As someone who is both a massive over thinker and generally a bit useless, it is fair to say I have made my fair share of travel mistakes. When things go wrong on the road, it feels like the end of the world. Whether it is sickness, having too much to carry or losing your belongings, it is evident that travel can be a stressful thing. It could be argued that these experiences would be trying in any location and that is a fair point. However, being in an unfamiliar country where you are already less than certain of how things work, makes mistakes all the more scary and daunting to fix. To save you the trauma of having to traipse around an unknown city looking for a solution to your travel woes, I have outlined the most common travel mistakes as well as my top tips for avoiding them. It might seem a lot to remember but prevention is better than cure!
Getting your dates confused
I am an obsessive checker. I am that person who sets 10 alarms and has to open and close them all at least five times to check they are definitely active. Despite this overwhelming effort to avoid mistakes, I still manage to get lost in the details and end up getting it wrong. This has resulted in me spending hundreds of pounds on flights, only to realise I have booked them for the wrong month. I remember checking the summary page around twenty times before pressing proceed and I still managed to f**k it up. This lead to an emotional plea down the phone as Tim begged the operator to change the flight date for us free of charge as we were on our honeymoon (we weren’t). I’m not much of a crier but the stress of this situation brought me very close to tears.
‘Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and I’m not sure about the former.’
As someone who has fallen into both of these travel pitfalls, I can tell you that whilst neither of these situations are ideal, one is definitely preferable to the other. For those of you that read my ramblings on a regular basis and have come across the article, ‘How to avoid packing like an idiot for a week away in Ukraine’, you will know how under packing can spoil a trip. However, a plus of packing too little is that there is always the option to make up the shortfall through shopping. Take too much and you not only have to throw away your belongings but also bear the extra weight both mentally and physically. When I went to teach in China, I bought the biggest suitcase that I could find to fit in all of the essentials needed for my new life abroad. This suitcase was so big, that I could actually curl up in it. It was a genuine human sized suitcase. Arriving at the airport and getting stung by baggage charges was one thing but trying to transport it around a Chinese train station situated across two floors was downright ridiculous. As I heaved the bulky bag up the staircase in 40 degree heat, I found myself wishing I had never even set eyes on it, let alone bought it. The result of this mental distraction culminated in me eventually dropping the suitcase on myself.
‘If I’d known how much packing I’d have to do, I’d have run again.’
Harry S. Truman
Taking too many pictures
In the world of social media and in particular Instagram, it is easy to see why people get lost in trying to take the perfect photo. As a blogger, travelling is different now, than before I wrote about my adventures. As I explore, I am constantly reviewing ideas for blog posts and considering what people may like to read about. Of course, with any blog post comes photographs and I try to get as many pictures as possible to accompany my writing. The thing I don’t like about this is that it is so easy to get trapped in your online persona and forget to live in the moment while it’s actually happening. Tim is much better than I am at stepping out of the photo frame and remembering that life is happening now. Luckily for me, he pulls me back before I get too carried away. Whilst life through a lens is necessary to a certain degree, nothing beats seeing through your own eyes.
‘Photographs are two-dimensional. I work in four dimensions.’
Not buying travel insurance
I know a lot of people who never buy travel insurance. That is their decision and I understand the reasons for it. Statistically speaking, it is unlikely you will get the cost you put in out of your travel insurance. I urge everyone to remember that not using your travel insurance isn’t a bad thing. I would much rather spend fifty quid than end up stranded with sepsis in Chile. I realise that when nothing goes wrong travel insurance looks like a pointless expense but you can guarantee that on the one occasion you decide not to buy it, you will need it. I have never yet had to claim on my travel insurance (touch wood) although it definitely proved its worth during our South East Asia trip. Owing to Tim’s medical history (it’s fraught with spinal issues and numerous daily pills to say the least) we have to be very mindful of the rules surrounding carrying medical equipment and drugs. During our travels around Thailand, we were close to running out of some vital medication and used out travel insurers to help us locate more. They were great, sending us a Thai translation for the drug and even recommending specific pharmacies where we could obtain it. Without the wizards at StaySure, we would have been in deep trouble.
‘Self preservation is the first law of nature’.
Not knowing entry requirements
Travel can be a complex and confusing thing. Every place is different: there are different cultures, different rules, different visas and different entry requirements. Accept that you probably won’t know everything about a particular country and do your research before entering. For all of my fellow Brits out there, I absolutely swear by the government foreign travel advice site. Simply type in a country and read about entry requirements, customs regulations, health risks and more. This type of pre planning is always useful as it is easier to get caught out than you think. Mine and Tim’s last stop during our backpacking trip around South East Asia was Malaysia. As we waited in line at the border, we suddenly spotted a sign that said, ‘Medicines for personal use in a quantity not exceeding that which is reasonably required for one month’s use are permitted. Additional medication will be confiscated and you will be held accountable for the quantity which you are carrying, potentially facing a drug possession charge’. We exchanged horrified looks and thanked our lucky stars that this visit was at the end of our trip and not the beginning.
‘True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing’.
Making yourself vulnerable
As a foreigner to an area, you will inevitably stand out. No matter what you wear or the language you speak, cultural differences will always mean that it will be harder for you to blend in. The very nature of travel means that you will be a bit vulnerable and most of the time that is okay. Saying this, so many travellers take needless risks (myself included), which makes you much more likely to become a victim of something unpleasant. As a graduate Criminology student, believe me when I say that crime happens everywhere. Don’t make yourself an easy target though. Invest in a bag that will be hard to pickpocket and keep any valuables locked away. My anti-theft bag of choice is the incredible Flak Sack Coalition. It has cut proof straps, an RFID blocking interior pocket, solid brass lock and is both water and slash resistant. It might be pricey, but it is essentially all singing, all dancing so you really can’t go wrong. That and it just looks great!
Another quick point I’d like to emphasise is for all of you that like a drink. I myself enjoy a tipple on occasion but know all too well how easy it is to get carried away. I’m not here to preach and I would be hypocritical if I did but be aware that drunkenness makes you very vulnerable. After getting separated from Tim in Kiev after a boozy afternoon downing absinth, I spent hours lost, walking around on my own after dark with no money. For some bizarre reason, I decided to hop a gate and got caught on the spikes (I know, what was I thinking!?), ripping the backside right out of my jeans. Luckily, it was dark and I was rescued by a friendly local but not everyone is so fortunate. Look after yourself.
‘Honesty, self-care is not fluffy – it’s something we should take seriously.’
Forgetting the important things
In all honesty, you can get away with forgetting most things when it comes to travel. Shops are widespread and it is easy enough to pick up most essentials no matter where you are. There are a few things you really want to make an effort to remember though. These include but are not limited to, copies of all of your important documents, necessary visas and passports and also stocking up on your required vaccinations for travel. Sometimes, it is so easy to get caught up in remembering the trivial things that you can overlook a glaringly obvious item instead. Whilst I am yet to do the following, I know plenty of people who have booked holidays and then noticed a week before they are due to go that their passport is about to expire. There is usually a way around these kinds of problems but you probably don’t need the extra hassle.
‘Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?’
A. A. Milne
Ignoring warning signs
This is probably the easiest mistake to avoid making. Listen to your instincts and trust your gut. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Try telling that to gluttonous past me when I was faced with some rather raw Chinese chicken skewers. I looked wonderingly at the meat and the question ‘Is this cooked?’ fleetingly flew through my mind. Feeling my stomach groan I immediately dismissed the thought. Sometimes, I get too hungry to use my brain. A few hours later and I was ruing my lack of self-control and stupidity as I emptied my stomach contents into the toilet. I would like to say I wouldn’t make this same mistake again but in truth, it would probably depend on how hungry I was.
‘Common sense is not so common.’
Never leaving your comfort zone
Travelling to somewhere you are unfamiliar with can be really scary and part of me completely understands why people book all-inclusive hotels and spend their whole trip inside, never venturing further than the communal pool. We have a tendency to cling on to what is safe and familiar. However, this security can also choke us and prevent us from experiencing travel to the fullest. It is definitely easy to stay in your comfort zone but how much do you really gain from a life like this? If you can break the circle, you will meet new people, visit new places and learn new things. The benefits of braving the fear and getting out there far outweigh the regret you feel when you don’t take the leap.
‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’
Neale Donald Walsch
Being too trusting…but also being not trusting enough
In life, as is in travel, it is hard to weed out those with good intentions from those with bad. As a newcomer to an area, you will stand out so you need to make sure you are on high alert. Of course not everyone that speaks to you is going to want to fleece you but there will be those who will make a point of trying. The best tactic to avoid being taken advantage of is to get clued up. Research the common scams in an area so that you know what to look out for as some traps appear very convincing. Being aware of the type of scams that occur in a place is definitely helpful but sadly, we all get caught once in a while. Tim and I were swindled when we gave a young boy money for baby milk in Siem Reap. Once you have been burned it can be all too tempting to close the door to everyone but it is important to remember that most people are not out to get you. It is only through giving people a chance that you allow yourself to form new relationships and bonds. Certainly for me, this is one of the most valuable parts of travel.
‘You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.’
What mistakes have you made whilst travelling?
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