Published March 22, 2011
Vacations are time to getaway, relax and forget the worries of working for a short time period. However, your escape from reality can become a real nightmare if you don’t plan carefully.
While you can’t control an erupting volcano grounding planes or a mechanical problem closing your kid’s favorite amusement park, there are steps you can take to be more prepared and avoid wasting money.
“The more you know, the less time and money you'll waste,” says travel writer and blogger Cynthia Clampitt.
Here's a few things the experts say you can do to avoid costly mistakes that could turn to dream vacation into a disaster.
Do your Due Diligence
Once you’ve narrowed down possible destinations, research what the weather is like during your travel dates to make sure you avoid getting stuck in your hotel room during monsoon season or sweating through a heat wave.
Don’t forget to check out potential hotels’ amenities and location to make sure there are no surprises at check in.
“With all of the information available now on the Internet… I am always amazed when guests … just show up and are then disappointed that we don't have a restaurant,” says William Rees, general manager of Outrigger Maui Eldorado Resort in Maui. “Why didn't they do their homework before plunking down their money or getting on the plane?”
Get the Right Insurance Coverage for Big Trips
Let’s face it, no matter how meticulously you plan, life happens and things may come up forcing you to cancel or change your trip.
Experts suggest getting travel insurance for big vacations like a honeymoon, anniversary or any big-cost getaway. The cost of insurance can add up to 10% of the trip, says Jason Clampet, Senior Online Editor of Frommers.com.
Don’t mistake “travel protection” with insurance. If you don’t see the word insurance, the policy is not regulated in the same way and may not provide the coverage you need.
Travelers should use caution when signing up for insurance coverage provided by the same vendor your travel with, such as cruise ships, Clampett says. He advises independent companies are the best way to avoid conflicts of interest.
Many health insurance plans do not cover you overseas, and if you are traveling to a remote area of the world or have medical issues, consider a travel medical policy that could include travel companion assistance, lost or stolen document assistance, medical transport and personal nursing services.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
Be sure to print all confirmations of hotel, car and any other pre-booked reservations that include the rate you secured to avoid overcharges or overbooking, says Ann Lombardi, a travel consultant with the Trip Chicks of Atlanta.
Double check the credit card you used to book reservations doesn’t expire before you arrive or you could lose your reservation.
To avoid any surprises, check into your flights online and sign up for alerts about delays and cancellations. For hotels and other arrangements, call one week in advance and then again 24 hours before you arrive to make sure your arrangements are set, the experts recommend.
“We had clients that booked an airfare online. They had a cruise they were taking. They assumed it wouldn’t change from three months ago,” Lombardi says. “They showed up and the flight had already left. Don’t let your guard until you get on a plane or get on a train or get on a bus.”
Communicate any special needs to your providers well in advance to be sure they understand your request, Rees says.
Make sure you understand the documentation requirements for the country you visit; some countries require a visa if you stay for certain period of time.
“Make sure one, your passport will be valid at least six months from the date you get back to the United States, and two, that you have two blank pages in the back of your passport,” Lombardi says. The latter mistake forced Lombardi to delay a trip by a day because she had to have the U.S. embassy attach more pages.
Protect Your Belongings
Security lines at airports are the biggest culprits for lost and stolen items, according to Lombardi.
She advises travelers to be ready to gather their belongs as soon as they come out of the X-ray machine. “People walk away all the time and forget things like credit cards and money. It’s no fun to be en route for a trip and have something swiped.”
Watch expensive electronics like cameras in places where it could be a hot commodity, and never leave anything expensive in a hotel room if it’s not locked up.
If you are visiting a foreign country, be sure to learn the cultural norms and standards to avoid offending the locals and getting in legal trouble.
“Use common sense when it comes to taking pictures. One time a client of ours got arrested for snapping pictures of military guards in a certain country in Asia,” Lombardi says.
Check out www.CultureGrams.com for concise reports on customs, holidays, faux pas and etiquette rules in foreign places.
Cheaper Doesn’t Mean Better
Once you begin shopping around, it’s easy to get roped into cheap add-ons, but you may end up wasting money on things that are unnecessary.
“Before you know it, you’re buying a package with a lot of bells and whistles but they may not be the things you want to do,” Clampett says.
“Know how [the providers are] going to treat you. Oftentimes, it’s the cheapest ones that will leave you high and dry if something goes wrong. Don’t be lured in by the price tag because the lowest cost isn’t necessarily the cheapest thing in the long run.”