Mistakes seem to take on a life of their own pile up, snowball and propagate while traveling.
Reading through this list can help you avoid the most common mistakes…
- Day Trip Delusions. Travelers frequently ask us to help them book day trips to Arenal volcano, Monteverde cloud forest, or Manuel Antonio national park from the rental house they reserved for a week on Nosara beach. Unfortunately the round trip takes up to 11 hours and we have to explain to them that day trips are impossible. Same goes for using an All Inclusive Beach Resort, San José or a dozen other locations as a fixed base and doing day trips – it usually doesn’t work. Don’t just assume, check the travel times or get help planning!
- Unrealistic Budget. It’s human nature to subconsciously round prices down and ignore unavoidable expenses like taxes but an unrealistic budgets are a set up for disappointment. If you expect chicken buses, dormitories, and cold showers cheap can be a great adventure (I went around the world on $20 a day and loved it) but if you expect a bargain price on luxury then ending up roughing it isn’t so much fun.
Whatever class of traveler you are you should plan a realistic budget.
- Bad Carry-on. The airlines will lose over 20 million checked bags this year. Make sure what you really need from the packing list is in your carry-on bag – documents, a change of clothes, prescription drugs/eye-wear, and valuables.
- Paying Exit Tax Twice. The new system of including the departure tax in the price of some airline tickets means a family of 4 might overpay by $116.
- Over Packing. A corollary to bad carry-on, bad packing in general will weigh you down, slow you down and leave you with way too much stuff to keep track of. It’s the tropics…you could probably survive with a swimsuit, t-shirt and flip-flops.
- Forgotten or Invalid. Passports, airline tickets or confirmation numbers, visas, driver’s licenses, credit & debit cards are all useless when they are sitting on the kitchen counter. It actually happens so check on your way out the door. To be safe expiration dates should be at least three months after you travel. Notify your card bank(s) when and where you’ll be traveling so your charges aren’t rejected as suspicious activity.
- Stuck in an Airport. Trying to squeeze one more day of Paradise into your trip by staying downtown for culture (the 10 mile drive can take over an hour with traffic) or trying to find something to do near the airport when you have a four hour layover may mean a missed flight nightmare. See our airport hotel advice.
- Over Extending. Costa Rica looks tiny on the map and there are so many amazing places to see it’s tempting to try to pack in too much and end up doing nothing but move from place to place. Three destinations in seven to nine days is the max. The more loaded your itinerary and tighter your connections the more likely you are to miss one and like dominoes the rest of your trip may all fall down.
- Relaxing. Sure you’re in paradise but there are professional thieves who make a living off of tourists letting their guard down. If you leave your phone or tablet on the table for a few minutes, a bag hanging on the back of your chair, or your passport and cash “hidden” under your beach towel it will be stolen.
- Counting on the Cloud. “oh, I’ll just look up that shuttle confirmation number later…” could be famous last words if you don’t have wi-fi or data access (it’s not uncommon). Print or write out important reservations, dates, names, phone numbers, addresses, and confirmation numbers on a piece of paper as a backup.
- Poor Planning. No reservations in high season can mean hours wasted looking for lodging, or trying to figure out public buses when there are no rental cars left and the shuttles are full. If you’re confident winging it then by all means go for it and remember every challenge is a chance for adventure. If you want to relax and enjoy yourself do at least a little prep work.
- Snagging a Bargain. It’s really easy to click “reserve now” on what looks like a great deal on an Expedia hotel or two but it’s really hard to salvage a good trip when you find they’re nine hours apart and the National Park you thought you could visit is closed on Mondays. There’s no modifications and no refunds so do a little research before saying “Ohhh that sounds wonderful, I’ll figure the rest out later.”
- Carelessness. A teenager in flip flops renting you an ATV doesn’t make you Mario Andretti and if he hands you a surf board you’re not suddenly Polynesian. Most tours have reasonable safety standards but many will let you be as stupid as you want to be. Be realistic about your limitations. The same goes for driving a rental car. You’re in unfamiliar territory and you should be extra cautious – not staring out the window at monkeys.
- Using Your Phone. You’re on vacation…maybe consider enjoying it instead of documenting and broadcasting it. If you really can’t then have a phone plan in advance. Check with your provider before you leave home to make sure you don’t run up a $1,000 roaming bill, use wi-fi instead of data and VOIP instead of phone calls.
- Wrong Airport. If you have a week at Secrets Resort Papapagayo fly into Liberia Airport (LIR) 35 minutes away! Saving $50 on flights to San José (SJO) instead will actually end up costing you $200 to $600 extra and waste almost two days of your vacation… A private transfer is 4.5 to 6.5 hours (depending on traffic) and $350 each way (total up to 8 people). If you’re lucky your flight schedule may line up with one of the “shuttles” or shared transfers but it’s still 5 to 7 hours and $65 per person each way. Local flights are only 35 minutes but $95 to $165 each way and there are only two a day.