9: Expensive Issues To Avoid While Traveling
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Howdy! My fiancé, Danny, and I traveled quite a bit before the Covid Pandemic. On our trips, we sometimes made very stupid, very expensive mistakes. Here’s what went wrong and how we could’ve saved lots of money. Lots.
Back in 2014ish we went to Paris. We sought discounts every step of the way. Our flights were advertised as being nearly half price on @TheFlightDeal(Twitter account) and Danny booked our hotel in the middle of Paris on Orbitz. Sounds great, right? Well, sort of. The flights were half the price for more than twice the distance(we flew to Moscow from NY and then to Paris so it was about 17hours in the air). Honestly, you get what you pay for and we didn't mind that too much. The hotel however, was a bust.
We arrived in Paris with our huge wheelie suitcase and carry-on suitcase, which was its own mistake. Travel light. Always. Especially if you’re not planning on renting a car. Taxis add up, walking might be necessary, and luggage slows walking down, creating extra obstacles on the sidewalks, and in crowds. Bah. Anyway, we took a taxi to our hotel’s address. This address was a numbered and locked door that appeared to be a small residential apartment between two stores on a busy street. We had no key, no sign naming the space as a hotel, and nothing on site detailing how the hell we were supposed to get the damn key. The Orbitz booking receipt was useless, offering no info beyond the prices, dates, location.
We wandered to a wifi cafe with our luggage(after asking police officers and passersby to confirm that we were at the correct address) and hopped on the interwebs to figure out where we messed up. As it turns out, we did not book a hotel so much as a room. That room(as per the reviews on the room rental site, reviews that were not listed on Orbitz) could have anywhere from one couch to four beds, might have air conditioning/heating/wifi/mini fridge/microwave or not. This mysterious room would be in a not-great neighborhood nowhere near the address they gave us. That address, the one we paid a taxi to ferry us to from the airport, which was not cheap, was where we were supposed to claim the key, except there were no hours listed, no number to call, and Orbitz customer support would not refund us a cent. Any chance to cancel or request a refund was gone as of a day or two previous to our date of check-in. Nor would the room rental service we actually booked, that had misrepresented itself on Orbitz, refund anything. So that was like $500+ down the drain, all for us to have to book a new hotel for our stay.
To avoid this, if you’re booking through a third party site, also check the actual website of the actual hotel you plan to stay at. Check the reviews there and anywhere else you can find them.
Then we went to Rome to find out that we *cough* Danny *cough* had booked our room for the following day instead of that day. At least that one was easier to fix. It was money we hadn’t planned on spending, but we would’ve had to pay regardless. Always double check the dates!
Funny thing about our trips to France and Rome—they were part of the same trip. I doubt anybody but us would think this was a good idea, but if you’re visiting a city for a week, don’t plan to leave that county in the middle of the week, to fly to another one, only to return to the first country before flying home. Think of the flight costs! Rather than paying to go from, for example, NY→Paris→Rome→Paris→NY, we could have done NY→Paris→Rome→NY, and saved ourselves the cost of a flight. Although, maybe flying back from Paris would’ve been cheaper than the combined cost of the flight to Rome and the flight home from Rome, but without checking the math, I doubt it. That said, if the nearest airport were less popular, then yes, it might have been cheaper to fly to a nearby more popular airport, and then to fly home. If you don’t do math, maybe get a math friend to help you double check what’s cheaper.
Now you'd think we would've learned not to rely on discount websites after the hotel bust of Paris, France. Nope. The following year we went to Puerto Rico and booked the hotel and rental car over Kayak. Hey, at least we didn't go with Orbitz again.
First off, we *cough* Danny *cough* booked the DoubleTree for the week prior to the week we needed it. Had we made this mistake on the hotel website, their customer service said they’d have worked with us, rather than charging for the week we missed and the week we needed. Unfortunately, we booked through a third party site for a discount. Unable to afford paying double what the Double Tree actually cost, we switched to an inexpensive no-frills hotel instead, ultimately paying for one unused week at the DoubleTree and our stay at what was closer to a hostel than a standard hotel. Always double check your dates are right, especially on third party sites.
I mentioned that we booked the rental car through Kayak. We booked the insurance through them too. Our rental was a small sedan that was never meant for driving over bumpy unpaved roads, which makes up most of Puerto Rico. We drove from one end of the island to the other multiple times on a flat tire. When we realized it was flat towards the end of our trip, we returned the car to the rental agency who in turn, freaked out. They did the walk-around to check our vehicle, while ranting on and on about damages to the underside of the car, yelling about needing to re-align the tires. Then they informed us the insurance we’d booked online was useless and we’d have to cover any damages out of pocket. In the end, after I made it clear I was not half as loaded as they seemed to believe, they patched the tire and returned the car to us to finish our trip with. Booking the rental car in advance online is generally cheaper than doing so day-of, in person, so that wasn’t the problem. However, booking the insurance through a third party site was a mistake we won’t make again. Now, we have a car and insurance, so I’m 90% sure we’d just use that insurance for rentals now(as we did for a U-Haul last year).
The following year we went to Virginia. Half of our trip was spent in Virginia Beach and the other half was booked in a cute little cabin in Rawley Springs. I don't know where we went wrong with this one. The reviews were great. The house was rustic, beautiful, near a national park, etc.
Well, our first night there the young man, who was straightening up when we pulled into the drive, helped us sign all of the paperwork. Then he sold us firewood for $45. It was about a quarter of the wood we could have bought at most grocery stores in that area for the same price, but he claimed store-bought wood contained invasive bugs and microorganisms. Now, the way this young man explained the purchase led us to believe that he would be adding to this pile of wood over the course of our stay. We weren’t clear on if we’d be paying for each new stack or if that $45 covered any wood-pile additions, but we were sure he was coming back. Nope. And we burned through our meager pile that first night. We figured, no big deal. If he hasn't come back by the third day, we’d email the owners. Maybe we were supposed to tell them when we ran out?
On day two, we also realized that using the water at all caused dirty ground water to burble up, out of the drains. Day 3 we let the owners know that we were out of wood and that the drains were puking mud. They responded more than a day later saying they might send a plumber by but said nothing about the wood. By then we were being systematic with our water usage and buying the forbidden firewood from the grocery store. We contacted the owners again on day 4, requesting an update, but our trip was concluding. The plumber never showed and we burned through our store-bought wood before heading home.
In retrospect, we should have clarified the wood situation with the young man who signed us in that first day. The water issue wasn’t the end of the world. Camping is supposed to be grimy.
In April of 2018, my fiancé and I quit our jobs to spend the summer in Europe. I’ll do a blog post on that experience at some point, but anywho, we planned to work for room and board to cut on travel costs. The app we used to find work is called WorldPackers. Despite our experience, I actually really like the app and I don’t think the app itself was the issue. That said, we applied to help out at a farm in Spain, maybe a half hour from Barcelona. We planned to work there for a little over a month. The lady running the farm said we were hired. We agreed on when we were arriving, that she would pick us up, when we would be expected to work, where we’d sleep, and what meals she would be providing for us. Cool? Cool.
Except we massaged her the week we were flying out, just making certain everything was still GO. She didn’t respond. We flew out anyway, ready to make our own way should she flake. We landed and massaged her, updating her on our situation. She did not respond. We waited at the airport, mooching wifi since we did not have European phone plans. She did not respond. We left, hit some cool sites, kept messaging her to no avail whenever we hit wifi, and finally, booked a hostel for the night. At that point, I tried to get in touch with WorldPackers customer support. It took most of a day for someone to respond, which wasn’t ideal. When I got a response, it was from the owner, I believe, and the delay was due to there being a holiday in his home country of Brazil. He couldn’t supply us with a last minute month+ long place to crash but he offered to cover the cost of our hostel stay for the previous night, and the next, while we all tried to figure out where the hell our host was.
We accepted the money, crashed one more night at the hostel, and booked an AirBNB in central Barcelona for the remainder of our Spain stay. Our original host actually got in touch with us a few hours after we booked the AirBNB. She was out of town at some CBD Oil conference and couldn’t understand why we hadn’t called her. I explained that her number(and phone numbers in general) were not listed on the WorldPacker app. As she’d never provided us with her number directly, we did not have it. Anywho, she had no plans to return to Barcelona to pick us up for several days, but could recommend us a bus, if that worked for us. We explained that we’d booked a nonrefundable AirBNB for the following month after being unable to get in touch with her. She was upset we suddenly opted against working on her farm, and I responded as politely as possible so as not to receive a poor worker rating on the app, this being our first experience using WorldPackers.
In retrospect, we should have aimed for a workplace with more reviews, and exchanged numbers in advance. However, had she picked us up and brought us to her farm, we’d have been in rural Spain as opposed to Barcelona, and at my heart, I’m a city girl. So, while the added last minute expense of a month+ AirBNB was nothing to shrug off, I’m grateful we ended up with a month and a half to explore Barcelona proper, and that we could do so without having to schedule around work. Next time we go to Europe, I doubt we’ll aim for a working holiday anyway. I’d rather wait longer and save up more money to enjoy myself while abroad, as opposed to splitting time between fun and work.
Well, that was longer than it could’ve been. Learn from my mistakes so your trips aren't extra expensive. Thanks for stopping by! I put out a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!
TL;DR, Advice? Always double check the dates when booking hotels/rental cars. Don't book car rental insurance on third party sites and be very careful booking hotels on them. Refunds are harder to obtain after booking through third party sites. If there are questions when signing in, ask them then and there, in-person. If going on a working holiday, do your research beforehand. Not all employers are alike. Some are flighty and might forget to pick you up at the airport while you’re stranded in another country.