The 10 Worst Traveling Mistakes

I'm back from Grand Cayman, which is sad, but now I get to look at all of the photos and video I captured and relive the adventures so it's not all tears. In the meantime, I have a "filler" post which is actually pretty helpful, I'd say.

Traveling will forever be one of my favorite hobbies. I love every aspect of it, from the planning to the packing to the exploring and learning. Even coming home is an amazing part of traveling because there's nothing like setting your head on your own pillow after being away for a while.

I feel so lucky to have grown up in the internet age where everything I want to know is at my fingertips. The first trip I booked on my own (to London my senior year of college with a group of friends) was done online; the research, the flights, the hotel, the tube maps, everything we needed we found online. Unlike our parents' generation, we didn't need travel agents and we didn't once have to pick up a phone. We were our own travel agents.

Having this independence was and is amazing. I love that I can cater a trip specifically to my own wants and needs. The luxury of having a travel agent is that (if he/she is a good one) he/she will give good advice and tell you want to expect on a trip but doing it all on my own means I've made a blunder here and there. I've rounded up what I consider to be the top ten worst traveling mistakes.
Luckily, I haven't experienced anything too tragic - like getting kidnapped because I was lurking around some renowned kidnap zone - but the minor tragedies listed below can certainly be prevented.

1. overpacking and checking bags - Overpacking makes your bags heavier and it's stupid. Heavy bags will bog you down (and think how annoying it would be to be running through the airport trying to catch your connecting flight); it's unnecessary. Packing just what you need is practical and it also means a smaller load of laundry when you get back home. Checking bags is stupid too. Sorry, but if your luggage gets lost, you'll be in a foul mood to start the trip. Pack light and carry on only.
2. not checking in for flights ahead of time - I've flown on several overbooked flights. And once, when I was flying to Kentucky (for work), my coworker and I ended up on a layover that was completely overbooked and we were 5th or 6th down on the standby list. It was super stressful waiting to find out if we'd make the flight and all of that stress could have been avoided had we checked in ahead of time.

3. holding up the security/immigration/customs lines at the airport - Unless someone has kidnapped you and is forcing you to go on holiday against your will or you've just been hit in the head and are suffering from amnesia, there is no reason you should ever hold up any queue at the airport. If you are getting ready to enter a security checkpoint, have your boarding pass ready and your passport open to the photo page. While waiting to go through the metal detectors, take your laptop out of your bag, get all the metal off of your body, and get your shoes untied whilst you're in line so that you can efficiently sweep right through. Pack a pen so you can fill out any forms you need to ahead of time. Memorize the name of your hotel so you can tell the customs officer if he/she asks.

It sucks to hold up the line for everyone behind you but it also sucks to delay yourself. Get through the line swiftly and get on your way.
4. flaunting wealth and keeping all of your money in one place - Wearing your most expensive jewelry and pulling wads of cash out of your wallet? Might as well wear a graphic T with the words "STEAL FROM ME" emblazoned across the chest. And never carry your entire stash of cash with you. If something does happen, you'll be thankful that you still have some money hidden in the hotel safe. I got my wallet pickpocketed from my open purse in Paris on my way to Barcelona and it traumatized me to no end. I'm super careful now and v. vigilant about keeping an eye on my belongings and spreading my money between my bags.

5. winging it - Spontaneity is great but you should at the v. least research the basics. Research will prevent you from booking a crappy hotel, from standing in long queues to see sites, and save you money. Save spontaneity for things like second helpings of desserts. Under pressure to book everything as quickly and cheaply as possible, I booked a hostel in London with a shared toilet. One night, my companion stepped out to use the loo. Two seconds later, he burst back into the room, freaking out because there was poo smeared all over the hallway walls, on the door to the shower, and inside the shower. Needless to say, the reviews that I hadn't bothered to check described this as a less than stellar hostel. Never again will I neglect to do the proper research!

This also applies to situations like booking flights with short layovers (where you risk missing your connecting flight), reserving hotels that are outside of the city center in an inconvenient location, not reserving a hotel at all and expecting to find one once you're there, finding out if a major holiday will mess up your trip abroad, and checking all of the entry requirements for visiting a foreign country. Research is important!

6. not reading the fine print - Whether you're booking a flight and choosing the departure and arrival schedule, whether you're booking a flight and skimming the taxes and fees, whether you're reserving a hotel with a rigid cancellation fee, always read the fine print! It sucks extra hard to be stuck in a situation you could have prevented. I always assume that all airlines will allow one carry on item and one personal item but this is not true. Last year, I flew with Easyjet (from Nice to Paris) and they only allowed one cabin bag. ONE. So if you were carrying a little purse in addition to a small duffel, they would tell you to shove the small purse into the duffel and if it didn't fit, you would have to check a bag or pay some fee (which was more expensive to do the day of than it was to settle ahead of time) to bring both bags on the plane. This was definitely a situation in which I was glad I had read the fine print.
7. relying on your phone too much - My tree-loving side loves how much we've gone paperless but heaven forbid your battery dies or you're in a deadzone! Relying on your phone for your boarding passes, reservation confirmations, itinerary, what have you, is convenient but risky. Always have hard copies of the important stuff! And at the v. least, save offline versions of all of your documents on your phone so you can reach them, even without data.

8. not having cash - Even if it's just $20 (or the equivalent in a foreign currency), having some emergency cash is super important. "I'll just take some cash out when I arrive." Oh really? What if the ATM is broken or the currency exchange is closed or the queue is really long? At least you'll have a little money to get you by. And, you might need money before you can even reach an ATM. When I landed in Istanbul, we went through the immigration line and had to pay $20 for a tourist visa; I was definitely glad I had cash on hand.

9. underestimating the value of your time - I think it's difficult to understand the phrase "time is money" until you've actually experienced the act of earning your own money and having way too little of it. Time really is money and I hate wasting either. So, if there is a flight that costs $20 extra but flies in and out of more convenient airports, if a flight is $20 extra but it gets me home a day earlier so I don't have to use another vacation day, if a flight is $100 extra but it's a nonstop with no inconvenient layovers, I go for it. Of course, I weigh the options and consider which is more valuable in the situation - my time or my money - but as I grow older, my time is becoming more and more valuable to me (probably because I have less of it).
10. being scared to make mistakes - The reason I can even put this list together is because I've personally made these mistakes. But it takes a certain type of bravery to travel. You have to be willing to step out of a comfort zone, explore new places, experience new cultures, and you have to be willing to give up some of your time and money to do so. Be brave and don't let your fears prevent you from doing something amazing. That means that instead of just going to every famous site, you should allow yourself to get lost in a city and exploring lesser known spots.

Happy traveling!