Tips for Avoiding a Summer Vacation Disaster

Advice from fellow travelers who have experienced less-than-ideal trips.

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"Everyone in the lounge was guessing acronyms for Delta, like Doesn't Ever Leave the Airport," says Angleton, president of AEGIS FinServ Corp, a business-to-business prepaid debit card company based in Miami.

[Read: Smart Ways to Save on Your Summer Roadtrip.]

But that was a mere inconvenience compared to having his baggage misplaced for days. Angleton's medicine, time-released capsules for his allergies, was packed away in that baggage. He suggests bringing medicine in a carry-on bag, along with a spare set of clothes and anything you can't live without for a few days.

Study your itinerary carefully. This is a suggestion from Margaret King, director of the Center of Cultural Studies & Analysis, a Philadelphia think tank. A few years ago, she went to a conference in Singapore, where she was a scheduled speaker, and took a separate flight from her husband, who she planned to spend vacation time with when the business part of the trip was over. But her airline erroneously issued an itinerary that said she would arrive on a Sunday, when the flight was actually scheduled to land Monday. King didn't notice the mistake, but in hindsight says if she had scrutinized her itinerary more, she would have spotted it.

The end result: She wound up missing two days of the conference, although not her speech, and her husband went to the airport in Singapore on a Sunday and was panic-stricken when he couldn't find his wife or learn where she was. Stuck on a plane, King couldn't be reached by cell phone, and she had no idea that her husband was on the ground in Singapore and worried.

"Be sure to check your ticket and confirm the actual date of arrival at your international destination," King says. "I always do that now – lesson learned."

[See: Free Mobile Apps for Cheap Summer Travel.]

Of course, the stress of a good vacation gone bad is compounded by the fact that rest and relaxation costs a lot of money. A recent survey of 1,001 travelers by Room Key, a hotel meta search engine created by hoteliers, concluded that Americans age 25 and older expect to spend $84 billion on hotels this summer. Or more specifically, the average American spends $1,180 (per person) on a typical summer vacation, according to a 2012 travel survey of 1,500 adults by American Express.

It's one thing to blow $3,000 or $4,000 on a family vacation when it means filling up photo albums and Facebook with warm memories that will be cherished for a lifetime. It is another thing to spend a few grand on a nightmarish excursion everyone hopes to erase from their memories. So be careful out there and plan as assiduously as you can – or buy lots of travel insurance.

This story was updated on 07/08/2013.