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These mistakes can ruin your dream vacation. Here's how to avoid them

Key Points
  • If you're like many travelers, you could be caught off guard by unexpected issues when planning for and going on a big trip.
  • Travel experts suggest you time to think through the problems that can arise and how you would handle them ahead of time.
Aleksandar Nakic | Getty Images

You've probably had that lingering feeling as you head out for a big trip: Am I forgetting something?

Chances are, you very well could be.

From passports that have expired to missing wallets to cell phones that do not work at your destination and other travel snafus, you could be caught off guard by the unexpected.

Travel experts weigh in on what you need to think about ahead of a big trip — and how to quickly regroup — when the unexpected happens.

Your passport is no longer valid

Be sure to verify that you have your passport — and that it has not expired — well before your international trip.

Keep in mind that the expiration date on that document is misleading.

That is because you generally want to have a passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of your trip, according to Julie Hall, a spokeswoman at travel organization AAA.

If you need to renew your passport or apply for one, be sure to leave plenty of time. The process can take up to six weeks, Hall said.

It is possible to obtain expedited passports in some cities, such as New York, though those services may be harder to find in other locations, said Erika A. Richter, director of communications at the American Society of Travel Agents.

Not updating this key document could be a deal breaker if you arrive at the airport gate unprepared.

"That is a situation where you would have to have someone advocate on your behalf," Richter said. "If you're not insured, that's your whole vacation right there."

You lose your wallet or passport

Be sure to make paper copies of all of the key documents and contents of your wallet before your leave.

Ideally, you want to leave a copy of these documents with a trusted family member or friend before you leave for your trip. Keep another copy with you, but separate from your actual wallet and passport while you travel.

"If you do lose it, you have it copied and ready to go and that makes that process a little smoother," AAA's Hall said.

Your cell phone, credit cards don't work

Letting your bank or credit card company know that you are traveling ahead of time will prevent any hassles at your destination.

"They can put a note on your account so none of your charges get flagged and your credit card isn't declined," Hall said.

Likewise, you also want to make provisions for your cell phone so that your service isn't interrupted.

As more people travel, cell phone companies have started to offer different packages to accommodate them, Hall said.

"It's definitely worth calling and seeing what your options are," she said.

You have a health issue

A major health scare at your destination that requires an emergency evacuation could cost you $100,000 or more if you are not covered by insurance, according to Megan Cruz, executive director at the US Travel Insurance Association.

"The wise thing to do is to think about all of the things that can go wrong and think about if you could afford the out-of-pocket expense for them," Cruz said.

The right travel insurance will help cover those medical emergencies and other unexpected developments.

The best way to find the right insurance for you is to shop around, said Richter at the American Society of Travel Agents.

There are many varieties of coverage depending on when you're traveling and how long you're staying, among other variables.

"It's always that one scenario where you think everything's going to be fine and you really wish you had protected your investment," Richter said. "Your vacation time is an investment."

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Other things to know before you go

  • Download the mobile app for your airline to keep tabs on your flight status in case of delays or cancellations. "A lot of times if you go on their app and tweet them, you can get quicker service," said Hall at AAA.
  • Work with a travel agent. Booking your trip through a professional will not only help you if you encounter problems along the way, but can help you find better deals. "A lot of the costs, if they do add a fee, can be recouped and then some," Hall said.
  • If you are traveling abroad, sign up for the State Department's Smart Traveller Enrollment Program, which lets U.S. citizens and nationals share their travel plans with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

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