In a push for more transparency about how to travel around the world, we wanted to share how even experts in travel make mistakes, big atrocious, embarrassing fundamental mistakes. Traveling is more commonly depicted for its luxurious outcomes, but the energy, money, plans, and failures in executing each trip are threads in which tie everything together. Being an expert at anything including travel means growing from failures that vary by person, context, and comfort.
Our "19 mistakes" is a good list of what not to do, but we do believe that you can nurture confidence doing anything and traveling anywhere by overcoming challenges such as ours on the road. Although each mistake came with a price, we survived, turning up with richer experiences than if our itinerary had been concrete and the execution flawless.
1. Booking a hotel that doesn't exist
We arrived in Bogota late at night, and in not wanting to sleep in the airport, we had booked the cheapest hotel through hotels.com. Our Uber driver drove us in circles looking for the hotel until finally, we arrived at a dilapidated building, that our driver on investigation would, in the future, be the hotel listed online. We ended up paying twice as much at a neighboring hotel, with no refund, and no way to warn future visitors because hotels.com flagged and deleted our comment of “this hotel doesn’t exist.”
2. Traveling through a country and not stopping to enjoy
In trying to be yes people, we accepted an invitation to stay in Baños, Ecuador with a gentleman we meet in Colombia. In doing so, we had to skip the capital, the best hikes and mountains, and the equator to arrive in Baños with our host. Financially we were in no position to backtrack north and we had to keep moving south to Peru.
Map out your trip in a logical order and direction to save money and time to travel in a way that is enjoyable.
3. Sticking out rather than blending in
We let our guards down and ended up walking in an area of Mancora, Peru that was known for being dangerous. We passed several shady characters that whistled and disappeared as we passed, yet we carried on sticking out as foreigners with our fanny packs and iPhones. We ended up getting robbed at gunpoint. The thieves getting both our phones, 300 Peruvian soles and our debit card. Good news is, we kept traveling.
Be aware of your surroundings. When arriving in a new place, it’s good to ask if there are any safety measures you should be aware of for the area.
4. Traveling on public holidays
We missed more than one bus because of holidays in South America. Sundays are a day of rest in the Christian faith, and as such we ended up staying the night in some remote places in Colombia because the bus stations closed for the day.
Whether it's Christmas or Colombia's Independence Day, avoid traveling on public holidays if possible. Plan for delays and research upcoming holidays where you're traveling.
5. Drinking under-filtered water
When coming down from the Punta Union pass in Huaraz, we were out of drinking water and rushed to the river to satisfy our thirst. Our purification tablets recommended half an hour for proper purification. Of course, the tablets only had directions for a 20-gallon container of water, so we were guessing at the necessary amount for a 1.5liter bottle. Our under purification caused Tom and I to get a nasty parasite called Giardia a week later, a common symptom of ingesting untreated water.
Wilderness treks are no easy task, and one should prepare by packing necessary supplies such as water purification tablets, first aid kit, and proper food supplies.
6. Losing money when transferring funds over seas
We postponed the responsibility and the hassle of figuring out an affordable way to transfer money internationally, meaning that the last day before leaving New Zealand, we had no choice but to wire money through ANZ and take the hit of the transfer fee. We spent a few hundred dollars transferring our own money from one electronic account to another.
There is hardly an easy way to move money internationally, but it's best to survey the options and weigh the fees before pursuing a method of transfer.
7. Not applying for a transit visa
We made the mistake of thinking that our connection through Australia didn't require a visa. Unfortunately the morning of the flight we read that transit visas are required for all connecting flights through Australia and must be acquired ten days before departure. We nearly missed our flight thinking there was no other option, but we headed to the airport in some hope that we could pull together a miracle. It turns out that having an American passport entitles passengers to acquire visas at the airport rather than weeks in advance. It was pure luck that we didn't miss our flights to Japan through Australia.
Before booking a flight, investigate whether the country requires a visa and how long beforehand one has to apply.
8. Having a rail pass and not using it
It seems ridiculous to have a rail pass and not use it, but purchasing a rail pass means picking a specific route or zone, which means a set itinerary. Set itineraries rarely go as planned and we when in the country there might be different routes or options. In Japan, we calculated it to be cheaper to buy a rail pass than purchasing individual journeys. We only used it once as the second rail journey we boarded the wrong train type of train (the bullet train) which was not covered by our rail pass meaning that we had to pay out of pocket.
Be sure to read and understand all the regulations of passes such as Japan Rail, Eurail, and others to avoid surprise expenses.
9. Applying for a visa too late
Visas take anywhere from 2-10 days to process, which means that it's crucial to plan. We had a two-day layover in Seoul in which we were waiting for our Vietnam visas to clear. We applied only two days earlier. We were biting our fingernails waiting for the visas. We were frantically searching for options if our visas didn't come in time. Logging on to our online application last minute, we noticed that we had been approved that evening. No email or notification, just a checked box and an option to download our e-visa. We would have missed out on our visas just waiting for an approval email.
Apply for visas well in advance and research the regulations for approval. Make sure that you have a printed copy of your e-visa if required.
10. Booking separate connecting flights with only a 2hr layover in between
One of our travel tricks is to book international flights with layovers as separate journeys to save money and time. Meaning that if a flight from Vietnam to Myanmar has a layover in Malaysia, we'll book our flights from Vietnam to Malaysia as one journey and Malaysia to Myanmar as a different journey saving money because we're putting in the research. The downside is that in booking separately, one has to exit immigration and customs to check in and go back through security all of which takes time.
When booking back to back flights that are not a direct connection (meaning tickets that are bought as a single journey), it's important to leave enough time between flights for security clearance and delays.
11. Purchasing the wrong tickets for the metro
In a rush to meet our parents at the airport in Paris, Tom and I hastily bought tickets from a machine that didn't have English options. We bought tickets for seniors that didn’t include the airport fee of €20. We arrived at the airport, and there was a random security check where officers checked our tickets. Having purchased the wrong tickets, we were fined €50 for not having the right train ticket.
Always purchase a ticket to ride public transportation. Keep in mind that transportation tickets to the airport are more expensive than other journeys.
12. Booking accommodation for the wrong dates
Not double-checking our dates for a stay in Matera, Italy, we booked for the wrong month. We only realized the mistake when we received an email confirming our cancelation and the charge equal to one night's stay.
Double check, quadruple check, your accommodation itinerary dates possibly reading out loud to verify accuracy before booking.
13. Traveling without cash
We usually always travel with cash, but Hong Kong eluded us as we set out for a quick three-day visit not thinking to bring our ATM card. We were stranded in HK with only a credit card and very little Vietnamese Dong. Because we didn't have cash, we were unable to get our new sponsored visa (the whole reason for the trip), and we were stuck eating at restaurants that accepted credit card.
Always travel with a bit of cash and have a plan to get cash on arrival in a new destination i.e.- ATM card.
14. Missing the last bus, boat, or train for the day
We left our hostel in Ao Nang Thailand (the town next to Krabi) leisurely in the early afternoon only to arrive half an hour after the last day boat from Krabi left for the island of Koh Tao. We arrived at the port during the awkward hours between the last day boat and the overnight boat. What should only take a few hours on the day boat would now take all night. Our careless mistake caused us to lose a night of paid accommodation on the island of Koh Tao
Research time tables ahead of time and plan accordingly. Timetables may not be listed online, but you can ask your hostel or hotel for accurate and current timetables.
15. Spending money to send a package home
We had extra weight from our wedding in Greece. We should have sent it home with friends and family, but we grew accustomed to having it and forgot. We reached a point of exceeding our carryon limit and needed to send a package home. In desperation, we sent home a large package from Thailand spending far more money than we should have.
Travel light and in buying new things, consider trading out the old.
16. Applying for a visa with the wrong passport number
As Tom and I have the same passport number except for the last digit, I often mix them up. I applied for a Vietnamese visa with Tom’s passport number on accident. I had to apply again, paying a separate fee after realizing the mistake a day too late.
Verify information is correct, accurate and true before submitting any travel documents.
17. Loosing a GoPro to the ocean
We took our GoPro kayaking in Thailand and hit by a big wave we lost the GoPro. We should have had one of the handles that float, but we only realized they existed after we lost our GoPro to the ocean. Luckily we had unloaded all the footage of the past few weeks in Japan off of the memory card.
Don’t take your camera on a kayaking journey in the ocean or your GoPro without a flotation handle.
18. Offended the locals by not knowing the customs
We bought some beautiful white peonies flowers from the Vietnamese market to give to our coworkers as a gift of appreciation. Upon giving the flowers to our female coworkers, they were stunned as we had presented them with traditional funeral flowers. Even further, because we had individually wrapped each one, we had further mocked their ritual of the dead. They throw individually wrapped white peonies into the graves or the coffins of their dead. Most of our coworkers were understanding in the honest mistake, but one of our coworkers had a sick father in the hospital to which the flowers were a bad omen.
Understanding a brief overview of each culture’s customs and traditions will lead to a better experience while traveling.
19. Missing an international flight
Tom is a proponent of being exceptionally early to the airport and the one time I had convinced him that we didn’t need to be early, is, of course, the day that the bus takes 20 minutes longer than planned and we miss check-in for our international flight. We ran through a bunch of options trying to connect flights to get back to Vietnam that evening (we had work the following day) and attempting to book online. Buying tickets from the counter of a budget airline was three times the price listed online, but purchasing online must be three hours before check-in. We missed the window purchasing flights to DaNang that evening and instead booked a flight for the following morning, sleeping in the airport to make sure that we weren't late.
When relying on public transportation to the airport, allow for plenty of extra time to accommodate for delays in traffic.