Hopefully you can learn from them.
I have been traveling since I can remember. I was flying by myself as soon as I was old enough to do so (Cheap flights has a nice article about unaccompanied minors) and I try to always say yes to an adventure. Some may call me a “seasoned” traveler. Be that as it may, I still make mistakes while traveling. But like in life, the important thing is learning from those mistakes so you don’t do it again and I thought I would share my mistakes to maybe help you.
TLDR: If you don’t want the whole story, just skim the mistakes in italics and read the tips in bold.
- Booking a flight for the wrong day While studying abroad in Australia I went to New Zealand during our spring break week. My plan was to fly to Auckland for three days to visit a friend from my university at home that was also studying abroad and then fly down to Queenstown to meet up with friends from my Australian university. First part of the trip went off without a hitch (well almost, see the next bullet point). When I got to the airport to begin my second leg of the trip the airline ticket counter informed me I was there the wrong day. I had booked my flight from that airport for the day I was to return home from the whole trip. If I waited for the correct day I would miss Queenstown and I would miss my return flight to Melbourne that was leaving from that city. I had to purchase an entirely new ticket for that day to take me to Queenstown. Needless to say, my funding for my time abroad took a big hit that day, but I learned a valuable lesson. ALWAYS double check, nay, triple check the dates and times when you are planning multiple flights for one trip.
- Cell phones don’t automatically work in other countriesThis is a more well known fact nowadays and most carriers offer international plans (call to find out what your carrier can do for you) but in 2009 and in college I just wasn’t thinking about it. I mean I knew my USA phone didn’t work in Australia so I had an Australian cell phone. Where I went wrong was assuming that my Australian phone would work in New Zealand. Wrong. They are different countries. Der. So when I landed in New Zealand for my spring break where I was planning on meeting up with multiple people at different times of the trip, I realized I needed a plan B. Thank goodness I had the address of where I was staying so I was able to take a taxi there and then find my friend. After that, internet cafes and emailing was helpful. Obviously not the quickest way to communicate (waiting for them to check their email and respond and then checking myself) but it all worked out. Contact your cell phone provider for an international plan ahead of time and make sure the people you are trying to connect with will also have a way to communicate with you.
- Not looking at public transportation time scheduleWhen I studied abroad in Rome I had booked my own flights to meet up with group. I’m not sure why I didn’t have the program book them, but I probably wanted to save money and find the cheapest flights available instead of the one with timing that matched the rest of the group. Typical Kara decision. As a result, I had to find my own way to the apartment and would miss the welcome night dinner. Before I left I printed out Google maps public transportation directions to the apartment. Another way to save money because taking a tram was cheaper than a taxi. What I didn’t realize is that A) the electronic ticket booth to buy the tram tickets would be in all Italian and B) that I would miss the last tram of the night by 15 minutes. So now I was stranded in the airport in a country that speaks a language I don’t know very late at night. I found an ATM and pulled out more cash, since now I would have to shell out for a cab. When I located a taxi there was a language barrier and all I could do was point to the address I needed to go to. Second time it came in handy to have the address of where I needed to go written down. The apartment we were living in was down a small side street that the taxi couldn’t take me too. He had driven in two circles trying to find that apartment and then realized that I would have to walk to the apartment and he had taken me as close as he could. At first I thought he just couldn’t find it and was giving up and dropping me off in the middle of nowhere but then I was able to piece together what he was saying. So I paid him, grabbed my bags, and was off to find the apartment in the dark. Then I sat there for 50 minutes outside the apartment with my bags because I didn’t have a key and everyone was at the orientation dinner. I was a bit paranoid this whole time and should have probably just paid the extra money to have my flight land at the same time as the provided transportation like everyone else did. Or do your research ahead of time for to/from airport transportation options.
- Didn’t have any cash on me Tim and I went to Boston for a friends wedding and we rented a car. I always turn down the extra options they offer, like tollbooth box, gps, return on empty tank and all the other upsales. When we exited the rental car garage the roads and signs led us directly to a toll road. Once we hit the toll road we weren’t allowed to turn around or pay with credit card. We needed $3 cash for the toll and we could only scrounge up $2. The toll booth operator gave us a ticket and wrote up the car. So then we had a large fine to pay and had to work with the rental car company to pay it since they were the ones being billed. The rental car company then also wanted to bill us additionally for getting a ticket while having their car. It was a mess but luckily it all worked out. We worked with the rental car company and they ended up waiving all the charges. Anyways, my advice to carry some cash with you when you travel because you never know when you might need it.
- Not giving yourself enough time at the airport I usually am a big proponent of arriving at the airport two hours before hand. If I have extra time, I enjoy sitting around the gate reading or grabbing a beverage at the bar and just being in the airport atmosphere. I have two stories that happened within the last two years that support this outlook. Story one: The flight was an earlier evening flight on a Friday so Tim and I had to leave work early to make it. We didn’t want to leave more than 30 minutes early so we only allowed ourselves an hour and 15 minute window at the airport. We both have precheck so we figured we could make it. Usually we are at our gate within 45 minutes anyways. Well the travel gods were showing us we were testing our luck. The parking lot we like to use was full so we had to drive to the parking lot that’s 7 minutes further away. Then the shuttle bus driver stopped for 10 minutes (with his bus full of people mind you) to take a break or something. By the time we got through security and ran (literally) to our gate (which was the furthest one to get to) we heard our names called in the airport overhead saying Last Call. That was a first for me and I certainly did not like it. The second story involves me taking a nasty spill while running for the shuttle bus parking lot, getting a deep bone bruise, Tim running back to the car to get bandaids, and me hobbling at a tortoise pace through the airport, and then having a very stiff drink to help with the pain. Irony is I didn’t have to run for the shuttle bus at all since we had a two hour window, but at least we had all that extra time I needed before boarding. My advice here is not to give yourself the full two hours if you don’t like to travel that way, but to give yourself a little extra wiggle room for if shit happens. And I guess I would add the tip Don’t run unless you have too.
- Waiting at the wrong gateWhile at the Phoenix airport I had an hour layover. When I disembarked the first plane I checked to see where my next gate was to make sure I had enough time to grab dinner. Low and behold I was right next to my next gate, A20. Perfect. I took my time getting food and when I went to the gate I realized my flight was not posted on the tv screens at the gate. I thought that was odd since boarding started in 10 minutes. I check my ticket and actually needed to be at gate B20. I know the last advice I gave was don’t run unless you have too but since I didn’t check my ticket initially I didn’t leave myself much time to get to another terminal. Speed walking got me there with time to spare. Advice here is to always make sure you are waiting at the right gate and to check the boards for any gate changes when you arrive at the airport and then again 15 minutes before you’re supposed to board.
- ALWAYS bring a change of underwear and toiletries with you in your personal bag In case you bag is lost, you have a long layover during an international flight, or if you just don’t want to unpack your bag right away. It’s always so nice to be able to refresh in the airport bathroom after a long flight without adding extra hassle of digging through your luggage (unless you checked and that’s not even an option). Someone I know didn’t heed my advice and let’s just say that they learned that I know what I’m talking about, sometimes.