Regret-Proof Your Summer: 11 Ways to Ruin a Vacation
Beyond sunburn and flat tires: We've identified the 11 most common snafus—and how to avoid them.
Toy car
Renting a Clown Car
Aside from not reserving ahead of time, the most frequent mistake people make booking a car is choosing one that's too small for their needs. As Enterprise spokesperson Meghan Maguire explains, "A lot of people say, 'Let's go for the compact car,' when they have four people, five suitcases and golf clubs." Enterprise tries to match customers with the right model, but with so many people renting vehicles in the summer, it's not always possible. If you're traveling with your family or a group of friends, consider a full-size car, a minivan or an SUV.
Kayak on roof
Watching a Kayak Get Airborne...on the Highway
Who among us has not seen the car cruising down the highway with a mattress, canoe or rocking chair tied to the roof? Robert Sinclair Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York, knows those items can look funny, in a Beverly Hillbillies–esque way, but he also knows how dangerous they can be. When most people tie large objects to the roof, Sinclair says, they make the mistake of securing them to the roof rack but not to the car itself (by taking the ropes or straps through the car interior). Once you get up to 40 mph, a mattress (or any large object, like a kayak or surfboard) will create aerodynamic drag. Best-case scenario: It wreaks havoc with your fuel economy. Worst-case scenario: That improperly loaded object becomes a flying object. If you're transporting a kayak and aren't using a dedicated device (such as the Yakima HullRaiser Kayak Carrier, $129), use a ratchet tie-down strap, available at home centers.
Lost car keys in sand
Finding the Car in a Huge Parking Lot, Then Realizing You Lost the Key
People getting locked out of their vehicles used to account for 1 or 2 percent of the calls to AAA New York; now the "I-can't-believe-I-did-this" gaffe is responsible for closer to 18 percent of AAA's calls. With July through September by far the busiest automobile travel season, AAA expects more calls than ever this summer. If the key is inside the vehicle, AAA can usually help. If it's lost, though, you'll have to buy a new one, which is often pricey (replacement keys for new cars can cost $150 or more). To avoid this, Sinclair recommends wearing your key on a lanyard around your neck. If that's not your style, check out these adorable key chains, from queen bees to leather mermaids. "When we're on vacation, we tend to be very happy-go-lucky," Sinclair says, "but you still need to be mindful."
Closed sign
Pulling Up to a Nonexistent Rest Stop
Some states have closed or plan to close highway rest areas for budget reasons, which can be a problem if you've been counting on a restroom for the past 50 miles only to find an empty parking lot and boarded-up building once you arrive. State transportation websites are publishing lists of rest areas that have been closed; it's a good idea to check the ones you'll be passing before you leave home. Just in case, though, always travel with a bucket, toilet paper and antibacterial wipes, a precaution blogger Nicole Hockin suggests for times when you can't find a bathroom or when car sickness hits.
Asleep at the wheel
Micro-Sleeping While Driving
This phenomenon—when a person drifts off to sleep for two to three seconds or, in some cases, as long as eight or nine seconds—can affect people who haven't had enough rest before vacation, which is common when a pre-trip to-do list is a mile long. Then, they'll try to beat traffic by driving during overnight hours. If you're going 60 mph, you're covering 88 feet per second. Fall asleep for three seconds, and you've nearly covered the length of a football field. Unlike German highways, which feature gentle hills and curves, most American routes are straight as an arrow. That monotony can add to people's drowsiness. Sinclair has fatigue-fighting down to a science—and his plan does not entail turning up the radio or rolling down the window; he says those measures don't work. Instead, pull over and drink something caffeinated (preferably cola, since the amount of caffeine is reliable, unlike coffee, which can vary). Take a 15- to 20-minute nap (it takes that long for the caffeine to kick in) and then do some jumping jacks, deep knee bends and toe touches. You'll get behind the wheel energized and alert.
Boy at airport security
Watching TSA Security Take Your Kid's Favorite Toy Away
You know not to bring a bottle of water on the plane, but airport security has a way of finding things you'd never even think would be a problem. For blogger Hockin, that was the aquarium car on her son's Thomas the Train, which contained a toy octopus and about two teaspoons of water. Play-Doh is another no-no, even if it's sealed. If your child wants to take those toys (or winds up talking you into buying him a snow globe while you're away), pack them in a suitcase and check them for the flight.
Woman sleeping on plane
Eating Another Passenger's Turkey Melt
Even if you have a prescription for Ambien, Ativan or another sleep aid, it's often difficult to use these drugs when you travel—without having things go screwy. Kayak spokesperson Kevin Turner knows someone who was flying to South Africa and popped an Ambien for the 15-hour flight. The person wasn't used to taking sleeping pills and was so disoriented when he got up to go to the restroom that he came back and sat in someone else's seat—and wound up eating their meal while that person was in the bathroom. Turner has also heard of people taking a pill before getting on the plane, and then when boarding is delayed, they fall asleep in the gate area and miss their flight. Many physicians discourage taking sleeping pills on flights, since the deep sleep and resulting inactivity can contribute to blood-clot formation, which is much more serious than sleep deprivation.
Time zones
Not Changing Your Watch to Local Time
You may just be passing through Chicago on a layover, but you still need to reset your watch, even if you're in the Central Time zone for only an hour. Turner says, "We hear a lot of stories about people missing their flights because they don't remember what time zone they're in." Taking the red-eye from Seattle to New York with a layover at O'Hare is exhausting enough; miss your connecting flight because your watch is still on Pacific Time, and now you've added frustration to your fatigue.
Honeymoon suite
Staying in the Honeymoon Suite with Your Family of Four
If you're traveling with kids, make sure you and your spouse don't wind up at a hotel that's gorgeous but charges $8 for your 3-year-old's morning glass of orange juice. That doesn't mean you can't stay in cool places with children; trendy Kimpton Hotels, for instance, offer junior-size bathrobes, and Loews Hotels offer Fisher-Price welcome gifts for kids younger than 10.'s Hockin suggests reading travel sites to see which hotels near your destination are most popular with families.
Nude statue
Having Embarrassing Interactions with Locals
Hockin has been traveling with her children since they were each 6 weeks old and has found that trips are a success when she gets them involved in the planning. "When you set expectations together, you mitigate tantrums later," she says. Before leaving home, Hockin and her family read about where they're going—which went a long way toward making sure that a day spent visiting indigenous people in Panama last summer did not involve her 6-year-old blurting out, "Mommy, why don't those women have any clothes on?"
Phone in water
Dropping Your Phone in the Ocean
Can you hear me now? The first thing to do if your phone goes ker-plunk is to get the battery (and SIM card, if there is one) out. Then, dry the phone as best you can, using a paper towel or even a vacuum. Let it sit in a bowl of uncooked rice (really!) overnight; this will draw any remaining moisture out. Finally, put the battery back in and try turning the phone on. (It's better to wait 24 hours after your phone takes its bath; turning it on too soon can cause it to short-circuit.) If all else fails, go to your cell phone carrier and tell them what happened (fibbing won't get you anywhere, since phones have indicators to prove they've gotten wet). Of course, if you have a tough enough phone, you won't have to follow all these tips. The Motorola DEFY is one that's water-resistant.