It's been 8 years since Dan began travelling full time and just over a year now for me. But even after spending all this time on the road, checking in and out of hostels, bargaining with locals, living out of backpacks, coming face to face with terrifyingly intimidating immigration workers, enduring 18 hour bus journeys and having 5 different currencies mixed together inside our wallets at once, we've come to realise that we make a lot of mistakes while we travel. However, we know we're not the only ones, which is why I have put together this list of 5 mistakes travellers make (sometimes even the most experienced) and tips for how they can be avoided, so that you can become a safer, smarter traveller.
It's the one thing most of us are guilty of when heading off abroad, packing too much crap we never use (unless your Dan). I do it every time. In fact, pretty much everything on this infographic runs through my head while I'm rolling up each item of clothing into neat little bundles to squeeze into my backpack.
It seems so right at the time to pack ear buds, nail files, 3 bottles of perfume, 4 pairs of shoes, a hairdryer and a box full of jewellery but the likelihood of using any of it is slim to none. Travelling is about letting go of all those material things we are surrounded by at home and embracing a more simplistic lifestyle. When you begin to enjoy the simplicity, that's when you'll go, "man, what on earth was I thinking bringing high heels to Thailand?"
Avoid extra luggage costs, sore shoulders and having to dig through loads of stuff you don't use just to get to one thing at the bottom of your bag by simply packing the things you already use on a day to day basis - not the things you occasionally use and might need while you are away. You can buy it there if need be! Write out a checklist based on the length of your trip and the types of activities you'll be doing on it. If you are leaving to travel without an end date in sight I recommend that you pack for 10 days. Trust me, you won't care about wearing the same t-shirt 3 days in a row when you're busy seeing the world and it's so easy to wash your own clothes at hostels, B&B's and homestays.
For me, my toiletries bag is always the heaviest item in my backpack and that's even after I've cut down on the perfume bottles, stopped using hair conditioner and started sharing shower gel with Dan. If you are travelling to one place and staying for a while then I recommend that you buy all of your shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, etc there. If not, take travel sized versions of everything but remember, don't bring unnecessary products you only use occasionally. They only get in the way.
Another mistake travellers make when packing to go overseas for a long time is not thinking about what kind of clothing is going to be appropriate and just bringing what's trendy at the time. If you are anything like me, this isn't going to work for you. Trends change and you're eventually going to hate every item of clothing you own, especially when nothing is actually appropriate to wear for hiking in the jungle and lugging your backpack from one end of town to the other. Pack smart and simple. Comfort is going to become highly important to you after a few rough overnight bus rides. Also, just because you never know when you might have to attend a fancy dinner, bring clothing that can easily be transformed from day-wear to night-wear with just a simple change of the shoes or a scarf.
2. Trusting And Giving In To Scammers
Well don't we see this all too often. In fact, wait, it's happened to us. When travelling abroad it is so important to keep your wits about you because it is just so easy to get scammed. Every country is different, every culture is different and you must remember that what is an absent occurrence in your country could be a common every day occurrence in another.
On my first trip abroad with no parents at 18 years of age I spent 4 nights in Paris with two of my best friends who were also new to travelling. Being some of the closest people to me, we were all just as vague as each other. For the first 2 days all was well. We had a really great time seeing some of the most famous sites of Paris - Moulin Rouge in Montemarte, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre and more. It wasn't until day 3 when we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower that we saw a whole other side to Paris and travelling in general. We were scammed, taken advantage of, in public and in broad daylight.
Approached by 3 young Eastern European looking girls outside the gates to the Eiffel Tower, we stopped to be polite. They were holding a cut out piece of cardboard with an Excel Spreadsheet glued to it to collect names and numbers for donations. Apparently they were all mute and could only communicate with us by signalling and pointing to the box on the piece of cardboard that said "donation amount".
We all looked at each other confused and overwhelmed as the girls began to hug us, beg and blow kisses. Feeling pressured to donate, we each decided to give €2. As we filled out the spreadsheet and began to write €2 in the "donation amount" box, they pointed to the side of the page where they had written "min €20". Immediately we stopped writing, gave them back the pen and said no, we cannot afford that. Next minute, they had their sticky fingers inside our purses which we were holding open to get out the €2 (don't ask how, it all happened so fast), managed to take a total of €30 between us and ran off.
Another friend recently left Australia for his first big solo trip abroad. Destination: Peru. After 30 hours of flying, he arrived in Lima jet-lagged and needed to get to a hostel asap. When a taxi approached him outside the airport and offered a fair price to take him to a hostel he recommended 10 minutes away, he promptly accepted and jumped in. With no cash on him yet he had to pay the taxi driver and the dodgy looking hostel the driver had recommended by debit card. It wasn't until 2 days later when he checked his bank statement that he realised he'd been completely scammed. Both the taxi and the hostel had charged him in US dollars, managing to sneak a whopping $50 for the 10 minute taxi ride and $160 for the far less than average hostel. What a fantastic introduction to travelling.
When travelling overseas you may come across some of these next common travel scams. Underneath them, I've provided a few notes on how to avoid becoming a victim.
Throughout many developing parts of the world, especially in some parts of Asia, children and adults are made to beg on the streets, beaches and even inside restaurants. This is an organised business in most cases and they are usually working for ringleaders.
- Give food, water or a gift they can actually use instead of money. The money doesn't usually go to them.
- Stay strong-willed and don't get tied up in the emotional side of things, most of the time it's an act.
- Get to know the place and the locals. The more you seem at home and not looking or acting like a tourist, the less they well target you.
- Learn some of the local language. More or less for the same reason above and also to show respect.
While pickpocketing is common all over the world, especially in busy and claustrophobic areas such as metro stations and festivals, there are some other smart techniques scammers use, such as diversion theft. Diversion theft might occur when someone intentionally distracts you from something while another pinches your things. For example, a friend told me about a group of women in France who walk around carrying a baby doll, wrapped up in blankets. When they come across someone who looks vulnerable, the "mother" pretends to trip over and drop the baby, causing the victim to naturally lean forward with their arms out to help. In the meantime, the other women grab what they can from the victim (handbag, purse, phone) and flee.
- Think before you wear or bring valuable things to places that may be overcrowded or notorious for this kind of activity. A little research on TripAdvisor prior to going will help you with this.
- Wear a money pouch and bring a fake second. Keep all of your credit/debit cards, cash and phone on you underneath your clothing and keep the other in your bag filled with old/expired cards and spare coins. At least if you do get targeted, your most valuable possessions won't go missing.
- In crowded places always secure your possessions and hold them in front of you.
- When any unusual activity occurs, such as pushing and shoving, someone falling in front of you or a crowd of people surrounding you, treat it as a pickpocket attempt and secure your belongings.
- Again, try not to look/act too much like a vulnerable tourist. Learn some of the basic language, know the currency and dress accordingly.
Money Exchange Errors:
When you travel abroad to a country which uses a different currency to your country, it pays to know how much it's worth and what you should be getting for your money. When exchanging currency at foreign exchange kiosks it is often common for tellers to confuse the crap out of you in order to short change you. When I was in Bali with a friend we went to a "foreign exchange kiosk" (which was pretty much just a desk in someone's front garden) which offered no exchange fees. However, when my friend handed over the money, the teller spent what felt like forever counting the notes. I then watched him do a sneaky and put a large amount of cash aside while he was busy confusing us. We caught onto what he was doing and asked why he short changed us (by a lot), only for him to reply, "exchange fee". Needless to say, we asked for our money back and went elsewhere.
- Exchange an initial amount of cash at the bank in your own country before leaving.
- Use ATM's to access the rest of your cash while abroad. They automatically exchange the currency for you and you can also avoid some of the costs by dealing a monthly fee with your bank instead of paying each time you use one.
- Unless you are paying for something at a large chain store, hotel, restaurant, transport company, etc, we always recommend using cash to make purchases while you travel. This way, you know straight away if you have been short changed or charged the wrong amount and not a week later when you're in another city checking your bank balance.
- Understand how much the currency is worth in your currency so you can get an idea of how much you should be paying for things.
3. Not Budgeting
Whether you're travelling for 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years it is so important to budget well before, during and after a trip in order to save up, make your money last and support yourself when you get home. For most of us, the excitement of leaving home and exploring somewhere completely new and different can blow any sense of the word budget right out of the window at first, especially when bar crawls get involved. But if you plan to turn a vacation into longer term travel, you will need to slow down and start spending your hard-earned cash wisely.
Below I have listed a number of strategies you can use in order to budget before, during and after you travel. These definitely help to keep us on the road.
- Have a goal. How much do you need for flights, accommodation, food and activities while you travel? Keep that number in mind every time you think about spending your money on something you might not actually need. One purchase less is one step closer to your goal.
- Work out how much money you definitely make per month. Out of that figure, work out what your monthly expenses come to, including entertainment and leisure. With the remaining amount, electronically transfer it into an account you don't have access to.
- Eating and drinking out all the time can be a huge money drainer. In this case, small changes make all the difference. For example, drinking your morning coffee at home instead of going to Starbucks every day will save you $20 a week. For $20 you can pay for 3 nights accommodation in Thailand.
- Record all of your expenses with an app like "AndroMoney" for android. We use this everyday to produce reports at the end of each month. From these reports we can work out where most of our money is going and how we can cut back. You'll be surprised how much money you spend on satisfying your stomach.
- Work out an average of how much your accommodation, food and transport costs you each day and limit yourself to this amount plus a little bit extra for leisure activities. Keep the rest of the money hidden away.
- If you can, travel slowly. The longer you spend in a place, the less you will spend in money overall. For example, staying in a short term rental is cheaper than paying per night at a hostel.
- If you feel like drinking a beer, buy it from a supermarket/convenience store and drink it before going out. It will cost you twice as much inside a bar.
- Every time you go to buy something, think, do I really need/want this?
- In most cases it is likely that after you return home from a trip, you'll have little to no funds in your account. So now it's back to having that goal again. How much do you need for monthly expenses? First, work towards this goal and when you get there, then you can start thinking about increasing it in order to begin the cycle again and start saving for your next big trip!
- If you know you are heading home soon and you don't have work lined up, it's a good idea to start searching online before you arrive. This way, you can fall straight into a stable paycheck without having to stress about covering the bills that have built up over the period of your trip.
4. Leaving Everything Until The Last Minute
Backpackers in particular are notorious for leaving everything until the last minute - planning the next destination, purchasing bus tickets, booking accommodation, you name it. Even we've been guilty of it on a few occasions - and sometimes it has got us into strife. So if strife while travelling isn't really your thing then I suggest that you research and plan a little more in advance than a few hours, or minutes even.
While it's fun and feels more free just to go with the flow and work things out as they come, it can end up costing you a lot more. For example, when hotels and hostels become booked up they have been known to double their prices for the last few available beds. The same also goes for bus and train seats. We once tried to purchase bus tickets online for the same night and just as we went to pay, the ticket prices literally DOUBLED right in front of our eyes. That was a sad moment for us. It's also not just about the money, it's about your safety. What happens when you turn up in a town unexpected and there's no accommodation available? Where will you sleep?
Here's what I suggest if you like to travel freely but don't want to face last minute price increases or being stuck without somewhere to stay:
- Jump on Hostelworld or Booking.com to find cheap accommodation at least 1 day before you arrive at your destination. Most hotels/hostels don't require payment in full but might ask for a deposit. At least then you know you have something secure in place when you arrive.
- Plan out a rough itinerary of all the places you want to go and how long you intend to stay, before leaving. This way, you can book transport/accommodation a few destinations in advance. If plans change and you want to stay longer or you want to see a few more places in between, you can always change your booking or get a refund (as long as it's a few days in advance).
- If you do get stuck without accommodation somehow, there is always an option on Couchsurfing.org to find a last minute couch to sleep on. You will need to sign up and create a full profile before you get started however.
5. Forgetting About Visas And Important Immigration Documents
There was once a time when Dan was stopped and questioned inside a small room at Heathrow Airport for 5 whole hours. He almost wasn't allowed into the country because he didn't provide any documents that supported the fact that he had a business in Brazil and was not planning to stay and work in the UK. Eventually, they did a whole background check on him and found all sorts of confidential information, including the domain names of every website he owned! Trusting his word and going by the information that they found, they finally let him into the country.
Second time around was with me. Again, we were stopped at immigration and questioned for about 45 minutes, asked to provide banks statements, credit cards, proof of accommodation, proof of a ticket out of the country and more. The funny thing about this was that I was a British citizen! Never have I been more intimidated either. I almost burst into tears a few times. We were in trouble again because we still couldn't provide all of the documents they asked for. This day, the only reason we managed to get in was because they found the notes from Dans' previous interview at the airport. Phew!
We're not the only ones though. Everyday hundreds of people are turned away from countries and sent back home because they cannot provide the right documentation to support their reason for entering. Immigration is tough and you need to be able to convince them that you will abide by the terms of your visa. Which brings me to the next issue.
Too often travellers forget that to enter some countries you need to apply for and obtain a visa before arriving. In most cases, this means filling out application forms complete with supporting evidence of your stay (accommodation details, return flight itinerary, bank statements, passport photos, etc), sending them off along with your passport and payment to the consulate in your country and then waiting to receive your passport back along with the appropriate visa for your stay.
This can be a lengthy process and needs to be planned out in advance. For example, to obtain my 90 day tourist visa for Brazil I had to apply at least 1 month in advance back home in Australia. This gave them time to receive and review my application and then send my passport back via post. On the other hand, some countries do give out visas upon arrival, in which case you do not have to apply in advance. It is so important to research this information at least 6 weeks before your departure to avoid being turned away when you get there.
Supporting documents to bring with you in the case of a run in at immigration include:
- Proof of owning a business (bank statements, tax documents, company shareholders, etc)
- Personal bank statements showing enough funds to support yourself in that country
- Credit cards under your name
- Return flight itinerary (or the equivalent)
- Details of where you are staying (name, address, phone number)
- Details of someone you know in that country
- Travel insurance
And tips for obtaining the correct visa for your stay include:
- Do a quick google search at least 6 weeks in advance to find out if you need to apply for and obtain a visa before entering (you'll most likely find the answers on the website for the consulate within your country)
- When applying for a visa in advance triple check that you have included all of the required supporting evidence that they list on the forms. If they have to send your application back because it's missing something, you could risk not getting your visa on time and missing your flight.
- Sometimes only 1 visa may be required for a whole group of countries, for example, the Schengen Visa, which allows entry into 26 European countries. In this case, you do not need to apply for every country individually.
And I'm spent. This is quite possibly the longest article I've ever written but hopefully it has helped you on your way to becoming a safer, smarter traveller! If you find any of these tips particularly useful, we'd love for you to help us out and share this with your friends, please and thank you :)!
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And tell me, have you screwed up on your travels before? What happened and how did you fix it? I'd love to hear your stories. Comment below!
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