25 Newbie Travel Mistakes
Spot the souvenirs from a trip to Africa for sale at our recent garage sale
- Packing too much.
Everyone is going to tell you about this one so let’s just get it out of the way.
- Thinking you need to take a giant backpack.
Especially if you’re small and female, you might want to take a wheelie bag rather than a giant backpack. Get a spinner (4 wheels rather than 2) if you can.
For example, tours or accommodation.
With a few exceptions, you won’t need to prebook. Check with travel bloggers who’ve been to the destination you’re going to about whether you need to pre-book anything.
The main reason not to prebook is that you can’t know in advance how long you’ll want to stay in a place e.g., sometimes places disappoint and you want to move on, or sometimes bad weather, getting sick or loving a place makes you want to stay in one place longer.
- Booking bus tours.
You’ll have a much better time if you avoid bus tours (point to point bus trips can be ok). Even if you don’t feel confident now about traveling independently, you will once you get to your destination and settle in.
Traveling to beach destinations in the wrong season for good swimming.
Beach destinations might be gorgeous some months and horrid others e.g., dead calm vs. ocean so rough you can’t swim safely.
- Not realizing you just need to ask a few taxi drivers in order to find one who will use their meter and not gouge you.
Bangkok is a good example of this tip.
- Attempting to do so much you’re too tired to enjoy it.
You can’t do everything.
- Doing activities you’re not interested in because it’s a “highlight” of a city.
e.g., You don’t have to go to museums or churches if you don’t like these things.
- Not reading the popular scams section of Lonely Planet.
Find out the common scams before you arrive.
- Taking on very difficult destinations too soon.
e.g., It’s a much better idea to go to Thailand for your first trip away from home than China or India.
- Making bookings through a travel agent in your home country.
Usually, you’ll pay more at the outset and it will be more expensive to make changes than if you booked directly, and won’t have access to the best low-cost “flashpacker” options.
Buying a pass and then feeling pressured to max your value from it.
Passes for entry to multiple attractions should be thought through carefully. They can be a bit like gym memberships. You probably won’t want to use them as often as you thought you would and then you’ll feel super guilty, or you’ll make yourself go and resent it/end up arguing with your travel companion.
- Travel companion issues.
e.g. Booking trips far in advance with a boyfriend or girlfriend you might break up with. Or planning a trip with the wrong choice of friend. Solo travel is usually more fun than trying to make compromises with a friend.
- Eating jam on bread.
Budget enough that you can enjoy the local food.
- Thinking a destination will be warmer than it is.
For example, people often think of islands as warm year-round but sometimes they aren’t that warm in winter (or in the case of New Zealand, aren’t that warm in summer!)
- Taking half a day to buy tickets or visas when you could pay a local agent to sort it for a couple of dollars.
If there is something you need to do like book a train ticket or get a visa, find out how much it would cost to have someone take care of it.
- Sticking to your plans when you’d rather change them.
Sometimes people feel self-imposed pressure to stick to plans. Don’t feel embarrassed if you want to change your plans.
- Panicking when you’ve just got jet lag +/- culture shock.
Even as an experienced traveler, I sometimes feel tearful or spaced out for a few days when I arrive somewhere new or off a long flight. Allow yourself a few days to adjust before judging whether you like a place – especially if you’ve arrived in a city at night.
- Being too scared to drive on the opposite side of the road.
This isn’t difficult. Be brave. Wait till after you’ve recovered from jet lag.
- Not reading what your insurance does/doesn’t cover before you take out your policy.
e.g., what car insurance do you need to purchase from the hiring company vs. what are you covered for? There are 3 main types of car-related insurance you’ll need: coverage for your health if you have an accident, your damage to other people or property if you have an accident, damage to your vehicle.
Are you covered for adventure sports? Motorbiking? (not likely, and highly unlikely if you don’t have a motorbike license).
Make sure you understand your policy and what the procedure is if you need medical care/need to claim.
Arriving/departing after the public transport has stopped running.
Cab bills, especially night rates and for airport trips, can be as much as 100 Euro.
- Not paying attention to which airport when booking a flight.
Cities often have multiple airports and airports used by budget airlines might be up to 2 hours from the city center. Booking engines sometimes book you out of one airport and back via another.
- Thinking you will create an Africa-themed room in your house when you get home.
Yes, Kathryn did this, which is how we end up trying to sell spears from Malawi at our recent pre-trip garage sale.
Consider not buying souvenirs.
- Going nuts at REI.
It’s very easy to go into REI and lose your mind picking up hundreds of dollars worth of small and/or large items for your upcoming trip that you don’t really need.
No, you don’t need zip-off trousers (but you can rock them if you want to. Kathryn practically lives in hers’s even at home!).
It’ll be super frustrating when you realize you don’t need it and not only did it cost you valuable cash, but you have to carry it.
Not allowing for “laundry days.”
Take some days off traveling. If you’re going for a year, then try to have at least 2 x 1-month stints where you rent an apartment and take a break from moving every couple of days.