Even experienced road warriors make travel mistakes. The key is to learn from them so they never happen again. Did you ever arrive at the airport and find out you’d booked your flight for the wrong day? I did and it took some sweet talking and a chocolate bar to get me on my flight. Here are 3 other travel mistakes I’ve made. Laugh if you want. I won’t be offended.

Red kayaks, Hudson River. Which kayak is mine? A problem, but not as troubling as losing your rental car. Travel Mistake #1.

Which kayak is mine? A problem, but not as troubling as losing your rental car. Travel Mistake #1. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s something we can all agree on, right? The puppy had an accident on the carpet. Your admin transposed an important phone number. Your kid broke her cell phone. This stuff happens.

And I’ve learned to deal with these bumps in the road. Corrective measures are implemented and I move on. But my blood pressure shoots through my skull when…the same thing happens again. And again. And again. The following is the equation that my daughter never learns:

Cell phone + back pocket = disaster


With that said, I’ve made some blunders on the road that make me cringe. However, I learned from them and made adjustments to prevent them from ever happening again. Running the risk of public humiliation, I’m willing to share my top 3 embarrassing travel mistakes with you and hope you never have to experience them.

Travel Mistakes #1: The Case of the Misplaced Rental Car

While vacationing near Savannah, I booked a sunrise photo tour in the city. I left super early to give myself plenty of time but had not consumed my morning coffee. Without my coffee, I’m barely human. I made wrong turns, several of them, and was running late when I arrived in Savannah’s confusing downtown.

Savannah retains the original grid layout as designed by founder James Oglethorpe in 1733. The streets are organized around 22 public squares. Some have fountains; others have monuments; and some just have a bunch of trees. It’s simple…NOT. I drove up and down and around and back. And then I did that again. I did it once more, then pulled up to the curb, parked, and asked two nurses heading to work for directions.

This was my fatal mistake. They rattled off a series of rights and lefts and promised me that a Starbucks was along the route. I thanked them, checked my watch, and set off…

…without noting where I left the car. 

Photographing street signs can help you navigate a strange town to avoid Travel Mistake #1

Photographing street signs can help you navigate a strange town. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

I was flustered as I hurried to meet my tour guide who walked me all over town. At the end of the workshop, I was convinced the rental car was on Oglethorpe Avenue. But after walking back and forth for several blocks, I realized it wasn’t.

So I checked Liberty Street, which looks a lot like Oglethorpe. It wasn’t there either. I remembered that I’d walked through the square with the Gryphon Tea Room on the north end. Or was it the east side?

At this point, I was sweating, I needed a bathroom, and I still hadn’t had any coffee.

Instead of phoning my family who would mock me, I strode confidently into the Metro Savannah police station. I’d passed it about 7 times while looking for the car. I sheepishly explained my plight to the desk officer.

She calmly replied, “Sugar. You ain’t the first and I guarantee you won’t be the last.”

She called up a patrol officer who also reassured me that this happens all the time. “But it doesn’t happen to me,” I wailed.

We drove up and down the streets while I unlocked visual clues about where I’d wandered. Surprised by some of the details I remembered, he told me I’d make an excellent eyewitness.

I sensed sarcasm.

We drove around for about 15 minutes and found the car. He offered the following advice that I share with you to avoid this travel mistake:

  • When parking a rental car in a strange city, walk to the closest intersection and snap a photo of the street signs.

Travel Mistakes #2: Airing the Dirty Laundry

I choose my splurges carefully when traveling, so I’ll hire a local guide to show me the sights. Enjoy an extravagant meal at a legendary restaurant? Yes. Buy a unique piece of art from a local crafter? Yes. Pay overweight baggage fees? Never!

Since I’m a light packer and not a big shopper, it’s not a problem. However, at the end of a recent Caribbean adventure, my suitcase was bursting with 3 bottles of superb French Meursault, Portuguese cotton towels, and a hardcover coffee table book commemorating Les Voiles de St. Barth.

The scale registered 62 pounds and the desk agent growled, “That’ll be $200.”

“Over my dead body,” was my response.

I opened my suitcase in the middle of  the airport crowd and started shoving my dirty clothing, sandals, and still-wet bathing suits into my carry-on until it was as heavy as schlepping a sleeping 6-year-old.

Never again, I vowed, and purchased my favorite travel device to keep me from repeating this travel mistake:

  • A luggage scale is the best way (weigh?) to avoid overweight luggage fees.
Belgian Mustard Shop

Buy handcrafted Belgian mustards? Yes. Pay luggage fees? NO! Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

Travel Mistakes #3: Feeling Your Way to the Bathroom

I maintain a pre-packed toiletry go-bag, so I don’t run around on departure mornings throwing together makeup, medication, and hair care products. But I can’t pack my glasses and contact lenses until the last minute. So I’ve forgotten them.

More than once.

The last time was the last straw.

I was staying in a boarding house with a shared bathroom and had to grope my way down the hallway in the middle of the night, terrified that I would open the wrong door at the wrong time.

After my last eye exam, I was not surprised to learn that I’d gotten blinder. Leaving the office, clutching my prescription, I decided to look at this as an opportunity, not another step towards the nursing home.

When I got my new glasses, I added my old ones and a contact lens case to my go-bag. The prescription difference is no big deal for the limited amount of time I wear my glasses in the mornings and evenings on a trip.

If you’re a contact lens wearer and you’re tired of forgetting your glasses when you travel:

  • Don’t throw out old eyeglasses; pack them as a backup.


What are you travel mistakes and how to fix them? Please share below!