Our Biggest Mistakes in 12 Months of Travel

Wearing this hat combo almost made the list...
Wearing this hat combo almost made the list…

It’s embarrassing to write a post like this.  As much as I like to focus on the positive in our year of travel and service, I would be lying if I said we did not make our share of major mistakes.  I thought that sharing them might help prevent CultureMutt readers from also making them so here are some of the biggies:

Travel Mistake # 1 – Buying a round-the-world ticket – At first it seemed like such a good idea: save money through buying a round-the-world ticket.  So we hunted down a well-priced offer and bought our tickets.  At first we congratulated ourselves on “thinking ahead” and “being bold”.  That was stupid.  We ended up losing thousands of dollars in the end because we had to abandon the last leg of our world trip: Mumbai (more on why later).  We now stay away from buying any long-haul tickets far in advance and, instead, buy them the day before our flight. Airlines often drop their prices right before the flight to sell empty seats.

Travel Mistake # 2 – The Buenos Aires apartment – There are limits to perks of “artsy”.  Joy at finding a quaint, polished-red-brick-interior, low-ceiling artist cove in San Telmo (one of the trendiest Buenos Aires neighborhoods) turned to absolute misery as soon as colder weather arrived and the place turned out to be an ice box.  It was unbearable.  Plus the bathroom was a nightmare (leaking toilet and unreliable hot water supply) and the WiFi sucked.  The lesson?  Don’t rent the first place you visit on Craigslist no matter how fun it looks.

Travel Mistake # 3 – Not Being Touristy Enough – In our zeal to “live like locals” and shun tourist traps we actually got complacent about going out to see the local sights.  This became obvious when visiting friends starting asking us to go places in various cities that we didn’t even know existed.  We were great at meeting locals and getting involved in the community, less so at seeing all the monuments.  We would be more proactive in this department if we were starting over.

Travel Mistake # 4 – Eating Badly – One of the most tempting things about traveling is sampling all the exotic food.  Well, we definitely did a lot of sampling (I got food poisoning twice).  There wasn’t enough balance in our meals.  To be fair, our worst excesses of bad eating were in Bangkok at the start of the trip where we didn’t have a kitchen and therefore ate out almost all the time.  Not smart.  We ended up consuming way too much fat, salt and sugar as a result.  We knew we had to improve on this so we insisted on having kitchens in Buenos Aires and Berlin.  Things got better but the temptation to buy a quick, super-cheap cake slice was often too much to resist.

Travel Mistake # 5 – Skimping on Research – Let’s get back to the Mumbai mess.  On top of being putt off by multiple negative news stories about violence toward women, we simply waited too long to do our homework on how to get into India.  By the time we realized that we needed to apply for an actual visa, it was too late… Our pre-purchased flight was scheduled to leave before we could reasonably have expected to receive our papers.  So we lost the tickets (there were no refunds).  Needless to say we felt more than a little sheepish.  We learned to make the best of the situation though and headed back to Thailand to work on the details for our 2014 experiment (12 months in Bangkok).

Alright, now that we’ve been vulnerable with you, what are some of your travel mistakes?  Feel free to share what not to do in the comments:)

A final word… Anyone can tell you that mistakes when traveling are inevitable.  If we hadn’t made the above mistakes we would have made others.  The key is to prepare for a trip and then GO.  Don’t let fear of mistakes and imagined disaster keep you from the life-enhancing experience of seeing more of the world.  The biggest mistake is staying at home.

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14 thoughts on “Our Biggest Mistakes in 12 Months of Travel”

  1. Bjorn,

    Great post, as always. My biggest travel mistake was when my wife and I left a London hostel for a hotel in Paris with a not-so-stellar address and map. Sarah wanted to have reservations before we left, i said that we should find a hotel/hostel when we arrive in Paris later the same day…(Paris isn’t Bethlehem so we wouldn’t end up in a stable). She won, but we lost after we spent an entire day looking for 1 confounded address that we prepaid 90 Euros for. The plus side? We master the Paris subway system for the rest of our time.

  2. I totally get this… I’m not alone. oh. Last December 2013 Holiday, twas our 3 weeks holiday. So here I am, months before prepared all my ticket, for my home-country visit, and finally seeing all my family and friends.. Well, it end up having 11 tickets for my 3 weeks. Most of them are bottom cheap though. I was so excited and counting days. Well, I enjoyed all the sight, but my body got drained. I was tired while travelling my last few flights and did not enjoy to the fullest. Plus, did not have generous time with my family while I was there, another big mistake. Another mistake, was booking the cheapest hotel, it was in Puerto Princessa Palawan, it took me almost an hour to look for this budget hotel, and it was not the best budget hotel too. In comparison, while i was in boracay few days before, i didnt had hotel booking, and so i was concern that it was the island’s peak season, but to my amazement, there was this good enough descent budget hotel that I was able to convince of letting me pay half their price, how cool is that. Had mistakes, but nonetheless it was an awesome fun filled learning experience. Thanks Bjorn, i learned a lot from your post, and it stimulated my brain to think of what i learned from my last holiday. ^_^ looking forward to still have mistakes on my next travel.. :D

  3. On one trip to Egypt, it was very hot and dry. We were informed to drink plenty of bottled and sealed water. Our kids were small, and in making sure they were drinking, I failed to drink enough myself and got sick. Had to find a “hidden” sofa in a hotel to rest, drink and down some ibuprophin. Moral: DRINK lots of water.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. It’s encouraging to know that even seasoned travelers make mistakes. I’m sure this list will help someone avoid the mistakes you made.
    I’m usually quite lazy when it comes to researching a place, too – especially since having a baby! When we went to Austria I didn’t even know what there was to see. Bad, I know! But we had friends who took us sight-seeing and we had a great time!

  5. PS I was thinking, I wouldn’t feel bad about having missed all the tourist attractions – you guys were there for different reasons, so your mind wasn’t on which monument/temple/whatever to visit next.
    After I’d spent a year of volunteer teaching in Thailand, I got annoyed at tourists saying, “What! You’ve been in Thailand 12 months and you haven’t visited X Y Z!” Well… If I’d been touring for 12 months, then it’d be outrageous to not have seen those places, but I was WORKING! The same thing probably happened to you… and I’m sure you did see the main attractions… (Plus I think you guys got the better deal – experiencing the local culture and not just touring touristy places)

    1. Thanks Marlise!! I feel better. It was definitely embarrassing to have to admit we had never even heard of some of these places…

  6. I read somewhere a word of wisdom that is worth sharing: “Learn from other people’s mistakes for you will not live long enough to make them all yourself.” One of my professors in Public Health also said something that has stuck in my memory: “Everyone makes mistakes, but the fool is the one who repeats them.”
    As a family we have travelled quite a lot and one of our mistakes was to drag you and your little sister around the world before you were old enough to remember and appreciate it. I particularly remember one incident that I felt quite bad about. You were about five and your sister three and we had just visited our old mission station in Nigeria where you, when I did not supervise what was going on, climbed a frangipani tree and fell down when the branch broke. I heard loud screaming, run out and found you lying on the ground and carried you indoors. With ordinary T.L.C you calmed down and seemed all right. However, what we had thought would be a highlight of the trip for you two proved to be a real unpleasant and painful
    experience. We were going to ride camels around a pyramid and then I realised that you had got worse hurt than I first understood. You complained loudly and did not enjoy the Egyptian Museum in Cairo at all. For the rest of the stay you preferred the swimming pool and in a way I think we all did.

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