When it comes to travel, we all make our fair share of mistakes. I’m pretty sure I’ve made every mistake on this list just about, but I’ve also learned from them and that makes me a better traveller! To help other people avoid my epic stuff-ups, here are 31 common mistakes made by travellers and how YOU can avoid them. Gather round children and learn from my stupidity. Be the change I want to see in the world.
1. Trusting review websites as gospel
Travel review websites can be amazing, but they can also be a never-ending source of confusion. Like when you’re trying to find a hotel and you spend hours upon hours reading review after review, trying to decide whether PommieMark4368 was justified in his terrible write-up of that boutique hotel in Ubud… inevitably ending in you having a nervous breakdown in your living room at 2am. Guys… don’t let a bad review (or two) deter you, I’ve gone to some amazing restaurants and hotels which have had bad reviews and when I’ve spoken to the staff about it, they’ve said those couple of bad reviews have almost ruined their business because a couple of guests were angry about something and took it out online.
2. Overpacking like a mad person
We’ve all been there…. but seriously, it has to stop! My advice for overcoming this one is to pack mostly from your clean laundry pile. Don’t pack anything ‘just in case.’ If you haven’t worn it before, your holiday ain’t the time to pack it. You cannot be trusted to make sound decisions here, so don’t be afraid to phone a friend and ask for the harsh hand of friendship to step in and tell you NOT to pack that fluoro orange jumpsuit you’ve never worn before…
3. Sticking to the main streets and tourist areas
If you go to a major tourist site and eat on the same street as it, you’re most likely going to find yourself eating very inauthentic food at ridiculous prices. You’re also going to lose the wonder of discovering what lies beyond the major tourist areas. So, wander a few streets back and see what you find. You’ll most likely find some amazing, local food and save money in the process.
4. Missing out on seeing somewhere great, out of fear
We read so many terrifying stories the news, it can feel like the world is a very unsafe place. These fears and doubts can stop us from travelling and seeing the world, which is really sad. I’m not suggesting you pack a bag and head to somewhere super sketchy, but don’t let the media make up your mind for you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels, it’s that the world ain’t as scary as the news would make us believe. Don’t let fear hold you back.
5. Getting stung with multiple transaction fees
When you withdraw money overseas at a foreign ATM, you’re going to get charged excess fees. This can be anywhere from $5-$10AU per transaction (sometimes more!) It’s obscene and it’s a waste of your hard-earned holiday fund. Instead, take out larger chunks of cash at a time and spread it out. Keep some in the hotel safe, locked luggage, wallet, heck shove it down your undies and in your shoes if you need to. Divide and conquer, you guys!
6. Not buying a sim card on arrival
When you arrive at places like Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, you can buy a local tourist sim card for around $5-$10AU with enough data to get you through 5-7 days of travel. While I don’t encourage any traveller to spend their entire holiday staring at their phone, it is incredibly helpful to have access to the internet while you’re on the move. You can call each other if you get lost, use your phone to look up directions and rely on google translate when you don’t speak the local language. I mean really, you’re mad if you don’t, how else are you going to call Liam Neeson for help if you’re abducted?! #FullMoonOrganHarvest
7. Not buying travel insurance until the day of travel
So many times I’ve heard of people booking their whole holiday but not purchasing travel insurance until they leave. This leaves you very much exposed. If you fall ill in-between booking your holiday and your departure date, finding yourself unable to travel, you’ll lose everything because you won’t be covered by travel insurance. This can all be avoided by sorting out your travel insurance at the same time. That way, no matter what happens, you’re covered! Just be sure your policy covers this.
8. Packing without a ‘wet box’
If you’re throwing your shampoo, conditioner and body wash in your luggage with everything else, you’re a madman. Seriously, you’re living right on the edge and I don’t know what’s wrong with you. An exploding bottle of liquid can really mess your life up, my friend. Avoid this problem by throwing all your wet stuff in a big clear Tupperware container. That way, if ya shit leaks, it’s no problem. It also makes it easier to grab all your shower stuff out at once.
9. Showing up at the wrong airport
Places like Bangkok, for example, have two airports and they are in completely different locations (trust me). It’s so important you check, double-check and even triple-check which airport you’re arriving at or flying out of. Many a good flight has been lost to an incorrect airport arrival. #GoneButNotForgotten
10. Not backing up ya shit
Oh my god… don’t even play around with this one. I get anxiety just thinking about it. If you’re the kind of person who loves to take great photos and travel with your laptop, you need a hard drive in your life (actually, you need two). Backup your entire computer before you leave home, that’s non-negotiable. Then, as you travel, back your computer up again periodically, so if your camera or laptop are stolen you will still have your precious photos. Just make sure you don’t keep the hard-drive in the same place as the laptop… mmmkay.
11. Leaving without a little local currency in your wallet
Don’t risk it, amigo. Get your hands on some local currency before you leave home (not at the airport cos the exchange rates are no bueno). That way, if you arrive at your destination and your bank cards work or you can’t get money out for some reason, you don’t need to panic. You’ve got a lil gangsta roll stashed to get you through until you get your life back on track.
12. Using your phone or laptop without protection
Practice safe browsing, you guys. Don’t put your phone or laptop at risk by thrusting them out into the big wide world without the proper protection. Of course, I’m talking about Anti-Virus software. Matt and I use Norton’s and it runs this report where it shows you all the suss stuff it’s blocked and I gotta tell you, I was shocked when I saw how many dodgy things were trying to get in my machine. So bad. Remember, no glove, no love!
13. Not speaking up about a special occasion
If you’re travelling for a special occasion like a birthday, honeymoon or cat’s bar mitzvah (mazel tov!) then you’re entitled to the VIP treatment. Send a note to hotels and restaurants and let them know, you’d be amazing the lovely little extra touches they can pull together to make you feel special.
14. Travelling the well-beaten path
Blogs and guidebooks are great resources to help you plan your trip, but at the end of the day, travel is about adventure. So, use what we have to share as a guide, but forge your own path too. Discover hidden cafes, wander down quaint laneways, search the streets and dig beyond the famous tourist spots. Do not just stick to the well-beaten tourist path!
15. Being bamboozled by multiple bookings
This was my reality. I’d have so many damn booking confirmations in my email inbox that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I got so overwhelmed I had to revert back to my office days as a PA (kill me now) and do up my own itineraries. But, of course, there’s an app for that… I use TripIt now (they aren’t paying me to say that, it’s a legit tip) and I love it. I forward all my confirmations to an email address and they sort it all out in the app. It’s all in order with a proper itinerary and they even include all your booking reference numbers, hotel deets, flight deets… the works. So easy!
16. Failing to check Visa requirements
Don’t laugh, this is still happening. I don’t know how, but even in this age of high-speed freakin’ broadband, people are still not using the internet to its full potential. Instead of looking at videos of dogs doing the mannequin challenge, get ya ass on the internet and find out whether or not you need a visa for Thailand.
17. Being flippant with ya valuables
I see a lot of tourists walking around foreign countries with their wallet casually stuffed in their pocket or their handbag wide open, barely clinging to their shoulder. It gives me anxiety every time I see it because that kind of behaviour makes you a pickpockets wet dream. True story. It may feel like ‘it won’t happen to you’ but it will and you’ll be down at the Polizia, crying because you had all your valuables stolen. Secure your stuff! Keep your backpack zipped up, put your valuables where they can’t be pickpocketed, use the hotel safe.
18. Not speaking up
Being in another country can be overwhelming and, at times, it can feel hard to speak up for yourself because you don’t want to be that jerk tourist. This can lead to problems like going the wrong way in a taxi and being overcharged, not confirming a taxi rate before getting in and being charged a lot or getting into a situation where you know you’re getting ripped off but feel too awkward to say anything. You have to look out for yourself, so don’t be afraid to speak up calmly and confidently if needed. Trust your instincts and walk away from any situation that doesn’t feel right.
19. Travelling without knowing key phrases in the local language
In some countries, the term ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t quite come across as I’d like it to and the whole ‘no meat’ thing can often take on a different meaning. Nek minute, your salad has a big pile of chicken on top, which the waiter insists, ‘isn’t meat!’ I can’t even be mad because it’s my fault for not speaking the local language. This can all be avoided though, by learning key local phrases. When I went to Japan I even had to print out the translation for ‘I’m a vegetarian, no animal meat please,’ and it saved my butt on many occasions. If you have a specific food allergy, I really recommend you do the same.
20. Not packing a conservative outfit
I cannot tell you how many tourists I’ve seen standing outside temples and holy sites in Thailand and Cambodia, being really angry toward the people working there, who are telling the tourists they can’t enter because they aren’t wearing appropriate clothing. If you’re going to travel, you need to be aware of local requirements! A great way to cover yourself is to literally cover yourself. Pack an outfit that goes past your knees and a shirt with sleeves that cover shoulders. Wear it when visiting temples, just to be safe.
21. Getting bamboozled by local currency and being ripped off
If you visit somewhere like Vietnam, you’ll find the local currency (Dong) can get a little confusing because the denominations are so high. It’s important you take the time to get familiar with this new currency, so you don’t accidentally hand over 100,000 Dong instead of 10,000 Dong… that said, you will make some very happy store holders day! #MakeItRain
22. Trying to pack too much into your itinerary
Take it slow and don’t over pack your itinerary. Trying to fit a million activities into a five-day trip is never going to end well, so plan your itinerary properly, allowing yourself with enough time to really enjoy each place you visit and immerse yourself in the local world. Don’t rush!
23. Buying travel minis
If I see you with travel minis, I will get a stick and beat you up. Instead, buy refillable bottles and fill them up with your own products before you leave home. Travel minis are a rip-off and bad for the environment. I’ve only ever seen them done well by one company!
24. Not asking the locals for food tips
Who’s more likely to know where to find the best local food… other tourists or savvy locals? Hmmm, gee, that’s a tough one. Oh no, wait, it’s easy, it’s the people who live there! If you’re trying to find a great place to eat, ask the locals. Ask your hotel desk team where they like to eat… not what they recommend, but where they actually eat. Ask around and go on an adventure! You’ll be more likely to find authentic food at reasonable prices and have a meal you won’t forget.
25. Not researching local scams
A scam doesn’t make a city unsafe, but not knowing about the scam makes you unsafe. It’s so important you do a little bit of research before your trip and wrap your head around what scams you’re likely to encounter. That way, when a beautiful young girl with a baby asks you to buy her a meal in Phnom Penh, you won’t say yes (you can read more about that here).
26. Bartering like an amateur
If you’re paying $15AU for a pair of knock-off Ray Bans in Bali, you’re an embarrassment to the entire travelling community and we can’t be seen together. If you’re going to haggle, you best be doing it right. We don’t want no scrubs at the market. Get your life together, mate! Avoid being ripped off by reading this guide on how to haggle like a professional.
27. Not turning off data roaming
This happened to me, because I’m an idiot, and I was hit with TWO $700AU phone bills. True story. I had to call my parents, in tears, and beg for mercy. Don’t fall prey to data roaming costs. See #6 above.
28. Failing to stop and look around
It’s a cliche, but travel really is about the journey, not just the destination. Don’t be in such a rush to get from point A to point Z that you miss all the wonder in-between. Take your time, look up from your phone and soak it all in. Let your inquisitive mind lead you and see what you can find in new and usual cities.
29. Being a culturally insensitive a$$hole
Uh-oh… nobody wants to be that tourist, but even in this day and age, it does still happen. This is a bit of a hard-line to take, but I’m gonna go there: If you aren’t prepared to be respectful of another culture, you shouldn’t be in that country. A big part of travelling is to learn about and experience other cultures, so when you’re a guest in another country, you need to behave like a very good visitor should. Being culturally insensitive can be avoided by staying home and staring at your living room wall, thinking about how you can improve yourself as a human.
30. Underestimating the importance of bug spray and sunscreen
Malaria and dengue fever are very, very real, folks… as is sunburn. Unfortunately, neither mosquitoes nor the harsh UV rays of the sun give a shit if you’re on holiday or not. They will still smite you where you stand. NEVER underestimate the importance of sunscreen and bug spray. Pack them, use them, save yourself a trip to the hospital.
31. Paying too much for travel insurance
If you travel frequently, you might want to consider looking into an annual travel insurance policy. Travel insurance is actually pretty expensive, as Matt and I learned when we started to travel more and found ourselves shelling out mucho deniro for travel insurance. Turns out, it was significantly cheaper for us to get an annual policy which covers us for every trip we take in the year. As I mentioned earlier, this means you’re ALWAYS covered if your trip gets canceled or you get struck down with illness.
Watch: our ‘Not your Average Luggage review: the Lojel Lumo’ video
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.