If living colorfully means adapting creatively when plans go array, then I’d say I’m a well-versed pro. By now I’ve experienced every type of exhilarating joy, gut-wrenching fear and heartbreaking disappointment in my moments living out of a suitcase. I’ve been the 25-year old crying in an Amsterdam train station because I’m by myself and all paths to the airport have been blocked while my flight departure countdown goes off in my head like a pending atomic bomb. And I’ve been the solo traveler chuckling to myself as I see a family racing through the train station with oversized maps and so much sweat. Chuckling because I had been there 2 days ago.
There are lots of mistakes we make as travelers, and while I’m sure the plights will never end (no matter how often you traverse the world), there are ways to better prepare yourself for those inevitable worst-case-scenarios you never think will happen to you. Until they do. So below are the 14 biggest travel mistakes I see people make and definitely make myself.
1. Not doing the research
You know this one. It’s relying on pretty pictures and website descriptions to make your travel decisions for you without referencing review sites, calculating distance, thinking about transportation… basically doing the math on the logistics before you book and letting social media be your sole guide. This goes for hotels, flights, activities, restaurants. Literally everything!
2. Not packing appropriately
I’ve always been the gal that packs for 1 month when going on a weekend trip. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I often sacrifice comfort for style. And I’ve definitely paid for it! So check the weather before you go and adjust accordingly. Find items to layer and shoes that work with multiple outfits (and different terrains!). Pack only the essentials and remember, if you need anything desperately enough that you don’t pack, this destination will likely have it available for you to buy there.
3. Ignoring Check-In/Check-Out Times
As much as we’d like it to, the world doesn’t revolve around us individually. And nor do hotels! So it’s important to keep these times in mind when planning flights or activities on your arrival and departure days. Many train stations in Europe will have left luggage lockers for you to store bags in the meantime if you have several hours to kill, so take advantage!
4. Not taking risks
Of course we prefer our comfort zones.. hence the name! But I’ve seen so many people stick to their sense of normal even when abroad, and they never truly experience the different culture. The odds are, these are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. So for me, that translates to “must be as adventurous as I can!”
5. Not learning a bit of the language + being culturally insensitive
Cliche but true, a little goes a long way. You’ll have much more luck with locals + patrons when you try (and probably fail) than when you walk up and immediately start chatting in a foreign language in their home turf. Think how you would feel!
6. Not having the right phone plan
Relying on wi-fi for your sole source of communication is doable, but risky. Wi-fi in Europe at least is not as abundant as it is in America, nor is it fast. So consider getting a temporary SIM when you arrive. I did a pay-by-the-month plan with Three that gave me free, unlimited data across most European countries.
7. Not bringing foreign currency before you arrive
Currency exchange stands in the airports are notorious for charging more than what you’d pay at your bank back home for foreign currency. If you have enough time, order some $ from your bank online to be shipped to your house before you go! That way you can avoid those crazy international ATM fees as well.
8. Not having a carry-on bag that can get you through the next few days
It sucks to have your luggage get lost, but let’s face it, it happens more often than we’d like to admit. One of the best things I’ve learned has been to get into the habit of packing the true essentials in your carry-on and guarding it with your life so that you can make it through the next few days until your bag is safely returned to you.
9. Being too frugal
There is such a thing! If you don’t give a *Ratatouille’s bottom* about where you stay or how you get there, skip this one. But if you’re like me and have a serious problem with being herded like cattle, or want to avoid feigning pregnancy so you can carry your purse on a plane…. sometimes it’s truly worth it to spend more money. When you spend half your vacation complaining about the hotel experience or worrying about how you’ll get your souvenirs on the plane, you begin to realize that what these budget companies save you in cash, they cost you in comfort.
10. Not alerting your bank about your travels
One of the scariest situations is being in a foreign country with no access to money because your bank has put a security block on your card for suspected fraudulent activity. It takes no time to set up a travel alert on most online banking platforms, so give them a heads up 3-4 weeks out on your travel dates and destinations. And fingers crossed this will alleviate some of the automatic flags!
11. Not backing up pictures
It’s time-consuming, sure. But if the photos you take on vacay are of serious value, back them up everyday on a platform you trust! Even Dropbox or Google Drive does the trick. If something tragically happens to your camera or memory card, you’ll be thankful for what you were able to salvage.
12. Not leaving enough of a buffer in your plans
One thing crazy planners who like to stuff everything into their detailed itineraries *ahem, me* don’t stop to consider is time. The time you need to leave for connecting flights in case of a delay. The time it takes to walk from one destination to another and how that will affect reservation times. The extra time you might want to spend at a place but don’t feel like you can because the next item is moving up on deck! Leave some time for spontenaiety, and allocate wiggle room in case thing don’t go as planned.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made all of these mistkaes, but here’s to hoping my sufferings will lead to a better experience for others in the long run. As a friend of mine used to say, just ride the wave and everything will fall into place.