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!
So, without further ado, here’s some things while traveling I did that you should try to avoid doing. Enjoy!
1. Waiting to book transportation between countries 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.
My friend Katie and I had three weeks to travel through Europe together, starting June 8. 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. When we initially talked about places we wanted to go, in late February, I saw that Milan, Italy was kinda sorta in the middle of Budapest and France, and that a Megabus from Milan to Nice was €7. What we should have done was buy bus fare as soon as we saw it, because €7 is cheap as hell. But, we didn’t buy it until we were in Milan and hoping to leave the next day, and it was around €40.
Affordable ticket-booking website GoEuro doesn’t always accept American credit cards, so although it’s usually the cheapest site to buy bus tickets on, if you have an American credit card, you have to go to the station day of and hope there’s still tickets left.
SO! Cheaper tickets and ensuring you have a seat. That’s two good reasons to buy bus tickets ahead of time if you only have a limited amount of time.
If you do have a one-way ticket and no set time that you have to be back 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 party it up in New Orleans on Mardi Gras, get down at a pool party in Las Vegas in the summertime, or relax on a beach along the French Riviera when it’s nice and hot out? 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 hotels/hostels/Air Bnbs will fill up fast, and the rooms that are available will go way up in price.
With its warm weather and booming nightclub scene, including some nightclubs right on the beach, 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 accommodation, every hostel that was remotely near the city center was €40 at cheapest, and 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 45 minutes away from the center. Sharing our room with us was eight large Russian men who sat in circles on the floor, chain smoked cigarettes at 9 a.m. and would stop talking and stare at us whenever we left to go to the bathroom. Which is like, not ideal.
So, don’t do like me – if you’re going somewhere that’s bound to be poppin’ when you’ll be there, do yourself a favor and start figuring out where you’re sleeping 2-3 months ahead of time.
3. Thinking “it will be warm, it’s summer” and not packing a proper jacket
…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 area 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, sign in with your Gmail, click “offline areas,” then click “download offline area” and type in the name of the city you’ll be needing navigation 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, but 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. Treating your international SIM card like a normal SIM card
When I’m in another country, I normally either just use WiFi when I happen to find it or purchase a little janky SIM card and stop at shops to load it with more credit as needed. However, this time, because I knew there would be a lot of people I would be wanting to meet up with and because it’s a pain in the ass having to find open WiFi networks all the time just so you can use your GPS, I decided to purchase a legit international SIM card and use that.
However, I was stupid, and was treating it like it was my normal SIM card in America. When I first arrived in London, I was browsing Facebook and Snapchatting a bunch of people when I wasn’t in a WiFi Zone. I think I even posted an Instagram picture once, complete with a zillion hashtags and tags, which takes forever and eats up a lot of data.
The SIM card I had automatically refills itself when you dip under $10, which is a handy feature because it won’t ever leave you stranded if you’re unable to top it up, but it also won’t let you refill it anymore after you’ve put a certain slightly large amount of money on it, which I hit in under a week, and then I couldn’t use it at all for the next three countries I was in. Whoops.
When I arrived in Barcelona, I bought an aforementioned janky SIM card at one of the little shops for a total of €10, and it lasted me the entire 10 days I was there, plus continued to work when I was back in the U.S. Go figure.
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 couldn’t print your boarding pass beforehand and you have to get it at the airport and all of the machines are broken except for one. YOU NEVER KNOW.
So, because of all these potential factors, especially if it’s an international flight, I’d recommend getting to the airport like obscenely early.
I’ve been to London twice, once on this trip with Katie and once in 2015. When I went in 2015, my friends and I flew out of Stansted Airport, and 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 left half an hour later than it was supposed to.
Now, since this was my only experience at Stansted, you’d think I would have thought to leave for the airport at least four hours prior to my flight just to be safe. Welp, I did not, we got there about an hour before our flight was set to leave, it was packed again, the security line was long again, they took forever to go through everyone’s bags again. While waiting to go through security and seeing the literal hundreds of people in front of us, 30 minutes before boarding time, Katie and I were so convinced we were going to miss our flight to Budapest that we started looking at other countries near Hungary we could fly to on the cheap. Spoiler: 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 it did. Which brings me to…
7. Not being prepared for/missing transportation
Once when I was in Barcelona, I was supposed to take a 7-hour train ride to Northern Spain at 5 a.m. So, naturally, I hadn’t yet packed at 3 a.m., and was still planning on sneaking in a nap before my train. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, and I had to take a train the next day.
That’s surprisingly the only transportation I’ve ever missed.
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 gotta prepare for it.
When we left Budapest four hours before our flight, we got the wrong ticket for the airport train, but when the conductor came by to check our tickets, he decided our incorrect tickets were okay, probably just because of our massive language barrier. Then, we missed our stop because we weren’t following our blue map dots or paying attention to signs. We got off the train and had to hop a fence with all of our luggage to buy the correct train ticket, since there was nowhere in the waiting area to buy a ticket, because passengers couldn’t get in without a ticket. Of course, we had tickets, but they were the wrong ones.
Then, we had to wait 45 minutes for the train in the correct direction. Once it finally came and took us to the airport, it was the wrong airport. We had to take a bus, the 200E, in order to get to the correct airport. Our Google Maps couldn’t save us there – the only reason we knew that is after walking around a desolated airport for half an hour which appeared to only be for military aircraft carriers, some dude appeared out of nowhere and told us what to do.
So, if we had only left an hour or two before our flight, we wold have been screwed. But because we left four entire hours ahead of time, we were cool.
Lemme know your travel mistakes in the comments. I wanna hear em!