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.