1. Planning wrong – I am a self-confessed over planner. There is nothing I enjoy more than researching my next travel destination and planning out every second of our visit. Luckily, I almost always ignore these intricately planned schedules. Rather than go to these extremes though, for a truly rewarding vacation a planning balance has to be struck. Prior to your trip, it is always a good idea to research the destination, but only construct a loose time line of sightseeing. A hazy idea of what you want to do is smart, efficient and ultimately will save you money. What’s important though is not to plan to the point that your trip ceases to be fun. You’re traveling for a reason – you are taking a break from your normal routine and exploring the world, hopefully relaxing at the same time. If you plan every moment of your trip, you miss the entire point. Usually, the most fun and rewarding experiences are the ones for which you don’t plan and probably didn’t even know existed. So, plan a little, but don’t go overboard.
2. Getting around wrong – Even if I had a limitless travel budget I would still take public transportation for the unique cultural experiences it provides. Public transportation is also a great way to save a lot of money when on vacation. Obviously, this is easier to accomplish in an urban setting where there are a variety of options including subway and bus. Not only is it infinitely cheaper than renting a car or taking taxis everywhere, but it can be faster depending where you are. I know that in my hometown of Washington, DC, it takes me less time to metro into town than it does to drive. Also, for the green traveler, public transportation is key in minimizing your travel carbon footprint.
3. Eating wrong – One of the most important aspects of the travel experience is food. There is no better way to learn about a culture than by participating in meal-time rituals and sampling the same culinary staples as the people who live there. If you are gone for a week, your opportunities to participate in this experience are limited, so don’t waste your time. While it’s fine to eat at McDonald’s or something similar once or twice, don’t make this a habit. Instead, seek out the street stalls, cafes and restaurants that will provide you with rich, meaningful food memories. These experiences don’t have to be expensive and the most meaningful ones will be some of the cheapest. While touring the city or area, take note of small bistros or food stands that aren’t too pricey, but which can provide an authentic food experience. Better yet, check out the street food offerings. Some of the best meals I’ve consumed anywhere in the world have been eaten standing up.
Grocery stores are also a fantastic way to gaze into the stomach of a new country. I first started visiting supermarkets as a way to save money on sodas, water and snacks. It became quickly apparent though that the visit was about much more than just saving money. While perusing a store on the outskirts of Madrid I noticed something odd. There wasn’t just a nice selection of olive oil, there was an entire olive oil section. Hundreds of different kinds lining at least two rows in the huge store. Obviously the Spanish mean business when it comes to good oil. Many groceries are pretty generic, but there are always regional oddities that pop out and reveal a lot about the area.
4. Handling money wrong – When traveling overseas, the best exchange rate is found through the nearest ATM. It is a financial and safety mistake to withdraw your entire travel budget before leaving home, with the intention of exchanging it overseas. You also won’t have the best rate using traveler’s cheques. Instead, you should plan on withdrawing money a couple of times while on your trip. The problem with this however are the fees associated with this practical travel behavior. Some countries, such as Thailand, attach a charge on all foreign debit cards regardless of bank or location. Not only will you sometimes incur charges from the ATM bank, but you may also be charged by your own bank. The best way to avoid all of these fees is to first find a bank with minimal or no fees for ATM withdrawals. One of the best products available to beat these fees is the Charles Schwab Credit Card. In addition to not charging their customers for international withdrawals, they also reimburse for fees incurred at other banks. That means you can access your money for free; novel concept, right? If you’re worried about being charged at a higher interest rate for cash withdrawals, then prepay your travel budget on the card so that you are essentially using it as a debit card. Even better, if you want to use the card as a traditional credit card, there are no extra exchange fees for international purchases, unlike most other banks.
5. Touring wrong – Popular tourist attractions are popular for a reason. They are usually unique experiences that everyone should enjoy. Some people may want to shy away from the crowds and avoid looking like a tourist, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless you have permanently relocated to a new city, everyone is a tourist and there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the cheesy activities that make certain areas of the world fun and unique. In Paris you should see the Eiffel Tower, in London a trip to the Tower Bridge is a must-do activity and so on.
But don’t stop there. In Paris, rent a bike one day and see the city on two wheels, take the train out to the Fontainebleau Forest for some hiking or take a cooking lesson in the heart of the city. Do some research, think creatively and seek out experiences that will create a more robust, and fun, vacation. Don’t limit yourself to the top ten landmarks in your guidebook, instead look around you and find ways to step back and REALLY experience the area.
Here are some ways that many people travel wrong – can you name some others?
26 thoughts on “Five Things You’re Doing Wrong When You Travel”
I do a ton of research and then make a skeleton of things I need to see and a rough idea of the order of the places id like to visit. It allows for impromptu adventure why keeping track of the things I need to experience.
I love your advice, especially about where to eat. I always try to find places the locals enjoy. It’s such fun to discover new delicacies when traveling. Why eat at the same chain restaurant that’s around the corner from my home?
I will definitely be referencing back to this!
All great advice! I’m not very good at estimating my budget so I find myself visiting the ATM way more often than I should. So that’s one thing I’m working on… Take out enough money to last a couple days.
Such sage advice!
I’m guilty of planning too much! One of these days I’m going to travel with no plans :) Love your advice about experiences. So true. A lot of times we spend our days visiting the sights that we never truly experience our destination.
Great tips! I agree with all of them. I would add that you can prepare a lot without planning too much. Learn some details about the religion, the food specialties, the political leaders, the history, the current artists etc. A little context will help you enjoy everything you see and learn even more. P.S. Was that last castle picture in The Czech Republic?
Some great advice here Matt. We’ve been traveling none stop for the past two years and I’ll confess we learnt most of this through our own over planning, shocking money management and attraction to tourist hot spots. It’s great to take a step back and think outside the box when it comes to your travel routines. It can make for an interesting trip.
Great advice I definitely follow all of these rules :)
Great tips — agree with them all. I love the planning aspect and it helps bridge those agonizing days as you count down to the big event. Having a plan, but not such a strict one, will help you make the most of your time. As for the food, I have to say that one thing I do is snap a picture of McDonalds where ever I go — seems like they are everywhere, but I don’t eat there. I enjoy the local cuisine and go with the flow. And finally, when you travel, you definitely are a tourist so check out the “must see” sights! Great posting!
Great advice Matt, and could not agree more on all topics. Perhaps I would had added something on Local Interactiion and respecting the local culture. I think is an important part of travelling and I have seen this go wrong many times…
I like your food tip. I love visiting supermarkets when I travel. There are so many different products on the shelves that I’ve never seen before. I love grabbing a few random looking things and giving them a try.
Strange flavoured snack foods from Asia also make quirky gifts for people back home. I took coffee flavoured peanuts back to my office a few years ago for everyone to try.
Great tip and an inexpensive gift. One just has to be careful not to take home food items that are prohibited. My beef jerky from South Africa was confiscated before I even left the country
Great advice, Matt, especially about the ATMs.
Another mistake people make is over-packing. We spent six weeks in Europe with only a carry-on and backpack each, and did just fine. We were really glad we packed light when we were climbing the stairs in the Paris Metro, and felt the teeniest bit smug while we watched people try to lug their huge suitcases up and down Venice’s bridges.
I’ve been guilty of over planning. I wouldn’t leave myself time to discover anything. Now, I make a short list of things I HAVE to do and see. I leave ample time to wander around and get lost, or go out with a new friend I have may made.
Great tips. :) I admit I’m an overplanner. Thankfully I’ve learned to be flexible and modify my travel itinerary. :)
Great post! Thanks for sharing this info. I found it mostly true while traveling, especially the one with ATM exchange rates.
The Charles Schwab credit card is no longer made/available – do you have an alternative you now suggest that still have no/minimal fees for withdrawing money abroad?
Their debit card has many of the same benefits and it’s what I use when I travel. Plus it’s great for budgeting as it’s a debit and not credit card.
I’m sure I do more than 5 things wrong! Not planning enough is my problem. I now make sure I know where I am on a map.
I would agree with the things you’ve listed here and have definitely made these mistakes myself, especially the first one!
Another thing I find that people do wrong is remember they are in a foreign land who have different beliefs and cultures. They think that things are weird or wrong but they forget that to the culture they are in, it’s perfectly natural and part of their daily lives.
Yup, we can’t forget that more than anything travel is an educational process, the best one there is.
Have to agree with everything that you have said. I research a lot but it never prepares me for the sights, sounds and smells of a place. I was pleased you said not to shy away from iconic places. I love to see them and then to wander the streets and watch people, go where they eat etc. We tend to stay in a place for a week at a time minimum rather than just a couple of days here and there. We are definitely on the same page.
Great minds think alike :)
Hey Matt Totally agree with most points.I used to be a dreadful over planner and do a LIST and TICK off places.Now after 3 years winging it in China we don’t do that any more.Some of our best adventures have been places we arrived by accident.The stuff you remember is that unexpected off the cuff stuff.Never eat McDonalds we do street food.Great blog btw.
Totally agree! Especially on the money bit. I get kind of kranky when exchange offices try to convince me exchanging money is cheaper with them. ATM’s all the way! I had to giggle at your advice not to eat at McDonalds too often… travelers still do that? Oi! Street food, student cafés, tapas places, food markets (hello Hungary!), having smile bites with your drinks: all ways to taste your way through a country for cheap.
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