With any luck, you have a getaway planned this summer. Assuming you do, here are some suggestions to make your trip smoother and protect your investment. Make no mistake -- a vacation is something of an investment. According to a recent online survey of 1,500 adults by American Express, Americans will spend an average of $1,246 per person on summer vacation.
Something will go wrong, of course, but the trick to a successful summer vacation is making sure nothing goes wildly amiss. With that in mind, here's how to avoid 10 travel missteps that will cost you.
Overpacking. Expect to pay up for all those extras you're packing. "Checked bag fees will cost you big -- each way," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo.
He isn't kidding. Some airlines charge up to $100 per checked bag and even more if your luggage crosses a certain weight threshold. Check with your airline to see how much your luggage can weigh. You'll do yourself a favor if you pack light.
"It's a drag to drag it all," Saglie says.
Not packing enough. If you're traveling with kids, especially by plane, pack accordingly. "Parents often do not plan ahead and pack enough distractions -- toys, games, paper and pencil, snacks, DVDs. Air travel is not just the hours you spend at 38,000 feet, but those you spend waiting to board, waiting to take off and waiting to disembark," Saglie says.
Not alerting your bank and credit card companies that you're going on vacation. It's especially important to notify them if you're traveling to a foreign country. "It takes less than 10 minutes and falls under the 'better safe than sorry' category," says JaeMi Pennington, a public relations specialist in Boston, who learned this the hard way. "It can be pretty embarrassing when you're in line at Wal-Mart in Savannah, Georgia, trying to buy golf balls and your card gets declined because Bank of America thinks it was stolen."
Not calling your mobile phone provider if you're leaving the country. You could leave your smartphone at home, but assuming you're bringing it, let your provider know, advises David Corsun, director and associate professor of the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver. Otherwise, you will likely spend more not just for phone calls but text messages and even looking up information on the Internet.
"Arrange for a time-limited data-text plan on your phone when traveling abroad, but do not leave all of your smartphone settings on 'business as usual,'" he says. "You can chew your international time up pretty quickly, and it can cost way more than planned if you do."
Julie Lucas, who works in marketing at the University of Denver, says she can vouch for Corsun's advice. "I made the mistake of going to Mexico in 2011, not getting an international time-limited data-text plan and ended up with a single monthly bill of $700. Normally, it's $94," she says.
Lucas was able to get her phone company to cut the bill in half, and now she never leaves the U.S. without first checking with her provider to see what the rules are for the country she is visiting and what her options are.
Not taking resort fees and taxes into account. If you're taking a long trip, forgetting about these can throw off your budget. "Your [hotel] room may be $99, but with taxes and fees, you may end up paying $139 or $149," says Andrew Young, Travelzoo's editorial director.
Forgetting your charger. Who hasn't had to go to a big-box store and buy a new one? Young suggests bringing not only the charger for your phone and other gadgets, but a power strip. "You can charge multiple devices off one outlet at your hotel," he says.
Taking your vacation when everyone else does. Sometimes you can't avoid it. But as Young says, "You're going to pay more, deal with bigger crowds, more traffic." If you can wait until the end of August, you'll find steeper discounts. But take your vacation around the Fourth of July, and expect to pay a lot more.
Automatically declining rental insurance abroad. If you're stateside and have good car insurance, it's probably smart to waive the rental car insurance. But don't automatically do that if you're renting a car abroad, Corsun says. "You need to know the rules on both sides [of the ocean] to ensure that you are, in fact, covered. You don't want an accident to prevent you from coming home," he says.
He adds that if you book your car far in advance, check again before your trip to see if the price has fallen. You could then cancel and book again. "Sometimes you can save hundreds of dollars," he says.
Failing to learn the laws of far-flung lands. It's a good idea to bone up on the local laws before your trip. "Especially in the Third World, do some basic research before you travel, so you don't end up in jail for a week or two," advises James Powell, media director for ArrestRecords.com, a website that allows users to search for arrest records. He says he has run across quite a few world travelers who have wound up in the clink, even in the most modern countries.
Quoting the State Department, Powell says, "U.S. citizens and U.S. military personnel have been arrested and detained for more than 10 days for carrying pocket knives that are legal in the United States but illegal in Japan."
Even if you're just traveling over state lines, you may want to check the cellphone laws. Mary Clark, chief marketing officer of Syniverse, a global telecommunications company, points out that some states ban driving while using a cellphone.
Interacting with the indigenous wildlife. At least be careful, advises Sean Carney, a public relations executive in Philadelphia. Winding up in a hospital -- which Carney avoided, barely -- could make your vacation more expensive than you planned.
"This past December, I journeyed to Grenada, a tiny island in the southeastern Caribbean Sea about 90 miles off the coast of Venezuela," he says. While he was there, he saw a cow. He decided to pet it.
Big mistake. The cow charged at him.
Screaming, Carney raced into the ocean, figuring he was safe, only to learn then that cows can swim. Making matters worse, as he struggled to escape the swimming cow, Carney sliced his foot on a broken shell.
Carney eventually made it home and wrote about the experience on his blog, The Witty Gritty. But for quite some time, he nervously huddled in the waves, watching the cow and wondering how he could escape -- all while blood from his wound mixed with the salt water. As he would later write on his blog, "I began to appreciate my unique situation -- I was either going to be trampled by a cow or eaten by a shark."
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