Monday, July 5, 2010

How To Avoid Travel Mistakes

For a pursuit with such a faithful and passionate following, travel can sometimes be a cruel master, writes Anthony Dennis for, as he shares his top tips for avoiding travel mistakes...

One mistake, one lapse in concentration, one act of carelessness, one poor decision can destroy a holiday and all of its memories. But many mistakes can be avoided by adequate preparation and research before you take off.

Penny Spencer, managing director of Spencer Travel, nominates "DIY travel" - where travel is booked online - as one of the most common areas where travellers come unstuck.

"One of my clients booked a flight online in 2010 when he wanted to travel in 2009," Spencer says. "So, on turning up to the airport, he found he was at check-in a year before he had booked and the flight was full."

Airlines, too, report tales of couples turning up at airports for their honeymoon trip only to discover that they'd entered the wrong date or even the wrong destination when they'd booked the flights online. Although more and more of us do book online, credible travel agents remain a more reliable method of arranging a trip, especially if you're not a regular traveller and are unused to booking a large amount of travel online.

Remember, too, that not every site is genuine. Spencer recalls one client who arrived at a New York apartment for which he'd booked and pre-paid online. But the owner had no record of the transaction. It was a fake site - his money never reached the owner.

Duncan Beauchamp, brand manager of Mayfair International, a major distributor of travel luggage, says the main mistake travellers make is buying cases that are simply too big.

"The perfect size for a suitcase is between 65cm and 68cm, which will take about 20kg - the weight limit set by most airlines," Beauchamp says.

But, if you want to bring some goodies back, don't use up all of that 20kg, he warns. He also recommends identifying your luggage with distinctive tags that you'll easily recognise on the carousel.

Australian company myBagTag has labels featuring colourful designs. Swiss brand Victorinox sells a "Tracking ID Tag" that allows the owner to register their contact details for a "lifetime lost bag retrieval service".

A traveller never quite realises the value of a passport until one is lost. Australians lose up to 36,000 of them each year, say the Department of Foreign Affairs.

It can be hard enough to replace a passport, but you will also need to renew any visa stamps. While Australian diplomatic missions can quickly provide a temporary replacement, the country that issued your visa may not be as efficient. And many countries will not allow entry if a passport has less than six months' validity. Some, such as China, require two clear pages. So be sure of any visa requirements before your trip and allow enough time to arrange them.

Robert Fletcher, director of the Canberra-based Active Travel, recounts how one client turned up for a trip to Vietnam without the mandatory visa. She had flown from Perth to Sydney for the flight and could not board the plane to Vietnam.

"I said to her: ‘Well, you will have to stay two days for the next flight but you may be able to get this cost back on your travel insurance.'

"She said: ‘Oh, I don't have that.' "To which I responded: ‘Well, that's two mistakes and you haven't left the airport yet.' "

Heading overseas without travel insurance is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. As the Department of Foreign Affairs puts it: If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. Australians have no legal entitlement to financial assistance from the Federal Government.

The Insurance Council of Australia says that it's important not to underinsure for travel. Ensure medical cover is adequate for the particular country, or countries, you're visiting, especially in regions such as North America, Europe, Africa and some parts of Asia.

Theft can occur in an instant, and a traveller might not discover the loss until a long time after the incident. But time spent dealing with the consequences of a robbery or mugging abroad can far outweigh the time to assess your security before you leave.

A money-belt remains the surest and easiest way to protect your valuables when you're on the move. If you're out for the day or the evening, just take what you need and leave the rest inside the safe in your room or the one at reception. But, importantly, as Fletcher advises, don't forget to remove your valuables before you check out otherwise you may end up at the airport with your passport and other items back in the safe.

Ten common travel mistakes
1. Not allowing enough time between connecting flights - especially when overseas. A missed flight can have disastrous consequences for a too-tight itinerary.
2. Not factoring in - interstate or overseas - time differences when booking flights, hotels or even rental vehicles.
3. Not making copies, in the event of theft, of important documents such as your passport, travel insurance policy and credit cards.
4. Not checking that your Australian ATM card is accepted by banks and traders at your destination. Some card providers also now also require you to alert them before you travel.
5. Arriving at a foreign destination to hire a vehicle and not realising an international driver's licence will be required.
6. Going to the wrong airport in a city or to the wrong terminal. Many overseas cities have more than one airport, and most airports in large centres have multiple terminals.
7. Not checking about overseas call charges from your mobile provider - or whether your phone will even operate at your destination.
8. Not checking if there is a public holiday, festival or other festivities and arriving to find nothing is open and that all hotels and flights, buses and trains are fully booked.
9. Tempting pickpockets and thieves by displaying jewellery and other precious personal effects in public.
10. Exhibiting cultural insensitivity - visiting a conservative society and wearing short shorts and singlet tops and exhibiting a general lack of awareness of cultural mores.


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