Congratulations, you’ve booked your first flight! Pat yourself on the back, because there are only a few more steps between you and a seamless flying experience. If you’re like most people, exploring something new—like the cabin of an airplane—can be daunting. While not every first-time flier will mistake the emergency exit for the bathroom, there are some common errors that newbie travelers frequently make. Luckily, once you know what those mistakes are, they are easy to avoid.
Forgetting to Book a Specific Seat
If you prefer aisles or windows to middle seats with limited recline, be sure to choose your seat early. If you forget, or you didn’t get the option to choose a seat when you purchased your ticket, log onto the airline’s website as soon as possible. Then use SeatGuru’s seat maps to help you choose a seat that will work for you. Don’t see a spot you love? Sign up with the website ExpertFlyer, which can alert you when your seat of choice frees up and you can hop online and book it.
Packing Too Much
The general rule when you pack for a trip is that you don’t need as much as you think you need. we’ve got a handy-dandy packing checklist to make sure you don’t overthink it.
Assuming Your Carry-on Is the Right Size
Domestic and international travel each have a different set of rules when it comes to carry-on bag sizes. Before you head to the airport with your carefully packed bag, make sure your tote qualifies as a carry-on and check your airline’s size restrictions before you leave home.
Packing Large Liquids in a Carry-on
If you’re not checking a bag, remember that carry-on liquids, gels, and aerosols have to be 3.4 fluid ounces or less and fit in a clear, quart-size bag. Head to 3floz.com to find mini TSA-approved versions of more than 60 brands.
Forgetting to Check your Passport Expiration
There is nothing quite like the panic that comes from booking a spontaneous vacation and realizing your passport is expired—or not realizing that you and your child need a passport to visit Canada or Mexico. Adding to the challenge is that some countries won’t allow you to visit within six months of your passport’s expiration date in case you take an extra-long vacation and they want to make sure you have a valid passport to travel back to the United States. In short, it never hurts to check your passport’s expiration date and, if necessary, renew it before your next big trip. Also, don’t forget that State ID may not be valid for travel per TSA rules (check here).
Not Double-checking Your Itinerary
Traveling between time zones or around the world can be confusing. That’s why it always pays to take a tip from Santa Claus and make a list and check it twice. Go through your itinerary, confirm your airport (Did you book Heathrow or Gatwick? JFK or Newark?), your connection times (How long does it take to get the train station? Which time zone is that?), and your plane tickets, including whether or not your name is spelled correctly on your documents.
While you’re working your way through the list, confirm your reservations for everything from hotels, flights, trains, buses, and tour groups.
Getting Lost When You’re On a Tight Schedule
First of all, with the right attitude, getting lost while you travel can be fun. A wrong turn can lead you to a new beach, a new restaurant, or a neighborhood you otherwise would never have discovered. However, if getting lost stresses you out or you have an appointment to keep, don't forget to pack maps, pick up your hotel’s business card so you have their address readily available to hand to cab drivers, and set a reminder that you can use Google Maps offline. When you have access to Wi-Fi, map your route and either screenshot a map, or download to Google Maps’ offline mode, which allows you to use the map but not the data. Speaking of phones...
Disregarding Your Phone Plan
Before you head out of the country, hop online or call your service provider to buy data roaming and international calling plan. If you do not want to use your phone while traveling abroad, shut off the data roaming on your phone or risk a hefty phone bill. Download travel apps before your trip and use them when you’re on the hotel’s Wi-Fi.
Exchanging Too Much Money Before You Travel
It’s a good idea to have some of the local currency on hand when you land, but don’t overdo it. Too much cash invites disaster if it’s stolen or lost. Figure out your budget and grab some cash at your bank or an airport ATM. If you do run out of cash, it’s easy to pick up more cash at a local bank or ATM in most countries.
Forgetting to Alert Your Bank of Vacation Plans
There are few things more frustrating than having your credit card frozen when you’re on vacation because your bank thinks your card has been stolen. Before you go, notify your credit card company’s fraud department that you’re leaving the country.
While you’re on the phone with your credit card company, ask them to send you a credit card with a chip in it (if you don’t already have one). While most places can still swipe your card’s magnetic strip, many countries are relying on chip technology for things like train ticket machines, gas stations, and food purchases. Having a chip card option can make your life easier when you travel.
Forgoing Credit Cards
Back in the day, travel lore was to stick to cold hard cash (or traveler’s checks) when you traveled, these days the best exchange rates are often found using your credit card. When the sales clerk asks if you want the charge in dollars or the local currency, always opt for the local money as you’ll usually end up with a better rate.
That said, find yourself a credit card that does not have high foreign-transaction fees. Opt for cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred card and Platinum American Express, which don’t have this fee.
Wearing Uncomfortable Shoes
Vacation is not the time to break in a new pair of kicks. Trust us. But if you've got some time before your trip, we recommend breaking in one of these tried-and-true comfy pairs.
Skipping the Research
Freeform vacations can be a lot of fun, but even if you’re going on a spur-of-the-moment trip without an itinerary and just want to see where the day takes you, spend a few minutes Googling some basics. Research how to hail a cab, study up on who you’re supposed to tip and the accepted gratuity percentage in the country you’re visiting and find at least one good restaurant and one must-see historical site.
Many of us take ridiculously short vacations, meaning we have to cram a lot of sightseeing, culture, food, and relaxation into an incredibly short time span. To maximize vacation time, we pore over guidebooks to map out detailed itineraries. That can mean packed days that leave you wiped out. Leave some room in your schedule to kick back and relax or you might end up needing a vacation from your vacation.
Playing It Too Safe
You’re on vacation, so embrace your destination. Try new foods, talk to the locals, explore your surroundings, and dive into your new surroundings.
Follow Douglas Adams advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “The most important thing a traveler needs to remember whether making their way through time and space or simply to Cleveland is this: Don’t Panic.” Things happen both at home and on the road and while missed connections, lost train tickets, or disappearing hotel reservations can be incredibly frustrating, panicking helps nothing. Keep a cool head and by the end of the day, you’ll probably have a great story to tell.