“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” –Jack Kerouac
Mistakes. We all make them. It’s a part of life that we all wish we didn’t need to actually learn something, but unfortunately, we do and they can be so stressful to deal with. Luckily a lot of mistakes we make while traveling can be avoided. Here are some tips (part 1) for those just starting to travel as well as those of us who have been there and done that and still have more to see.
Mistake 1: Not checking your passport’s expiration date.
Some countries require having at least 6 months left before your passport expires. Not having enough time before it expires can be cause for immigration officers to prohibit you from entering the country and therefore ruining your trip. Make it a habit to check your passport every few months and at least 3 months before a big trip. Getting it renewed can take a month or two so give yourself plenty of time if you don’t want to pay for the expedited renewal fee (this can also take up to two weeks).
Mistake 2: Overpacking/not packing the right items
Let me tell you from experience that paying overweight baggage fees are the opposite of fun and they start your trip off badly. Let me also tell you that carrying around all of the extra luggage while my friends are not sweating and struggling with extra bags is also not enjoyable. Pack clothes you can mix and match to give you a variety of outfit choices. You can also wash some clothes in a sink or laundromat if you really need to. If you are packing and you question whether you need something or not, the chances are you won’t. You can buy most toiletries in the country so that’s a good way to save space as well.
Research before you go. Are you going somewhere that’s going to be raining a lot? Cold? Hot? Pack accordingly. Don’t guess what you might need. Make the extra effort to find out what would be best. If you’re visiting a friend who lives in that country ask them!
Mistake 3: Not interacting with the locals
Locals are the most knowledgeable people in an area about where to eat, what to avoid, alternative things to do most people miss, etc. What’s the point of going to another country without really experiencing it or interacting with people from that country? Most people are happy to share what they love about their city with others. People love to brag about where they live and be able to share that with other people. Take advantage of it! In every country I’ve been to I’ve asked several locals I met along the way where a good place to eat would be and I’ve never been disappointed with the results.
Mistake 4: Not learning a few phrases of the local language
Learning even the most basic of phrases in the local language of the country you are visiting shows respect for their culture and the people themselves. In my experience, people are by far more welcoming and helpful when you at least try to say hello, how are you, thank you in their language. It shows you made an effort and that being respectful and courteous is important to you and most people will reciprocate that. If in doubt, mime it out. Locals might not speak your language, but there’s always a way to communicate. Just be patient and kind.
Mistake 5: Forgetting to call your financial institutions
At least a week before you go tell your bank and credit card companies you will be leaving the country. They will usually ask the country and dates you will be traveling. You can also (usually) fill out this information online, but it doesn’t hurt to call and double check. Pro tip: If your trip ends June 6, tell your bank/credit cards that you will be coming home a day or two after that. That helps in case you spontaneously decide to extend your trip or if your flights get delayed. This will ensure your cards won’t be out of commission when you may need them.
Mistake 6: Not trying local cuisine
This doesn’t apply if you have allergies to certain foods (learn how to say you’re allergic in the local language just in case of confusion). Not eating the local food is like going to Italy and refusing to eat pasta or going to India and not eating curry. These foods are an iconic part of these cultures for a reason and that reason is IT IS DELICIOUS. People don’t cook food just to make an okay meal that’s nothing to write home about. Restaurants want to show off and wow visitors with their cuisine. Even if you are nervous about going out of your comfort zone it is well worth it. Try a new food in an appetizer if you don’t want to fully commit to a full meal of something new.
Mistake 7: Winging it too much
We all have that friend who comes home from a trip and gets asked “did you see such and such?” and they had no idea it was even there. Don’t be that friend. Research where you’re going and make a plan of what you absolutely HAVE to see. Everything else you can wing it, but make sure you get to see the things that really made you want to visit in the first place.
Mistake 8: Not packing a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry on bag
Baggage gets lost all of the time and sometimes it takes a day or two to get to you. Pack a change of clothes in your carry on so you won’t be stuck wearing the outfit that you most likely spent all day and night in while on a plane. You’ll feel more refreshed. Packing a few toiletries, such as contact lens case w/solution, glasses case, toothbrush and paste, floss, face wash, etc. can make a world of difference during/after a long flight. Everyone who has traveled knows that feeling like a million bucks after you finally get where you’re going isn’t the most common thing in the world. Give yourself a better chance of feeling amazing and pack some things you know you’ll need and will make you better prepared if you do find yourself without your check bag.
Mistake 9: Forgetting to enjoy the experience
I have friends who will snap, tweet and Instagram entire concerts/events/trips and forget to look with their own eyes instead of through the screen. Take your pictures, but don’t forget to experience it with your own eyes. You’ll remember the pictures and experiences associated with them more if you take a second to enjoy them instead of only snapping a few pictures before moving on.
Mistake 10: Not researching the drinking water situation
Do locals drink the tap water? Is it okay in the hotel but not in other areas? Should you bring iodine? Drink bottled water only? Depending on where you’re going these are extremely important questions to ask yourself. Do your research here otherwise, you could get mildly to seriously ill.
Keep a lookout in the future for more tips on how to avoid common travel mistakes! I’ve got at least 25 more tips for you in the future.