How to Avoid Making My Travel Mistakes
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I’m not the kind of person to get down on myself. 99% of the time I think I’m fantastic, but I’m also human, which means I’ve made mistakes, even travel ones. This post is in good fun, but here are some reasons why I kind of suck at travel and how you can avoid making the same mistakes I have.
My Travel Mistake – I’ve Only Left North America Once
Six years ago I boarded a flight to London and did an 11-day tour around Western Europe. It was a great trip (my first time travelling alone too), but it was also quick. I barely scratched any surface of any of the places I visited. That has been the only time I’ve left North America. The only other countries I’ve been to (so far) have been The US and Mexico.
Update: I’ve left North America a few more times since I wrote this post. I even lived in Ireland for a bit. Yay, I suck less!
My Advice – Leave North America
Unless you live on another continent, and then leave your home continent if you have the means and privilege to do so.
My Travel Mistake – I Get Lost All The Time
Let me set the scene. It is a cold, overcast summer day in Ottawa. I decided to meet some Couchsurfers at The Canadian Museum of Civilization. I start to walk to the museum (I thought), except I’m too cheap to buy a GPS-enabled smartphone. I don’t have a map or an address for the museum. Also, I don’t have a way to contact anyone I’m supposed to meet because I didn’t get anyone’s phone number. I wander around Ottawa trying to find this museum when I’m not even 12% sure where it is. It doesn’t take a psychic to see I am soon utterly lost. Do I call a cab? No, I don’t have a phone (and I’m cheap, remember). I proceed to wander around like an idiot, heading to where I feel like the museum might be. This doesn’t work (obviously). It starts to rain, and I get hangry, and I give up and go for supper at an Irish pub.
My Advice – Get A Map or Smartphone
Get a smartphone or at least get a map and figure out where you’re going. Sometimes it’s fun to wander and be lost, but not when you are exhausted. I suggest getting an address for the place you’re trying to find. Also, have money for a cab in case you decide that walking in circles for 2 hours is more frustrating than it’s worth.
My Travel Mistake – I Don’t Ask For Help
That example above of me getting lost in Ottawa shows this well. I have a hard time asking for help, even though logically this doesn’t make sense. Obviously, I can’t know 100% of everything at all times, but I never seem to ask for help. Possibly due to a combination of me being too stubborn and being too polite (I am Canadian after all, sorry about that).
My Advice – Ask for Help
Obviously, gauge the situation and the company you’re in first. If you’re travelling alone and your gut says, “no go” then it might be better to fake it until you make it. Occasionally you will have to face up to the fact that you are not perfect. You may need help. Most people (on the rare occasion I’ve asked) have been happy to help.
My Travel Mistake – I Fail to Check if a Major Event is Going on Somewhere Before I Travel There
When I was in Ottawa, I booked a last-minute cheap VIA Rail ticket to Montreal. Since I didn’t do any research, I got to Montreal and found out The Montreal Grand Prix was happening. Finding accommodation within my budget was hard as most places were sold out. While I finally lucked out and found a hostel room (for a much higher price than I budgeted for), I could have saved myself stress and hassle. I could have booked a room in advance, or at least set aside more of my budget for accommodations.
My Advice – Check for Major Events/Festivals Ahead of Time
Some people will say spur-of-the-moment travel is the best way to travel. When you can’t find a place to sleep because the city/town/village, etc. you’re going to is booked because of an event or festival then it’s no fun. You don’t need to book everything in advance, but at least check and see if any significant events might cause an accommodation headache. Then you can adjust your plans and budget accordingly.
My Travel Mistake – I Travel When I Can’t Really Afford It
I am not a financial advisor, but there’s a significant thing I’ve learned over the years. Don’t travel or book a vacation/trip on a credit card(s) unless you know with 1000000% accuracy that you have the funds to pay off said credit card(s) right away. By which I mean you can pay off your credit card(s) without charging another credit card(s), taking out a loan, borrowing more money, or dipping into your regular funds for paying bills. Despite writing this advice how many times have I travelled on my credit card, and not had enough money to pay off my travels when I returned home? Almost all the time. I don’t regret travelling or where I’ve been, but I hate the stress and bad financial decisions I’ve made by going into debt (no matter what the amount) for my travels.
My Advice – Save Your Money and Then Travel
Eliminate the stress of going into debt to travel and save your money first, then go. Sell your stuff, work extra jobs, automatically put away a certain amount of your paycheque each month. It isn’t a glamorous or fun answer. It will take more time, but save first then travel.
My Travel Mistake – I Don’t Talk to People
Hostels are apparently a fine place to make new friends on your travels, even when travelling alone. At least that’s what I’m told. I wouldn’t know that because I don’t talk to people. My default setting is to be quiet, and not talk to people unless I know them or I’m in a small group (large groups = no thanks). Ok, occasionally I have spoken to people, but it’s not often, like embarrassingly not often.
Update: I’m still working on this one. What can I say? We’re all works in progress.
My Advice – Talk to People
Say hello, for real. Even if you’re like me and that seems intimidating it’s not that bad. I’m slowly learning this. You might be an introvert like me and need your space, but the occasional hello is a good thing.
My Travel Mistake I Leave My Passport Behind
Guess where’s a horrible place to put your passport? If you guessed on top of the toilet paper dispenser at the customs washroom in the Calgary International Airport then you would be correct. Yes, I did this, and luckily I was coming home and had already cleared customs, so I was able to board my domestic flight (I had my driver’s license on me). Still, it caused a whole bunch of stress and was not a fun way to end a trip to NYC.
My Advice – Keep Your Passport with You (or Know Someone Who is a Pretty Big Deal)
Have your passport with you at all times, and double-check that you know where it is. If you’re at the airport, or somewhere else you might need to take your passport out just ask yourself, “is my passport with me?” before you leave. At the very least always have a photocopy of your passport with you and have the address and contact information of your local embassy. If you forget your passport in a washroom in Customs at the airport, it will help to know someone who is a pretty big deal and can save your passport from being destroyed forever. Even knowing someone who is a big deal will likely only get to save your lost passport once, so it’s best to have your passport with you at all times.
My Travel Mistake – I Don’t Wear The Right Shoes
Some of these mistakes, like the passport one, I’ve only made once. This particular mistake I’ve made several times, and that is that I fail to wear the right shoes (comfortable shoes that I can walk and stand-in for long periods of time) when I travel. A few examples of this happened in New York in 2010. Then in Houston and New Orleans in 2012 (where I broke down and bought $125 Keen Sandals – best sandals ever). Even recently before going to New York with some friends, I failed to follow the advice of break your shoes in before a trip. My feet suffered because of it.
My Advice – Get Good Travel Shoes
The fashion police would likely have me arrested for this, but I stand by saying it. If you have to choose between comfort and style, then pick comfort. Don’t wear unsupportive shoes that will give you blisters and cause your feet to swell. No matter how good your shoes are, make sure to break them in a couple of months before your trip (not two weeks before). Your feet and the rest of you will thank me for this.
My Travel Mistake – I Forget My Limits
When I say “forget my limits” I mean I repeat the same mistakes time and again. Like booking a red-eye flight and telling myself, “I’ll sleep on the plane” when history has demonstrated that won’t happen. Or telling myself “I’ll just walk there” then I get lost, and my feet get sore, and I wonder why I didn’t take a cab. There’s always a point of no return when I do these things, and I think “right, I made this mistake before. Why did I do this again?”
My Advice – Know Your Limits and Learn from Your Mistakes
If you know that hostels cause you to not sleep, then book a hotel. Don’t take a red-eye flight if it’s going to make you into a sleep-deprived zombie. Sometimes that might mean spending more money to stay at a hotel instead of a hostel or saying no to some activity or sight that you’re too tired to see. Whatever it is, know your limits and don’t try to pretend you’re Super Traveller. You’re not. You’re human, and even a fantastic place won’t be so fantastic when you’re making bad decisions because you think, “I got this.”
Those are some reasons why I suck at travel. Hopefully, you’ve read this post and learned what not to do when it comes to travelling. Next, I’ll share some completely biased reasons on why I’m an awesome traveller, and I’ll give you tips on how you can be an awesome traveller too.
Have you made any of these travel mistakes?