home, like pizzas, burgers or pasta. There are two reasons not to do this. The first one is that if this country has an exotic cuisine, burgers and pizzas aren’t part of their culture. Therefore, they are not used to making them, people don’t eat them that much, and the ingredients which they are using might not be fresh.
The local vendors that sell local food, on the other hand, have been preparing the local food for ages. They know how to do that and the ingredients will be fresh most of the time. So, it’s actually more likely to get a food poisoning from a local restaurant that’s making western dishes than a local restaurant. To add to that, the real taste of a foreign land comes through the stomach.
16. Sticking To The Guidebook Too Much
Don’t get me wrong, the guidebook can be helpful at times. But, the fact that the guidebook is filled with all the tourist spots, doesn’t mean that you will have the complete experience. There are so many amazing places and local dishes not mentioned in these guides and you shouldn’t visit a country just to see its landmarks. Go out, speak with the locals, eat local food and get an idea of how things work over there. You’ll be surprised how much you can actually learn just by doing those things.
17. Cramming Your Itinerary
I know, it’s your first time visiting this country. Maybe you will never get the chance to visit again in your lifetime, so it’s normal that you want to see everything (this is one of the most common travel mistakes). Even if you think you’re fit and can walk all day and cover everything, this is slowly exhausting you. And that’s awful if you’re traveling for a longer time. When you’re tired, you don’t get to enjoy your trip.
Instead of trying to see everything in a couple of days, slow down and get to know the country. This will increase your desire for a lifetime of similar adventures.
18. Overreliying On Technology
While smartphones and navigation apps can be helpful, relying solely on technology can backfire if you encounter technical issues or have limited access to the internet. Always carry a physical map, jot down important addresses or directions, and be prepared for unexpected situations where technology may not be available.
19. Hyping Things Up Too Much
There are some amazing photoshopped pictures online but making those make your planning decissions for your can be one of the worst travel mistakes you can make. These pictures can give you an unreal image of a place and boost your expectations to a level that’s too high. And only after visiting that place you realize that the place doesn’t really look like the pictures and you get disappointed. A lot of inexperienced travelers are hyped up when visiting a place for the first time, only to get disappointed after they visit.
20. Not Reading Reviews
Booking accommodations solely based on photos or descriptions is one of the typical rookie travel mistakes most people make. Take the time to read reviews from previous guests to get a better understanding of the property’s cleanliness, location, and overall experience. This can save you from unpleasant surprises and ensure you choose a suitable place to stay.
21. Neglecting To Learn Basic Phrases In The Local Language
Even if you don’t speak the local language fluently, making an effort to learn a few basic phrases can go a long way. Locals appreciate when visitors try to communicate in their language, even if it’s just simple greetings or expressions of gratitude. It shows respect and can enhance your overall travel experience.
22. Not Informing Someone Of Your Travel Plans
It’s important to share your travel itinerary with a trusted friend or family member. In case of emergencies or unexpected situations, they will know where you are and how to reach you. It’s a safety precaution that can provide peace of mind for both you and your loved ones back home.
23. Skipping Travel Research And Cultural Understanding
Traveling to a new place offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in different cultures. Prior to your trip, take the time to learn about the local customs, traditions, and basic etiquette. Understanding the cultural nuances will help you navigate social situations with respect and avoid unintentionally offending locals.
24. Not Being Cautious With Street Food
Sampling local street food can be a delightful culinary adventure, but be cautious about hygiene and food safety. Choose vendors that have a high turnover of customers, indicating freshly cooked food. Pay attention to cleanliness and ensure the food is cooked thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.
25. Overlooking Travel Etiquette Of Public Transport
Public transportation is a common mode of travel for many tourists. Familiarize yourself with the local transit etiquette, such as giving up seats for elderly or pregnant passengers, keeping noise levels low, and being mindful of personal space. Respectful behavior will contribute to a pleasant journey for everyone involved.
26. Overlooking Transportation Logistics
Researching transportation options in your destination is essential for smooth travel. Familiarize yourself with the local transportation system, including bus or train routes, schedules, and fare systems. This knowledge will save you from confusion and help you navigate efficiently, avoiding unnecessary detours or getting lost.
27. Forgetting About Travel Adapters
Electrical outlets and voltage standards vary from country to country. Failing to bring the appropriate travel adapters or converters for your electronics can render them useless or, in some cases, damage them. Research the plug types and voltage requirements of your destination and pack the necessary adapters to ensure you can use your devices safely.
28. Not Keeping Copies Of Important Documents
Losing your passport or other important documents while traveling can be a nightmare but not having copies of your passport, visa, ID, and other essential documents (and keep them in a separate location from the originals) is one of the worst travel mistakes you can ever make. It’s also a good idea to store digital copies in a secure cloud storage or email them to yourself for easy access in case of emergencies.
Helpful travel resources for rookie travelers
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Did you ever find yourself making some of these rookie travel mistakes? Do you have a few others you think we forgot to mention? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.