None of us is perfect, and I’m definitely not. I travel a lot, and I’ve learned a lot but almost entirely through making a lot of mistakes along the way. I decided to take a look back at some mistakes they’ve made and share how it’s made me a better and smarter traveler.
1. Scammed in Thailand – I’d like to chalk this one up to being young and naïve, but I think it could happen to anyone at any age and I wouldn’t be shocked if it happens to me again. I was in Bangkok, heading towards the sky train when I threw a piece of garbage into the bin. At least I tried to, I apparently missed as the kind government official immediately let me know as he grabbed my arm and took me to a nearby card table manned by a man many years his senior. At the time I was scared, they were dressed in camouflage, there was a language barrier and I didn’t know what to do. Luckily a ‘gift’ of my watch was enough to get out of a fine and I was soon on my way, although shaken up by the incident. I later learned that these men were not police or military, but some weird branch of the transportation department, long known for scamming foreigners into paying fines which they of course pocketed. There are two morals here: 1) pay attention to local laws and 2) don’t let one bad incident color an entire trip. I was very upset that evening and could have let that encounter ruin my entire trip to Thailand. I didn’t though, I saw it for what it was, an unfortunate moment, and today Thailand is one of my favorite places to visit.
2. Exchange money at the airport – How one gets cash while traveling is a somewhat contentious issue, although it really shouldn’t be. The cheapest way to access money abroad is by using your debit card at ATM machines, especially if you selected an account or bank that doesn’t charge fees. But what to do when returning home and you still have some foreign notes in your pocket? Don’t be like most people and just exchange it at the airport before boarding your flight. Fees and even exchange rates are not standardized, and you will get the worst possible deal at the airport. Instead, try to spend the money if you can or barring that, exchange it at a kiosk in town somewhere, leaving enough money to get to the airport of course.
3. Pay too much for hotel WiFi – It is a sad fact that in 2014 accessing the internet still is not considered a right, instead a privilege. And depending on where you stay, it can be an expensive privilege. In the US the odd rule of thumb is that less expensive hotels tend to offer free WiFi, while the most expensive do not. It’s weird, I know, and many of us are still trying to figure that one out. The worst example I’ve seen was in Hawaii where the per day fee was $25. An extraordinary amount of money just to hop online and check email. In other parts of the world many hotels have WiFi, but for a fee. Not only do you have to pay for the WiFi, but it usually isn’t very good either. One way that I’ve found to get around these fees and have ready access to dependable WiFi is through a mobile WiFi device, or MiFi. There are several companies out there that rent these out to travelers and I’ve never had a bad experience using them. They’re great for hotels, but they’re also great to use when walking around town to access your smart phone. Just do the math beforehand and make sure that their daily fees are less than what you’d pay at your hotels. The one caveat here is that the MiFis depend on a cellular network, so if you’re in a place that doesn’t have 3G or 4G coverage, then the MiFi won’t work either.
4. Too much stuff – Even after all these years, I still have horrible problems taking too much stuff with me when I travel. I have gotten better though and have fine-tuned my suitcase so that I only take one piece of luggage and it’s not the size of a large steamer trunk. One of my psychological issues with packing is I bet a common one, the ‘what if’s.’ WHAT IF I need something fancy? WHAT IF I decide to go swimming although I’ll be in the tundra? WHAT IF, what if, what if. This little game becomes all-consuming and before we know it we’re packing as if leaving on a voyage of discovery. There are two things to consider when packing. With a few exceptions, most places you are going will have stores. If you forget toothpaste in France, they sell it! If you don’t have extra shoe laces in Australia, they sell them! Second, review your schedule and pack accordingly and try to use multi-use items if at all possible. For example, I bring two pairs of shoes when I travel. One is athletic and good for walks and hikes and the other is a pair of ambiguously nice looking loafers, good for everything from being in a plane cabin to a nice happy hour or reception. So take a hard look at your trip and your luggage and pack accordingly.
What are some mistakes you’ve made on your travels?