Here are the worst holiday travel mistakes you’ve ever made


Travelers make mistakes every day of the year. Believe me, I know. I’m one of them.

But they seem to happen more often during the traditional travel holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. We have a lot of occasional travelers navigating the roads and airports. We also have higher demand and weather issues.

It all adds up.

A few holiday seasons ago, we asked you to name your worst holiday errors. Here are the results:

1. Forgetting to pack the right things (24%)
2. Booking the wrong days on your ticket or hotel (15%)
3. Forgetting to take pictures of your rental car (13%)
4. Not purchasing travel insurance (10%)
5. Not reading your confirmation after booking (8%)
6. Complaining to the wrong person when something goes wrong (7%)
7. Not preparing for seasonal road conditions (7%)
8. Forgetting to confirm a reservation (6%)
9. Not reviewing a contract before signing (5%)
10. Not remembering your ID/passport/visa (5%)


My second question: I want your holiday travel horror story. You can leave it in the comments or email me directly with it.

Oh, OK. I’ll tell you mine. It was Thanksgiving 1998, and as is always the case, I waited until the last minute to pack for my trip. Ten minutes before leaving for the airport, I shuffled into my bedroom, loaded up my rollaway, zipped it up and headed to the car.

No checklist.

Turns out, I’d packed everything I needed … except my wallet. Halfway to the airport, I reached for my wallet, which contained my ID and credit cards, and felt the void.

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It took me years to admit that I’d done something so foolish. I missed my flight. Served me right!

So what’s your story?


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Lifetime Expat

    Business travel mistake, but still……

    Was flying from Prague to Warsaw for critical meetings (Actually to let some people go), got to the airport, and realized my passport was on the dresser at home. I called my wife and a taxi, my wife put my passport into a taxi and it got to the airport JUST in time for me to make it through security and onto my flight. I was lucky, all it cost me was an extra taxi-fare to the airport (About $30) and frazzled nerves.

  • Mark

    11. Flying anywhere during the holiday season

  • Alan Gore

    12. Flying anywhere during spring break. Everyone knows when holidays occur, but adults quickly forget those college holiday times when, unexpectedly, it’s Thanksgiving in April.

  • AMA

    Honeymoon. Checking in at the airport. Turned to husband and asked for his passport. “Uh, I don’t have it.” He had to call his friend to break into the house and drive it to Logan. I am obsessively early so fortunately didn’t miss the flight. 27 years later, I still glare at him when we’re leaving and say DO YOU HAVE YOUR PASSPORT THIS TIME?

  • Jenifer Kelley

    But who knows when spring break is? It used to be the week before or after Easter – but now it’s just whenever!

  • MF

    Rather punitive, unless done with a little humor?

  • Southwest patron

    It was 2013 when my wife and I were in Baltimore, MD for a conference. Afterwards, we split up for our subsequent travels – she to Rochester, NY for a few days and then a road trip to Toronto, ON while I went home to Burbank, CA. On our way to the airport, she asked me if I had her passport and I said no – and she said that I put it in the hotel room safe. I told her that I don’t recall doing that. She also said that I put cash in the safe as well. So upon arrival at BWI airport, we double checked our holdings to no avail. Luckily, she had her Driver’s License so we went thru the TSA checkpoint with no problem. Onward to our respective destinations we went. Obviously, she arrived into Rochester first and called the hotel. When I arrived into LAX a few hours later, I got text messages from her that these missing items were in the hotel room safe and the guilt trip on me! Now, what to do with the needed passport for the road trip to Toronto? Asked hotel to FedEx overnight – and it took a few days before she finally got the passport in time for the road trip – it was NOT the promised overnight service as the said there were weather related delays – in the middle of a beautiful summer weather season!

  • DCMarketeer

    Our passports were both due to expire at the same time (we’d gotten them for our honeymoon, so my husband and I had the same expiration date) within a month after a planned trip to Vancouver Island. Knowing that that might be a problem, I started the renewal process months before our trip. The only problem was that my husband, who is known for absent-mindedness, dilly-dallied about getting his passport picture taken, which was enormously annoying because there are so many places to get passport pictures these days (CVS, FedEx Office, etc.). Eventually, he got it done, but it was so close to our trip that he had to pay an expediter to walk his renewal application through the process for him, at a substantially higher cost than the normal renewal fee. His passport came via FedEx three days before the trip, and my husband put the package with all the rest of his mail on the dining room table.

    We had an early morning flight to Seattle where we planned top pick up a rental car and drive to the Port Angeles Ferry. As we’re driving down the Beltway to Dulles in the dark, I was asking him, “Did you pack underwear? Did you pack your toothbrush?” since he is notorious for forgetting things. Then I asked, “Do you have your passport?”

    Nope, still on the dining room table in the envelope from FedEx. At the next exit, I pulled off and looked for the first place to pull a U turn and head back home. I made my U turn and we were almost back to the ramp back on the Beltway when I saw the flashing blue lights in the rear view mirror. The police were pulling me over for an illegal U turn.

    I explained the situation to the police officer, cried a little (I was so fed up with my husband and his derpiness at that point), and he left me off with a warning and a promise not to speed on the way to Dulles. It helped that it was 4:30 in the morning and there was zero traffic out.

    I’m compulsively early for flights, so we made it to the gate in time. We had a nice week on Vancouver Island, once I started talking to him again, LOL. At the end of our week, we got back on the ferry to Port Angeles. As we were were going through customs at the end of the ferry ride, we handed our passports to the customs agent.

    He looked at my husband’s and said, “This is not a legal passport. I shouldn’t let you back in the country.” A passport doesn’t become fully legal until you signed it, and he hadn’t signed his new one. He showed his driver’s license and the agent let him go, but, sheesh….. how many times on one trip did I have to be scared like that?

  • Ward Chartier

    My mistakes, but not at holiday times:

    – Forgot wallet on the way to the airport. $165 to buy another ticket.
    – Forgot apartment key for target city. Realized this at the airport. $75 for round-trip taxi fare.
    – Left battery alarm clock behind in hotel. $20.
    – Left phone charger behind in hotel. $12 for shipping, $20 for fraudulent charge by somebody at the hotel.
    – Incorrect date to check in at hotel. Arrived one day early. General Manager of the Fraser Residence in Shanghai took care of me by placing me in one of the show apartments for one night. Whew! No extra expense.
    – Left laptop behind at home office. No charge to me. Company paid to ship the laptop to me.
    – Left two luggage padlocks in hotel room. $15.
    – Forgot to pack minor items a few times. Lived without.

  • Hanope

    I had a business trip to Germany. When I came home, my husband couldn’t pick me up from the airport so I took a taxi home (before Uber). When I got home and unpacked, my passport was missing. I obviously had it at the airport, so I guessed it fell out in the taxi, but the taxi company claimed it wasn’t found. I reported it immediately to the government, as it was either picked off me/stolen or it fell out of my purse somewhere, and no one bothered to find me.

    I was going on a trip to Canada with my family a week later, so I had to go to the passport office in the city to expedite a new one.

  • cscasi

    I was about 7, my father was in the army and stationed in Paris. He decided to take us to the Netherlands so my mother could see the tulips in bloom, I could see the miniature city (Madurodam) and visit an authentic Dutch village on an island. Well, two hours into the road trip, I casually asked my mother if she had brought along the passport. She looked in her purse and realized she had left it at home. My father did not say anything, but you could just visualize the steam coming out of his years. Well, it was about 5 hours lost by the time we returned home, got the passport, got back on the road and got to where we were going late that evening. It happens folks.

  • The Original Joe S

    I was driving a hack at JFK when a frantic guy said he’d left his passport in his apartment in the upper west side. He had an hour and a half to get it and return to JFK, while his family waited at the airport. At 5PM.

    Being savvy of the streets, I took the streets rather than the jammed parkways, and got him back to apartment to retrieve the passport, and back to JFK. He left it on the seat. Lucky for him I didn’t leave the airport. I got it to him, and he made the flight. Poor schnook – he probably couldn’t count to 21 unless he were in the shower…..

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