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  • Theresa Downs

Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling: What to Do When the $*$ Hits the Fan

Looking out the window of an airplane at the Dolomite Mountains
Image of Dolomite Mountains via Wine By Appointment LLC

We were so smug before starting our last European journey several weeks ago. We thought we had planned everything down to the last detail and prepared for what we thought was every contingency. But then life stepped in.

Before You Get On That Plane, Train, Car or Horse...

Check your travel plans and packing for these 7 pitfalls. Learn from our mistakes and hopefully, you will be able to avoid them on your next trip!

1.      Not Planning For Cell Phone Usage At Destination Well Ahead of Departure

We changed our cell phone carrier to a new one that supposedly had better coverage overseas. Unfortunately, we made the switch 2 days before we left—big mistake. We could not talk, text, or communicate with each other, which is a big problem if you are not together and are in different countries. We had to rely on the WhatsApp app to communicate. It was pretty hairy. What we should have done is started planning much earlier before departure. 


Check with your existing cell phone carrier for options for international travel.   For Americans,  some carriers, like Verizon, offer coverage for an additional $10.00 a day. If your plan offers no data travel options, check out Orange Travel (Orange Travel) as an alternative. Orange Travel sells digital SIMM cards that are pretty easy to use.


2.        Not Picking the Right Luggage To Use

Some travel blogs always launch into a diatribe on packing too much. I believe that you just need to take the right luggage.

Figure out what to pack and pre-pack a few days before departure. I use a carry-on piece because this size seems to work the best for all modes of travel (unless you’re going away for 3 months and need lots of stuff).


I highly recommend the very affordable iFly luggage We purchased the spiffy Fibertech carry-on piece, and I love it. It’s roomy enough to carry enough stuff for 7 to 10 days and expands! Best of all, it’s small enough to satisfy most airlines’ size requirements for carry-on luggage. Check with the airline or mode of travel you’re taking to determine the luggage size requirements before deciding what luggage to use, though.


3.       Not Booking Enough Time Between Connecting Flights

There is no need to be running through the airport like you're on fire because you booked connecting flights without enough wiggle room. Err on the side of caution and book some extra time between flights. Even though airlines may bless a connection, it doesn’t mean there won’t be a problem on departure day. It’s no fun to try and book another flight if you’ve missed a connection due to weather, airline cancellation, or whatever. 


4.       Not Buying Local Currency Before You Depart

Most banks will sell foreign currency, so plan on purchasing an adequate amount before you depart. It will save you from scrambling to find a place to buy cash when you arrive at your destination and paying exorbitant fees for the pleasure.


5.       Not Buying Travel Insurance

Insurance is one of those things that you buy, but hope you never have to use. Given that, you’re pretty much rolling the dice if you opt not to purchase a policy, if for nothing more than one less thing to obsess over. We use AIG insurance, but here’s a site to check out what works best for your situation:  Travel Insurance Plans


6.       Hotel Room Safes Are Not Always Safe

I religiously lock my passport and other valuables in the hotel room safe. I’m rethinking that strategy because they can break! On the last trip, the safe wouldn’t open, despite my testing it before I put in my belongings. Before I had to start looking for an apartment in Verona, Italy the hotel handyman was able to open it after about ½ hour  (that in itself is kind of scary). Here are some possible alternatives:


Check with the hotel reception; they usually have a safe available for guests behind the reception counter, which is more reliable than those in the rooms.

Purchase an anti-theft bag and take your belongings with you (I discourage this because of the obvious). Buy a good luggage lock and store your valuables in a suitcase. Amazon offers a plethora of available locks with various ratings.


7.       Confirm You Have All Your Device Cables and That They Will Work In Another Country

I discovered I didn’t pack my iPhone cable when I was on a plane to Verona. AHHHH! Even frantically purchasing a cable at your destination airport doesn’t ensure it will work (my didn’t). I’m buying a new cable for all my devices and putting them into a pouch for travel specifically. Also, I almost caused a fire because I brought a hair dryer that wasn’t rated for 220V. Double-check that your electronic devices can be operated at a different voltage. I obviously didn’t. Pack voltage converters or charging your devices will be a challenge!


We hope you find these tips helpful for happy, less stressful travels. You may not be able to avoid all pitfalls, but these are some of the easiest to circumvent.

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