Just a few years ago I was a travel novice. I’d never been anywhere outside of the U.S. and had barely seen my own country. So, I was shocked at the end of 2017 to see I had traveled for over 50 days in a year, including two trips to Europe. 2018 was an even bigger travel year and my 2019 calendar is already filling up with trips.
The transition from permanent staycationer to frequent flyer came with a steep (and costly) learning curve. I’ve made quite a few blunders that definitely took a toll on my travel budget. Here are all my embarrassing travel mistakes, so you can avoid making the same ones.
1. EXCHANGING MONEY AT THE AIRPORT
I’ve been on three international trips and right out of the (arrivals) gate, I committed my first costly misstep. Overwhelmed by the idea of finding a bank or ATM in a foreign country, I caved and exchanged my money at the airport. The problem: The exchange rates are way higher there.
I spent $60 just to exchange $300. That means 20 percent of my spending money went to fees. Plus, my credit card doesn’t waive international transaction fees (most do), so every purchase was costing me extra. Before my next foreign vacation, my no-fee credit card will be ready and I'll exchange my money at an ATM when I arrive or with AAA before I leave.
2. NOT DOUBLE-CHECKING BAGGAGE ALLOWANCES
Trying to be travel-savvy, I bought a carry-on bag that is sized for most airlines so I wouldn’t have to pay to check luggage. Then last summer in Paris, I decided to add a quick trip to Rome. After all, the flight was less than $100!
But airlines sneak in extra fees any chance they get. I didn’t realize until I got to the airport that my bag didn’t fit their size standards. Hello, $55 baggage fee. My super-discounted flight ended up feeling not so discounted. Now, I check the baggage allowances *before* booking a flight so I know exactly how much it will cost.
3. ASSUMING ALL CITIES HAVE EASY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
In Paris you can take a $10 metro from the main airport to anywhere in the city. After two trips there, I foolishly thought all major European cities would have similar transportation options. I was wrong.
In Rome, the main train system’s hub was pretty far from the city center. After spending $20 to take the airport shuttle, which dropped me miles away from my Airbnb, I was left to take a taxi — which was more than ready to exploit a tourist for $30 a mile. Sometimes these costs are unavoidable, but surely there was a more affordable way. In the future, I’m researching my transportation in advance.
4. GETTING DISTRACTED BY A DEAL
In Stockholm, hotels and activities are fairly priced, but the restaurants and bars are super expensive. In Rome you can get the best pasta you’ve ever had for $7, but a basic hotel room will cost you hundreds.
By letting myself get distracted by one good deal, like that cheap flight to Rome, I didn’t take into account the other, more costly, factors. Now before I book a flight — no matter how much of a steal it is — I consider all the expenses of the trip.
5. MISSING THE DETAILS
While swept up in all the excitement of traveling or planning, it’s easy to miss important details. Imagine my surprise when I bought the wrong metro ticket in France and faced a $35 ticket when I got off at my stop. (Shout-out to the nice officer who only charged my fiancé and me for one ticket!) I had gotten so comfortable using the metro system inside Paris, that I didn’t pause to check if the rules were different outside the city.
I’ve let a hotel concierge sell me the wrong attraction ticket, paid for tap water in restaurants because I didn’t review my bill, and made other tiny mistakes that didn't feel big in the moment, but added up. Always double-check the details and save yourself the surprise bill.