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Social media has a funny way of making people think that travel is all amazing destinations, perfect weather and good hair days. What people often don’t see is the reality behind these perfect photos. The overnight bus rides, the language barrier, sickness and exhaustion from changing time zones.
Today I wanted to turn the tables and tell you about 15 travel mistakes I have made because after all, every single travel blogger and Instagrammer with amazing photos has faced challenges and hard times while travelling. These are 15 of my biggest travel mistakes.
Over-ambitious travel plans
When I backpacked around South America, I had grand plans, yet little understanding of the reality of my plans. I wanted to see and do everything, which meant I was moving every 2 or 3 days to a new destination. The places I wanted to visit were 5-15 hour bus rides apart, so I spent every 3rd or 4th night on an overnight bus. I would arrive at the destination exhausted but would persevere and explore. Before I knew it, I was repacking my bags and on the next journey.
I didn’t have time to stop and appreciate what I was seeing and doing. I was always looking forward at what was next and was so focused on ticking items off the bucket list. After 3 months I was exhausted. All I wanted was to spend a week in the one place to recoup and recover, but I hadn’t allowed for it in my planing.
This taught me the benefit of slow-paced travel. I love experiencing destinations like a local instead of rushing through from one bucket list destination to the next. Which leads to my next travel mistake.
Leaving no room for flexibility
When I started travelling I would spend weeks, even months, planning my trip. I would pre-book flights and transport, hostels and tours. This meant when I arrived I had no room to change my plans. I quickly learnt that this isn’t a good way to travel. Yes, booking in advance can save you a few dollars, but changing plans along the way costs way more.
When you meet people that you connect with, you want to be able to spend a few days with them, jump in their hire car and head off on a spontaneous road trip. If you get sick, you want the flexibility to stay in the same destination for a few days while you recover.
You need flexibility with your plans because you never know what will happen.
On my first overseas trip, I had a suitcase weighing 32kg. It was an absolute nightmare getting it off the baggage carousel, into the taxi and up the stairs in the hostel. The last thing you need after an international flight is to arrive at a new destination, flustered and unable to get around with ease because you have overpacked.
There are so many benefits of packing light.
Expecting things to be the same
When travelling the world, you learn that everyone has a different way of doing things. Take, for example, a cup of coffee. Australians have their coffee different to Americans, Italians and Asians. Don’t travel and expect things to be the same, it won’t be. Yeah, you might miss the way things are at home but you need to be open-minded and embrace the differences, this is a part of the travelling experience.
Not trusting people
I left for my first overseas trip at 18. People had drilled into me that I needed to be careful, watch out for those around me, protect my belongings and be cautious when talking to people and making new friends. Yes, this all rings true, but on the other hand being too cautious can cause you to miss out on amazing experiences with locals and other backpackers. Yes, you should always be cautious, but you should also trust those around you when it feels right.
Saying no to experiences
The only travel regrets I have, are regrets from things I said no too. When I was at Niagra Falls, I didn’t take the famous Maid of the Mist Boat ride. When I was in Mexico I missed the opportunity to swim with the whale sharks. This is one of the biggest regrets of my life. A once in a lifetime experience that I missed out on because I was budgeting like crazy to spend a few extra days on the road. Yes, it is good to budget so you can travel longer, but you don’t want to look back and regret missing out on once in a lifetime experiences.
Sticking to the beaten track
When I started travelling my itinerary would be based on the most popular, tourist destinations within a country. I quickly learnt that some of the most amazing places are the ones that no one knows about, and to find these you need to get off the beaten track. Don’t be afraid to leave the tourist trail (known as the gringo trail in South America).
Not carrying a spare camera battery
If you arrive at the Taj Majal, the last thing you want is your camera to die. I have missed amazing photo opportunities because of this and it can be devastating. Always travel with a spare camera battery so you don’t make the same travel mistakes as me.
Not backing up photos
When I returned from my 1 month trip to Los Angeles, Mexico and New York, I lost ALL of my photos. This was DEVASTATING! Learn from my travel mistakes and always back your photos up. For me, my photos are my souvenirs and they are irreplaceable. I won’t make this mistake again.
Drinking the water in Colombia
Okay, so this one is just stupid. After a massive night out in Cartagena, I returned to the hostel and didn’t have any clean drinking water. I had a quick sip of tap water before bed, which turned into a horror decision. This was one night before I boarded a sailing boat to the San Blas Islands, which was 4 days at sea. I was sick the entire boat ride and remained sick for about 6 months.
Always carry plenty of water and if you get into this situation, just steal a bottle from a roommate. While this isn’t an ideal situation either, it is surely better than drinking tap water from a third world country.
Not informing my bank of my travel plans
When I arrived in Peru my bank card was cancelled as I hadn’t notified the bank of my travel plans. Luckily, I was with a friend so she could lend me money while I contacted the bank to resolve the issue. The last thing anyone needs is to be stranded overseas with no access money, however, this is something that can easily be forgotten. That is why I created an overseas travel checklist, so you don’t forget anything on your next overseas trip.
Trusting the directions of locals
Don’t blindly follow the directions of one local. I have made this mistake before. You should always ask multiple people for directions if you are lost to ensure you are getting the correct information. It isn’t uncommon for people to point in a certain direction without actually understanding your question.
My New York Horror Story
Almost everyone dreams of visiting the big apple. It was a childhood dream for me and one I quickly made a reality, visiting alone at the age of 18. I was living in Canada at the time and visited LA, Mexico and New York, all by myself. Looking back, I can’t believe how brave I was to jump on a plane at 18 and set off to these destinations. I had no fear. (Some may call me crazy).
When I arrived in New York, I had an Airbnb booked. I was meant to arrive in the late afternoon but after a delayed flight and hours spent in customs, I didn’t get out of the airport until around 10 pm. When my transfer dropped me at the door of my Airbnb, I knocked to no avail, my hosts were not home.
There I was, 18 years old with no phone, standing in the streets of New York, late at night, with no idea what to do. I was exhausted after a full day of flying and completely lost it. I was stressed, flustered, anxious and I started crying. With no way to contact anyone, I decided to knock on the neighbour’s door and asked them to call a taxi. I was completely afraid of the door I had knocked on, the taxi driver and everyone in the street.
Eventually, I ended up in an expensive hotel, but I in no way kept my cool. I was emotional, I was rude to the people around me and I let the situation get out of control.
The lessons learnt here… Always contact your Airbnb host if you are running late, always get a sim for the country you are travelling in, remain calm while making a plan B, trust people around you and accept help when you truly need it.
New York was NOT a dream destination for me, I would much rather be camping on the beach or in a national park than navigating the subway system in a big city.
Not getting travel insurance
A mistake I have never made, and one you should make either, You never know when something will happen abroad so make sure you get travel insurance. I recommend World Nomads, you can get a quote here.
So there you have it
My travel mistakes and horror stories. Travel isn’t always what it seems on Instagram, but the challenges we face travelling are totally worth the unforgettable experiences.
Disclosure: This post on travel mistakes contains affiliate links.