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Avoid Common Travel Mistakes With These 5 Tips

11/03/2017 16:27 EDT | Updated 11/03/2017 16:28 EDT

I love to travel. And when I do, I enjoy activities that some might even consider extreme; I've heli-skied and cat-skied in British Columbia, completed my own bicycle races along the Tour de France climbs and hiked the mountains in New Zealand, just to name a few.

But while travel is often high on adventure, it's low on predictability. One thing I've learned is to always expect the unexpected. For example, one time my ski gear went missing on a flight to Taos, New Mexico and never showed up, which was a bit of a gong show. I was able to get replacement gear, thanks to insurance, but it was still a drag losing my boots, specifically. On another occasion, I went to Utah with a group of friends on a ski trip and one of them – a ski instructor – wiped out and damaged her knee. She needed an operation immediately and was transferred to a hospital in Jackson Hole, where she had to stay for nearly a month. None of us expected it would happen to her, of all people. So if travel has taught me anything it's to be prepared for everything from annoying, but relatively minor inconveniences, to more serious situations.

I've also learned other things along the way that are helpful regardless if you're travelling solo or with kids in tow. Whether you're visiting family for the holidays, heading south or to a destination further afield, avoid making common travel mistakes with these tips:

Plan ahead. This doesn't apply just to booking your trip. Now is the time to get organized. If you're travelling with young kids, make packing lists for everyone to ensure nothing gets overlooked, from baby supplies and medication to toys or snacks. Stock up on items that may be expensive or not found at your destination; for example suntan lotion and bug spray are often grossly overpriced at resorts down south. I also like to download books or music playlists ahead of time, while parents might download in-flight entertainment options for young kids.

Travel light. With many airlines charging for checked bags, it's easier to pack light when you stick to neutral colours that can be mixed and matched. Make your items multitask; a scarf can double as an accessory and a warm cover up. Avoid going over weight restrictions by investing in a hand-held scale and weigh your luggage before heading to the airport so you're not playing a "shift the weight" game at check-in. And always pack your essentials in your carry on – for me that includes ski boots or other important gear, medication, and my toiletry bag.

MacGyver it. Another way to prepare for the unexpected is to keep a small bag of items that can be used in a pinch when necessity strikes. A small sewing kit can come in handy if you tear a piece of clothing, and the needles can be used to swap your SIM card or help pull out a splinter. You should always carry a pen or pencil anyway, but wrap some duct tape around it and you have something to patch a hole, fix a torn strap, or even hold in a loose plug. Carabiners are great for securing items, and re-sealable bags have endless uses, from phone protector to clothes hamper.

Use technology. Apart from social media posting of all your fabulous pics, technology can help you with everything from finding restaurants to public washrooms. But more importantly, it can help you travel smarter when it comes to health and safety for you and your family. Whether you're travelling south of the border or to a foreign country, it's important to have medical information at your fingertips. For example, the PATH app provides local maps to help you find nearby medical facilities, and contacts for local medical experts who can provide emergency assistance.

Get insurance. Blowing out a knee on a ski hill is bad enough – without the additional cost of out-of-pocket medical expenses. But far worse is an unanticipated tragedy such as the recent events in Las Vegas, a devastating example of what can go wrong when you least expect it. Now more than ever, increased political turmoil, terrorist activity and extreme weather patterns pose more danger than ever before. Even if you have travel insurance though your credit card, it's still important to check what's covered, depending on where you go and what you plan on doing.

What are some of your favourite travel tips and hacks, or useful lessons learned? Share them in the comments below.

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