NEW YORK (MainStreet) Vacations are supposed to provide an opportunity to get away from it all, but oftentimes they create more stress than serenity. Even if you set a budget ahead of time, unexpected expenses can arise that prompt you to spend more than you originally planned. Of course, being overly frugal isn't always a good idea, either. After all, you might regret missing out on cool experiences or unique purchases that you just can't get at home.
To find out how to make smarter choices on your next vacation, we asked six people to confess the biggest money mistakes they've made while traveling. Read on for their stories.
Lesson: Never Leave Bags Unattended
Name: Andrea Gelfuso
Occupation: Environmental lawyer
"My husband and I recently traveled by train in Italy. When we reached our destination, my husband said: 'This is the final stop for this train. We can take our time getting off.' He put my suitcase on the platform then went back to get the rest of the bags. Then, the train started moving to another platform. By the time the train stopped, my bag was gone from the platform. It contained all my clothes, my glasses, all of my toiletries and the Italian shoes I had just bought.
"What I learned: Never leave a bag, ever. While I never bring expensive jewelry while traveling, I lost over $1,000 worth of stuff that I had to replace. The loss of a bag is covered under our homeowners' insurance, but the deductible is $1,000. I still miss my fabulous Italian shoes."
Lesson: Book Your Room in Advance
Name: Kristopher Rowberry
Occupation: Creator & Host, www.GreatAmericanThrills.net
"Every year I try to go out and visit amusement parks around the country, but I learned quite quickly that it's really all about preparation and planning if you want to save yourself money.
"In 2007, I went out on a five-day trip to the New York/New Jersey area with only airfare in mind, not hotels. It stung, big time. Without preplanning, I spent practically full price on all of my motel rooms.
"The next year, I spent the same amount of money on a 14-day trip with hotel rooms because I prepaid everything, which allowed me to get the deepest discounted rate possible. In addition, I purposely selected single-occupancy rooms, which usually lowers your rate.
"Now I'm all about prepaying for rooms to get the best possible rate. While the hotels might say they're non-refundable, most local owners are okay with releasing the room if you're delayed due to unforeseen circumstances."
Lesson: Splurge on International Phone Plans
Name: Mare Trevathan
Occupation: Audio book narrator
"On a recent trip to Montreal, we decided not to pay for a special Canada phone plan. Instead, we decided to just be very sparing in our smartphone use. We were frequently frustrated by not being able to use mapping features or Yelp reviews as often has would have been helpful. In fact, we still ended up paying more than twice what the plan would have cost in phone charges."
Lesson: Don't Be Afraid to Splurge
Name: Brittany McDonough
Occupation: Blogger anadventureadayinboston.blogspot.com
"Spend itthat's what I tell everyone going away for long periods of time, whether on study abroad or vacation. I'm always the most frugal person around, but some splurge items are worth not just the money but the story and memories attached to them. For example, I was studying abroad in Florence during the summer right after my senior year in college. Since I didn't have a job to come home to, I was making every effort to have fun while saving Euros. Every day I would walk through the San Lorenzo Market and drool over the leather-bound notebooks. I bought one to use for my trip but didn't want to spend the money for any others because I didn't immediately 'need' them.
"Well, two years later I kick myself every few months when I absolutely need a new notebook and would love to have something with character. What's worse than leaving someplace feeling like you haven't taken full advantage of your time there?"
Lesson: Cash is King
Name: Eric Hill
Occupation: Home security business owner
"I decided to visit Sudan to check out the culture, the Meroe Pyramids, and some of the vast Sahara Desert. I arrived in Sudan with plenty of Ugandan shillings worth more than $2,500 U.S. dollars. The problem: There was no way to exchange the money, no way for an American to withdraw money from any bank or ATM, no legal way for anyone in the U.S. and most of Europe to wire money to Sudan for risk of money being transferred there for terrorism, and nowhere that accepts any type of credit card.
"Luckily our guide, who arranged our whole trip, went on faith that I was an honest man and covered all expenses with the promise that I would find a way to get him the money I owed him, which I later did. "It turns out that I could have paid the tour guide in U.S. dollars. It seemed like pretty much all the businesses accept dollars there. Looking back, I should have exchanged the Ugandan shillings back to U.S. dollars before I left Uganda.
"My lesson learned: Don't just carry enough cash when traveling, but carry enough cash in U.S. dollars."
Lesson: Be Patient
Name: Kendal Perez
Occupation: Blogger with HassleFreeSavings.com
"I flew to Vegas to visit a friend who lives there, but she was on her way in from another city and wouldn't land until four hours after I did. I hate waiting around in airports, so I decided to rent a car and drive to her place, then drive back and pick her up later that night. I would return the rental car the next day since she has a car and I didn't want to pay for a full weekend.
"I was 23 at the time and made the reservation online. Since they had an option to rent as 'under 24,' I assumed they would give me a car. I waited in line at the airport and when it was my turn, I was told they couldn't rent me a car because I was underage. I was turning 24 in less than a month.
"I left feeling discouraged and decided to wait it out. It took about 20 minutes for me to grow impatient and so I tried another rental company. They said they'd rent a car to me and I ended up paying over $60 for a vehicle that I kept for less than 24 hours. The kicker is I missed my exit and was on the road way longer than necessary, leaving only an hour between the time I got to my friend's house and when she landed.
"The lesson learned: Just be patient."