Stupid travel mistakes and how to avoid them

Photo of author

By Christopher Elliott

Pay attention! If you do, you won’t end up like Allan Jordan, who showed up for a recent Virgin Atlantic Airways flight from New York to London, only to discover he’d overlooked a small but important detail that ended up to be a small travel mistake.

“The woman at the ticket counter very politely welcomed me, looked down at my ticket and said, ‘Mr. Jordan, you are flying to London tomorrow. How can I help you?’ ” he remembers.

Jordan is no newbie. As a consultant based in Great Neck, N.Y., he travels constantly. He knew better.

That’s the thing about travel errors. You don’t have to be an occasional traveler to screw up. It can happen to anyone. This is a good time to think about travel troubles, before your next big vacation or business trip.

Jordan was lucky. A sympathetic supervisor rebooked him on that day’s London flight at no extra charge. “She was very kind,” he says.

Lesson learned? Double-check your dates before you leave.

It’s a lesson we keep learning. Now, amid a rebound in travel, my advocacy team is fielding dozens of cases a day from people who neglected to read their itineraries carefully.

When I say no one is immune to errors, I include myself. (Related: What to expect when you travel this spring break.)

Insured Nomads helps you get travel insurance for as low as $2.88 per day, and options to add trip cancellation, global legal assistance, car rental cover and adventure sports. Award-winning plans. Exceptional service. Digital policy card to store with to your boarding pass and loyalty programs in your Apple/Google Wallet, in-app emergency button, lounge access for registered delayed flights and so much more than just medical. It’s peace of mind to reduce the uncertainty and travel with confidence short term for leisure and even longer for remote work, or your cruise and safari excursions. TrustPilot reviewed ”Excellent.” Read more and get covered.

When I was traveling in the States a few years ago, I remember one mistake. I had given my travel advisor, Melissa, the weekend off and went DIY. I booked a room at a hotel in Portland, my next stop on a West Coast road trip. When I tried to check in, the hotel had never heard of me.

Turns out I’d booked a room in Portland, Maine, instead of Portland Oregon. Oops.

Lesson learned? Pay attention — or work with an advisor who does. (Related: These gadgets and apps will help you travel worry-free.)

I’m in good company. Your travel mistakes are great learning opportunities, too. (Here’s what you need to know about travel and money.)

You say 10/11, I say 11/10

Taylor Ann Giardina has spent years traveling around the world but keeps getting tripped up by date formats. In the United States, we would write Oct. 11 as 10/11/17; in the rest of the world, it’s 11/10/17. Confuse that, and you could reserve a room or flight on the wrong day. “I once missed a flight, thinking it was the day afterwards, because I misread the reservation written in the European format — day/month/year,” says Giardina, an interior designer from Austin. “Being an experienced traveler, I was overconfident that I had read it correctly and didn’t double-check my dates.” Lesson: Don’t assume anything. Avoid these small travel mistakes.

If it looks too good to be true…

That’s what Kris Morton discovered when her mother found the perfect car rental in Iceland this year for the bargain price of $400 a week. “Everything was perfect until we returned it before our flight home,” says Morton, a writer who lives in Detroit. “We thought we had already paid for the whole rental, but they said we’d only paid for one day. My mom dug out her confirmation email, and to our horror, realized that the rental agents were right. She had somehow only booked the car for one day.” Morton ended up paying another $900 for her SUV. The takeaway: You can’t rent an SUV in Iceland for $400 a week. (Related: The year ahead: Here’s what travelers should expect in 2024.)

Trust, but verify

Mapping applications from Google and Apple are so helpful, except when they aren’t. Andy Abramson, who runs a communication consulting firm in Los Angeles, discovered that on a recent winery tour in France. “In some of the more rural parts, where wineries normally are located, Google Maps will give you a few options, but not all are really roads to take a car on,” he says. “On more than a few occasions, Google has taken me on roads best driven in a 4×4 — or taken on horseback.” The lesson: Never completely trust anyone or anything, even Google. (Related: How to find the right travel adapters and converters for your next trip abroad.)

Notice a theme? No matter the mistake, there’s usually someone on the other end making an incorrect assumption about times, dates, places and prices. You think you know something, but you really don’t.

The fix is simple: Pay attention. Double-check the details of your next trip, or hire someone who can. Otherwise, you’ll end up as an anecdote in one of my travel columns.

Three more timing travel mistakes you should avoid

Paying attention to the time, not day

This is particularly important on international flights with long connections. Notice both the time and day when you’re booking. Some stopovers can be lengthy, and that “+1 day” is easy to overlook, As a result, you could be stuck at the airport for more than 24 hours waiting for your connecting flight.

No flight information on your rental car

Always share your flight number when you book a rental car at the airport. If your flight is late, your car rental company may hold your reservation as a courtesy. Otherwise, they’ll cancel your reservation and ask you to make a new booking, almost always at a higher rate.

Check-in and checkout dates in hotels

This is an easy mistake to make. You’ll always check in one day and check out after you’ve overnighted, on the next day. Travelers constantly confuse their check-in and checkout dates, shorting themselves by a day. An experienced travel pro can help prevent this.

Photo of author

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Related Posts