Unlike trees, we were certainly born to roam around: no roots to stop us and a whole world to discover. However, coming into the world with luggage in our hands doesn’t make us the perfect travelers just yet. Indeed, if anyone can travel, not everyone can do it right! Fear not: a skilled traveler is one that went through oh-so-many mistakes. And while I definitely have much to learn, making a fool of myself throughout the years has taught me many invaluable lessons.
And on this “I did it so you don’t have to!” note, here’s some precious advice to help you nail it.
1. Overpacking – and packing it wrong
Let’s start easy and slow. This one might sound obvious, but trust me, it’s the easiest one to fail. Whether you plan a weekend trip or a whole sabbatical month, overpacking is a trap always around the corner. Too many times I ended up staring at my extra pair of shoes with the facial expression of a baffled fish, asking them “why are you even here?”.
Truly, the only things I’d always wear were the ones I loved. We’ve already discussed how minimalism can help you with your packing problem. You’d be amazed by how much can fit into one backpack. And remember, some things are worth leaving behind, only to purchase them at your destination.
Another mistake people commit is to stuff their luggage in the most impractical way. It’s true, you should be prepared for any eventuality. But there are ways to be all set without bringing the entire closet. Always check the seasonal weather of your destination, and adopt the onion strategy we mentioned here!
2. Underestimating the benefits of budgeting
The thrill of a vacation is undeniable, and soon you’ll be feeling like a kid at a playpark. But let’s not get carried away. I get it, you want to try all the Airbnb experiences, visit all the attractions and book all those fancy restaurants. However, letting the hype get the best of you may mean running out of money – with unpleasant consequences.
This doesn’t mean you should miss out on things! But I advise you to draft a rough budget plan before your departure. You’ll need to consider all the expenses for food, accommodation, transports, entertainment and necessary purchase. On top of this, always add some extra money to the overall budget, and keep them on the side for unforeseen circumstances and emergencies.
While on vacation, try to keep track of your spending: help yourself with good budgeting apps, like Mint.
3. Getting into risky situations
No one wants to be a party pooper: a little partying never hurt anyone. However, you should always be conscious of your limits. It’s easy to lose control on vacation, as dropping your inhibitions almost feels like a well-deserved reward. It’s even easier to chug on too much alcohol if you go for party hostels, or if you travel with a lively, young gang.
Remember you’re in an unfamiliar city, and not everyone is a kind human being. I probably sound like my grandma, but sometimes, it’s truly better safe than sorry. Have fun, of course, but stay lucid and act somehow responsibly.
Furthermore, avoid any unnecessary situation that might put you in danger. For instance, don’t wander into dark, empty streets late at night all by yourself, or don’t easily accept lifts from strangers. It’s a matter of common sense – yet sometimes, we forget the basics too!
4. Always going for the cheapest option
I’m so tremendously guilty of this one. I love myself a bargain, who doesn’t; but my frugal approach to money led me to more than one nasty ending. I lost so much sleep over too long layovers, so much comfort over too crowded and filthy rooms, so many hours on the toilet over cheap yet questionable-looking food.
If you’re like me, I’m sure we’d be buddy bonding over the same filter whenever we’re searching for restaurants or hostels. However, time and experience taught me the wonders of a good quality-price ratio. Sometimes, you don’t have to spend that much more to get a good deal.
The bottom line is: don’t jeopardize your entire experience over a few bucks, cause many times, it’s not worth it.
5. Being a bad tourist
Honestly, there’s no need to get all preachy and bash people that don’t “act as locals”. There’s nothing bad in being a tourist – you are, inevitably-, but there’s everything bad in being a lousy tourist.
It’s ok to take a million pictures of a landmark, if that’s what you like; it’s ok to walk along the most famous streets instead of taking the back alleys; it’s ok to choose fast food over local food if you feel like it. Don’t judge people too harshly, and don’t let silly labels control your itinerary. Simply experience whatever you desire in the way you find the most suitable for you.
Having said that – don’t leave your respect and good behavior back home. People won’t condone you if you’re rude, loud, if you push people while queueing up, if you act inappropriately in a public area, only because you’re a tourist. I wouldn’t, and I bet nobody back home would either.
Always be on the look for which rules to follow when you travel, especially if you plan to visit a somehow sacred landmark. Do your research online about habits and typical behavior of the culture you’re about to dive into – a bit of sensitivity always goes a long way.
6. Trusting anything you hear – and getting scammed
There’s a fine line between being trusting and being naive – but the line is there! Some people make a business out of taking advantage of tourists. And they disguise their Mr Hyde personality by playing all nice and friendly.
Nevertheless, you should always be wary of strangers’ advice and learn about possible scams before you travel. The taxi driver who diverts the route because your hotel is not there anymore, or the local guy who promises to give you the best tour of the city – well, they might not have your best interests at heart.
I too suffer from the ‘people pleaser syndrome’ – and I tend to say yes pretty fast when someone is slightly pushy. And yes, there are some nice people who sincerely want to help, I don’t want you to lose your faith in humanity. Just be extra careful, say a few nos, and google up the most common scams you might encounter.
7. Being a greedy, inflexible traveler
As a past addict to overdoing it, I can confirm: there’s a sort of adrenaline thirst into wanting to tick all the boxes. While I don’t shy away from a good to-do list, by now I learned that I can’t always live by the clock. As bohemian as it sounds, you need to take time to really savor things. So please, if you run out of time to visit the next museum only because you’re too busy smelling flowers in a botanical garden – don’t feel guilty.
Being open to last-minute changes can make a whole difference in the final assessment of your travel. There are things that are out of your control – what if the bus is late? Or the weather isn’t right? Or your budget gets messed up?
It doesn’t have to turn into a mythical tragedy. Reinvent your day, come up with something different, redirect your itinerary or postpone it. You may end up having a better day than you planned!