If you do, you won't end up like Allan Jordan, who showed up for a recent Virgin Atlantic Airways flight from New York to London, only to discover he'd overlooked a small but important detail.
"The woman at the ticket counter very politely welcomed me, looked down at my ticket and said, 'Mr. Jordan, you are flying to London tomorrow. How can I help you?' " he remembers.
Jordan is no newbie. As a consultant based in Great Neck, N.Y., he travels constantly. He knew better.
That's the thing about travel errors. You don't have to be an occasional traveler to screw up. It can happen to anyone. This is a good time to think about travel troubles, before your next big vacation or business trip.
Jordan was lucky. A sympathetic supervisor rebooked him on that day's London flight at no extra charge. "She was very kind," he says.
Lesson learned? Double-check your dates before you leave.
When I say no one is immune to errors, I include myself. A few weeks ago, I gave my travel agent, Melissa, the weekend off and went DIY. I booked a room at a hotel in Portland, my next stop on a West Coast road trip. When I tried to check in, the hotel had never heard of me. Turns out I'd booked a room in Portland, Maine, instead of Portland Oregon. Oops.
Lesson learned? Work with a travel agent.
I'm in good company. Your travel mistakes are great learning opportunities, too.
You say 10/11, I say 11/10
Taylor Ann Giardina has spent years traveling around the world but keeps getting tripped up by date formats. In the USA, we would write Oct. 11 as 10/11/17; in the rest of the world, it's 11/10/17. Confuse that, and you could reserve a room or flight on the wrong day. "I once missed a flight, thinking it was the day afterwards, because I misread the reservation written in the European format — day/month/year," says Giardina, an interior designer from Austin. "Being an experienced traveler, I was overconfident that I had read it correctly and didn't double-check my dates." Lesson: Don't assume anything.
If it looks too good to be true...
That's what Kris Morton discovered when her mother found the perfect car rental in Iceland this year for the bargain price of $400 a week. "Everything was perfect until we returned it before our flight home," says Morton, a writer who lives in Detroit. "We thought we had already paid for the whole rental, but they said we'd only paid for one day. My mom dug out her confirmation email, and to our horror, realized that the rental agents were right. She had somehow only booked the car for one day." Morton ended up paying another $900 for her SUV. The takeaway: You can't rent an SUV in Iceland for $400 a week.
Trust, but verify
Mapping applications from Google and Apple are so helpful, except when they aren't. Andy Abramson, who runs a communication consulting firm in Los Angeles, discovered that on a recent winery tour in France. "In some of the more rural parts, where wineries normally are located, Google Maps will give you a few options, but not all are really roads to take a car on," he says. "On more than a few occasions, Google has taken me on roads best driven in a 4x4 — or taken on horseback." The lesson: Never completely trust anyone or anything, even Google.
Notice a theme? No matter the mistake, there's usually someone on the other end making an incorrect assumption about times, dates, places and prices. You think you know something, but you really don't.
The fix is simple: Pay attention. Double-check the details of your next trip, or hire someone who can. Otherwise, you'll end up as an anecdote in one of my travel columns.
Three more timing mistakes you should avoid
• Paying attention to the time, not day. This is particularly important on international flights with long connections. Notice both the time and day when you're booking. Some stopovers can be lengthy, and that "+1 day" is easy to overlook, As a result, you could be stuck at the airport for more than 24 hours waiting for your connecting flight.
• No flight information on your rental car. Always share your flight number when you book a rental car at the airport. If your flight is late, your car rental company may hold your reservation as a courtesy. Otherwise, they'll cancel your reservation and ask you to make a new booking, almost always at a higher rate.
• Check-in and checkout dates in hotels. This is an easy mistake to make. You'll always check in one day and check out after you've overnighted, on the next day. Travelers constantly confuse their check-in and checkout dates, shorting themselves by a day. An experienced travel pro can help prevent this.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. Contact him at email@example.com or visit elliott.org.