The 5 Biggest Mistakes I’ve Made While Travelling (and How To Avoid Them)

by | Sep 2, 2011 | Travel Tips | 0 comments

I’d like to think that I’m a well-seasoned traveler, but I’m really not. At eighteen years old, I spent five months backpacking around Europe to see Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, and the majority of Italy, and now at twenty years old I went to Thailand for a mere three weeks. However, I do think that these experiences have made me consciously aware of things that I should and should not be doing while in a foreign country, alone. I know I shouldn’t keep my money all in one place, that I should keep my bag close at all times, make multiple copies of my documents, and never trust strangers… but when you’re alone in a strange place, who else are you supposed to trust? Needless to say, I’ve made a few mistakes while travelling and here are five:

1. NEVER TRUST A TUK-TUK DRIVER

It was 10AM, my first day in Bangkok and nothing had gone smoothly. I had checked into a hostel that claimed to be ten minute walking distance to Khao San Road, realized it wasn’t, and lost the 600 BAHT that would have covered three night accommodation. Finally, after finding a new place to stay, a friend and I were making our way to the famous Grande Palace. As we were waiting to cross the street, a friendly Thai man approached and began asking us questions. Where are you from? How long are you staying? Do you like Bangkok? Naive, I assumed he was just being friendly, and when he began to explain to us that the Grande Palace, along with the other major temples, were opened only to monks until noon due to a special Buddhist holiday, I believed him. He proceeded to point us in the direction of the “trusted” tuk tuks, the ones with the yellow license plate. The first tuk tuk driver we approached told us that for 10 BAHT(about 0.32CDN cents) he would take us to five temples and to see the Lucky Buddha. Thinking this was a reasonable price, we agreed. After the first stop to see the Lucky Buddha, the driver began to hassle us, trying to make us go for a “5-minute stop” to a jewellery store. “No buy, just look, just 5 minutes!” He said, again and again, until we gave him 5 Baht and jumped off the tuk tuk. You see, there is no such thing as a special Buddhist holiday and no such thing as a Lucky Buddha. Needless to say, I will not be making that mistake again. When dealing with tuk tuk drivers in Asia, be sure to plan out your agreement with them before you hop in the seat, or you will likely end up at a family shop, being urged to make a purchase. Only later did we see this informative sign:

2. DON’T BOTHER BRINGING A HAIR STRAIGHTENER

When I’m at home, my hair is my favorite accessory and my hair straightener is my most used tool of choice. I straighten with it and curl with it almost every day, so it must be a necessity when backpacking, right? No. Three times I have tried to bring it along and now, three flat irons have been ruined. During a trip to England to visit family, I brought my flat iron along. I had plugged it into a converter, left the room for a minute and came back to the smell of something burning and my flat iron smoking. Years later, when I went for my backpacking trip around Europe, I did the same thing. Only this time, when I plugged it into the outlet in the Irish hostel, it actually worked for a minute! That is, until I looked over to see the converter melting and the outlet shooting out sparks. By the time I took off for Thailand, you’d think I would have learned my lesson. I hadn’t. In my hostel in Chiang Mai, I plugged it in and came back to a flat iron hotter than I had ever seen one before. Thinking nothing of it, I decided to test it out. This time, I fried my bangs, my hair sizzling as if flat ironing wet hair, and a thick strand of hair actually broke off three inches from the root. Needless to say, I will never bring a flat iron along on a foreign country trip again. I’m sure some people have managed to get adapters that actually work, but I have never been lucky in this area. Instead, I’ll cram in an extra bottle of hair scrunching cream and a few bobby pins and be on my way! Not having to do your hair gives you extra time to sleep in, anyways!

3. WHEN IN EUROPE, DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE AMOUNT OF MONEY YOU WILL NEED.

My Europe trip was indeed one of limited budget. I knew going into it that I would have to be very strict with my money, but i didn’t realize just how strict that would be. After my first few weeks in Ireland flew by, spending nearly every night in a new pub surrounded by live Irish music, I convinced myself to stop spending on unnecessary things like alcohol, no matter how much fun those nights had been. I was halfway through Italy, in Rome I think, when I found out I had negative numbers in my bank account. Ensue panic: where would I sleep that night, how would I eat, what if I got thirsty, how was I going to get home?! I called my dad begging for an extra thousand dollars to keep me going and, thankyouthankyouthankyou, he transferred some money into my account. I had made it to Italy, a place I had only dreamed about, and I just had to see everything now that I was already there. That was my excuse for why I had to keep travelling. Unfortunately the money ran out, this time when I was safely back at my Aunt’s house in England, and I had to change my flights to come home nearly a month earlier than I had planned. Even though my entire trip had consisted of very cheap hostels, usually one meal a day(or no meal at all, if I bought something expensive…as was my reasoning), I had completely underestimated how much money I would need for five months. TIP: Europe is expensive. Bring more money than you think you’ll need, because you’ll probably end up needing the extra!

4. WHEN IN ASIA, ALWAYS CARRY TOILET PAPER.

Oh, Asia. So many of us adore it there despite the unappealing toilets. Luckily for me, Thailand has plenty of western-style toilets and I only had to succumb to the horror of the squat toilet a maximum of four times in three weeks. However, just because there is a proper toilet and even a proper bathroom, do not expect there to be toilet paper. I can’t even begin to count how many times I used a toilet, only to find out that there was no toilet paper in my stall, or any stall or sink cupboard for that matter. At first, you feel a bit awkward about hauling a roll of toilet paper out of your bag. You might be on a bus, walking down the rows of people with toilet paper in your hand. You could be out in the middle of the street, about to use a port-a-potty, or you could be in a nice, clean indoor washroom. No matter where you are, there probably won’t be toilet paper, so don’t feel embarrassed about stealing a roll whenever you find one and hiding away in your bag. That’s lucky, because often times you’ll find yourself stealing napkins off restaurant tables instead! There’s no shame in it, every girl that visits Asia seems to do it, we really have no choice. As my trip progressed, I found myself(after one too many beers, naturally) becoming completely overjoyed when I saw toilet paper in the washrooms, and I ended up with plenty of random toilet paper photos on my camera.

5. TRY NOT TO ARRIVE IN A NEW PLACE AFTER DARK, ESPECIALLY WHEN TRAVELLING ALONE.

Arriving in a new city is a daunting experience to begin with, even more so if you are by yourself. Sometimes, arriving at a late hour cannot be helped – it was the cheapest way, it was the only times left available, etc. – but if you can help it, please do. I once arrived at 10PM in the city of Cork, Ireland. I had just gotten off the bus, it was dark outside and to top it all off, I did not have the address to my hostel(another big mistake). With my backpacking weighing me down and only the name of the hostel I was trying to find, I walked aimlessly around the station and up and down the streets asking anyone at all if they could point me in the right direction. After asking countless people, some in uniforms, some smoking on the corner, some in shops, I had about three possible directions of where this hostel might be. Feeling at a complete loss, I asked two more people who both told me the same thing. Over the second bridge, right to go up the hill until I hit a ramshackle place with graffiti, up the alleyway stairs and there it will be. I was halfway up the hill, quietly panicking because this sketchy area surely could not be the right place, when I heard my name from across the street. To my relief, three friends I had met back in Galway, Ireland were making their way down the hill. They were even staying at the same hostel! They gave me directions for the rest of the way and later on, we met up at the hostel that we had all checked into. While my story turned out okay and I didn’t get too lost, arriving in a city during the daytime is alot less stressful, alot less scary, and way easier to navigate.

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