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Travel Influencers Share Their Biggest Travel Mistakes (So You Don’t Make Them Too)

Travel is one of the greatest joys you can experience. It provides new opportunities to learn, discover new places, immerse oneself in diverse cultures, and have a downright good time. Sometimes, however, the incredible perks of traveling the world go hand-in-hand with immense stress. Between delayed flights, lost or stolen items, and under-researched destinations, embarking on journies to destinations near and far isn’t always as glamorous as it appears on Instagram.

While it’s the job of travel influencers to curate creative, colorful feeds that make you want to book a flight with every new post, they also know first-hand the highs and lows that come with travel. To help ensure your next vacation runs smoothly, we spoke with 14 influencers about their worst travel mistakes and what they learned from them.

From forgotten passports and airport breakdowns to overplanning and under preparing, they’re sharing their biggest travel flubs below — so you don’t make them, too.

EDITOR’S PICK: STEVE BRAMUCCI (@steve_bramucci) — PUT TOO MUCH FAITH IN THE “FRIEND DEAL”

Nissan Patrol Safari
Steve Bramucci

Buying a car when traveling through East Africa is the best thing I’ve ever done as a traveler. Full stop. It gave me the freedom to pull over wherever I wanted — to buy fruit along the side of the road, camp in National Parks, pick up hitchhikers, and to really study animals while on safari (rather than racing past them just to check boxes on a generic form, like package tours do). Having a car as I roamed from Uganda down to Mozambique was the difference between being a “traveler” and a “tourist.”

I ate at the guide canteen in National Parks and gave rides to Masai warriors traveling across Kenya. I was the master of my domain — and had to make some pretty tough calls (like fording a rising, croc-filled river in my Nissan Patrol). It was, in a word, awesome.

So that’s the upside. 10/10 — would recommend people get their own vehicle for a big East African adventure.

Now here’s the f*ck up in all this: I bought that car from a man who my sister was pals with and recommended. But this man didn’t really know me and the car he sold me was less a “friend deal” than I was led to believe. I certainly could have gotten a similar, if not better car for less cash by just shopping for myself. Worse yet, after my sister refuted his dating advances while I was traveling, he promised to buy the car back. And because I thought he was a friend, I trusted him to pay me.

Big mistake. He took the car and the cash.

In the end, I got scammed out of roughly six grand. It also meant I was driving a car that was in bad shape, which led to me popping 22 tires in the span of three months. (That’s a lot, even for the corrugated roads of East Africa.) Some of the car troubles I had actually led to really cool experiences — like spending the night with a family of Masai, who fed me and helped me rethread the car’s drive shaft with a simple file. Others exposed me to real danger, like when I was knocked out cold in the middle of the Masai Mara by a faulty jack while changing yet another blown tire.

So would I change it? Looking back now, I’m glad it all happened the way it did. But for a 25-year-old travel writer who still had 8 months on the road ahead of me — yeah, I wanted that six grand back. To the point where I pondered flying back to Uganda just to chase it down.

Lesson: Keep your critical thinking intact while traveling. I don’t mean “be skeptical,” though some would argue that you should be. I actually think that assuming the best of people is one of the joys of travel. I just mean don’t shut your brain down completely, simply because you think you’re getting the “friend rate.”

ASHLEE MAJOR MOSS (@ashleemajormoss) — MISSED HER FLIGHT AND HER CRUSH

The biggest travel mistake I ever made was the first time I ever tried to travel solo. I was going to meet some of my friends in Marbella. I think I was 17, and I was really excited. I had booked this flight last minute to go meet them, and everyone was so excited to see me. Actually, a guy that I really liked at the time was there with my friends and had gone there in secret to surprise me.

I bought this ticket with Easy Jet, and I got to the terminal in Gatwick and I got in the queue. The queue was quite long, as this was a few years back when the airport was just bumpin’ and busy. I was in the queue for a solid 20 minutes and never realized that I was on the north side of the terminal, but my flight was going out of the south side of the terminal. So I got to the front of the line and said, “here’s my ticket.” They looked at my luggage and said, “no, you’re on the wrong side of the terminal. It’s going to take at least 15 minutes to get there even if you run. You need to have checked in by now.”

They wouldn’t call ahead to the other team, so I literally ran there. When I got there, I was on death’s door. I was gasping for air. I finally got to the desk, and they said to me, “no, you cannot check-in for your flight.” I was absolutely devastated and didn’t know what to do. I was begging them to let me on and burst into tears. They were being strict on check-in times and wouldn’t budge. I was absolutely bawling my eyes out. My crush got to the destination and got ears that I wasn’t there. We never ended up together in the end, and I completely missed my flight and never went to Marbella.

Ever since then, I have gotten to the airport about three and a half hours early just because I never ever want to risk that again.

CHARU GOYAL (@travelwithcg) — TRYING TO SEE IT ALL

My biggest travel mistake of all time would be trying to see it all. Each destination has so much to offer that it is tempting to visit as many sights as possible. However, creating content and gathering information for various platforms take time, and it is simply not feasible to overfill the itinerary.

During my recent trip to Agra, I wanted to see the Taj Mahal from various viewpoints and explore a few off-beat landmarks in the city. I ended up having such a big list of places that it meant my friend and I couldn’t stay for long in any of them. Because of this, I realized that it is better to be at one location to your heart’s desire than try to see everything and not enjoy any. There will always be more places to check out!

CHLOE CALDWELL (@chloeicaldwell) — PROCRASTINATING TSA PRECHECK

This isn’t necessarily a single mistake, but it is something I regret doing. I had always heard from fellow traveler friends about how convenient TSA PreCheck is, but I procrastinated applying for it simply because of not knowing exactly where to start. I know, I know — all it really takes is a simple Google search.

Anyway, getting TSA PreCheck turned out to be so easy. You can literally do it at Staples.

I finally signed up for TSA PreCheck last year because of all the 2021 travel experiences I had lined up. Let me tell you, it is life-changing. There are no lines, no scrambling with your luggage to quickly remove your electronics, and no need to take your shoes off. The best part is that it only costs $85 and lasts five full years. That’s only $17 per year to skip the security lines (AKA, airport hell) and get to every flight with plenty of time to spare.

It’s made all the difference for me when it comes to traveling.

NATHAN FLUELLEN (@worldwidenate) — SKIPPING HIS RESEARCH ABOUT PANAMA TRAVEL

My biggest travel mistake or fail would be going to Panama without doing enough research to realize that there isn’t a lot of tourism infrastructure in place and that there aren’t desirable tourist spots near Panama City. It’s so industrial because of the Panama Canal, so the ideal thing is to fly into Panama and maybe do a day or two in Panama City. Then, book a flight to the outskirts.

Even for those flights, you have to transfer to another airport. So preparation is cucial.

Lesson: Traveling to Panama isn’t just a quick trip of flying to Central America in two to three hours and you’re in paradise where you can just go off and explore. You have to plan to travel to Panama City, take time to connect for a layover in Panama City, or plan to purchase an additional flight to go off to the more remote, picturesque places that have the white sand beaches and the little islands. Going to Panama takes time, and it may take you a full day to get to your final destination.

Not knowing that and spending too much time in the industrial areas was definitely one of my biggest mistakes.

JORDAN FIELDS (@theplacesjogoes_) — FORGOT HER PASSPORT

From missed flights and visa issues to horrible accommodation, stolen wallets, and passports left in cabs, I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes when it comes to travel. Speaking of left passports — a few years ago I was backpacking solo through Southeast Asia when suddenly I realized I left my passport in the back of a cab I took to the train station earlier that morning to travel from South Vietnam to North Vietnam.

In an obvious panic, I decided to reach out to the hostel I had been staying at and who originally called the cab for me earlier that day. They were luckily able to get ahold of the nice cab driver! He was so sweet and even shipped my passport across Vietnam to my next accommodation. Call it good luck, good karma, or just amazing people- my lesson was definitely learned. Always treat people with kindness wherever you go, you never know when you might need some kindness in your life! Oh, and you should definitely travel to Vietnam!

DANIEL HACKBUSCH (@mister.everywhere_) — BOOKED THE WRONG FLIGHT DATE

My biggest travel mistake, I think was when I booked my flight back on the wrong date. I booked to Lisbon and back to Germany. It was in January. I wanted to stay there only for a couple of days and was driving to the airport for my flight back to Germany. On the check-in, I realized that I booked back the wrong date.

The flight on my ticket was for one month later and not the date that day. So I needed to book a new flight ticket for the next day. I learned from it to make sure now every time to double-check when I book something.

LISA-GAYE SHAKESPEARE (@shakespeareagency) — OVERLOOKED VISA REQUIREMENTS

I forgot to check the visa requirements! This happened a few years ago when I was supposed to visit Brazil. I was all packed and ready to go. Arrived at the airport to check-in for my flight and when the agent asked for my visa, I swore I turned blue. My stomach was wrenched in knots and I felt like throwing up. How could I forget to apply for a visa?!? Biggggg mistake!

Needless to say, I never got on the flight. So now before I travel, I make sure to research visa requirements for that specific country because I will never make that mistake again.

KAYLA KANE (@kaylakane) — SELF-DEFENSE MISHAP

A mistake I’ve made and continue to make is trying to bring my pepper spray to the airport or to the events I’ve gone to on my trips. I swear I’ve bought five-plus pepper spray bottles this past year because I keep forgetting to take them out of my bag! Hoping in 2022 I won’t need to buy more than one or will remember to use other self-defense options to keep myself safe while traveling. It is SO important for women, especially those traveling solo, to be aware of their surroundings and take measures to protect themselves.

As an alternative to pepper spray, the Birdie Personal Safety Alarm is great since it’s not a dangerous item and you can take it on the plane. A great keychain set for somebody who wants to try out different things is this Safety Keychain. For packing in checked luggage, pepper spray and stun guns are allowed. You just can’t take them in a carry-on.

EMILY HART (@emilyventures) — ASSUMING THINGS WILL BE EASY

In the last few years, I’ve visited 55 of the 63 Major US National Parks solo, and have truly learned so much. I feel so capable and confident and dare I say — an expert — in so many aspects of this type of travel. But there is still one mistake that I just can’t help but make — I assume things will be easy.

Now, this sounds like a really fun and positive mistake to make – and it is – sometimes. I generally assume that I will figure everything out when or before I need to, and that everything will just be… intuitive.

Of course, this is real life, and the reality is that things aren’t always intuitive – especially when it comes to huge swaths of somewhat unobstructed outdoor space. I honestly generally don’t plan as much as I should, just assuming that there will be sign, right? A map? Some random pocket of cell service?

And often none of these things are true. I wonder to myself again, why do I always think this will be intuitive? Promise myself I will do things differently next time. But inevitably, the cycle starts again.

NICOLETTA DARITA DE LA BROWN (@vida.magica.love) — NOT ENJOYING THE HOTEL

My biggest travel mistake has become my biggest travel tip. In the past when I would travel, I would forget to plan enough time for me to enjoy my hotel. I always love booking beautiful hotels. I love a luxe hotel. I love something with a lot of amenities. I love something that feels special. I love something boutique and unique.

For example, one of my favorite hotels in Manhattan is The Ludlow in the Lower East Side because I love bathtubs. They have this room that has a balcony, so I feel very Parisian when I’m in it, and then there’s this gorgeous soaking bathtub in a window. You’re basically looking over Manhattan in this insane, breathtaking bathtub.

So back in the past, I would book a hotel then overschedule my trip and only come into the room to pass out. I’d miss out on something like a bathtub. So my biggest mistake was not spending enough time in my hotel rooms. Now, I plan more time or book an extra day for myself just to enjoy my room. I have a whole dedicate to enjoying my hotel for myself…I spent time researching and finding the best place to stay, so I want to enjoy it.

So I feel like one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past is not making time to enjoy the luxurious places that I booked and not spending enough time enjoying the amenities of these spaces. However, the biggest mistake that I think often people make is forgetting to say, “thank you.” Say thank you to those who are caring for us, to everyone who’s cleaning the room, checking you in, carrying the bags, opening the elevator, or serving food. Just saying thank you is one of the things that has led me to have amazing stays and feeling like I was connected to people who were helping me have an amazing experience.

Not saying thank you is the biggest mistake someone can make.

TAYLOR DEER (@brown.eyed.flower.child) — LACK OF RESEARCH ABOUT STANIEL CAY

Travel Mistakes 2022
Taylor Deer

In July 2021, my friend and I did an unforgettable vacation on Staniel Cay, which is an island within the Exuma Cays of the Bahamas. We automatically assumed that we would just fly into Exuma International Airport on Great Exuma Island and booked a Basic Economy flight without doing the research beforehand.

Since we had to get from Great Exuma Island to our resort on Staniel Cay, we needed to figure out a way to get from one island to the other. It wasn’t until the staff at our resort told us that there wasn’t a simple ferry that took visitors from island to island in the Exumas that we realized we didn’t do our research beforehand.

The number one way to get to Staniel Cay is by taking a flight straight to Fort Lauderdale in South Florida and then taking Maker’s Air to Staniel Cay. Since my friend and I booked Basic Economy to Great Exuma Island, we couldn’t change our flights due to our plane ticket status, so we still had to figure out a way to get over to Staniel Cay.

What we ended up doing was hopping on a boat tour that took us from Great Exuma Island to Staniel Cay Marina at the Yacht Club. The same company also took us back! It ended up working out for us and we enjoyed a fun experience out of it, even though it did take away some time from us in Staniel Cay, which was the highlight of the trip. This is a reminder that no matter what trip you decide to take, always do your research beforehand.

DANE RIVERA (@littlepapercone) — OVERPLANNING & PERFECTIONISM

Travel Mistakes 2022
Dane Rivera

Last summer I was basking in my post-vaccination glow and was eager to hit the road and do some domestic travel after over a year in isolation. This gave me way too much time to think, so when the opportunity to visit Oceanside, California with my girlfriend came my way (probably the only coastal city in California I hadn’t visited) I jumped at the chance and set about learning everything I could about the town.

The history, the food spots most beloved by locals, the bars, the vibrant surf scene — I had a full and strict itinerary planned with a checklist of activities including photoshoots using expensive analog film from a camera I had no real working knowledge of using (but I sure read a lot about it!).

When I arrived in Oceanside everything fell apart. The clouds were constant, the must-visit bars were closed, I missed my surfing lesson and as the day went on the checklist was looking more like a series of boxes than a list of checks. So I made the best decision I could make. I threw the itinerary away and stopped trying to make my plans work.

It’s smart to approach your travels with a plan, but ultimately flexibility is your greatest asset on the road, you need to be willing and ready to throw that itinerary away and just go with the flow. Once I stopped trying to make the perfect vacation happen, I started having fun. Sometimes the pressure of making your vacation ideal turns your vacation into work and that’s the last thing you want. Allow yourself to escape into your surroundings and you’ll always have a better and more memorable trip.

ZACH JOHNSTON (@ztpwhiskey) — SEEKING OUT DANGER FOR “COOL POINTS”

Afghanistan
Zach Johnston

Let me clarify “danger” here. I’m not talking about parasailing or bungee jumping off a tower or camping out in bear country (well, maybe that last one a little). I’m talking about pursuing warzone travel. I went through a phase where my travel addiction (a very real thing) pushed me to tempt death. I was Jim Morrison daring the universe to kill me because I was so deep in my addiction and so arrogant that I thought I was invincible. I went deep into Northwest Pakistan and hung out with the Taliban. I jauntily strolled the Smuggler’s Bazaar in Peshawar. I took long walks through Kabul at night. I trekked all the way into Badakhshan in the extremely remote northeast corner of Afghanistan, bribing armed-to-the-teeth checkpoint guards the whole way with fresh $100 bills. Then there was Eastern Congo, where my hubris actually landed me in a secret police jail cell for half a day. Luckily, I had enough crisp $100s on me to bribe my way out of that one too.

Getting shot at was a thrill. Hell, having to carry a weapon while traveling was one too. Hanging out and getting high on opium at the front in Afghanistan as American bombs dropped nearby was something that gave me this false sense of “cool.” It wasn’t. I was just being an asshole. And the only reason I’m here now is that I got incredibly lucky (a lot of times).

To be clear, traveling to Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Congo (and others) wasn’t a mistake. What I did there was a mistake. I pushed boundaries for no other reason than to have a story no one else on earth would have when — if — I got home. I put myself and others in danger so I can tell a story now. That is my greatest travel and life regret because I don’t tell those stories. They’re too embarrassing and shameful looking back on them now.

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