To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries. - Aldous Huxley
We’ve all been there. You’re boarding the airplane to your next destination, bags in hand. Laptop? Check. Phone? Check. Passport? Check. You think everything’s there when you suddenly realize:
You forgot your camera!
Oh man… You can see it now – your lonely camera, resting in the bag on top of the kitchen counter where you left it, cursing you for leaving it behind yet again as a tear of regret rolls down your cheek.
Trust me, we have all been there. Whether you’re a new traveler or a seasoned vet, every one of us has pulled that at some point. Depending on the trip, I prepare weeks (or months) ahead of time, make a packing list, and go over everything a few times the night before leaving. Somehow, I still manage to forget things or do something wrong. It happens! Here are a few of the worst travel mistakes I’ve made!
The first time I traveled abroad on my own was when I went to Jordan on a study abroad trip. My teacher had given all students a paper that said to bring a certain kind of adapter for the outlets so that our American-style chargers would work.
Well, I bought the exact type of adapter she said, but I didn’t do any research on the types of adapters in the area. Turns out my adapters were completely useless. The apartments the other students and I stayed in had different outlets and I wasn’t able to use the chargers for my electronics!
Thankfully, I was lucky that one of the girls found an adapter that a previous student must have left by accident and I was able to use that. After that, I bought myself a universal adapter. Definitely ranks among my top worst travel mistakes. Although it seems minor, when you need to charge your phone, laptop, camera on interval shifts to keep them all charged, you would understand why it’s not fun.
Overpaying for a visa
When preparing to go teach in Saudi Arabia, I needed to get a work visa from the Saudi Embassy. In the U.S., the embassy requires that you go through an agent to obtain the visa, otherwise they won’t accept your paperwork. I researched for the best company to work with and ended up using Passport Visas Express, a great and professional company that I highly recommend for anyone looking for passport or visa services.
They were truly of great help! They offer additional services like helping you fill out the forms that need to be done. Not sure of all of the information in the documents, I selected this thinking they would do it without me.
Well, not quite. Turns out that all this means is that they will call you and just type in the information for you while you answer the questions over the phone, and then they will email it to you for you to print and mail back to them. If you don’t know the answers to any question, they ask you to find out and fill it in yourself. These services can add up to quite a significant amount, and ultimately I wasted money on these services because I could have just done all that myself.
Definitely do your research in these situations and make sure you understand what the services are before you buy them. I don’t regret using the company, but I do regret paying for those unnecessary services. That was extra money that I could have saved up for my time in Saudi Arabia, or for paying off the student loan debt I had at the time. Always prepare yourself by reading reviews, or even articles like this, to understand what you actually need from the company.
Not doing research on the culture
I cannot stress this enough – PLEASE, please, please do your research about the culture. Don’t ever assume you’ve fully researched the culture because you will always miss something. While I had researched Jordanian culture some before leaving, I missed one very important difference between cultures across the world and ended up making a fool of myself. What was it you ask?
Hand gestures. Yes, hand gestures! If you’re new to traveling, it’s not something you really think about, right? Well, I made that mistake while there and it was so embarrassing. One of the worst travel mistakes you can make, in my opinion, is doing something to disrespect the culture and embarrass yourself.
What did I do? The “OK” hand gesture, where your finger and thumb create an “O” shape and your other three fingers stick up straight. That one. Since I didn’t speak Arabic well (that’s why I was studying in Jordan) I relied mostly on hand gestures when speaking with people, especially the taxi drivers I met so often. I’d flash them an “OK” to let them know we were grateful for the ride, and they looked at me in horror.
It wasn’t until a month into the trip that I learned that gesture is the “I’ll beat you” gesture mothers threaten their misbehaving children with. (Now of course, they don’t actually beat their children, but moms sure do like to throw threats around) That’s why the taxi drivers were looking at me with such horror. They were likely thinking, who is this woman who’s threatening to beat me up?! Definitely one of my worst travel mistakes.
This was when I took a trip to Jerusalem. I had planned to use a designated amount of money for the trip and not exceed that. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee some of the expenses, such as being detained for 6-8 hours at the border with my friends, and was scammed out of extra money from cab drivers who overcharged. I shortly ran out of the money I had set for the four-day trip only two days in. I had to tap into my expenses for Jordan!
It was incredibly unfortunate because I then ran out of the money I had set aside for Jordan when I still had a few weeks left to stay for my studies. I couldn’t use my credit cards either because, of the two I brought, only one worked in the country, but charged a large ATM fee. I had to borrow money from a friend while I was there until, thankfully, I was lucky enough that my scholarship money had kicked in early for the fall semester and dipped into that until I returned to the U.S. It was book money, but thankfully I didn’t really need many books that semester.
One of the worst travel mistakes you can make is under-budgeting because you’re stuck overseas without any money. If your cards don’t work, or it’s a cash society, you’re pretty much out of luck. You’ll have to rely on friends or family, if you have any on the trip with you, and that’s IF they have the means to help you. Either that, or asking for friends or family back home to transfer you some. And of course, no one wants to be put in the position of doing that. It can get expensive!
Not bringing an extra phone
This is probably one of the most annoying of my worst travel mistakes. On that same study abroad trip, my smart phone was under contract. That meant I couldn’t switch the SIM cards to use a Jordanian phone number.
I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, so I left to Jordan without thinking about it. Another student mentioned buying a cheap phone once we were there. I thought it was a good idea at the time.
Well, what I didn’t know was just how expensive Jordan was. I could have easily bought a cheap phone in the U.S. for half the price of what I paid there. The cost didn’t even include the price of SIM card. Additionally, that little Nokia phone was so basic that I could only call and text on it. It really took me back to the early 2000’s.
Looking back, I would say that was definitely one of the worst travel mistakes I made. By just bringing an extra phone with me, I could have saved a lot of time and money. Later down the line, before I left to teach, I ended up buying a new phone and (finally) separating from a family contract. I saved my money to buy an unlocked smart phone so that I could switch SIM cards anywhere at anytime. This also allowed me to use apps like Uber and Fancy Units whenever I was on the road.
What are some of your worst travel mistakes? Leave your comments below! Also, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter by subscribing to my blog!