It’s been just about 10 years since I started considering myself a “serious traveler.” I’m not so sure that I would still consider myself a big traveler but I have spent a lot of time away from home. In those 10 years, I’ve visited 35 countries. In that time, I also made a ton of mistakes. I wanted to share the ones that stick out and how to avoid them!
- Booking the cheapest hostel/hotel – everyone knows that I love a travel budget. I remember the very first time I used hostelworld, I was booking a trip with my friends Al and Lisa to Rome. I was in charge of picking the hostel there. I went for the cheapest private room in the city. It was really, really weird. I don’t even know if I would call it a hostel at this point. I think it was like a temporary flop house for young men. There’s a reason it was so cheap. There are so many things to prioritize when it comes to booking a hostel, but saving $5 a night shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve found that hostels in general are becoming more and more competitive with amenities and prices these days. So don’t bother booking by price anymore, instead I try to find something that best fits my needs.
- Walking without directions – Once upon a time in Portugal, my friend Liz and I decided that the castle in Sintra, Portugal was walkable from the train station. I have a keen sense or direction but clearly not of distance. We had no idea where we were going and we walked for like 2 hours straight uphill in the summer sun. By the time we got there we were practically dead to enjoy it. Do a couple minutes of research or save the map on your phone. Especially considering normally when you reach a destination, you are probably going to walk there too.
- Waiting until you are starving to eat – hanger is real. Not only that but sometimes if I don’t eat at regular-ish intervals, I get nauseous or dizzy. You may end up at a shitty restaurant because you don’t want to keep walking. Keep in mind that you can always have a quick snack instead of settling for a greasy doner place.
- Not bringing/drinking enough water throughout the day – Water is obviously life but I am way more likely to drink it if I’m sitting at a desk or in my classroom all day. Don’t forget to bring water. That being said – you may want to check to see how potable water is in certain cities. For example, I always get sick if I drink the water in Barcelona. I’m pretty sure this is a unique phenomenon – none of my friends get sick. But I need to make sure to plan around my thirst.
- Wearing shoes without support – I’ve noticed that lots of Europeans wear heels day to day. That’s great for them. When you are traveling, you are trying to cover ground. Whether it’s flats with no arch support or heels which are just going to make you regret everything – don’t bother. My go to summer travel shoes in the summer are Birkenstocks (because I’m classy) or sneakers for hiking or cooler temperatures. I know one of my friends permanently damaged her feet by wearing shitty shoes while abroad. Don’t do that.
- Not knowing a few phrases in the local language – sign language as well as gestures go far in other countries, but people might be genuinely tickled if you give a word or two in their language. Things like “please,” “thank you” and “check please” are particularly helpful in Europe. It’s just one of those things that people might appreciate. Plus, I think it opens your mind up to learn some other words or phrases in a particular language.
- Undervaluing sun protection – It doesn’t matter if you are pale or dark. Wear sunscreen. Always. Reapply that sunscreen several times a day. While this obviously prevents painful burns and missed beach oppertunities, it also helps ease aging and prevent skin cancer. In 2016, two of my friends and I all went to Colombia. After a day on the amazing beaches all of us had second degree burns. We were partially under a shade for most of the day. The sun came in through that umbrella and managed to burn us all pretty significantly. We all were wearing sunscreen but clearly weren’t reapplying often enough. Now – I’m vigilant.
- Overpaying for flights – When I think of the first few flights I bought to and from Europe: I cringe. I don’t have records but I know that I paid $1,800 round trip once. That’s insane. There was a reason. I wanted to fly Delta. It was so much more expensive than I could have gotten from an online search engine. Sure, I got some Delta points but honestly I don’t really think those programs are worth it unless you are flying internationally several times a year. While there are a few airlines that I hate trusting, in general I just buy whatever is cheapest. Considering airlines’ customer service is getting worse rather than better – it’s not going to be a huge difference to me.
- Only spending time with people from your own country – Don’t get me wrong – thre’s no limit on how many amazing people come from a single country. I’ve met tons of really cool people from the states as well as Canada traveling (I consider them kinsmen as well). However, don’t limit yourself to hanging out with people from your home country. The whole reason you are getting abroad is to see sites and experience the culture. It’s so amazing to meet people born in a certain destination as well as ex pats and other travelers. When I think of certain places, I think of the people I met there. Whether it was the amazing crew on our 3 island cruise in Greece or Ania, the hostel worker in Krakow, or Roman, the tour guide we had in Croatia – I love having friendly faces all over the world.
- Not buying that thing that I really wanted – I can picture the moment I saw “the scarf that got away” so clearly. I was in Bodrum, Turkey. It was about 95 degrees outside. We had just eaten some underwhelming doner kebap. There is was – rich greens, yellows and blues mixed together in a watercolor print. It was stunning. I looked at the price and winced because it was around $100. So I didn’t buy it. That was four years ago and I still think about that beautiful scarf. Personally, I don’t really covet “souvenirs,” or at least the ones they sell at those gimmicky gift shops. However, if you find a local shop that has something you can picture being a part of your every day life – buy it. You may never get the chance again.
- Not traveling seasonally – There are some places you just shouldn’t go to in the middle of summer. It’s too hot. There are places that are miserable in the winter. A good rule of thumb to beat crowds is to travel in shoulder season (the months surrounding the high season). Just do a little research to temperature – some places might surprise you. For example, I was in Budapest in the middle of July and it was MISERABLE. Hot and humid and very little way to escape that soupy sort of weather.
- Overpacking – It’s been a long time since I really desperately overpacked. I have a system these days. I don’t think it’s something you learn overnight – good packing skills. But it can just be such a pain in the ass. Now that airlines often are more strict about baggage, it can also be expensive if you overpack. If you do overpack one trip, make a point to note what sorts of things you didn’t use. Then don’t pack them next time. Something that I find is often I end up with multiple genres of travel in the same trip (e.g. I would do an archaeological dig then do some backpacking finally ending on the beach in Greece). That’s a little tougher to plan for. However, just remember – if you forget something – you can buy it in your destination. Unless you are going to Antartica or Siberia or something. But in general – you aren’t going to be destitute. You just have an excuse to try out the shops wherever you are visiting.
So there we are – some of my travel mistakes that you can learn from. Obviously, everyone needs to make their own mistakes and learn as they go. I hope I can help a couple people avoid some of these common mistakes. What are some mistakes that you have made? Let me know in the comments.