The most stressful part of travel is the actual travel days. Don’t you agree? They seem to be the days with the most potential for screw-ups. Today I present seven situations you don’t want to find yourself into, and how you can avoid them. (Six of them could get you into trouble on the actual travel days). I’ve been the victim of a few of them myself, as you’ll see below.
Letting your passport expire
Can you imagine showing up at the airport for your flight and realizing only then that your passport has expired?! This has happened to people (although not to me), and there is no way to recover from it other than re-booking your trip! In many cases, your passport also needs to remain valid for six months after you depart from the destination.
This means that a 5-year passport has, for all practical purposes, a validity of only 4.5 years. If your country offers them, get a 10-year passport so you don’t need to renew as often. And if you’re not sure, always check your passport’s expiry date before booking a flight.
Forgetting to buy medical insurance
You should purchase medical insurance for every trip you take outside of your country (or even outside of your home province if you live in Canada). If you have to be hospitalized abroad, it could cost you a small fortune. If you get injured in a remote area and have to be evacuated by helicopter or small plane, that could ruin you. Even getting shots after a dog bite could cost over $1000!
Unlike cancellation insurance, which you need to buy when you book your transportation, you can wait to buy medical insurance, but it has to be purchased while you’re still at home.
Not re-confirming accommodation
I’ve you booked a room through AirBnB or Booking.com (or similar online reservation system) you’re covered. However, if you’ve booked directly with a small hotel, hostel, or guesthouse, especially if you haven’t made a deposit, it’s a good idea to reconfirm a couple of days in advance.
On my first trip to Buenos Aires, I found a great hostel and made several separate bookings since I was using it as a base between excursions to various parts of the country. On one of these occasions, I arrived at the front desk to discover that they had given my room to somebody else because I had failed to reconfirm a few days in advance. And that was after I had stayed there and even stored a bag with them! Apparently lots of people booked their rooms and failed to show up.
Another time, I booked a room in Yangon (Myanmar) through email a couple of months in advance. When I emailed them again the day before to remind them of my arrival, they couldn’t find my reservation. Fortunately they eventually found me a room, but if I hadn’t checked, it would have been quite a scramble when I arrived around midnight.
Not knowing what time it is
Make sure you know what the local time is when you arrive in a new destination. Going from Delhi to Kathmandu, I had assumed the timezone was the same but half-a-day elapsed before I realized that I had to set my watch forward by half an hour. (It’s not always one hour increments.)
This is especially important if you’re changing planes somewhere, or have to meet someone (or get picked up) soon after you arrive.
Mismanaging your electrical adapters
Given the number of electronic devices the average traveller carries nowadays, having the right electrical adapters, and enough of them, is increasingly vital. Most people travel with at least a phone and a digital camera, and perhaps a tablet or laptop. Chargers for these are usually dual-voltage but you still need to get the right adapters to plug them into the electrical outlets at your destination.
Bringing a single adapter for each region (like I’ve been doing all these years) is not sufficient anymore. You may need to recharge several devices simultaneously. Make sure you can plug all of your gizmos into the adapters themselves. On my last trip, I carried a small hairdryer uselessly for an entire month because it had a fat pin that didn’t fit into the adapter I had brought.
Lastly, don’t forget said adapters into electrical sockets when you leave your accommodation! Finding yourself unable to recharge your phone or camera could be bad news.
One idea to get around all of these pitfalls is to carry a small power bar that lets you plug everything at once, only using one adapter to plug the bar into the wall. I intend to try this on my next trip.
Losing exit cards
Quite often, after you go through customs in a foreign country, you’ll be left with a small slip of paper in your passport. That’s your exit card. You’ll need it to exit the country so make sure you don’t lose it or misplace it, especially on a long trip. The Galapagos National Park also gives you a small piece of paper (in addition to your ticket) that you have to present upon exiting the Galapagos.
Once I crossed from Argentina into Uruguay by ferry, and the exit card was actually attached to my ferry ticket. After the trip I discarded the ticket stub, not noticing the exit card. As a result, when I tried to leave the country, I couldn’t produce the card, resulting in a fee (something like US$35 if I recall) and quite a bit of anxiety.
As a rule of thumb, I’d say keep all pieces of paper they give you at official entry points, whether countries, national parks, or others.
Not wrapping up liquids in checked luggage
I think most travellers have figured this one out by now. Due to the pressure change in the cargo hold during flight, plastic bottles containing liquids are likely to leak, creating a huge mess in your suitcase. The solution of course is to place them in a plastic bag, preferably a sealed zip-lock bag. I’ll even go as far as wrapping bottles separately so I won’t get sunscreen on my shampoo and vice-versa.
Have you had one of these mishaps happen to you? What other travel screw-ups have you experienced?