From the same cow onesie-clad traveler who brought you “7 Travel Mistakes I Made – And How You Can Avoid Them,” I present to you…7 more travel mistakes I made! Wait another 6-8 months and maybe we’ll have a third edition! Yippee!
1. Waiting to book transportation between popular cities until the day of
Just like booking a one-way flight with no return date is a romantic idea that can easily get squashed by airport officials, floating around the globe and seeing where the wind takes you is a romantic idea that can easily get squashed by your wallet. Well, my wallet, at least.
I met my friend Katie when I was nine years old. Years later, she’s one of my top travel buddies. She had three weeks off during the summer of 2017, so we decided to travel around Europe.
The cheapest flight out of California was to London, and we wanted to end our trip in Barcelona for the Festival of Sant Joan, i.e. the best day ever. Fireworks and dancing on the beach all night? Yes please.
In between London and Barcelona, she wanted to visit the South of France, and I wanted to visit Budapest. We found a cheap flight from London to Budapest, but Budapest is kind of a long way from France.
In February 2017, when we were buying our plane tickets, I found a Megabus ticket from Milan to Nice for €7. What we should have done was jump on that €7 bus fare as soon as we saw it.
What we did instead, for some reason, was wait to buy it until our last day in Milan.
When we went to go buy it, a mere 12 hours before we were planning to leave, the price had jumped to €40.
This is when we learned the hard way that the affordable ticket-booking website GoEuro doesn’t always accept American credit cards, so we weren’t even able to purchase tickets then.
Our amazing Couchsurfing host woke up early to drive us to the station to make sure we were able to get tickets. We were, but our wallets were a little sad about it.
If you only have a limited amount of time to travel, buying tickets ahead of time is probably the way to go.
If you have a one-way ticket and no set time that you have to go home, then by all means, follow the wind.
2. Not booking accommodation ahead of time – especially in peak season
You know how you’d love to experience a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, get down at a pool party in Las Vegas in the summertime, or relax on a beach along the French Riviera? Yeah, so would literally everyone else in the entire world. Therefore, these and other beach, pool, and party-centric vacation destinations become much more crowded during the warm months or during a special occasion (such as Mardi Gras).
That means that flights will be more expensive and accommodation will fill up fast. The rooms that are available will go way up in price. Yay, capitalism!
With its warm weather and booming nightclub scene, Barcelona gets crazy busy in the summer. Having lived there during the summer of 2016, I knew this, and stupidly thought late May was far enough in advance to book accommodation for the end of June. Nope.
By the time Katie and I finally looked at places to stay, every hostel that was remotely near the city center was €40 at the cheapest. I love hostels dearly, but a hostel bed should never cost anywhere near €40.
We ended up staying at this janky hotel with bunk beds that was roughly 45 minutes away from the city center. Also sharing our room with us were eight large Russian men who spent the vast majority of every day sitting shirtless in a circle on the floor chain-smoking cigarettes and having loud conversations, although whenever we would come in or out of the room, they would immediately all stop talking and stare at us. Not exactly my ideal choice of roommates.
If you are going somewhere during peak season or a special event, do yourself a favor and figure out where you’re sleeping 2-3 months ahead of time.
3. Not preparing for the weather
…and finding yourself in a torrential downpour on Grafton Street the minute you arrive in Dublin with nothing but a light hoodie to protect you.
I’ve made the “oh, I won’t need a jacket” mistake countless times, but I refuse to become one of those tourists who ends up having to buy a €30 “I Got Lucky in Ireland” sweatshirt, so until I finally learn, I’ll just travel cold.
Be prepared! Check the weather forecast for your destination before you go.
4. Not paying attention to where you’re going
It can be really easy to get lost in a foreign country, especially if you don’t know the language. That’s why maps come in handy, but my directional sense is abysmal, and it’s much easier for me to just punch in where I’m going to Google Maps and then follow the little blue dot. Yeah, yeah, so millennial, I know.
However, Google Maps only works over WiFi. But, if you look up where you’re going on Google Maps while you’re in a WiFi zone and leave the Maps app open when you leave, the little blue dot will still tell you where you are, even without WiFi! Yes, I know I talked about this before, but important travel hacks bear repeating.
You can also download an offline map on Google Maps prior to your trip so that you can navigate without WiFi.
To do this, you’ll need a Gmail account. Go into your Maps app on your phone, click the three little horizontal lines in the top left hand corner, and sign in with your Gmail. Then, click “offline areas.” Once there, click “download offline area.” Then type in the name of the city you’re hoping to not get lost in. BOOM.
I also use the app MAPS.ME, which functions entirely offline. However, if you’re not going somewhere super popular, the app might have a hard time finding it unless you pre-load the address into the app before you leave the house. So like, if you wanted to find the nearest Starbucks on a whim, you could easily punch that into the app and figure it out. However, if you were supposed to meet your friend at Elegant Emily’s Family-Owned Teahouse, that’s probably something you needed to pre-load directions for before you left.
5. Using your International SIM card for non-emergencies
When I’m in another country, I normally either just use WiFi when I happen to find it. This can be a pain in the ass, so this time, I decided to purchase a legit international SIM card and use that.
I was using ONE Sim Card, which I recommend because it automatically refills its balance when it dips under $10. This is handy feature because it won’t ever leave you stranded if you’re unable to top it up. It also won’t let you put more money on it after you’ve put $200 on it, which is another amazing feature for keeping you within your budget.
Having a SIM card while you’re traveling is great for knowing where you’re going and finding people you want to meet up with. However, I was doing dumb things like Snapchatting my heart out on the London Eye when I wasn’t connected to WiFi, just because I could. I hit the $200 limit in under a week in London, annnnnd then I couldn’t use it at all for the next three countries I was in. Whoops.
6. Not leaving enough time to catch your flight
There’s a million little things you have to account for when catching a flight. Maybe the security line is moving extra slow that day. Maybe you’ll be randomly selected for a screening and it will take a super long time. YOU NEVER KNOW.
So, because of all these potential factors, especially if it’s an international flight, it’s smart to get to the airport obscenely early.
When I went to London in 2015, my friends and I flew out of Stansted Airport. We nearly missed our flight because we got there only an hour because our flight was supposed to depart, the airport was packed, the lines were long, and the people at security were taking every single passenger’s luggage and thoroughly searching it. The only reason we didn’t miss our flight is it was luckily delayed half an hour. That’s like the only time ever a flight being delayed is “lucky.”
Now, since this was my only experience at Stansted, you’d think that when Katie and I flew from Stansted to Budapest, I would have thought to leave for the airport at least four hours prior to my flight.
Welp, I did not.
We got there about an hour before our flight was set to leave, and exactly the same thing happened. The airport was completely packed, and the security line was so long that Katie and I literally looking at other countries near Hungary we could fly to on the cheap. Spoiler alert: there were none.
After finally going through security, we ran through the airport in our socks, clutching our shoes and jackets to our chests. And guess what? Our flight was half an hour delayed again, and we made it just in time. Yeee!
When we were leaving Budapest five days later, we checked out of our hostel at 8 a.m. when we had a 12:30 flight, just in case something happened. Which, of course, it did. Which brings me to…
7. Not being prepared for transportation…and therefore missing it
One time in Barcelona in 2016, I was supposed to take a 7-hour train ride to Vitoria Gasteiz at 5 a.m.
So, naturally, when 3 a.m. rolled around, I still hadn’t packed. That’s the first time I ever missed a train.
It’s a good idea to pack the night before you travel. But here’s the thing, even when you do that and leave super early, stuff just happens sometimes, and you have to prepare for it.
Katie and I left four hours early for our flight from Budapest to Milan. In those four hours, we bought the wrong ticket, missed the stop, had to hop a fence, ended up in the wrong part of the airport – and still made it to our flight on time. You can read all about that adventure here.