12 Travel Mistakes You’re Making RIGHT NOW and How to Fix Them

Cindy Richards Avatar
kid wearing dinosaur backpack standing next to luggage at airport
Photo credit: Grisell DeNapoles

Welcome to travel in a post-pandemic, labor-shortage, inflation-fueled world.

Costs are going up. Reliability is going down. And the frustration level remains constant. The skies are very unfriendly these days. But travelers are still flying like it’s 2019.

What’s a traveling family to do? Read on for our list of the most common travel mistakes we see now and our advice on how to fix them.

And, just so you know, we’re all in the same boat. Many of us SheBuysTravels have made these travel mistakes. And we consider ourselves travel professionals.

1. Forgetting to Book the Extras

We don’t mean booking your seats and paying for your checked bag ahead of time. The airline will prompt you to do that when you book the tickets. No, this travel mistake is not booking everything else you need to go on vacation — pet care, parking and more.

The labor shortage is real and it extends well beyond your favorite restaurant and airplane pilots. Every business is having trouble finding enough staff, leading to things like shortened hours, limited supply and higher costs. If you want to travel over a holiday or another busy travel time, the shortages will be amplified.

The solution: Consult our travel planning checklist and book these extras at the same time you book that plane ticket and hotel room:

2 yellow lab puppies
Not booking pet boarding ahead of time is one of the new travel mistakes people are making now. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Pet Boarding

My best friends were planning a weekend getaway on a busy holiday weekend. The week before the trip, they called the same pet boarding place they’ve always used and found there was no room at the inn — or at any other pet boarding spot in the area.

They activated Plan B — they called me to ask if I would watch the puppies so they wouldn’t lose the money they’d already paid for the nonrefundable hotel deal.

A Parking Space at the Airport

Flights are full and many people still are shying away from public transit. Instead, they’re driving to the airport and paying for long-term parking.

Book ahead to be sure there’s a spot waiting for you when you get there. I always use my Spothero app for that. You can download it to your phone to find affordable long term parking.

SheBuysTravel Tip:  Speaking of checking things off of your list, is your passport about to expire? Don’t wait to renew. Passport processing times are slower than usual and our post on what to do when your expedited passport doesn’t arrive gets more visits from frantic travelers every day.

airport vending machines
Vending machines at O’Hare International Airport sell everything from soda to makeup to LEGO kits. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

2. Planning to Buy What You Need at the Airport

Remember what we said about the staff shortages? They apply to the restaurants and fast food places at the airport too.

My last flight from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, one of the busiest airports in the world, saw loooong lines at every fast food place. Mobile ordering, digital kiosks and vending machines that sell everything from makeup to LEGO building kits are the airport’s answer to labor shortages. But when I tried to buy a soda from the machine, it wouldn’t take my money or recognize my credit card. So I had to stand in the line anyway.

The solution: BYO snacks and a refillable water bottle. Just remember to empty the water bottle before you go through security. And read the TSA guidelines on what’s OK and what’s not OK to bring through security. Taking prohibited things — more than 3.4 ounces of anything, full bottles of water, the wrong foods — through security is a perennial travel mistake that slows down the process for everyone.

Tinker Bell and Minnie Mouse are classic Disney Halloween costumes.
Don’t pay for a day at Disney your little princesses might miss! Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

3. Flying on the Day You Need to Arrive

It’s a typical way to travel: You save the cost of one night in a hotel by booking the early flight and planning to go straight to your activity when you arrive. This is especially popular for Disney regulars who want to squeeze as many park days as possible into their vacation.

The sad news is that extreme weather, missed connections and pilot shortages mean there’s no guarantee your flight will arrive at its appointed hour. Without a doubt, this is the most expensive travel mistake you are likely to make! Don’t risk it if you’re flying to attend some not-to-be-missed event like your parents’ 50th anniversary party, a much-anticipated cruise or a pricey day at Disney.

The solution: Bite the bullet and fly in a day early. If all goes well and you get to your destination as planned, spend the day lounging by the hotel pool or doing some of the fun free things you wouldn’t otherwise have had time to experience at your destination. The cost of that extra night in a hotel will feel like a great deal when you consider the alternative.

4. Booking Up to the Last Minute

I once booked a vacation between leaving one job and starting another. I planned to vacation right up until the last minute, returning home on the Sunday night before I started the new gig on Monday morning.

Enter a freak spring snowstorm that stranded me in California and I had to make an embarrassing call on Monday telling my new boss I couldn’t get there until Wednesday. Luckily, he didn’t fire me before I started.

The solution: If you have some reason you need to get home — a new job, a big presentation at work, your parents’ wedding anniversary party — give yourself a buffer on the return trip, too.

5. Not Allowing Enough Time

Yes, we know it’s tough to entertain kids for hours at the airport. But it’s better than missing a flight because you didn’t allow enough time to do everything you will need to do — drop off the rental car, check the bags, go through security and get to your gate.

Unfortunate travelers learned this the hard way at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas recently. Unexpectedly high traffic, a stalled rental car and an airplane fuel shortage combined to cause long delays to return rental cars and TSA security lines that stretched from one end of the airport to the other. One woman who arrived at the airport 90 minutes ahead of her planned flight to Las Vegas just turned around and went home after a TSA agent told her there was no way she would get through security in time to catch her flight.

The solution: Go earlier than you think you could possibly need to go. Just don’t make the travel mistake of failing to bring plenty of distractions for the kids in case you breeze through security and have three hours to while away at the gate. And read our tips for dealing with flight delays.

Teens waiting at the airport
Teens need their devices! Photo credit: Cindy Richards

6. Letting Your Devices Run Out of Battery

It gets better all the time, but airports still don’t have enough outlets at the gate to keep every passenger charged up. And if you’ve got bored kids and a long wait for a delayed flight, you will definitely want to keep their phones and iPads charged up.

The solution: Bring a power strip. That way, even if all of the outlets are occupied, you can step up with your power strip, politely ask to unplug someone’s phone to plug in your power strip and then — this is the really important part — plug in that person’s phone to the power strip before plugging in your own devices.

7. Not Connecting to the Airline

Flying is a contact sport these days and the rules can change quickly.

SheBuysTravel Nasreen Stump booked a direct flight for her 17-year-old son to to fly from Florida to Texas — and two days later was notified that the direct flight would instead be a connecting flight. She immediately jumped online and switched it back to a direct flight at a different time.

If she hadn’t been connected to the airline, it’s possible the notification would have gotten buried in her email to be discovered after it was too late to fix.

The solution: Download the airline’s app. My phone is full of airline apps. The first thing I do when I fly a new airline is download the app and create an account. That’s the easiest and fastest way to be connected to the airline. I’m often the first one at the gate to get a notification and tell the others that our flight has been delayed or the gate was changed or that the delay has been delayed again, all long before the gate attendant makes an announcement.

8. Booking a Tight Connection

Making a connection of 60 minutes or less used to be doable, even at a big airport in Chicago, New York or Atlanta. Not these days. There’s the risk that your incoming flight will be delayed.

Then there’s the time it takes everyone to get their carryons from the overhead and deplane. Yes, the flight attendants will ask passengers who don’t have connections to remain seated and let people who are trying to catch another flight deplane first. But I have never see it work. People still deplane when it’s their row’s turn.

The solutions: There are a couple of ways to handle this:

  • Book longer connections, at least two hours, whenever possible.
  • Book seats at the front of the plane so you can deplane faster.
  • Book a direct flight, even if it means driving a little farther to get to another airport.
A conveyer belt at baggage claim at an airport is packed with dozens of suitcases and luggage.
Photo credit: anek.soowannaphoom via Shutterstock

9. Checking a Bag

While we are fully committed to Team Carryon, we know that some families are Team Checked Bag. That’s fine. And it even makes sense if you’re flying a bargain carrier that charges for bags — packing everyone’s stuff in one big suitcase and paying one fee to check it is much smarter than paying a slightly smaller fee for each carryon.

But once the airline has that checked bag, it is “checked through to your final destination.” That means you are bag-less and underwear-less until you and the bag are reunited.

The solution: Pack for delays. That means packing a change of underwear and the basics everyone will need into one carryon bag or a backpack that fits under the seat in front of you. That way, you’ll at least have the basics if you find yourselves stuck in a hotel or spending the night at an airport. Here’s what to pack in your carryon.

10. Budgeting to the Penny

We’re all in favor of sticking to a family travel budget. But budgeting to the penny can be a travel mistake these days. It doesn’t leave room for unpredictable expenses, from soaring gas prices to the cost of an unexpected extra night or two in a hotel. (If the flight delay is caused by weather, the airlines are not required to offer you a free night in a hotel, although travel insurance is likely to cover it.)

The solution: Add a little slush fund to the vacation budget. If that isn’t possible, then consider booking a little less vacation — five nights at the destination rather than six — so you’ll have a little padding if you need it. If everything goes perfectly and you don’t need to spend the slush fund, use the extra cash to treat the family to a fun day at home.

11. Not Reading the Fine Print

There’s always so much fine print — the airline’s rules for when they will and won’t give you a refund, put you up in a hotel or rebook you on another flight; a hotel’s free cancellation policy; Airbnb’s very stingy cancellation policy. No one likes reading that dry legalese. It’s so much easier just to click that box and move on.

But things change regularly these days. So even if you actually read the rules before you bought your first plane ticket or travel insurance policy, that doesn’t means the rules are same.

SheBuysTravel founder Kim Orlando learned this the hard way when her flight from California to Connecticut was canceled. The airline refunded her money, but rebooking was going to cost more than twice as much. She thought her travel insurance policy would cover the difference. Nope.

The solution: Take the time to read the rules. If you don’t understand them, call the company and ask someone to explain them to you. If you don’t know the rules, you don’t know your rights and what you can legally demand when your travel plans go astray.

12. Believing Things Won’t Change After You Book

If we have learned one thing from the pandemic, it’s that things can and will change. From mask rules at your destination to Covid vaccination rules for international travel, things can and do change regularly.

For example, most European countries now require that your Covid vaccine not be more than 270 days old with your most recent booster administered at least 14 days before the trip. Veteran traveler Maria Bailey learned that the hard way — three days before her planned trip.

The solution: Check now and check again every week or so to make sure nothing has changed.

What travel mistakes have you made? What are you doing differently now? Share with us in the comment section below.

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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