BUDGET TRAVEL ADVICE
Top 10 Travel Mistakes and How Not to Make Them
Even the dreamiest of trips can go off the rails when you fall into one of these all-too-common travel traps. We've been there—and we've brought back advice on foolproof booking, smart sightseeing, and making the most of every minute.
Sticking to tourist traps rather than venturing off the beaten path
It can be tempting to sink into a chair in the first restaurant or bar you see, but a little research can net you a more authentic experience. To locate the best haunts before you go, seek out "blogs that are focused on just restaurants, or just shopping in a given city," says Parker Stanberry, founder and CEO of OasisCollections.com, which offers high-end vacation rentals and private members' clubs in South America. "And in the social media age, certainly trying to find a friend of a friend that is a local and can provide that local insight is worth the effort. There is no substitute for that local, on-the-ground perspective." Here's how to spot a "tourist trap" so you can steer clear: "With some exceptions, hotel restaurants and bars fall into that category, as well as those suggestions that you see in every generic guidebook," Stanberry says. "Also, spots right next to major tourist attractions—the main plaza, the top shopping street, major museums—tend to fall into the 'overpriced and not very local' category."
Basing your hotel choice on marketing photos
Any hotel or resort can use a fish-eye lens and carefully selected photos to make their property look desirable. Viewing unaltered third-party pictures on sites like TripAdvisor.com and Oyster.com can give you real-life insight into the look of the place—and help you avoid the rude awakening that happens when expectation collides with reality. Oyster's "Photo Fakeout" series mashes up touched-up promotional photos with what the property actually looks like, with funny and slightly depressing results. "Although there's a lot of debate regarding the authenticity of guests' testimonies on TripAdvisor, the website does allow travelers the opportunity to glance at tourist-taken photos," says travel expert Brandon Presser, author of books including the Lonely Planet guides to Iceland, New York City, and the Caribbean. "It's a good opportunity to get a sense of what 'ocean view' truly means at the resort in question. Also, nothing's stopping you from sending the hotel an email, or picking up the phone to further ask about what to expect upon arrival. Remember, hotels are part of a service industry—an industry meant to serve you, the traveler."
Not reading the entire listing when you're looking to do a short-term apartment or house rental
Establishing trust is crucial when you'd like to book a stay in someone else's home instead of a hotel, so asking the host to repeat themselves doesn't win you many brownie points. If the host feels comfortable with you, the more likely you are to score the rental you want. "If you start asking questions that are clearly stated in the profile, the host will think, 'If they aren't minding the details in the listing, are they going to be mindful in taking care of my home?'" says Emily Joffrion, director of consumer strategy at Airbnb.com. To show genuine interest, if the host mentions in the listing that she has a cat, for example, indicate in your initial message that you love cats. Reading carefully can also skyrocket you to the top of a choice apartment's rental list if they're screening out less conscientious guests. Joffrion says one of her New York-based superhosts puts tricks in the description. For example, "If you've read this, open your message by mentioning the color blue."
Choosing an outlying airport that's cheaper, but ending up spending more on transportation to your hotel
Flying into a nearby city or out-of-the-way airport to save money up front might seem smart, but, in the end, the cost could even out and also leave you with less time to spend in your destination. In New York City, for example, taxi fares run from $50 to $70 from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to Manhattan. Fares from LaGuardia Airport, which is closer to Manhattan, range from $29 to $37. Add those expenses up each way, and you're looking at almost $70 more spent on transportation, plus the additional transit time. Same goes for the teensy airports that surround the city you're visiting. "Flights at smaller airports tend to have weaker transportation infrastructure to your chosen destination," Presser says. "You might be faced with cost-prohibitive taxi rides upon arrival." The luggage fees at smaller airports can also be outrageous, Watkins says. Unless your airline ticket is significantly cheaper and the extra fees are low or nonexistent, you might be better off choosing one of the usual airports.
Going to a timeshare sales pitch when you're not in the market to buy
When you're staying at a resort that offers timeshare pitches, know that your time—and your sanity—is more valuable than a spa or restaurant voucher. Skip the sales brunch if you have no interest in purchasing a vacation share. "They can be a very hard sell and pursue you during the rest of your stay with calls," says Watkins. The time you save will allow you to spend more time with the people you're vacationing with and avoid constant unwanted interruption. If you have visions of free hot stone massages dancing in your head that cannot be ignored, hold firm to your bottom line, try to extricate yourself as soon as you can, and screen your hotel-room calls before picking up the phone. There is, as they say, no such thing as a free lunch. And when you're on vacation, pressure is the last thing you need.