Everyone makes mistakes when they travel. It’s an unavoidable part of the experience. We put ourselves in unfamiliar places and situations so we are bound to get things wrong from time to time. So I’ve decided to put together a list of travel mistakes that I’ve been guilty of myself and some useful ways to avoid them.
11 Travel Mistakes I’ve Made (and How to Avoid Them)
1. Planning too much
Planning a trip is one of the most exciting parts of travel. It’s all too easy to make a huge list of things to see and do. However, this can make travelling stressful and less enjoyable. Remember: quality trumps quantity so it’s better to see fewer sights properly than rush around not taking in everything that makes them special.
There is also something to be said about arriving to a new country not armed with every single snippet of information. Letting yourself get lost in a new city or discover something amazing about the local culture is a special experience that doesn’t require any planning at all! Like the time I accidentally spent Chinese New Year in Bangkok.
2. Not planning enough
On the other hand, not planning enough can derail even the shortest of trips. Visa requirements, vaccinations, type of plug used by electronic devices…Doing some basic research and being prepared for a trip is super important to make sure you hit the ground running once you get to your destination. Some of the mistakes I’ve made include leaving it too late to get rabies jabs before getting chased by a scary looking dog in Indonesia and spending an unplanned night on Koh Tao because I didn’t book my ferry tickets in advance.
3. Following the guidebook
Striking a balance between must-see sights and going off-the-beaten-path can be tricky. Main sights are popular for a reason and seeing them in person can be incredible. And while you can’t come to New York without visiting Central Park or not making time for The Louvre when in Paris, going to non-touristy areas can greatly enhance your experience. Getting to know a place beyond what’s in the guidebook can easily become a highlight of any trip. This is your chance to meet the locals or try authentic food at a fraction of a price of touristy restaurants.
4. Falling for tourist traps
If you told me that you have NEVER fallen for a tourist trap while travelling, I probably wouldn’t believe you. You know the kinda thing – being taken on a tuk-tuk tour of local tailor shops in Bangkok (“um, driver, this is definitely NOT The Grand Palace”) or having a friendship bracelet wrapped around your wrist only to be hassled for money for something you didn’t even want. Being aware of your surroundings and having an idea of the scams common to the area you’re in can go a long way to helping you avoid being swindled. Don’t hesitate – If in doubt, a firm “NO” will usually get people off your back.
5. Always going for the cheapest deal
Finding a cheap travel deal can be immensely satisfying. It’s very addictive and can be great for your bank balance too. I am very competitive and I’ve turned finding the best possible price into a personal challenge! Sometimes this has meant flights with inconvenient arrival times or long stopovers in airports I’d rather not see again – all to save a few pounds. Sometimes it’s worth to spend a bit extra to travel with a better airline or on a more direct flight to ensure a better experience and to maximise time at your destination. Also check for any hidden charges and whether you are booking with a reputable company – some can be very difficult to get in touch with if something does go wrong!
6. Taking part in questionable animal activities
The rise in sustainable travel has meant that more people are becoming aware of what footprint their actions leave on a destination. Yet activities that put animal welfare in jeopardy are still prevalent around the world. From riding elephants to stroking tigers and taking selfies with chained monkeys, there are still too many instances of animal abuse. It’s in our power, as travellers, to vote with our wallets by not taking part in these activities and educating others we meet. I will hold my hands up and be upfront that I have taken part in some of these when I was more ignorant and didn’t understand the impact of my actions. So please, think twice before you take part in any tour or activity that involves animals and make sure you pick responsible operators that help you enjoy animal encounters the right way – in their natural habitat!
Packing light isn’t one of my strengths! While I have got better since I started travelling, I still tend to pack way more than I need. I can think of many trips where I could have just packed a carry on instead of my 70 litre backpack. My half-excuse is that I am active on my trips so need to bring extra clothes. However, I still come home with items I didn’t wear once so it’s a pretty bad one!
Think about your trip and consider what the essentials are. Don’t bring too many “just in case” items and do some research on the weather. You will definitely not need warm sweaters in Thailand in May! In the worst case scenario, you can generally find cheap clothes even in more expensive Western countries.
8. Not putting the camera down
In a world obsessed with social media, the sound of a camera shutter is a common one at tourist sites around the globe. Too many times I’ve been guilty of grabbing my camera to take a perfect shot and not taking time to actually appreciate what’s in front of me.
However, I’ve learnt that stopping and taking in the view is just as important as those shots. Photos will make for great memories but there is nothing like the feeling of awe when seeing a famous monument or a natural wonder with your own eyes for the first time. So next time, put the camera away and enjoy the view. There’ll be plenty of time for those selfies!
9. Not having travel insurance
Probably one of the most important things on this list yet a really common oversight by many travellers. Travel insurance is so important whether you go away for a short city break or a multi-month backpacking trip. It’s impossible to know when something might happen – be it a tropical illness, a flight cancellation or theft. Good policies cover a wide range of eventualities and buying one is simply essential. There’s simply no reason any traveller should leave their home country without travel insurance.
10. Money Mistakes
Money may not be able to buy you love but it sure can buy you travel! So treating money with care when you travel is super important. So please:
DO: make sure your phone is unlocked so you can insert a local SIM card in it – this will save you a LOT of money compared with high roaming charges or international plans with your provider.
DO: get a money card that gets you near-perfect exchange rates, no fees and easy access to your money. There are a few around but I use Revolut – I have been using it for a couple of years and it’s been a lifesaver.
DO NOT: forget to let your bank know you are travelling abroad. There is nothing like having your card eaten by an ATM on an island with a few months of travel still to go (true story).
DO NOT: exchange money at the airport. Any airport. Just…just NO. Exchange it before you leave, after you arrive but never ever at the airport. Not the one you leave from or the one you arrive to.
DO NOT: keep your money in the same place. This way, if someone steals your cash or cards, you have a backup option to fall back on. I usually spread my cash between a couple of different places just for my own piece of mind.
11. Not being spontaneous enough
Another downside of planning a trip down to the finest details is it makes it more difficult to build in time for being spontaneous. You may miss out on things that aren’t in the guidebooks, a local’s recommendation or an opportunity to mingle with other travellers. Joining others, especially when travelling solo, is a great way to find out about cool activities and experiences as well as perfect for making new friends! Some of my closest friends are people I’ve met while travelling!
Being spontaneous while travelling tends to lead to some of the best and most memorable experiences! Having that flexibility allowed me to dance the night away at a Full Moon Party in Thailand, share a meal with locals in Montenegro and climb a volcano in Indonesia.
Do you have any other travel mistakes that you’ve made or perhaps did well to avoid? Let me know in the comments below.
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