15 beginner’s travel mistakes made by seasoned travelers
After more than 30 years of traveling across seven continents and over 50 countries, we consider ourselves to be “experienced” travelers. You would think by now that we owed it all to a science and that we know exactly how to successfully navigate travel. Well, we still make mistakes. We see travel as a continuous learning process, especially now. We wouldn’t say we made every mistake we ever made… but we got pretty close.
We hope you enjoy this trip through our travel mistakes and even add a couple of them.
1.25 cities in 20 hours (or try to do it all)
Reggie’s first trip out of Singapore right after graduating from college was one of those bus tours of Europe where you get to 20 different cities in a very short period of time. In some ways, we never got away with it. We always try to do too much everywhere we go, especially if there is street art to be seen.
2. Passport errors
Bringing an expired passport or one with a validity of less than six months is such a common mistake. We’ve each made this mistake at least once. One of us was traveling from the United States to Canada on a business trip, believing that she only needed a driver’s license. Another time one of us brought an expired passport. As we left very early for the airport, we had time to get home despite the rush hour traffic and pick up the current one.
3. Leaving too late for the airport
This is the only mistake on this list that we don’t make. For an international flight, we often depart at least three hours before boarding time. As we live in the New York area, it can often take two hours to get to the airport. This came in handy when Sue accidentally brought in her expired passport.
4. Disagree on a destination and leave anyway
One of the most problematic mistakes we have ever made was deciding to go to a destination that one of us disagreed with. It was a 14 hour round trip to a volcano in the Tanzanian countryside. Neither of us ended up enjoying this part of the trip and we never made it to the top of the volcano.
5. Not having the right clothes or equipment
We’ve made this mistake so many times that we can’t even count. When we went to the Atacama Desert we didn’t have enough warm clothes in our luggage and ended up wearing all the clothes we brought to try and keep warm in the geysers. In Alaska, we checked the weather in advance, but it was unusually cold for the season. In this case, we went shopping.
6. Bring too much
Based on the experiences we’ve had, you might think we never overload. On our first trips we packed very light. We did three weeks in Asia with just hand luggage. As we get older we have become accustomed to having amenities. I once took a trip with my mom to Ecuador and she brought two huge suitcases for a 10 day trip. I asked why she brought so many things. She said she didn’t know what she would like to wear on a particular day, so she made sure to bring everything.
7. Not knowing where your door is
Okay, this one probably seems like a no-brainer. Find your door. Then go and relax somewhere nearby. In Norway we were walking through the airport and saw a nice restaurant for breakfast. The sign implied that our door was just down the hall. We never looked at how far down the hall it was. We had a leisurely breakfast. When we heard the announcement of boarding, we started walking towards the gate. We quickly realized that the hallway was very, very long. We started running and finally got to the door on the last call.
The doors also change periodically, be sure to check periodically. If you don’t speak the language, you can really get into trouble. Make sure you wait by the door unless you want to test your 100 yard dash speed.
8. Stopovers, stopovers, stopovers
Stopovers are a constant struggle. They are anyway too long but not long enough to leave the airport. Or they are too short. We hate the anxiety of not knowing if we’re going to make our flight, so we often choose a longer layover. It can be especially difficult when we go to Asia and a 21 hour trip turns into a 28 hour trip. Sometimes we just add a layover in Taipei or elsewhere to interrupt the trip so that we don’t have to worry about the layover.
9. Travel insurance or not travel insurance
People have conflicting views on travel insurance. We always get travel insurance. If we think outside the box, we take out medical evacuation insurance. We had friends who had to be evacuated for medical reasons and because they had insurance they dodged a $ 100,000 bill. To us, it just seems worth not having to worry about.
10. Not knowing visa requirements
Understanding visa requirements through your own research is extremely important. We travel with different passports. One of us is an American citizen and the other is Singaporean. There are very different rules in each country for the two passports. We were once in Peru and drove through Bolivia at a tiny passport control post. Our travel agent told us Singaporeans do not need a visa. We trusted our travel agent and did not do any independent research. When we got to the passport control post, we ended up paying to cross the border. We still don’t know if it was legal or illegal.
11. Make calls from abroad
Did you go on an international trip and come home with a huge cell phone bill? Not turning off data roaming when traveling abroad with your cell phone could cost you even more than the cost of the trip itself! Nowadays, we use applications that allow us to communicate locally. We also travel with unlocked phones where we can easily swap our SIM cards for local cards to reduce our cell phone bills. Remember to swap out the SIM cards when you get home.
12. Convert currencies and other things
Understanding how currencies and weights are converted is important when shopping in markets, at the airport, at the bank, and doing anything with cash. Airports have the worst currency conversion rates. Some local cash conversion places will also try to get rid of uninformed tourists. Once we were in Mexico to buy cheese (in kilos). We did the conversion in our heads from pounds to kilos and ended up with four times as much as we wanted.
13. Don’t do your own independent research
Doing your own research is so important to a relaxing, enjoyable and safe trip. We relied exclusively on what a travel agent had told us repeatedly and then found it was not 100% accurate. For example, in our attempt to resize Ol Doinyo Lengai, the travel agent told us that we did not need any special equipment. It wasn’t and we could have easily figured it out if we had done our own research.
14. Don’t trust your instincts
Over the years, we have learned to trust our own instincts. When we saw the captain of the boat in southern Laos replenishing the water from the boat we were to board, we refused. It didn’t seem certain to us. It meant waiting hours longer for a boat that didn’t leak. Our guide was not happy with us but we felt more secure.
15. Not understanding the culture
We value respect for culture wherever we travel. It is important to understand how to behave and dress in different countries and at religious sites. For us there is another layer. As an LGBTQ + couple, we also need to understand how to be safe and respectful. We have traveled to many countries where being LGBTQ + is illegal. We’ve learned to navigate hotel rooms, nightlife, and other issues like public displays of affection (which we mostly avoid).
There are so many other mistakes we could mention here, including not letting your bank and credit cards know about your travel plans, not sharing copies of your itinerary, understanding time zones, being in the wrong place. wrong hotel or airport, and more. The COVID pandemic adds another layer of complexity.
We’re sure we’ll discover more mistakes to make in our next decade of travel.
Here are some other travel tips: