It's probably not a surprise to you that travel is one of my favorite things, but it might surprise you to know that even though I plan (and take!) trips for a living, I often find the time before my own trips a bit stressful, especially when I'm heading somewhere I've never been before. Over the years, though, I've developed a bit of a system for the various steps in the process, and I've got my own methods for ensuring everything goes smoothly.
While everyone travels differently, I will say that there are at least five HUGE mistakes you can make while planning for a trip that would count as major oversights for anyone who is traveling. Here's what they are and how you can avoid making them:
Not knowing the climate at your destination
You obviously can't know six months in advance what exactly the weather will be like in your destination, but you should familiarize yourself with the basics before you plan your trip. Planning a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season or to Vietnam during the rainy season might mean you snag some good deals, but it might also make for a very different trip than you imagined. If you have a low tolerance for rainy days or cold weather, just do a little research before you book your flight. Oh, and don't forget that summer in the Northern Hemisphere is winter in the Southern (and vice versa). It seems obvious, but I've had more than a few clients forget that basic geography lesson!
Not having proper documentation
As soon as you decide you want to travel internationally, check to see what the various requirements are for entry. Do you need a visa? If so, can you apply online or do you have to do it in person at an embassy? The very best source of information on the various documentation requirements for U.S. citizens is the State Department's international travel site. Just enter the country that you want to visit in the search box, and scroll down. Then:
- Check the passport validity requirements. Generally, your passport can't expire within six months of the END of your trip, and most countries require one or two blank pages for stamps and/or visas.
- If a visa is required, be sure to click on "Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements" and you'll find official information about how to apply and various other requirements. If there is an online application process, you'll see a link to the correct site. (This is SUPER important because there are loads of fake "official" visa sites that often charge more for the same visa OR are just total scams. So be sure to stick with the official site.
Not knowing how to stay healthy
There are obvious measures that you can take no matter where you travel, like washing your hands before you eat and ensuring water is safe to drink before chugging a glass, but be sure to check to see what other measures the CDC recommends for your specific destination. Vaccinations against hepatitis A and typhoid are often recommended, as are malaria medications and other preventative measures, but I'm no doctor (I don't even play one on TV), so I recommend checking the CDC travelers' health site and talking to your doctor before you travel for real, legitimate medical advice. P.S. Some vaccinations require multiple doses spread out over the course of several months, and some aren't kept on hand at a lot of doctors' offices, so don't wait till the last minute to run see what vaccinations you might need.
Not reading up on the culture or history of your destination
OK, so if you're heading out to sit on a beach somewhere and don't plan to move for a week, maybe this isn't a huge mistake for you. But whenever I travel, part of my adventure is always exploring the culture of a country, so I like to have some understanding of the place I'm visiting before I head there. I'm not suggesting you read a history book's worth of information about a place before you visit (although I wouldn't blame you if you did!), but knowing some basic geography and history can be helpful. Plus, knowing a bit about cultural norms (especially when it comes to how to dress or act respectfully) can really make your trip more pleasant.
This probably should have been #1 in my list of mistakes because it's so easy to fall into the trap of inflexibility (especially when you're a planner, like, ahem, SOME of us are). But travel REQUIRES flexibility. Flights get delayed and canceled. Your luggage can get lost. You might not love the food or the pillows might be too hard or too soft. You'll probably be hot or cold or tired or frustrated or confused or misunderstood at some point. Try to see it as all part of the experience and recognize that the EXPERIENCE is what travel is all about. (But [SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT] I will say that having an experienced travel agent on your side can be a huge help when those inconveniences arise!)
If you'd like to get a little bit of free advice from an expert, I'd love to chat with you. Just click here to set up a totally free, no obligation, annoying-sales-pitch-free phone consultation with me. I'd love to chat about your trip and help you avoid some of these and other travel blunders!