12 Amateur Mistakes Newbie Flyers Make (and How to Avoid Them!)

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Travel mistakes happen to newbies and seasoned adventurers alike – but the most common ones are the easiest to avoid! 

By giving some care and attention to your trip before you leave, you’ll save time and money.  By planning ahead and using the best credit cards for travel, you’ll get to enjoy your destination that much more!

Here are 12 tips to save you a LOT of frustration.

Having Access to Cash, and Making a Connecting Flight on Time Saved My Trip to Osaka, Japan! A Little Planning Goes a LONG Way!

Remember, the best trip you can take starts at home!

Don’t Make These 12 Mistakes on Your Next Trip

As someone passionate about travel, I take my fair share of knocks while crossing destinations off my travel bucket list.

I’ve missed connections, forgotten to pre-pay for visas before arriving to a new country, gone to the wrong gate, dinged car rentals, and had banks freeze my cards – you name it, it’s happened at some point.

Nothing Raises My Stress Level Faster Than Showing up Late and Seeing a Scene Like This at the Airport. It Happens to Every Traveler Sooner or Later!

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way that will help you, too – especially if you’re a newbie world traveler!

1.   Don’t Confuse the Flight Time With the Boarding Time

If a flight departs at say, 3:00 pm, that doesn’t mean saunter up to the gate 10 or 20 minutes before the hour and take your seat on the plane.  In fact, you might find a closed boarding area and watch the plane pull away from the terminal, all because you thought you could grab a snack and sneak in one more bathroom break while they called your name over the intercom.

Domestic flights tend to board ~30 minutes before departure, while international flights can board up to an hour ahead!

Check your boarding pass because it will always tell you when to board.  The boarding time is when you want to show up to the gate, NOT the departure time!

Check Your Boarding Pass to See When Your Flight Boards, Not Departs. That’s When to Head to the Gate!

Most airlines let you check into your flight 24 hours ahead and will email your boarding pass.  Remember to give yourself enough time to get through security and make the trek to the gate well before boarding.

2.   Check Expiration Dates

Fact is, you need ID when you travel.  If you’re flying domestically, you only need to show a valid photo ID – “valid” being the key word!  If you have an expired license, the TSA may not let you through security.  I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of folks traveling throughout the US with expired IDs, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

If you’re traveling internationally, some countries require your passport to be valid at least 6 months into the future.  And you won’t make new memories overseas at all if your passport is expired.

It would be devastating to show up at the airport only to realize you don’t have the right credentials, or that your passport doesn’t have enough time to let you enter your dream travel country.

Passports typically expire after ~10 years, which is a long time.  But don’t overlook this small yet important detail if you’ve just bought a ticket to a foreign land!

3.   Do You Need a Visa?

Link:   VisaHQ

Visa rules are all over the place.  Some countries give them to you when you land, some process them electronically, and others have long processes required to secure this all-important access stamp.

I recommend checking the visa requirements even if you think you know them.  Especially if you found a cheap ticket and your travel date is fast approaching!

Some Countries, Like China, Require a Lot of Information Before Your Trip

Depending on your destination, you might need a copy of your passport photo, proof of your stay or onward ticket, or even a written invitation from a citizen.

If you have a connection in a foreign airport, some countries also require transit visas!  So don’t get stuck without a way to pass through.

Check all of this while you have time to get everything together at home.  You do NOT want to deal with getting a visa in the airport.  It’s expensive, stressful, and not a good way to start your trip!

4.   Factor in Connection Times

Thirty minutes on the ground in Atlanta?  An hour in Heathrow?  You should be fine, right?  Not if you have to switch terminals.  Or worse, go through security again!

I’ve had magic travel moments where I land at the connecting airport and find my next flight is the next gate over.  But departure gates change all the time.  And at large airports, your connecting gate may be a football field away (literally)!

Running Through a Huge Airport, Like Narita in Japan, Is Pretty Much the Last Thing I Want to Do When I’m Traveling

Or, if your first flight runs a little behind schedule, you’ll find yourself recreating so many movie scenes where the characters bolt through the airport.  Trust me, it’s not fun when you have to do it yourself.

A good rule of thumb is at least an hour of connection time for domestic flights, and 90 minutes internationally.  And at some airports, you’ll want even more time.  I’d rather be early and wait than late and stuck without a flight!

5.   Double-Check Everything

When you book a trip, the details matter.  Oh, do they matter.

Team member Emily thought she booked flights leaving from San Jose, California, to find she’d booked tickets from… San Jose, Costa Rica.  And she’s been all over the world!

I know how exciting it is to book a trip.  In the blink of an eye, you could book an award flight to Portland, Maine, instead of Portland, Oregon.  Oops!

Hey, This Isn’t California! Double-Check Yourself Every Step of the Way

It’s not just airports and cities… hotel names can be confusing, too!  I recently booked a stay at a Hyatt House in Austin, that was ~1 minute from a Hyatt Place.  And guess which one I showed up to only to hear, “Are you sure it’s not the Hyatt House down the road?  That happens all the time.”

Tail tucked and sure enough, I’d gone to the wrong hotel.

Another common mistake is when other countries put the day before the month when making reservations.  That hotel you booked on “4/8” is for August 4th, NOT April 8th!

Give everything a second look!

6.   Confirm Confirm Confirm (Triple Check Everything!)

So you double-checked and everything looks good.  Not so fast!  There’s more checking to do.  I refer to this step as “gardening reservations.”

Beware of Schedule Changes Before Your Flight!

The day before you travel, check your flights for something called a “schedule change.”  That’s when airlines change flight times – and sometimes connecting cities – ahead of flying.  It happens often if you tend to book flights way ahead of time.

That connection you were planning to make in Cincinnati is now in Minneapolis!  Or, your flight may leave earlier or later than when you booked it.

Or, it may be a few days before you’re traveling to Hawaii… with a record-setting hurricane.  I’ll bet that’s NOT what you expected!  So now you have to make new plans, or even cancel your trip.

There could also be new construction at the airport and you need to allow more time to get to the terminal.  The point is, a zillion things could happen between when you book and the day of departure.  Even though you double-checked everything, a triple-check is just as necessary!

7.   Get Alerts Along the Way

Have you ever gotten to the airport to find your flight now leaves in 3+ hours?  Man, you could’ve blow-dried your hair, taken a longer nap, or gotten a cheaper lunch.

Or worse, your flight was canceled?  And now you have to either book a new flight or go back home.

Most airlines let you sign-up for email or text alerts.  I always want to get them!  And I recommend you at least check your emails the day of your flights.

I’ve shown up to the airport in other countries before realizing I could’ve slept in, enjoyed another meal, and walked around a little more.  Sure beats sitting in an airport when you don’t have to!

8.   Stop Paying Extra Fees

If you travel internationally, you need a credit card without foreign transaction fees!  These nasty fees can add ~3% to every purchase.  If you want to dine, buy souvenirs, and pay for a tour around town, that can add up fast!

Only chumps pay these charges.  If you plan to travel overseas with any sort of regularity, you owe it to yourself to avoid extra fees.

Another tip is to always pay in the local currency.  If you’re in Mexico, for example, pay everything in pesos – NOT in US dollars!  Banks charge additional currency conversion fees when you pay this way.  And most folks do NOT know to always choose the local currency – but now you do, you savvy traveler! 😉

9.   Have a Way to Access Cash

As much as I love earning points for purchases, that’s NOT always possible.  A lot of places still require cash for taxis, street food, and handmade crafts – you know, the things that make travel worthwhile!

If You Want These Clams, Prawns, or Octopus Tentacles, You’ll Need Cash. Many Local Vendors Won’t Take Cards

I recommend using an ATM in the airport to pull out some funds – but make sure to avoid fees on that, too!

In some places, you’ll be fine with just credit cards.  But in others, you need at least a little cash.  I had to pay cash for a bourbon milkshake on, uh, Bourbon Street, in New Orleans.  But whoa, it was tasty!  It tasted even better knowing I didn’t pay any ATM fees.

10.   Let Companies Know You’re Leaving

That means your bank and phone company, at a minimum!  Nothing’s worse than trying to buy a pair of shoes in Berlin only to find your card’s declined.  If only you’d taken a few minutes to let your bank know, you’d have new kicks that much faster instead of having to call to clear a hold from a foreign merchant.

Targeted Get Southwest A List Elite Status With 3 Round Trip Flights
Make Some Calls to Save Some Green (and Hassle Overseas)!

Speaking of calling, make sure you can use your phone wherever you’re going.

I add international day passes to my phone through AT&T, which costs $10 a day in most countries.  But it is NOT automatic – I have to call each time to set it up.

Some phone companies are much more hassle-free.  But I’d rather make a quick call than come home to an exorbitant phone bill!

Any domestic service you plan to use overseas (bank, phone, etc.) should get a heads-up on your travel plans.  Not only does it protect you, but can save you a lot of money, too.

11.   Make Sure You’re Insured

Link:   Best Credit Cards for Car Rentals

Link:   2 Types of Travel Insurance: Medical Coverage Vs. Trip Protection

Stuff happens, even when you travel (but hopefully not!).  It is always worthwhile to check your insurance coverages.

Our team members frequently rely on primary rental car insurance from certain credit cards to protect them in case of an accident.  Team member Joseph saved ~$2,600 over a single incident with a rental car!

And don’t forget medical insurance!  Yours may or may not cover you internationally.  Again, it’s always worth checking.

And many cards come with trip protection for things like cancelled flights, lost bags, or major delays.  If you can use insurance that comes built-in from paying with the right credit card – one less thing to worry about!

12.   Buy Tickets Online

There’s no better feeling that strolling up to The Louvre with a pre-printed ticket and accessing the fast lane for entry while the regular line is full of people waiting.

Or getting into the world-famous La Sagrada Familia with a barcode on your phone.

Buy Tickets in Advance and Save Heaps of Time When You Get to Another City!

Want to see the statue of David in Florence?  Or walk right into Versailles?  (You get the idea.)

Buying tickets online is a huge time-saver!  You might pay additional “service fees,” but paying a few bucks to save an hour of time in a new city is usually worth it.  Plus, you can spend more time inside than looking at the bricks outside.

Any time I travel, I see what tickets I can purchase in advance.  I estimate I’ve saved years of waiting in line this way (not really, but it sure feels like it)!

Bottom Line

Planning ahead, triple checking details, and using the right travel credit cards can make your next trip much more comfortable and stress-free.  Especially if you’re new to the travel hobby!

Now that you have my tips on mistakes to avoid when traveling, are there any you’d add to the list?  I wanna hear your stories!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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