Written by JOHN WALTON

The 5 most common mistakes travellers make — and how to avoid them

Everyone makes mistakes when they travel: visa problems, booking on the wrong day, problems at the rental car desk, or a ticketing nightmare. Here are some ways to avoid (or at least minimise) them.

1. Not getting
(or renewing)
an electronic
visa or travel authorisation

The rise of visa-free travel and the growth of electronic visas has made travel easier for many people around the world.

More and more countries have started using electronic travel authorisations (ETAs) that must be arranged in advance of travel, replicating ESTA in the US, Australia’s eVisitor and ETA, and so on.

These aren’t visas - but they are mandatory. They tend to be valid for a year, but you're unlikely to get a reminder that it's expiring and it’s easy to forget if you’re returning to a destination.

Airlines often don't explain what you need — until you go to check-in and find you can’t travel without one. The airline can submit an urgent request, but sometimes this won’t come through in time.

A related mistake: paying third-party companies for ETAs if they’re free. There are many scams, so check somewhere reputable like Lonely Planet to see whether there’s actually a fee before paying.

2. Booking the wrong dates — especially a hotel checkout date

With the wildly different ways booking calendars work, it’s easy to get mixed up. Some accommodations ask you to click on your last night with them, others on your checkout date. Always double-check.

Normally, if you catch mistakes within 24 hours of booking, your accommodation can help. Don’t forget that the US uses the month-day-year format for dates: the opposite of most of the world.

3. Forgetting
about manual transmissions in rental cars

If you’ve never driven a manual (stickshift, or standard transmission) car before, the airport rental car parking lot is not the place to learn.

Even in some countries where automatic transmissions are the norm, the lowest price cars can sometimes be a manual, so always double-check the details of any car you book.

4. Not thinking about an international driving permit

There are still quite a few countries, even among the most frequently visited, where an international driving permit is needed.

An IDP is a small booklet you usually purchase for a small fee from a motoring association in your home country, which basically translates your licence into one of three international formats.

Some countries require an IDP but you’ll rarely be asked to show it; in some, it's based on the length of stay. You may need one if your licence isn’t in English; make sure you get the right format.

Some of the companies where you buy your IDP tend to say “yes you need one” in some cases where you don’t. Check somewhere reputable like Lonely Planet while doing your research.

5. Booking flights via a third-party website or online travel agency

Last tip: never, if you can avoid it, buy your airline tickets through anyone but the airline itself. That’s especially true for the various “cheap deals” kind of online travel agent.

If anything at all goes wrong with your journey — a missed connection, a cancelled flight — you may well end up having to call them direct, non-collect, and wait for customer service to answer.

Even then, they’ll probably have to talk to the airline themselves, which can take days. Find your best price, then visit that airline’s website.

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