The idea that travel is an adventure is one of the oldest clichés in the book. But, it’s a cliché because it’s true. And, on adventures, things go wrong. Often.
I’ve made so many mistakes while on the road that it would be impossible for me to recount them all. I’ve worn the wrong footwear on hikes and ended up with blisters as big as my heel. I’ve been pickpocketed not once, but twice. I’ve taken a metro in the wrong direction a dozen times. The mistakes never end.
But that’s also what I love about travel: the constant sense of exploration, of trial and error, of sketching out new terrain on your mental map.
Below, I’ve collected as many of the mistakes as I can remember that I’ve made while travelling. There are a lot. Perhaps you’ll learn from my mistakes and save yourself some aggravation.
1. I forgot to print out my boarding pass before getting on a budget airline. I had to pay $US34 to print out my boarding pass at airport check-in.
2. In Bali, I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops while driving a scooter bike. When my hand slipped on the throttle with my foot on the ground, it dragged and I ended up with a nasty cut.
3. On my last night in Tokyo, I decided it was a good idea to spend the night out drinking at an izakaya and singing karaoke. I woke up in a stupor, barely made my 8 a.m. flight, and was nauseous for the entire 13-hour flight to New York.
4. I was warned not to take Mexico City’s metro during rush hour before arriving. When I got off my plane around 9:30 a.m. I knew I was pushing it, but decided to ride it anyways. The train was more packed than a zombie-apocalypse evacuation and I got my phone pick-pocketed.
5. It did not occur to me how warm the Dead Sea in Israel gets during the summer. When I visited in July, the water was as toasty as a hot tub. It was not enjoyable. Next time, I’ll come in the winter.
6. In St. Petersburg, I made a mistake that prevented me from visiting The State Hermitage, the second largest art museum in the world: not buying tickets ahead of time. The line to buy tickets was three hours long.
7. In China, I made the mistake of visiting a tourist attraction that had gone viral on Facebook and Instagram: the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, the longest and highest glass bridge in the world. It was a crowded, overpriced excuse to take selfies.
8. I visited Portugal’s famous beaches in August, the month that most Portuguese take their holidays. That meant that I wasn’t only fighting international tourists for beach real estate and hotel rooms, but domestic ones, too. Next time, I’ll check a country’s calendar before booking.
9. You can save a lot of money booking a multi-city airfare on sites like Skyscanner or Expedia. But, on a trip to Mexico, I booked flights that had only a two-hour layover between them. When my first plane was late and the customs line long, I missed my second flight. And because it wasn’t with the same airline, I had to buy a new ticket for the second flight.
10. When visiting Croatia, I made sure to consult a cruise-ship calendar so I could visit Dubrovnik when fewer cruises were in port. It made visiting the oft-crowded destination quiet and relaxing. I forgot to do the same this summer when going to Mykonos, whose old town was choked with cruise-shippers on the days I visited.
11. Coming from New York, I often forget that most places don’t have grocery stores open at all hours. I made that mistake while staying in a small town in Portugal and was left subsisting on potato chips for the night.
12. When taking the Sapsan bullet train in Russia, I accidentally booked my train ticket on a third-party website called RussianTrains.com, which charged me double the fare for “helping” me book. Next time, I’ll make sure its the official site.
13. On long-haul flights, you are often offered free wine, beer, and alcohol, depending on the airline. I have made the mistake of drinking twice on 12-plus hour flights. Both times, I ended up with debilitating headaches halfway through. Skip the alcohol.
14. I take a ton of photos while travelling. During my six-month trip, I was backing photos up to a external hard-drive I had bought for a bargain. It broke and I lost everything. I skimped and paid the price. I bought two solid-state “tough” hard drives for the future.
15. When visiting Mount Hua, one of China’s five sacred mountains, I assumed I would be able to use a credit card to purchase a ticket. Credit card use is not common in China and there were no ATMs at the mountain. Thankfully, a nice Chinese woman covered me for the ticket. Lesson: Know the cash, credit card, ATM situation wherever you go.
16. In Israel, I booked a guided tour to Jordan to see the ancient city of Petra through Egged Tours. The TripAdvisor reviews weren’t for that specific tour, but rated the company as pretty good. I found out later that the Jordan tours were subcontracted through Fun Time Tours, which has the most hilariously awful reviews I ever seen. By the end of the trip, it was clear why. Make sure you read deeper than the first page of reviews.
17. When leaving a bar in Shanghai, I negotiated a price to my hotel with a taxi driver sitting outside. Big mistake. It cost double what it should have. Always make taxi drivers use the metre.
18. Bad Airbnbs are everywhere and their listings always look the same: amazing. Bright, clean photos and minimalist furniture. When you get there everything is cheap and from IKEA. After falling for it half a dozen times, I’m determined to dig deeper into the reviews to suss out the bad ones.
19. Forget about the late lunch in Spain. I made the mistake of not eating at lunchtime and then spent a fruitless, hungry afternoon wandering from restaurant to restaurant. All were closed for the siestas.
20. It may sound great to visit the Mediterranean in the summer, but think again. Sure, the weather was nice, but prices in July and August were double or triple what they are the rest of the year. And that’s if you can even find a room or a spot on the beach. I’ll be visiting during the “shoulder” season (May, June, September, October) next time.
21. One would think a light jacket is sufficient for visiting anywhere in early September. Maybe not the Arctic Circle in Sweden. I learned that the hard way, when I had to turn back on a mountain hike because it was too cold. The Swedes, of course, were in parkas. Dress properly.
22. When I visited Russia, I really wanted to explore the country’s vast natural beauty. Navigating the country without a car, however, isn’t easy. I hopped onto a multi-day tour only to find that the guide only spoke Russian. Make sure you ask about the language before booking.
23. In many South American cities, there are two kinds of taxis: official and unofficial. When visiting Buenos Aires, I made the mistake of taking an unofficial taxi. The driver had a rigged metre and drove me in circles.
24. With 21.7 million people, Beijing is a big, crowded place. Even worse if you are driving. I made the mistake of scheduling meetings and activities on opposite sides of the city. Needless to say, I was very late.
25. Time does not work the same in all cultures. In China, I learned this the hard way. A bus driver told me the last bus of the day was at “7 p.m., maybe.” When I got there at 6:45 p.m., it had already left.
26. It’s very easy to not drink enough water when travelling. Often, you don’t know whether the water is potable and the beer is cheaper. After years of skimping on water bottles, I got religious about my intake on my most recent trip. I was much healthier and happier.