Smart Traveler

You may think you’re a smart traveler, but think again.

All it takes is one forgotten passport, flat tire or missed connection to strip that precious badge of honor away.

Christopher Elliot’s new book, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle) explores the wacky travel industry and how to navigate it, before you lose your mind.

Here are the five most helpful tips to avoid a trip-ending calamity:

Travel for all the right reasons.

Want to pack the family in the minivan for a few days of hard-earned rest? Going from point “A” to point “B” on a business trip? These are some of the “right” reasons to rent a car, get on a train or board a bus. Traveling just for the miles or because someone offered you something “free”? Don’t do go down that terrible road, because it often leads to madness and unexpected expenses.

Don’t let money ruin your trip.

Sure, travelers are often blind-sided by unexpected bills, and you often spend more than your budget on vacation. But, say you booked a vacation package to Disney World for $7,000, and the next day you discover that prices were slashed by 35 percent. You can always contact customer service and try for a refund, but your best bet is to let it go. Once you book an airline ticket or cruise vacation, try to not check back to see if the price went down. You’ll only drive yourself crazy.

For goodness sake, read the fine print.

The devil is in the details of the teeny tiny print, often hiding a multitude of sins. Don’t simply ignore the terms and conditions, thinking it’ll be fine in the end, and the more complicated the product, the greater the chance the fine print will cause a problem. For example, travel insure will often cover an airline change fee with a doctor’s note, but did you know that some policies, like Allianz travel, do not allow the doctor to be a family member? Little details can end up costing a whole lot.

Find a good credit card and use it.

Cash is usually kind, but your travel investment will be best protected with a credit card and a reliable dispute-resolution department. Applying for credit cards for the wrong reasons (collecting loyalty points or getting airport lounge access) often come with an annual fee and high interest rates. The real value of a credit card comes when you’ve made a travel purchase that didn’t work out the way you expected or need to buy something in another currency without getting slapped with a multitude of charges. Also, beware of wiring your money anywhere, as your money could be as good as gone.

Plan for the worst but hope for the best.

Simply planning can alleviate more than 90 percent of all travel problems. Make sure you pack the right luggage, make sure your passport and visa are up-to-date, call ahead to confirm your flights and hotel room, and if necessary, make sure you have all of your shots.

Everyone’s made a one of these mistakes, whether it was missing a connection, boarding the wrong train or getting duped by the fine print. The good part is you’ll be a wiser traveler from learning your mistakes, and you’ll have a great trip if you heed Elliot’s advice.