Updated on March 26, 2014
Expensive mistakes you want to avoid
“You would think that a ‘travel writer’ would have done enough traveling to have his appropriate documents prepared.” This was the polite jab the man at border control for entry into the UK made, mildly chit-chatting with us while simultaneously filling out a form to detain us for “further questioning”.
Ah. A funny man.
This was just the first of many things that went haywire today despite all attempts to go against our natural tendency to be too lax.
Let me use the scenarios of the day to share a few preparatory steps you may not always think of before taking a flight.
Let’s start with preparing for a flight on a discount airliner like Ryanair.
- Read the baggage rules. (Check. We managed this check-list item just fine, despite it being a pain to consolidate four carry-ons into two carry-ons and a check-on.)Perhaps you’ve been using points this entire time to fly with a “real” airline that allows a reasonable amount of bags, but I guarantee this allowance is going to be different on a discount airliner. Maybe you won’t squeeze into the free category here as the limits are pretty minimal for these types of airlines, but paying for your extra checked bags ahead of time is much cheaper than getting caught with some sort of “excess baggage penalty fee.” Note. Don’t worry too much about weight limits though. Number of bags can get you in trouble if you’re exceeding the limits but in my experience, no one is actually checking the weight limits. Or rather, this has happened to us very rarely and even then, the attendant helped us figure out how to rearrange our things to better comply.
- Once your reservation is the way you want it, print your boarding pass ahead of time.This is another token discount airliner charge. Built into the ticket’s price is an online check-in fee. If you forget to check-in online and forget to print out your boarding pass ahead of time, the fee is pretty astronomical. I think it would have been 60 or so GBP for our flight today, had we forgotten. Luckily, we got another check for ticking this item off the list thanks to the IC Warsaw’s lounge printers.
- Make special note from which airport your Ryanair flight departs.This was a giant fail for us. I haven’t flown Ryanair enough to know if this is the case elsewhere, but at least in Warsaw Ryanair has its own airport. Waaaayyy across town from the main airport. A $70 taxi ride away in fact, as we found out an hour before our flight staring like dopes into a Ryanair-less airport. Also, this mistake will cost you loads of money, yes, but loads of time too. Our taxi driver pushed 90 miles an hour and it still took us 45-50 minutes and threw us into a crazy rush at the airport.
Ok so those are some important mistakes NOT to make when dealing with discount airliners, but what about flying internationally in general?
- Check Visa Requirements for entry AND transit.“I won’t even leave the airport so I don’t need a visa, right?” That’s almost true, but not always. This won’t happen very often for US passport holders, but there are some places you’ll need not only visas for entry, but visas for specific kinds of transit as well. For instance Drew and I had a layover in Melbourne about two years ago that became quite a headache. We had booked our own tickets and they were, of course, not exactly traditional. We had all kinds of stopovers for one, but we were also changing airlines at this particular Melbourne layover and thus, needed to go through security. This is apparently the sort of transit that requires a transit visa and we did not have one. After an hour or so of trying to figure this out, Melbourne decided that preventing us from taking our flight would not help them try to keep us out of their country. By the time we crossed through again, we had our visas.
- If you’re getting an online visa, are you getting the cheapest, most direct one?Some countries have all sorts of online visa options for all sorts of prices. I find you get the best deal by going straight to the government site. Be sure to check if this online visa has any stipulations though. For instance the online visa for Vietnam (at least this was the case in 2012) is only good for entry via air. If you’re crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam by land for instance, this online visa isn’t valid. …we found that out the hard way. Trust me, you do not want to be caught in no-man’s-land between Cambodia and Vietnam…
- Pay attention to other entry requirements, like exit tickets and printed itineraries.This brings us to where I started the article. For the record, many countries want to see that you have an exit ticket. Before entering Indonesia we got caught having missed this but luckily we had just enough time to book some sort of cheap, cancelable AirAsia flight right there at our gate. In this instance here in UK, we had intentions to fly out of Vienna in about three weeks but had not actually gotten around to booking those tickets yet. So…we were handed slips of paper declaring we were being detained for further questioning, and were told to sit in a little area to the side. This was anxiety producing, yes, but ended up fine as we’ve never over-stayed our allowed time in a country before and as soon as the passport guy affirmed this by running a quick check on our passports, he let our mistake go.
These may seem obvious but Drew and I have been traveling almost non-stop for two years and still need to remind ourselves of these things. Truth is…we’ll probably still ignore each and every item on this check-list and just deal with the consequences but honestly, I don’t recommend it. Your travels will be adventurous enough without bringing unwanted adventure upon yourself as we often do.