Ok, so you’ve been on the road for a while. You can differentiate between a longan berry, a lychee, and a rambutan in a blind taste test. You can do currency conversions almost without thinking, sew patches on your clothes, and your bargaining skills have actually become quite impressive. Things are pretty-much cake now, yeah?
Well…maybe not. Even the most seasoned travelers get tripped up from time to time. Here’s the dirty dozen we’re willing to admit.
1. Taking Photos in Bad Light
Some of our best photos – images of the bathing ghats in Varanasi, thousands of scooters zipping to work in Taipei, pink skies over New Zealand’s Southern Alps – were taken around the “golden hours” for photography: Sunrise and sunset. Our worst photos are always taken during the middle of the day when the light is harshest. It doesn’t matter how many photos you take; if the light is bad, chances are the pictures will be too.
We know when to catch great light, but somehow we manage to be doing other things when we could be taking incredible photos. If only there was a camera that dispensed tiny cups of espresso…
2. Planning Too Far Ahead
There’s always the initial research that makes you decide to visit a country in the first place. But doing too much in advance can be a small mistake (in that you’ll forget everything before it actually becomes relevant), or a big one (in that something comes up and you have to cancel plans). Aside from when we had visitors we never booked things more than a month in advance for the entire trip. The one time we did, we had to go home for a family emergency. If you’re a major planner, just make sure everything is refundable!
3. Not Planning Ahead at All
On the flip side of this coin, there are times when a lax approach to planning can bite back. For instance, you have to book months in advance to volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Another example: One time in Malaysia we tried to get a bus from the east coast to Kuala Lumpur, but it was full. Since we already had a hotel in KL that evening we had to take a completely roundabout way to reach the city that took an extra 6 hours, cost more, and caused a lot of headaches. Did it all work out? Sure. But had we just walked to the station and booked tickets a day in advance, we would have had another day in KL.
4. Not Backing Up Data
I’m really bad about this. We’ve taken something like 20,000 photos over the last couple of years, and to lose any of them would be devastating. But do you think I remember to run a backup when we get to a hotel with good internet? That darn YouTube and its cat videos! I always forget! Thankfully Eric is much better about these things.
In case you’re wondering, the best backup solutions we’ve found are Dropbox for documents and Crashplan for photos. After the Crash of 2013 when Eric’s hard drive got wet, we learned the hard way how important it is to have a reliable resource not only for backing things up, but for “pulling them back down” as well.
5. Not Tackling Bucket List Items Immediately
Those few days when you first arrive to a new city, when you’re still excited and motivated…that’s the time to tackle all the things that brought you there. Too often we leave the major sights for the end and either rush through them or miss them completely.
6. Not Making Sure the Meter is On
Here’s a rookie mistake. In much of the world taxi drivers don’t like to use their meters, assuming they even have one. In such cases it’s essential you agree on a price before getting into the cab. Every so often we just forget to agree on a price beforehand or check that the taxi driver has turned on the meter. This always results in a heavily inflated fare. It happens to the best of us.
7. Not Taking Time to Rest
A big part of long-term (or short-term) travel is knowing your limits. Nothing’s going to be that much fun if you’re tired and grumpy. I have some photos from days when we should’ve stayed in (and probably gotten separate hotel rooms) and I just remember them as bad days. There will be times when you’re just not feeling it. Don’t feel bad if you need to order in and watch movies…travel is supposed to be enjoyable!
8. Not Documenting Things
A photo, an email home to a friend, a journal, a memento, a blog post – these are all ways to document your experiences, big and small. Try to take note of things you find interesting before they become commonplace or you never see them again. Strangely, we also find that it’s worthwhile to document situations that have gone wrong, since they make for some of the funniest memories. In that moment when you’re completely lost or your meal is inedible you might be really pissed off. But in a few months when you’re telling the story, photos will just add to the hilarity.
The combination of all of these things – the good and bad experiences, interactions with people, tastes, smells, costs, tiny details – make up your impressions of a place, and documenting them in some way will help you go back there in your memory any time you want.
(On the other hand, at times we tend to over-document things, thus missing out on the experience. There’s something to be said for putting the camera down and just taking in the moment.)
9. Being a Bad Judge of Character
In the developing world especially, it takes a little time to assess the locals. Are they just super friendly people who want to talk to you and invite you in for tea? Or are they only being nice because they want you to stay at their guest house/buy their carpets/take you on a tour that, unbeknownst to you, you’ve already begun? Sometimes you take the bait and end up paying someone just to leave you alone, and sometimes you end up brushing off someone who really was just a sweet old man trying to practice his English. It can be difficult to sort these things out on the spot when you’re in a new place.
10. Not Allowing Yourself to Buy or Do Something…
…because it’s not a “Good Deal”. If something looks like fun, go do it. If you’ve fallen in love with a unique piece of artwork or jewelry that will always take you back to that moment, buy it. There will be times that you know you can find a better price if you keep looking, and those of us on a tight budget will normally take on the challenge. But at the end of the day, saving that $5 might not be worth the hassle and time it took to do so – time that you could have spent making memories instead of making deals.
11. Leaving Things Behind
Oooh, here’s one that drives us completely insane. You go to charge your laptop and find that nope, the power converter’s still plugged into the wall of your hotel room in Hong Kong. You’d just skip on over and pick it up, but there’s that little problem of already being in Taipei.
A running list of all the things we’ve lost in 20 months of traveling includes (but is not limited to): 1 shirt, an ATM card, 2 pack towels, chopsticks, spoons, sunglasses, an awesome pair of Pac-Man earrings, underwear, at least 4 converters, the first aid kit, an iPod, a Kindle, a jacket, a water bottle, Eric’s wallet, Sam’s knitting needles, and a goat hair bracelet.
Some tips to not be so bad at life? Try to avoid early flights, and go through a “pre-checkout check” that includes looking through every drawer and under the bed at least twice. Most everything can be easily replaced on the road, so we just try to roll with it and remind ourselves that when you pack up and move every three days, these things happen.
12. Doing Something Because it’s “The Thing to Do”
This one is pretty hard to avoid. After all, you aren’t going to visit northern India without seeing the Taj Mahal, and few people would go to Jordan without swinging down to Petra for a day or two. Most of these places become tourist traps for a reason, but sometimes you show up and say, “Yep, that’s it. Looks like the photos.” Occasionally, though, the main sights really do live up to the hype – Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon is a good example. You just never know unless you cough up the entry fee and stand in line with a million other tourists. Life is hard, I know.
Ok, what did we miss? Fellow travelers, do you have any confessions to make?