4 Tips to Avoid Common Travel Fails

The best-laid travel plans sometimes go awry. See how to deal with everything from losing your way to losing your luggage.

by NEA Member Benefits

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Key takeaways

  • Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least 6 months past the date of your trip.
  • Pack your most important possessions in your carry-on or purse.
  • Your standard health insurance usually doesn’t cover nonemergency care overseas.

It’s no fun thinking about something going wrong on your vacation—but you need to be prepared in case it does. Here’s how to handle or prevent some of the most common travel mishaps.

1. Avoid getting lost.

These days, most travelers don’t leave home without a smartphone. Put it to work by downloading a mapping app and plotting out your journey before you depart. Both Google and Apple offer map apps with spoken, turn-by-turn directions for driving or walking, as well as public transportation directions.

Traveling to a new city? Download the free City Mapper app (for Android and iOS). It lets you save and pin sights on your itinerary—such as museums and restaurants—and map routes between them. Also, be sure to designate your lodgings as “home.” That way, if you get lost, you can select the “Get Me Home” option to guide you back to your hotel.

Finally, print out your route or use a paper map. That might seem old-fashioned, but printed maps remain a reliable backup when GPS leads you astray or your phone’s battery dies. 

2. Ensure your luggage meets you at your destination.

It’s aggravating when your checked bag arrives at your destination after you do—or not at all. To increase your chances of connecting with your bag, make sure your luggage tag is accurate, and place your full itinerary and contact information inside the bag. Make an inventory or snap a pic of what’s in your luggage in case you have to file a claim later. Also, put a bright ribbon on your bag to make it stand out so another traveler doesn’t mistake it for their own.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure your most important possessions don’t get lost is to pack them in your carry-on or purse. This includes items such as medications and a phone charger.

In case your luggage does get lost, research your airline’s claim procedure and per-diem allowance for purchases made while waiting for the errant bags.

3. Double-check and back up your documents.

There’s no worse time to discover your driver’s license or passport has expired than when you attempt to go through airport security. Be sure to check the expiration dates well in advance of your trip; keep in mind that passport renewal can take up to eight weeks.

If you’re planning an overseas trip, check your destination’s passport and visa requirements. An increasing number of countries require your passport be valid for at least six months past the date of your trip. The State Department website has a basic country-by-country overview.

Before you leave home, also make copies of your passport’s identification page and relevant visas, as well as the front and back of all credit and debit cards you’re bringing. Store these separately from the original documents or cards; if the originals are lost or stolen on your trip, the copies will expedite their replacement.

4. Be prepared in case of a medical emergency.

For domestic travel, check with your health insurer before you leave for a list of in-network providers along your route and at your destination. Your standard health insurance usually doesn’t cover nonemergency care overseas, so consider buying a travel medical insurance policy. The website for the U.S. embassy closest to your destination will likely have a list of local English-speaking health providers as well as phone numbers for the embassy and emergency services.

As an extra safeguard, you can download the free Emergency Phone Numbers app (for iOS). It not only provides the local emergency phone number but shows on your screen exactly where you are, so you can share that information for a quicker response time.

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