I made these stupid travel mistakes so you don’t have to

Organization is important. If you're injured or otherwise indisposed on the road, it's critical.
(Loris Lora / For The Times)

“Why do they let this woman out on her own?”

You may be asking yourself that after you read this. I’m asking myself this after writing it. But at least you are getting the unfiltered truth: I am not a travel superhero. In fact, when it comes to travel details, I’m probably a C-/D+ student, which means pretty much everyone is better at this than I.

I almost always learn from my mistakes, and isn’t that the point — besides not making them in the first place? Of course it is. Here then are my dumbest mistakes of 2019. To respond to this or to begin proceedings for conservatorship, please write to

We’ll start small (sort of stupid) and work our way down the scale to major stupid.

Use it immediately or lose it. The “it,” in this case is either something you put in a Word doc and save or, in my case, enter into a travel planning app. I use the Tripit app, partly because it will self-populate your itinerary if you send your plans to the specified email address. If you don’t and you are so lazy that you use your email as a filing cabinet, you’ll be OK, but only if you remember the name of the airline, the hotel and the car rental company.


I knew the first two but could not remember No. 3 and had no idea from whom I’d rented. No matter. I would find it while awaiting my flight. Searching my email for “car rental” and “auto rental” yielded no results. I paid for Wi-Fi on the plane so I could continue to look.

About five minutes before landing, I found it. But that nap I planned didn’t happen, nor did the cloak of serenity I try to travel in wrap me in its embrace.

Solutions: Save your plans when you make your plans, either by using an app or taking notes that you can find later (that is, not sent to yourself in an email).

Quit rushing and take the bleeping pictures of that rental car. I blame that absent cloak of serenity for my failure to do this when I picked up that demon car. At least I remembered to fill out the damage report and keep a copy. When I returned from the rest of the trip about 10 days later, I had a $900 bill for damage I didn’t cause. Photos are the ultimate defense, but the case was closed because my damage report showed that spot “bigger than a quarter.”

The good news, if there is any good news to being remiss: I charged the car to the card that offers primary car rental coverage. It’s not much of a backup plan, but it’s a good ace to hold.

Solutions: Have your smartphone in your hand when you’re signing the rental contract. And be sure that the credit card you’re using provides the coverage you need.


Don’t accidentally sleep with someone. I know what you’re thinking: “Trashy and dim-witted?” I plead to the latter but not the former. I simply failed to look up the kind of aircraft I was flying to Europe on Part 2 of the above trip. Because it was a 12-hour flight and I had to be as fresh as a daisy immediately upon landing, I upgraded myself to business class. I don’t do this often but my last upgrade on a different airline meant I had my own sleeping pod. I just knew this would be equally great.

It wasn’t. My seatmate was a charming fellow, but there was no separate pod and we pretty much were in each other’s space all night long. Had I bothered to look up the seat configuration, I would have been prepared. How, I’m not quite sure. Probably just mentally because I don’t think there is an airline equivalent of a bundling board ( At least neither of us got up and slipped out the front door of the aircraft the next morning.

Solution: Look up aircraft configurations on Then hope (probably a vain hope) no one is next to you if the configuration is too cozy. Or else don’t bother to spend the miles and dollars for an upgrade.

Pay attention when a customs official gives you a piece of paper and put it someplace safe. Then remember where that is. One of the hazards of flying is that it makes you kind of dopey, a double hazard if you already are. The other hazard: You accumulate lots of paper.

After four days in Mexico, I was flying home on Thanksgiving, and the only thing that stood between me and the feast was … my Mexico tourist card. I vaguely remember filling it out before I arrived in Puerto Vallarta and having it returned to me, but apparently I was more intent on not meeting the eyes of the timeshare touts who lined the airport exit than I was in remembering where I stuffed it.

You know how they say that what you’re looking for is always the last thing you find? I sorted through 899 pieces of paper in my briefcase. The tourist card was No. 900, the last piece. But instead of boarding with my group, I boarded with Group E, which is Spanish for “good luck finding overhead bin space, chump.”


Solution: Organization is the prerequisite to knowledge, my high school Spanish teacher used to say. OK, Mr. Planas. Now I get it.

Check your itinerary well before you leave. I had bought two one-way tickets because I was flying from one airport and returning to another. When I entered my plans into my travel app, I realized I’d booked my outbound ticket as my inbound ticket and vice versa. I never knew there was a literal side to not knowing whether you’re coming or going, but this was it. Fortunately, this was Southwest so my financial penalty was only the increased cost of the trip.

Solution: Know that the devil is in the details and that you’re creating your own hell if you don’t check them as you’re making your reservation.

Leave a detailed itinerary with trusted friends and family members (plural), down to how you’re getting from the airport to where you’re staying, along with names, telephone numbers of where you’re staying and confirmation numbers of your flights. And if you have extra medical insurance or evacuation insurance, note that too, along with your policy number and the telephone number. Include your emergency contacts and keep that information on you.

If this seems like too much information to share, consider this: If you are unconscious or sedated, someone will need to act for you, which is distinctly different from acting like you. You don’t want that. You want someone who is clear-headed and will, for example, remember to cancel your flight because you’re not going anywhere, at least, not then.

I didn’t do any of that prep work on one trip in the spring, and it cost me. Literally and figuratively. When I could eat again, my first meal was the return airline ticket I hadn’t canceled. Like most airline food, it was highly unpalatable.


Solution: These plans aren’t state secrets you’re sharing. Give them up.

Recovery was slow, but what really hurt was my pride, in this case and every other. I know better, and I let things slide anyway.

Learn from my mistakes. Share your own so others can learn too. We are, after all, students of the world, which is why we travel. I’ll be working to make the honor roll in 2020.

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