Top 7 Travel Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them

Once, while riding the train into Dresden, Germany, I got off where most other passengers did — at Dresden Neustadt. After 20 minutes of walking in a confused fog, my denial that I had gotten off at the wrong station slowly faded. Embarrassed by my mistake, I hopped on the next train. Five minutes later, I got off at Dresden Mitte. As I stepped outside the station, it slowly sunk in: I just made the same mistake again. Another train came. I got on and finally made it to Dresden Hauptbahnhof — a block from my hotel.

Even after countless trips to Europe, I still make my share of blunders — I get lost, miss train connections, and get shortchanged by taxi drivers. But with each slip-up, I learn something. Now I make it a point to tell people: “Many towns have more than one train station. Be sure you get off at the right one.”

dangerous slide.JPGThis is one travel mistake you definitely want to avoid!

Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see travelers make these days.

1. Saving Money at the Expense of Time. People focus on saving money while forgetting that their time is an equally valuable and limited resource. It’s worth paying for museum admission rather than going on a free day, when you’ll suffer through slow lines and crowds. If a taxi costs you and your partner $5 more than two bus tickets, it’s worth the 20 minutes saved. If ever time were money, it’s when you’re trying to get the most out of traveling abroad.

2. Traveling with Outdated Information. I may be biased, but I believe an up-to-date guidebook is a $20 tool for a $4,000 experience — and justifies its expense on the first ride to your hotel from the airport. A guidebook can head off both costly mistakes (getting fined for not validating your train ticket) and simple faux pas (ordering cappuccino with your pasta in Italy). A good guidebook can also save time, keeping you from visiting a museum that’s closed for renovation, waiting for a bus that no longer runs, and…

3. Needlessly Waiting in Line. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. There are two IQs for travelers: those who queue and those who don’t. Crowds are unavoidable at big attractions, like the Eiffel Tower or Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam — but what is avoidable is standing in line for hours to buy tickets. These days, most popular sights sell advance tickets that guarantee admission at a certain time (often with a small booking fee that’s well worth it). While hundreds of tourists are sweating in long lines, those who’ve booked ahead can show up at their reserved time and breeze right in.

4. Not Being Alert to Scams and Thieves. You’re not going to get knifed or mugged in Europe. But if you’re not on the ball, you could get conned, whether it’s a cabbie padding your fare, a waiter offering a special with a “special” increased price, or a beggar with beautiful eyes, beautiful children, and sad stories asking for a euro — while stealing your wallet. Be cautious, and be alert. And watch for thieves, who work the lines at crowded sights and on the bus lines handiest for tourists. Store your passport, credit cards, and cash securely, in a money belt.

5. Never Leaving the Tourist Zone. Many people jockey themselves into the most crowded spot of the most crowded city in the most crowded month (Old Town Square, Prague, July) — and then complain about the crowds. Likewise, they eat dinner on the most touristy street at the most high-profile restaurant with the most aggressive sales pitch, then are upset by the big bill and disappointing food. You’ll enrich your trip by wandering the back streets, away from the main tourist area. Old Town Square may be a mob scene, but six blocks away you’ll find fewer tourists, lower prices, and convivial pubs filled with happy Czechs.

6. Never Leaving Your Comfort Zone. A fundamental goal in my travels is to have meaningful contact with local people. At a pub anywhere in England, don’t sit at a table. Sit at the bar, where people hang out to talk. At lunchtime in Coimbra, Portugal, leave the quaint Old Town and head to the local university’s cafeteria to eat and practice Portuguese with students and professors. Connecting with people is what enlivens your travel experience. And for many of us, that means getting out of our comfort zones.

7. Letting Mistakes Ruin Your Trip. Many tourists get indignant when they make a mistake or get ripped off. When something happens, it’s best to get over it. The joy of travel is not the sights and not necessarily doing it right — it’s having fun with the process, being wonderstruck with a wider world, laughing through the mistakes and learning from them, and making friends along the way.

Comments

63 Replies to “Top 7 Travel Mistakes — and How to Avoid Them”

  1. I have had friends get emails from their credit card company while traveling of suspicious fraud. Please, Please advise people to ONLY contact the number on THEIR CARD! The numbers in these emails are to steal your info! It has come from signing on for internet in airports, purchases, hotels etc. Be vigilant!

  2. I’ve actually had pretty good luck while traveling, but the one time I was taken was when I was getting gas in Mexico. The attendant came up to the window, I have him 200 pesos, and he said he’d return with the change. He came back and told me that I’d only given him 20 pesos and even showed me the bill I’d given him. Needless to say, that tank was twice as expensive and it should have been, but what else are you going to do? From now on I get the change from everyone as I’m giving them the money.

  3. Always looking for the cheapest option may save a few bucks but will cost a lot in missed experiences. I try not to spend too much time converting everything into dollars spent rather euros or British pounds spent for a better experience. Spend a little extra for that glass of wine on the piazza..it may be cheaper inside in the back but the people watching can be worth an extra euro or two. Also take walking tours recommended in the guide books. London Walks is the best 10 pounds you will spend in that city learning history and culture…not to mention the exact spot where Harry Potter bought his first wand.

  4. A mistake I’ve made multiple times is trying to do someplace new on my own. You don’t have to be on a formal tour, but it is so helpful to hire a local guide to at least take on an overview. I have been to some great places on my own and when others that have been there also asked me if I saw a particular something there and I was upset because I had missed it because I had no idea. It also can be so helpful in touristy places. I hired a Frenchwoman to take us through Versailles, and she explained so much to us as we strolled through the palace making it so much more enriching. Plus she took us to a few places on the grounds that we would have never found. Good local guides can make a huge difference.

  5. #8 Not learning the language… Learning the barest beginnings of a language (sorry, please, thank you, how much, where) opens so many doors – opportunities for conversation with the very people who fascinated you enough for you to make the trip! Even just asking the proper pronunciation of menu items will enrich your travel. Do it.

  6. Not familiarizing yourself with metric measurements and common names for units of measure in the countries you are visiting – A group of friends thought they were getting the deal of the century in a Venice trattoria when they all ordered the lobster for 10 Euro/etto. They ignored the word “etto” on the menu, which in Italy indicates that the lobster is sold by weight – an etto is 100 grams (a little under 4 oz.). Each lobster cost roughly 50 Euro and as you might imagine, the “conto” that evening served as an expensive lesson.

  7. While traveling in the Netherlands my husband decided it would be a good idea to travel via bike to a local castle. We mistakenly trusted a navigation app that completely misdirected us. What should have been a 45 minute bike ride turned into a 2 1/2 hour ride that wasted 3 hours of our day. Physical maps might be the way to go.

  8. I recently had a trip to Florida. But ended up miss my plane. In all my travels this has never happened. The funny part is that the airport is less than half an hour away. The morning of my flight. I slept in, went out for a nice relaxing breakfast. I decided to confirm my flight and get my boarding pass an hour before the flight. For some reason it wasn’t working. I tried several times no luck. Then I checked my itinerary which was barely legible because I needed a new ink cartridge. Come to find out that I looked at the arrival time instead of the departure. Omg. Moral of the story check your itinerary and buy a new ink cartridge lol.

  9. Keep all of your hotel receipts in one place until you check out to make sure you are not double charged for anything. Then mail the receipts to your home. You will want to have them in case there is a dispute with your debit/credit card.

  10. We were late catching our train from La Spezia to Cinque Terre. Once we were on, we realized that we forgot to stamp our tickets. Rick’s words came running through my mind. The train was moving, to late to get off. Talking to my husband about it, I notice a “local” passenger was listening to our conversation. A few minutes later, this passenger kept giving me a look that meant, look behind you. I did and sure enough here comes the conductor. :( All we could do is confess our error,. which she agreed was a BIG error. She must have seen Rick”s show as she gave us word for word what he said could happen.:) After her lecture, which was polite, we felt fortunate that she didn’t give us a big fine. Lesson learned, we double checked to be sure our ticket was stamped before getting on the train..

  11. I frequently use trains to take day trips from where I am staying. I learned my lesson when I was five minutes away from being stranded two hours from my hotel by not checking the departure time of the last train of the day! Now I always check not only departure times for my destination but the departure time for the last train of the day.

  12. Two trips for traveling on the Mexican Riviera. One: avoid the time-share vultures when leaving the Cancun Airport. They look harmless and official enough, and wear uniforms that will make you think they’re employed by the Tourism Board or something and they stand at official looking counters. But keep your head down, avoid eye contact, and keep walking outside the exit doors (there will be outdoor bar handy!). We fell for it on our 1st trip, thinking we were getting a map. Luckily our resort got us reimbursed. Two: book a private or small group transfer round-trip from the Cancun Airport to your resort. Otherwise you’ll be on a big bus that stops at every resort up and down the coast and the trip to your actual destination will take several extra hours! There are some very dependable, reasonable transfer companies who will meet you right at the Airport exit (by the bar!) and they’ll be waiting for you.

  13. Forgetting your not at home. Even when everything seems like you are used to – the waiter attentive, the bar friendly, the streets nearly clean – you are still in a foreign country. Forgetting where you are at can cause many problems, trying to take the metro after it closes, getting hopelessly lost, or worse. Plus, you forget to appreciate the million unique experiences you can be having.

  14. Never rent a car at the airport a 5 or 10 minute cab ride to another car rental outside the airport can save you money

  15. For a reason that still escapes me, my husband put his carry-on bag on the floor next to him in a train station in Rome. Someone approached him for directions. While my husband was distracted by the first man, we assume his accomplice swiped the bag with my husband’s iPad and connectors. Now the good news: we got to experience going to an Apple Store in a shopping mall in Rome. I speak Italian but I had to memorize some vocabulary I didn’t previously know like connectors and plugs. Always look for the silver lining!

  16. On our first trip to Italy we traveled by train. In Milan we needed to catch the train to Genova (Genoa). Instead, we caught the train to Geneva (spelled slightly differently in Italian). Just about the time the train was pulling out of the station we figure out we were on the wrong train. The conductor and nearby passengers had a chuckle at our plight, but fortunately we could get off at the next stop and turn around. We lost some time, but learn very quickly to double check where the train was headed.

    One other tip…many of the trains in Europe are quite long and the car you’re in may not stop anywhere near a station sign. Make sure you know a few of the stops prior to your destination.

  17. Overpacking is a commun mistake I often make. When i return from my trip I make two piles of used clothes and unused. They are always the same high. Lesson learned: travel with half of the stuff you think you are going to wear. Pack light!!

  18. First time taking the train in Europe. Carefully looking up to find the platform. Then because of the oncoming foot traffic of those getting off, moving to the left not realizing we were on another platform and boarded a train North to Milan instead of south to Naples. Although those hours lost enabled us to see the most amazing sunset along the Amalfi coast

  19. Do not blindly follow travel agent recommendations. As a single woman traveler, I regularly use a travel agent, particularly if I am traveling overseas. I learned the hard way, though, that even an experienced travel agent doesn’t necessarily understand my travel preferences. I have been booked on city tours that involved a rigorous amount of walking at a time when mobility was an issue for me. The result was paying in advance for a tour I was unable to take. I have been booked into boutique hotels and upscale international hotel chains, lovely facilities all, but situated nowhere near any sites I wished to see and far from convenient transportation. I have paid for expensive transportation to and from airports, when a taxi or other local transportation would have been significantly less expensive and just as easy to manage. I take full responsibility for these issues. All I needed to have done was conduct a little research of my own prior to accepting the travel agent’s arrangements. With a little time and effort I could (and should) have discovered any potentially unsatisfactory bookings and worked with my travel agent to make changes before I left home. A definite lesson learned.

  20. Wearing the wrong shoes.
    Now it’s comfort first- well broken in.
    There is too much to see to let cute shoes slow you down.

  21. We jumped the line at the Eiffel Tower! The tower was running a trivia contest some yrs ago & I played every day … they had a drawing every day for a month amongst all the entries that had correct answers on their quiz … I ended up winning TWICE & had 4 free tkts to the Eiffel Tower! We gave one to a lovely lady at the airport who was on a teachers’ educational tour & my hubs,son & I kept the other 3. We got to the tower on my birthday in December and there was literally a THOUSAND people waiting in line. We spoke to one of the security guards & he took us to the tkt booth where they allowed us to jump the line immediately. We felt like real VIPs! Don’t tell me trivia is a worthless talent!!!

  22. On our trip to Rome we took a cab from the stand near our hotel at the Pantheon to the Vatican – 15 euro and on the meter. When we were ready to leave I approached the stand in front of the Vatican Museum. “Pantheon?” Yes – the cabbie said – 30 euro. So I knew I was being taken, but we were tired and hopped in. The trip ended 2 blocks from the Pantheon cab stand. I had counted out a 20 and 10 during the trip and handed it up. In a flash the bills reappeared in his hand except they had transformed into 2 10’s. “No, no – 30 euro.” At this point all I had was a 20 which he happily accepted with a “Gratia”. No change.
    This bill switching scam is actually reported by Rick in his book!!! I had read it and still got caught.
    When you’re in the field things happen. Do you want to get into an argument with a Roman cabbie? Sigh

  23. On a trip to Amsterdam, they had won the World Cup and we decided to go to the celebration on the Museumplain. When they brought out the horses with armor and people were hanging from the street lights, we decided it was time to go. We hopped on a tram just to get out of the area not knowing where it would go. Well, it ran to the end of the line, the conductor turned off the lights, grabbed his lunch box and told us someone else would be coming on in a couple of hours! Yes, a new conductor came back on and we went the other way and were fine. But sitting in the dark in a train yard was a little disconcerting thinking about how we could have made a better decision!

  24. Biggest Mistake #1: Listening to not to take advice rather than read long pamphlets of rules. 1A. You can stay in Spain as long as you like. Just cross over to Africa and come back, a non schengen country. Wrong.

    Read and understand Schengen agreement. Many in Europe are not aware it exists.

    On a tourist VISA it is 90 days in a 6month period, period. So I was lucky and the nice landlord let me out of the lease and gave me back all my CASH. I had decided to stay. Rick is right Valencia is wonderful. My six month lease would have just ended last month. Ahhh

    1B) Do not neglect to read the Rail Europe pass. In today’s high tech world a first class ticket does not mean the technology the French TGV workers have matters to them. There were no anybody to take my ticket boarding at Paris main station/Lyon. So boarding wrong we were way underway when I was “discovered”. And they said specifically to me, “Because you are American” when I asked why? I asked 4, yes 4 workers, 2 separate info desk people and two with black rimmed hats and bars on their shoulders how to stamp my pass. They all looked at my tickets and said No worries the conductor will do it. So I get on and all hell broke lose. I did not have mine filled out properly. Hand filled. And others nearby after the hub bub from Australia etc said they did the same as I. And no problem. The same conductor said nothing to them. DONT LEAVE YOURSELF OPEN TO BE A TARGET. Who knew, I tried to do it all correctly. Even with my reading glasses I could not read the print. They said read online. Where I read if you need sight help please let us know. hmmm.

    . And even with going ahead of time in Antibes to get it straightened out, it was still not correct. And I was almost arrested. Flack jackets, hand grenade wearing TGV workers who were laughing as they harassed me. i even said why all this outdated ticket taking on paper when you can see my travel reservations on your computer. “Because you are American” I was told by the high conductor on the third leg. And yet with his help even he did not complete the forms correctly. When I got to Spain the said, oh well, it is fine SIR, enjoy Spain. So learn how to stamp your pass and fill out ALL the pamphlet, even the one that looks like you are signing up for another sale. I landed in SEA from NYC at midnight, grabbed my ticket envelope at six am and was off for Paris. I did not read while i was in Paris, so I paid the price. And there was not a leg from Antibes to Milan so I could not get to Venice and lost a Hotel stay. And when the nice TGV attendant stamped all my cancellations for refund, she also cancelled my Valencia to Paris leg so i could not use the pass for that. The traveler is held accountable for everything. Do not confuse first class with style or being helpful above and beyond the call. Learning Do not travel by train. It was awful, noisy, and everything i passed by I could not get out and see. For 1.2k I could have flown and rented cars and had money to burn. Took my time and really got out and toured at my leisure.

    2) only book into hotels of reputable standing. Do not use local condo resale popular sites. The scams in Europe of illegals or other desperate people are out of control to the point that Paris is raiding apartments used for profit to resale to tourists. There is a limit of how many days one can rent their flat. Neighbors complain to the police. And they are looking for terrorists. However, I gave several deposits as one has to on the sites i won’t mention. They do not preview or qualify their listing clients. And when one comes up to be an apartment that was listed as a hotel or is just plain less than I can stomach even for Europe, the agency changes from bo peep to Dracula.

    While in Europe 3 months I fought and got back 3.5k of 4.2k in unsatisfactory billing. It was dreadful. It is even better to go day by day in the low season. The Major hotels offer good deals. Look for availability and call direct. The Hotel will gladly beat the re sellers rate if you tell them what it is. Even the small boutique hotels were great. The down side of resale units is who knows who really owns the unit? What the lessor’s agreement is with the tenant. And is there insurance if I am injured due to negligence. Not in an illegal rental. Do you get your deposit back? No. The Deposit can often make up the difference of the Hotel price. Sometimes six hundred dollars. I was accused by the agency of threatening my host for not returning my calls of horridly loud noise and dissatisfaction. Luckily I saved my texts. I seldom saw much more than a 25 dollar spread between the major re sale unit outfits and a Hotel. Hindsight says don’t save thinking it is out smarting the industry. It is 50/50. I cannot afford 50/50 myself. The money I lost could have been spent on very nice accommodations. Or passes, diner etc.

    3) Using a VISA for protection in my case does not work. VISA covers fraud. Not unsatisfactory digs. So they say at the local Banner bank. Refund and Warranty is not a normal thing outside the USA. And USA companies from what I experienced are not equipped or interesting in fighting for you in Europe. Letting a customer slide or have the benefit of the doubt and giving in to the customer’s complaint does not work. It is considered a yankee thing to do to complain and it just isn’t done.

    How did I get my money returned. Rail Europe of course refunded some, yet took not enough responsibility by my view. So it cost me 1.2k to take a train from Paris to Antibes. Then Cannes to Valencia. Something I could have done one way for under 400e.

    But I did write and they did give up a small amount, under 200 dollars.

    I wrote directly to the President of each company and talked endlessly on the phone while in Europe exhausting all avenues prior to doing so. Many times they would relent and refund. Only after threatening their license.. The fraud laws are different in Europe. And every time if 5 things were claimed available, view, balcony, stairs, diner, maid service and they only had stairs, they would stand by that. It was insane.

    So the learning: Go slow. Go with a guide. Go with the mainstream digs at good prices. Never give money to online advance Indie sights without paying for the extra refundable rate. Even then read the criteria, because they do NOT like to refund money. And even the major name brands are often Euro owned on the other side of the pond. They play by different rules and often even the biggest name brands have no ability to hold them accountable.

    I appreciated the advice on pickpockets on this site. One group corned me. it was sudden at the D’Orsay listening to music outside on the steps. I yelled Police!!! And they came as quickly as the men disappeared. Not to be pollayanna but the crime is so low there, to be approached like this was obvious. I had plenty of time to help myself in broad daylight.

    Second two young women came up handed me a gold ring: they placed it in my hand and closed my grasp. By the Arc. In broad daylight. IT is your lucky day we found this I don’t need it. I guess you keep it. They walked off, So quick I am stunned. Then returned, I was busy checking my wallet etc and moving so they couldn’t get it. i was looking for police. They returned within seconds to ask for money as I was deciding what police to give the ring to. As they came up and asked for money, I threw the ring underhanded straight up in the air. The last I saw of them they were scrambling after the ring.

    And I had plenty of great fantastic wonderful times. I just won’t take the TGV. The other trains were fine. The people on the streets are very kind. Just don’t ask them in the middle of rush hour for help. Be polite, please, bonjour, My stories of amazing wonderful strangers far outweighs the difficult times. 100 to 1.

    Even in Berlin I bought a day rail pass at the airport. The booth employee assured me no stamping was necessary they look at the type of pass and the date. WRONG I found out on the city rail. The woman was nice to me and heard me out, as was one of the Three TGV people.
    Yet she made me hop off when the doors opened and hop back on after stamping my pass at the landing. No ticket. I was told I was lucky by a passenger. I could have been given a 120e fine.

    understand and comply with stamping your transpo passes. Negotiate all fairs with cabbies in advance. And ask the hotel concierge what it should be. Most hotels have reliable cabbies they call. Day 1 in Antibes I paid 20e to go 2 miles. Not twice I didn’t .

    Always use a reputable Hotel. They can be found cheap. I paid 80e a night in Montmartre for a nice place. 100e a night near the Louvre. This after two horrid places in a row.

    Hotels near Schengen airport are a huge distance from Amsterdam. And the one day I took the train into town there was a rail problem. We were stranded on the platform we had to get out on for 2 1/2 hours. Hot and no water as it was only to be a short trip. The platform ways high and away from any businesses in a residential area. A mess. And the round trip for cabs is around 90e.
    The cabbie at the airport was enraged. Waiting in line all day for four hours for a fare to Amsterdam I only wanted to go 25e to the hotel. By the view of the google map I could walk. But there is law that you cannot walk there even though I could see the hotel from the taxi stand. They had an all shuttle but it stopped at 1130pm. I shared a cab with a very nice young hungarian business woman. She was terrified she told me of the cabbie who stopped at the end of the run and yelled at us. I went New York on him and that was that. Staying at the Schengen airport is not a best choice is you plan to be in Amsterdam daily. It is not easy access. Or inexpensive and the hotels are just as expensive at the airport as in the city. The hotel was nice but what a fiasco. They were the second biggest loss as they told me they would let me out of my non refundable reservation only to have the reservation office later refuse the refund. Even the front desk manager told me she would refund. They do not like refunds in Europe. Once they have your money SOL pal.

    First trip go with Rick. i wished I had.

  25. We got off the train in Naples and were heading to catch the local train to Sorrento when a lovely older gentleman told us to be careful of thieves on the local train. He recommended his friend with a cab drive us to our hotel in Sorrento for a very good price for 4 people. We did just that and were charged over $40 euros per couple. Only when we were in our room, did we read that the local train from Naples was about 4 euros per person and was now very safe!

  26. Staying in a home several friends and I rented near St. Remy, I got so comfortable and happy that I forgot to be careful. I went to an ATM in a fairly isolated spot, forgot to look around, stuck my card in the machine, typed in my code and only then became aware of a young man looking over my shoulder. I thought I was alone! The card would not come back out of the machine. This occurred at the beginning of a long Bastille Day holiday. The young man and his friend were very polite but insistent, in their broken English, that they needed to use the ATM and I could get my card back when the bank reopened in a few days. I knew they were up to no good but never did I feel like they would harm me. I finally stepped to one side and watched his hands as he worked the machine. He was like a magician. He got my card without me ever seeing him do it!! He and his friend said a cheerful goodbye and jumped into two cars filled with what looked like their families from babies to grandparents. They waved goodbye. A friend who had lived in Europe and North Africa took one look at me and knew there was trouble. He helped me call the credit card company in NYC and I listened while the representative ticked off purchases as they were made on my card. I yelled at him to stop talking and cancel the card. In the end I lost nothing but I was without an ATM card and cash for the next two weeks. No fun but a great lesson. Always watch out around cash machines whether at home or abroad and carry more than one ATM card.

  27. Always have your backpack or suitcase in view on the train. Going from Amsterdam to Brussels I put my backpack in the rack above my seat. A thief from behind got on the train after me then got off at the stop before me with my backpack. This person replaced my backpack with a similar one so I still saw the backpack strap hanging down from above thinking it was mine until I got ready to get off the train in Brussels. The thieves do know what they are doing and are very intentional. Even so I love traveling in Europe and can’t wait to return!

  28. Our worst mistake is not bringing Rick Steve’s travel guide to countries we visit. That seldom happens. However, we just completed a trip to Hungary and Bulgaria. Rick: you need a book on travel in Bulgaria. This country is so under-rated and we had a terrific experience there [we did watch your video on Bulgaria].

  29. I think the cabs are the worst. I have traveled in both Western and Eastern Europe. Some memorable experiences are a cab driver in Warsaw running after us yelling that the guy who’s cab we got into was a crook and he’ll overcharge us. Apparently there was some truth to that since the cab from the hotel to the airport when we were leaving, arranged by the staff at the hotel, cost quite a bit less. In Karlove Vary, at the train station in the Czech Republic the cab driver charged us about 30 euro (if I recall correctly) for going a few blocks. Then someone told me that the Russian Mafia runs the cabs at the station. Of course we had heavy luggage and it was all uphill. In retrospect, I should have asked for suggestions from the hotel in advance in both cases.

  30. The comment about mistakes. I have gotten lost many times and after a few counted them as adventures more than mistakes. One was driving in Istanbul (not a wise choice), but made a wrong turn and promptly found ourselves on a side street with children playing soccer. We knew instantly that is was something than the regular tourist would never see.

  31. In Italy, I had a list of famous sites I had to see–which involved rushing from crowded place to crowded place. Once we were there, my favorite places weren’t on the list at all–we got lost in beautiful Tuscany and ended up in Volterra (missing most of our day in crowded and touristy Pisa), made an impromptu trip to Elba and enjoyed fantastic food and scenery, and made another impromptu trip to beautiful Assisi. Don’t stick with the “top” tourist sites–they have the most tourists.

  32. On the first night of our first trip to Rome we were eating outdoors at a Rick Steves recommended restaurant. It was a lovely night and the setting was beautiful. We ordered, and the waiter brought out bread and olive oil. As we do in the States, we poured olive oil on the small plate and started dipping our bread, thinking we were quite cosmopolitan. The waiter came to our table, and with a look of horror said: “Do neither of you smoke?” We were dipping our bread in the ashtray. Who knew?

  33. After dinner with a group of 12 or more, my hubby and most of the group went in search of the perfect wine bar in Venice while a handful of us returned to the hotel. At the wine bar he left the group to use the restroom and on his return the group had returned to the hotel. It was later in the evening and all the shutters on awnings were pulled down on the businesses he had used as landmarks and everything looked the same. He couldn’t recall the specific name of the hotel and was so flustered he couldn’t even recall the area of Venice where it was located. He got hopelessly lost in a non-tourist area, thus no English speakers or other businesses. After continuing to wander he finally backtracked to the wine bar where there was now a new group of tourists with GPS! They found the hotel on their phone and walked him to it. Lessons here: Always take a card from the hotel with you and make a note to yourself what major landmark or tourist area it is near. When excusing yourself from a group, ensure someone knows to let the group know to wait on you. Monitor your alcohol intake when celebrating with friends in an unfamiliar location.

  34. Great advice. I can remember getting onto the metro in Barcelona and in no less than 5 minutes having my pocket picked, fortunately I thye only took cash. Normally I travel with everything ionised clothes but for some reason ( rushing) didn’t in this case. This was after lecturing friends to be careful especially in Barcelona!. 5 minutes later it became part of the story of the holiday to regale my friends with later. Ended up good val;use.

    One thing I like to do if I am in a placed for a few days I’d too get on the local train, tram or bus and go top the end of the line, have a coffee or meal and return. It’s amazing what out of the normal experiences occur.

    Keep up the good work I am an avid listener of your podcast.

    Gary McIntosh
    Opossum Bay Tasmania Australia

  35. On our first trip to Europe in 2005, we spent a week in Denmark with family, then went on to Cologne, Germany on an overnight train. We arrived early in the morning on a Saturday, so decided to see some sights before picking up our rental car in the afternoon. Since we weren’t sure exactly how far the car rental place was, we decided to walk there, so we would know where to go later after lunch. It turned out to be a fairly long walk, although not difficult, and w arrived about 11:30 AM, so we checked in with them and found out they were to close at noon! We were so lucky we had happened to go there when we did – they wouldn’t open again until Monday morning. We would have missed our entire 3 day plan in Germany!

  36. We went to Turkey in 2014. My husband packed our visas in what we intended as carry-on but at the last minute they told us the cabin was too full and the bags would have to be checked. When we arrived to the Istanbul airport we weren’t able to get through passport control without visas which were at baggage claim on the other side. there was a computer and printer for public use so we tried to pull up our electronic visas and print them out but were unsuccessful with the Turkish keyboard. The Turkish Air personnel had been amazingly sweet while on board, but the ground personnel were extremely unhelpful until I started crying, one took pity on us and helped us access our visas. Luckily, the entire group we were meeting, kept the faith and waited for us for two hours until we made it to the other side. A week later we tried to book a bus trip from Istanbul to Ayvalik and were unable to do it on-line, assuming our credit card was being rejected. So we got to the bus station hours early to buy the ticket in cash. Turns out, that particular bus company does not take foreign credit cards, period. If we had booked with another company there would’ve been no problem and we would not have wasted most of a day in a rather unpleasant bus station. Plus, the promised restrooms aboard the bus did not exist (there was one stop for a 8 hour trip).

  37. Don’t worry about food poisoning. I got quite sick after a very delicious meal in Rome (I blame the proscuitto and melon) but was well taken care of (for free!) in an Italian hospital. Try the localest foods and drinks and take some risks with your palette. McDonald’s and Starbucks not allowed! Oh and I went back to Rome last summer and had the most delicious pizza and pasta and (cheap) beer (near the Coliseum–thanks Rick Steves!) and wine and well-chosen picnic of bread, cheese, proscuitto (!), and fruit. Keep your food worries at home and you’ll thank yourself.

  38. Upon returning from Australia recently I found I had no ride home.. Since I had departed on the 6th I would arrive on the 7th, right? A long flight = arrive the next day. WRONG! Arrive the same day.

  39. After years of traveling all over the world, I like to think I know what I’m doing. Yet I keep leaving stuff in hotel rooms. Latest silliness: left my favorite suede jacket in Florence.

  40. My biggest mistake is forgetting sometimes that less is more and trying to do too much. Last year on a trip to France, on my first day after arrival, I tried a rushed and poorly planned trip to Versailles spur of the moment from Chartres, hoping to see the fountains which only run on weekends and save a day doing this on the back end of my trip. Having purchased my return fare and already riding the train en route, I read in my guidebook that the fountains do not run all day, but only at certain hours. So I wasn’t going to be able to see them in any event and stil make it back to Chartres in time to meet up with my tour group. Being jet lagged, I should have stuck to my original plan and enjoyed a lazy relaxing day enjoying Chartres, instead of rushing to Versailles and trying to do too much – with which my poor advance planning wasn’t going to allow me to see the fountains in any event.

  41. As a retired commuity college adjunct professor, I’ve never had money to burn. But I love traveling! And I taught an honors class in culture and communication. I had to find unique, less expensive ways to travel. My first adventure involved getting a job for a year in China. The Chinese university paid my airfare there and reimbursed me for my trip back after my return. Near retirement, I traveled to Strasbourg to meet a friend from Bulgaria at a rhetoric conference. She flew back to Sofia and I took a train that stopped in Venice where I could get a train through Slovenia, Bosia, Serbia to Sofia next day. Great trip! A day and a half to lose myself in the alley ways of Venice was perfect. A couple on the train from Strasbourg told me to do this and it was the best advice. The next year, I used some of my retirement money to fund a longer trip through Europe and then to Bulgaria. This time, I planned mor carefully and bought two different rail passes, one for France and one for three countries–Italy, Greece and Bulgaria. Little did I know, the train ticketed in Paris sent me through Switzerland during the night–so, I was awakened and had to pay a huge sum just for passing through that country in the night! Read your tickets! When I got to Bulgaria, my friend was not able to let me stay with her any longer, but she helped me find a place to stay and from there, another place. I ended up living with am acadeic couple with 4 kids and grandparents. I stayed in the flat with the grandparents, did some tutoring for the kids, a lot of “conversational English,” and more scholarly editing for the dad–all of which only added to the enjoyment of being with this rather remarkable family. Even other Bulgarians found them remarkable, lively, engaging people. They were almost all musical. The grandmother had been a music professor. Her daughter was choir director for a small Orthodox church choir and also traveled with a comic operaetta gorup in Europe for two months each year, and the dad had been a wannabe rock star when young, so both is older kids played guitar and sang. The youngest, Yana (now a teenager) was 5 years old and she was being given piano lessons by her grandmother and her mother. Parties at their house were often music fests! I stayed 5 months, two months past my original Visa (you can get an extension under certain circumstances). If not for one missing paper that Texas would not provide, the final document I needed to emigrate, I might have moved there for the rest of my life! I was that happy to be in Sofia. My philosophy of travel is not to be a tourist, but to live and/or work with locals. It makes for an interesting way of being more embedded in a different culture, lots of the same usual mishaps other visitors experience, but at least you have locals to help you out and help you understand better where you are and how “a whole way of life” is really lived by people in that particular locale.

  42. I travelled with my family of 5 through Europe by train. What a fabulous time (late February). We went from Frankfurt to Berlin then down to Vienna,Venice, Salzburg, Lucerne, Paris and back to Frankfurt and home to Australia. It was affordable because I searched for best deals between each major stop. It cost the family only 20 Euro to go from Vienna to Salzburg. We stayed at hotels near each station. It also seemed cheaper to stay near the station. We kept an eye on luggage because we knew that theft is common. Every member carried identification should anyone get lost. We had the best time and the trains were great. We were pleasantly surprised to encounter Carnivale celebrations in Venice and in Lucerne. . Being the frugal person that I am, I always checked the bill against the booking. On the trains, we got more confident with our seat when we realised that passengers would take your seat if you didn’t assert yourself. Mind you, we chose our battles wisely. Doing it again soon. Love all the stories here and Rick Steve’s tips.

  43. Love all of these advice tips. They are spot on. I really love how you tied it all together in number 7. I know people who come home from trips and complain about everything. You see reviews on Tripadvisor — little things people didn’t like about the hotel and it ruined their entire trip. I have an immense fondness for every trip I’ve ever been on. Everything that happens is an adventure. It’s all part of the experience. And even those moments that aren’t quite rainbows and roses, become great stories to laugh at when you get home :)

  44. On a trip to Ireland & Scotland in 2014 with two girlfriends, I was in charge of navigating us from point A to point B in any given town or city. “No problem”, I thought, “I’ll just wifi and my map apps!” WRONG! My mistake was in thinking that metropolitan places like Dublin and Edinburgh would have free city Wifi everywhere – like most places do here in Canada. WRONG! Wifi was sporadic, and most restaurants and shops don’t have it available for public use. On my next trip (France this fall), I’ll be bringing printed out maps with me!

  45. This is small but still humiliating. I pride myself on being a superior polite American – not like all those other people. So one Sunday in Paris looking for a particular church, I went up to a waiter standing at a cafe and said “Excusez moi. Ou est St. Sulpice?” He paused for a few seconds, looked me in the eye and said, “Bonjour.” I still turn red when I think that I couldn’t remember that basic courtesy. It goes a long way.

  46. Exchanging money too soon has cost me quite a bit of unnecessary exchange fees. I panicked when the Canadian dollar fell and bought a bunch of American at a high rate. Within a month the rate returned to a reasonable rate and I was out the difference. Also bought 3000 Euros for a trip and later realized I would be carrying all that cash…risky and not smart. Did not occur to me that I could use ATM’s….and lots of my Euros were 500 Euro bills, that shops didn’t like to accept…..lessons learned…

  47. A wile back I was to meet my partner at the Central train station in Lyon France. He was traveling by train from Naples Italy and I was driving from Worms Germany. After meeting we were to drive to Barcelina Soain where we were taking the night Gerry to Mallorca Spain. Well, I drove there in plenty of time and it was a 6 hour drive alone. When the train he was supposed to be on arrived, he wasn’t on it! No cell phones at the time. I called family to see if he had contacted them and he had not. None at the station spoke English. Needless to say I had a good cry and thought it thru.. I went to the information booth and looked at the train schedule info. Then I saw the problem! There were two central train stations. So I had to assume he was at one and I the other. What to do?? I used some logic and decided he would hopefully figure out the same thing and waited where I was. Sure enough, about an hour or more later he showed up. What a relief. We just barely had the 6 hours to get to the nite boat in Barcelona, but we did. Moral of the story, always confirm the name of the train station if you are meeting someone. I could have been left with an aweful trip by having to return to Germaby not knowing what happened to my partner!!

  48. do your homework before you book! understand where you are going and have realistic expectations. once en route, probably not being best prepared when venturing off the well worn path. reading blogs, accessing satellite maps, taking reviews and comments seriously to avoid pitfalls and discover gems. know your currency and accessibility to emergency services- especially important these days. travel is still a gift, but preparation has no substitute.

  49. Don’t over plan. The best trips have been the least thought out! I went to Europe with a friend… Arrived with a backpack, hotel reservation for the night of arrival, a eurail pass, and a return ticket home. Went to the train station in the morning, looked at the board and saw upcoming departures, and decided to head to Switzerland. We were able to talk to other travelers to get advice on where to go, and saw some places I’d never have visited if I had mapped out a rigid itinerary. Slovenia?!? Yes! Awesome place!

    Oh, if you travel with someone, make sure you have similar travel styles and interests! My first time traveling, I went with an acquaintance just because she had available vacation time. Spent WAAAAY too much time in shops and tourist traps.

  50. My daughter and I were enjoying a lovely dinner in Venice before we caught the train back to Verona where our hotel was. We lingered over the best Tiramisu I’ve eaten. When we arrived at the train station, we had missed the LAST train off the island! I paid for two hotel rooms that night, one in Venice and the other for our luggage in Verona. I learned that you must always check the return train schedule and note departure times.

  51. It was a gorgeous blue sky sunny day at Lands’ End on September 11th, 2001. We had a picnic and walked along the water’s edge, waving across the sea to New York. Our mistake was not realizing it was a school holiday, and thus the bus schedules were limited, so our planned departure back to Penzance and Bodmin was not going to be for hours and hours. In true Rick Steves fashion, we made friends with some newlywed locals, who stuffed us in the back of their tiny car and drove us to Penzance. It was in the subsequent taxi ride to Bodmin that the crackling radio said “the New York skyline will never be the same” and then the cabbie told us what had happened on the gorgeous blue sky sunny morning in New York.

  52. Traveling home to LAX from Turkey, I missed my plane connection in Istanbul. I looked at my air confirmation and mistook the time the flight from Istanbul was supposed to land in London to be the time it was leaving Istanbul! Once the mistake was realized I scrambled back and forth between British Air which I was flying, and talking on the phone to American Airlines which was the airline I booked the flight through using points. Ultimately AA got me on a later flight to London where I had to spend the night before proceeding to LAX the next day. The good news is, AA did not charge me for the screw up!

  53. I go to Europe 2 – 3 times a year and have learned to balance time with money (per RS advice!) for transportation and definitely advance tickets.

    My two biggest tips are: 1) never rely on the subway/underground/etc for airport transportation when you’re traveling during rush hour. For example, in London I avoid the Underground for a weekday early morning departure. I’ve seen travelers have to wait for 2 – 3 trains for a car with room for their suitcases.

    2) download the official public transportation apps. Especially convenient in London where you can quickly figure out the best way to get anywhere and zip around like a pro.

  54. On my first day of a 3 week tour in China our bus stopped at a Jade Factory on our way to the Great Wall. It was a nice demonstration and a very nice sales room. And the little tchochkies looked like easy-to-pack souvenirs so I bought 3 of them. I thought I had spent $27 but realized as I was leaving that I had missed a decimal point in the exchange rate! I spent $270 for what amounted to 3 keychains! Needless to say, I kept all 3 of them for myself! They now adorn ceiling fans in my home! Figure out the rate of exchange BEFORE you start spending money!

  55. #8 Don’t get stuck finding WI-FI ZONE! Enjoy all your trip, from the road to the sky… And sometimes stop walking and have a sit somewhere like a square and watch the ‘world’ around you.

    Goodbye from Italy!

  56. If you ever have to take a cab in dubious circumstances, make sure the cabbie knows your absence will be noticed and traced back to him. Get somebody to walk over to cab with you or if you can’t do that, in his hearing call somebody to say you are getting in his cab and expect you in x minutes, even if there’s really nobody on the other end.

  57. While teaching at a Dutch university, I attended a parent dinner. Each table had one faculty member and once the parents heard I’d lived in Arizona, one of the parents told me their Arizona travel tale. In the Netherlands, in a pizza restaurant, you order a pizza each. Therefore, this family, hungry as they were, decided to each order a large pizza at Pizza Hut in Phoenix. That would take care of it! When the pizzas arrived, their eyes popped out of their heads. Needless to say, they couldn’t eat it all and one of the other customers in the restaurant was laughing so hard he almost fell off his chair.

  58. Ummmm, just remember to check the expiration date on your cash card that you plan to use in all the cash machines in Central and Eastern Europe. Lesson learned. Had to resort to other methods, costly, but at least we salvaged our 6 weeks in countries with different currencies.

  59. I’m going to Mexico City next week so these tips come in handy. Especially the one about saving money and losing out on time. I’m so frugal that I often thing saving money is the only thing that matters when losing out on time can be just as costly. Thanks for that reminder and for all your other tips!!

  60. I always travel with paper: maps, Rick Steves’ guide book, tickets. I assume my cell phone will just be an alarm clock in Europe. (I’ll have the map of the airport to my hotel in hand. I’ll show it to the cabbie and ask him if he needs it. You can imagine, he loves that. But, I don’t get driven in the wrong direction.) I learn basic politeness, how to order a dinner with wine, and numbers—so I can pay for it.

    Biggest mistake: Packing into a train in Paris. My husband was pick pocketed. It was his wallet, in his front pocket. Thank goodness he didn’t loose his passport, which was right next to the wallet. The pick pocket knew the doors were going to close soon, and jumped off. When my husband turned around to catch him, the man waved from the platform as the train left. We now separate our money and valuables between many pockets.

    I always get travel insurance. I broke my leg skiing in Switzerland. NO, IT IS NOT FREE HEALTH CARE THERE!! They wanted my credit card. They do not want an insurance card. When I got home, my medical bills were first sent to my health insurance, then to the travel insurance company for the remainder. It ended up being covered, according to my travel insurance plan, but it took several months.

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