10 Travel Mistakes I Made, So You Won't Have To
To be perfectly honest, I probably have a lot more than just ten. Looking back to my Semester at Sea experience, most of my friends and I had no clue what we were doing. Half the time I think we just got really lucky with how things played out. But that's kind of the fun of it, I guess. Stumbling your way through all the challenges and mess-ups only to realize you can handle more than you thought you could. That and the universe really does have your back. These are ten that I really don't want you guys to have to go through though, some made me cringe just in unearthing the story of it all, so hopefully they can steer you away from doing the same.
1. Drinking the Water in Myanmar
We're going to start out with a bang here. Quite possibly the worst travel experience I've ever had was in Myanmar (or you might know it as Burma). I had been out at a restaurant with some friends, looked over at my professors, and noticed they were drinking the water provided to us. I asked them if it was okay to drink, they said yes, no problem. Cool. So I proceeded to drink the water. The jars of water were filled with mint, and I have a thing for flavored water so I had maybe four or five glasses by the end of the meal (it was also very hot out, pretty sure we sweat-out some of the water). The next day we were set for a six hour car ride heading to our resort destination, since it's so inexpensive we "splurged" on a huge vacation for the week. I had been feeling a little queasy, but decided it was just nerves being in a new country and on a long car ride. Until the last hour or so, when I just couldn't take it anymore. I knew something was up. Maybe carsick? But it wouldn't stop. And didn't stop for five days. All I did at this resort was throw up, sleep, drink water, and watch the one movie I had brought with me: Shrek. My friends would come into the room and try to talk to me or give me little nibbles of food and I couldn't do anything.
I looked in the mirror one day and remember just being so scared that I was dying, and I only say this because it was scary. I was terrified. You don't want this to happen to you.
Another thing to note is that the healthcare system in Myanmar is one of the lowest in the world. Thank the Lord for the doctor that was with us on the ship, he was the only one who really helped at all. Overall, this is why I became so wary of foreign water, and play it safe nowadays more often than not. Recommendation: Do your homework, study the countries' water ahead of time, and when in doubt: just don't drink it. Don't do it. When I say water, I should also note I mean ice as well. This is something you can actually get traveler's diarrhea (TD) from. If you're drinking a cold juice in a country with their ice in it: the bacteria is still there. You do not want to miss out on a beautiful country, you do not want to sit in bed for five days looking like a pale ghost. Just don't do it.
I later found out most people got sick from this very restaurant, and my professors, both avid travelers from India, were 100% fine. Go figure.
2. Packing Everything in My Checked Luggage
I always loved looking on Pinterest, or even now on Instagram there's all of these influencers showing off their airport style. So sleek. So effortless. Only one carry on, and a checked bag. Easy.
I could do that, right? One of my trips abroad I decided to just pack a light backpack and keep all the important stuff in my checked bag. Sucked for me, when it arrived six days later in Paris. I had to buy some toiletries and clothes just to scrape by. Rookie mistake Bianca. Now my story isn't that bad, but in some cases my friends have lost their bags completely, or had things packed all in one bag then had it stolen from them. I've seen it and heard it all.
Here's the thing, in some countries I've had layovers late at night when the airports close down, all you have strapped to you is your carry on. Think about this scenario happening at any time. That is the mindset you should have when traveling anywhere. Would I be comfortable with just my carry on over-night? How about for six days? Some tricks I learned along the way are:
Always put copies of everything in every bag. Passport, ID, Visa, etc.
Pack that carry on with the essentials: extra two outfits, underwear, socks, electronics, chargers, snacks, etc.
Backpacking Backpacks that you can use as a carry-on save lives.
Never put all your valuables in one bag. Separate it a bit, and if it's insanely valuable keep it hidden in a money belt strapped to you. Although if you're traveling with something more valuable than your phone, wallet or passport, maybe consider leaving it at home.
3. Forgetting the Bug Spray
Once on a hike in Bali, I forgot the bug spray. I said to myself it's fine, because I have lavender oil with me (because that's what I decide is important enough to bring I guess). For those who don't know, lavender is supposed to be a natural bug repellant. Maybe it's me or it's the bugs in this area of the world but they just seemed to love me on this particular day. Not only did I get eaten alive, but surprise, I also had a major allergic reaction to the bite. Broke out in hives all over my body, and these are huge welts I'm talking about. Attractive, I know.
Another thing to note is that this can happen anywhere in the world, it happened to me again in Florence, Italy (a place where I don't find many mosquitos normally). Woke up from a full night's sleep only to realize one bit me on the eye lid and my eye didn't react too well to that. Moral of the story here is always bring bug spray, and always bring allergy medication. We don't really know what these bugs carry and it's important to be prepared, as our bodies try to fight off whatever it is.
4. Backing Up My Photos
I still think about this sometimes. How I just have a ton of photos from my trip to Iceland floating around in the universe. Just sucked into some black hole so I can never see them again. Pretty bummed about it. In some countries you'll find it's hard to get service of course, so I guess my tip would be getting one of those sync apps ahead of time to get them onto your disc drive, or computer. They have ones that plug right into your phone now that just instantly download everything directly. Do not rely on the iPhone backup. It's not going to happen all the time, so just have back up plans for your backups. You can also make it a point to find Wifi every day or every other day to sync everything up and make sure you have it all saved. It's a little more risky though relying on Wifi in a foreign country (it may not work, you might not get access, etc.)
Might sound like a trivial mistake, but it does really suck after some time goes by and you don't remember everything in detail from your trips anymore. I use the photos to tell a story so I can keep telling the story in my head over and over. Back up those photos guys, believe me.
5. Doing Too Many Tourist-y Things
If you know how I travel, you know it is the farthest thing from what the typical tourist might like, and for a good reason. Tourist-y things include guided tours, hotels that bring your "home-comfort" to the country you're in, or maybe staying on a bus and exiting at every stop just long enough to get the perfect picture and a map as a souvenir. No no no no. Stop. Now I understand that sometimes this is what is easy. Especially for a family vacation or maybe your friends didn't want to do the research ahead of time. I get it. But there are options for you, you don't have to stoop to this level. You can balance, expand that comfort zone in small ways to make the trip more memorable.
I was traveling to Italy, Portugal and Spain in high school and it was all guided tours and hotel stays. I didn't appreciate where I was, or what the speaker was even really saying. Granted, it had something to do with the fact that I was a brat in high school but it also had to do with the fact that my comfort zone was right there. Why would I leave my comfort bubble when it was working so well for me? It's a hard thing to break, and when I first started traveling again after those years, I still did a few guided tours and stays in nice hotels. Eventually, you grow that comfort zone though. In the process, you learn more about those places than you would've if you'd followed behind a line of people listening to a microphone the whole time.
The time I explored a city on my own and met locals who taught me language tips, bought me dinner, and invited me to their home or the day I explored random gardens and found a beautiful restaurant with a view. Those are the moments I remember more. Every now and then I still do tours, don't get me wrong, but try not to over-do it. Embrace the culture.
You might notice I don't have under-packing on this list and it's because I only ever struggled with over-packing. Anxiety will do that to a person. When it comes to packing always think about what you might end up buying from the places you're going, cut your own pile down for every item you think of. The things to focus on are mainly are going to be your skincare, and health essentials. The products that you probably wouldn't find abroad, some healthcare might be cheaper in the country your going to, so it's really about the research you do. Clothes and shoes are always my struggle. What do I bring? How many pairs of shoes? As a blogger this has only gotten harder. But my number one tip for you is layers. That, and always narrow it down.
I used to over-pack even for my trips to Los Angeles from Hawaii. This started from a young age so I think when I started backpacking internationally I said yeah I should bring extra just to be sure...but then things were cheaper in other countries and I wanted to stock up or I was getting my friends and family gifts with no room to store them in. What a dilemma we have here.
Now, I pile everything I come up with on a list, put it on my bed. Narrow it down to what can I wash more so I won't need several versions of the same thing. Fit it all into my backpacking backpack, and cut it down even more. Depending on where I'm going of course, and for how long but if its a short trip, definitely keep it simple. If I'm heading to Bali, I usually leave 1/3 of the bag empty, that space will save you later believe me.
7. Traveling With the Wrong Person
I'm obviously not going to get into specifics, don't want to call anyone out of course. But I just think this is one of the top mistakes people make is going into traveling with any friend, family member, or significant other and then realizing pretty quickly wow, we are not on the same page here.
Or oh she wants to spend every hour together when I am actually looking for some space. That's okay, there's nothing wrong with it but it can turn pretty sour if you're not careful. This all gets complicated when you're in a foreign country together playing with comfort zones, safety and so much more. It's stressful, so finding the people that can go at the same speed as you is crucial. It really does make or break experience when traveling.
I recommend maybe doing a small camping trip or something before traveling to another country with the person if you can. Find ways to try new things together that expand your comfort zones. Otherwise, if it's already happening and you are unsure I recommend making more friends! Larger groups might ease the tensions and if you both meet others that travel a bit more to your liking maybe separating for a day or two will work in your favor.
Things I loved about my #1 travel buddy (shoutout to Sarah, my best friend from Semester at Sea) that we both found to be really important along the way:
If a situation turned negative, or didn't workout the way we wanted it to, we both just laughed about it rather than getting upset and having it ruin our entire trip or day
Knowing when the other needed space, and when we needed to reflect on what we saw in a country, balance is key.
Always encouraging each other to expand those comfort zones of ours.
Staying open minded! So important guys.
We are both very social, and made friends along the way in every country this just made us feel surrounded by good people and good vibes, always on an adventure and having fun.
8. Not Doing Enough Research
Which brings me to a big mistake Sarah and I made. We still laugh about this all the time.
One of our first countries that we traveled together was Japan. We actually decided to do this one solo for the first time, since we both really wanted to see Mt. Fuji and get an epic view, and everyone else mainly stayed in Tokyo. It seemed simple enough from what we looked up. We would take an overnight bus and arrive in the nearby town where we could then take a shuttle to the mountain. What we didn't expect is that 1) an overnight bus meant we would arrive early in the morning, like early enough where nothing was open and 2) everything was in Japanese. Being in such a small town also meant there weren't a ton of English speakers around. We saw nothing, not even a picture of the mountain with an arrow on it, telling us where to go. With no service, and the bus station's wifi only giving us a limited time, we decided to walk closer to the mountain in the distance and maybe we'd find a stop on the way. After we napped for a bit of course.
Hours passed by as we carried our backpacking backpacks for several miles in search of a stop that could help us. We tried asking random strangers, each looking uncomfortable in the kindest way, as they tried to tell us they didn't speak any English. Eventually, we saw a Family Mart (similar to 7-Eleven) and just collapsed on the women's bathroom floor laughing as we tried to figure out what to do next. We never ended up on Mt Fuji, but we plan to go back one day and do it right. Instead, we went to an authentic bath house. Which looking back was much needed after carrying our backpacks all day, and walking for miles. Life had other plans for us.
Do your research, just be aware that if you want to go somewhere in the middle of nowhere you're going to need a plan. We definitely could've used a better one.
9. Didn't Inform My Bank of My Travels
This is such a crappy mistake to make. It's so simple and easy to do too, you'll feel so down on yourself if you don't do it and you end up in another country with a declined card and a stressed out parent on the other side of the world trying to wire you money. That's what happened to me at least. When you're making that checklist for your trip make this a priority. Nowadays they put it in the apps for your cards too to make it even more convenient. Its an easy step.
Something to note is service might disrupt these apps so don't leave it to the last minute when you land somewhere new. Just prepare for everything money related beforehand since its really the most important thing other than the passport that gets you into the country to begin with.
Side note- always try to take out a bit of cash too just in case, enough for an overnight stay in a hotel and two meals in that country should be sufficient. This way if something does happen you have a back up plan. This has saved me quite a few times.
10. Leaving No Room for Flexibility
Over-scheduling can be exhausting. Now add that into a foreign country experience and being out of your comfort zone consistently. Burn out can happen anywhere in the world. In fact, when you're traveling it can lead to some pretty big anxiety and bring on a ton of emotions.
I've done this quite a few times now and am learning to just throw out the schedule when I can, because those quiet unplanned moments of me exploring, are what I love most. Those spontaneous moments might be just what you need. Keep that impulsivity because its the best way to travel. You learn more about yourself and the world around you in those moments. When the universe teaches you something, or you make a random friend. You let the experience take control for a bit.