I’ve traveled a lot in these last few years. And while most of you may think I’m somewhat of an expert, it’s only because I’ve made a few mistakes a long the way. Okay…I’ve made a lot and each of them has helped me learn how to be a more effective traveler. Especially when traveling with kids, you sometimes can’t afford to make such grave mistakes while traveling with your young ones.
Here are some mistakes that I’ve made in the past and hopefully you will heed these cautionary tales to help make your travel experience more enjoyable and cost-effective.
Always take money out from the ATM BEFORE you go to the airport.
So here’s a little story about a girl who went to South Korea for a weekend (while I was living in Japan) and sat at her gate and looked at the ATM like “I should really take money out before I go” and didn’t. Then got to Seoul and couldn’t use her ATM card that had all her money on it.
Well, it was more dramatic than that. She ended up getting to the hotel and asking them to charge $100 and giving her the cash at an outrageous rate and then taking cash off her Discover card (shout out to Discover always holding me down in a pinch!). It was overly stressful and could have been completely avoided if I would have asked some questions before I left or just did what my gut told me and took money out before I boarded my plane. I’m stubborn sometimes and my hard head has made for a sore bottom more times than I can count. Save the drama for your mama and always get cash. Besides, you can’t count on ATMs working in the country you’re visiting and ain’t nobody got time to be calling a relative or friend to wire you some money with promises to pay them back when you get back home. It’s just irresponsible and I don’t like my friends looking at me sideways like “how you can afford to go on vacation, but ain’t got no money?!”
Travel with a washcloth.
Better yet, travel with soap, lotion and other hygiene products that you prefer. Never depend on the hotel to provide adequate hygienic care products. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled and ended up in a hotel or hostel that didn’t have a washcloth. My friends and I debate on what is the proper way to wash oneself and I wholeheartedly believe that you need a washcloth to get all the dirt off your body. I’m not arguing with you. I just can’t figure how just using your hand gets everything off of you. Ain’t no way. Bring your washcloth (or whatever you use) to make sure you feel Zest-fully clean while on your trip.
Keep a budget.
Again, money. The easiest way to fuck up your vacation plans is running out of money or, worse, not being able to pay your bills when you get home. I did this once. I spent a glorious 3 weeks gallivanting through Southeast Asia and when I came home I had not only my rent check bouncing like it’s dancing to house music, but also my cellphone bill and electric bill calling my bank asking they money at. To make things worse, because my job was my sponsor for all my bills (Japan works like that) my job ended up getting a phone call and they had to give me a loan until I got paid. That was the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my life. That was my reality check to seriously only travel within my budget and meticulously write every purchase down to ensure I don’t go outside of it. I was dodging folks for months because of that embarrassment and I couldn’t’ blame anyone but myself. My Instagram was poppin and nobody knew I was spending money that didn’t even belong to me. Don’t’ be like me, take care of your bills before you go overseas. The end.
Pay the extra money to stay in the city.
So this one time we went to Milan and ended up an hour train ride outside of the city because I was cheap and didn’t really want to pay the extra money to stay in the city. I didn’t really know and probably planned the trip last minute and just wanted to spend the least amount of money possible. What I didn’t realize is the extra $20 a night would have saved me a lot of time, would have put me in the center of everything, and I wouldn’t have to walk a mile to get something to eat from McDonalds in the Italian summer heat. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a mile, but it was hot as hell and I had to walk on the side of the freeway to get there. The point is, research a little extra to find out if the extra hassle, train fare, and drama is worth saving a few extra dollars. I don’t know, you might like the scenic route and paying an extra 40 euro to get to the airport when you could have just taken a direct train there for cheaper. Essentially it’s up to you. I just want you to make an informed decision when booking your trip.
Overnight layovers and an early flight? Stay at the airport hotel.
So this one time when we were traveling to Thailand, I booked a hotel that wasn’t near the airport and didn’t research how far it was (again, late booker over here). Anyway, our flight landed around midnight and it took us an asinine amount of time get there. When I checked in the guy was like “do you want a wakeup call?” He was being helpful and even though I knew we only had like 3 hours before I needed to wake up and take the long behind taxi ride back to the airport for a 5am flight, my arrogant ass said no. And you know what happened? I overslept and had to rebook my ticket, pay extra money to do so, and set my beach relaxation back a few hours. Again, don’t be like me and end up wasting precious sleep time trying to stay at some swanky hotel you can’t even enjoy the free breakfast at because you have to head to the airport before the cooks are even awake.
Getting engaged with street performers.
In other words, don’t think you’re smarter than the people who do the card shuffling thing. I’ll basically keep this one short because it’s quite embarrassing for me to admit publicly, but it happened.
I thought I had figured out the card thing. You know the one where they show you the queen and you have to keep up with the shuffle to figure out where it is. Now, even though I knew there was no winning these games, I got engaged and thought I could win. Why? Because they LET me win one time for free. This was the bait. And I took it. And I lost about $100 because of my arrogance.
That’s all I’m gonna say about that. Just walk away. Don’t make eye contact. Cross the street to keep from getting engaged with these folks. They will empower you to think you can win and you will win. And then you will lose big and wonder how someone with 4 degrees can be such an idiot.
Also, don’t ever bring this up to me. I will deny it and change the subject.
Don’t wait until the last minute to book anything.
Whether it’s your flights, hotel, or train tickets – don’t until the last minute to book these. Aside from it being super stressful to try and make your arrangements last minute, it can cost you some serious money. For example, when I booked our train tickets from Milan to Rome, I could have only paid 35 euro for each ticket. But because it was last minute, the tickets ended up costing me over $300 for the round trip. I wanted to visit London for a day trip while I was in Paris and because I waited until the week before to book it, the tickets went from 35 euro to 200. While I am last minute with everything in my life, I literally can’t afford to keep waiting until the last minute to book travel arrangements.
Not getting the SIM activated before you walk away from the stand.
I feel like I made most of my travel mistakes while in Italy. So we arrived in Milan and it was around the time of Brexit, so everything was up in the air. We couldn’t exchange money because they were trying to figure out what was going to happen with the exchange rate. There was a strike with the trains so everything was delayed and backed up. It was chaotic, to say the least. I went to a counter that had a sale for SIM cards and I went over because a lot of people were going over to this particular counter. I purchase my card and the guy says the system is down, but give it an hour or so and it should be activated. Being the skeptic that I am, I asked him how would I know that things would work and he said “it’s fine, trust me”. I should have remained the skeptic that I am and not walked away from the counter. Because not one but both of the SIM cards didn’t fully activate and I was stuck in Italy without one. I ended up using my Japanese SIM for directions and whatnot and paid close to $700 for my next bill. Had I just made sure he was going to activate it, or even walked to another kiosk that would activate it for me, I would have saved 40 Euro…well maybe more money because my bill back in Japan was insane as well.
So there you have it, folks. I’m sure there are plenty others I’ve made in the past and almost certain I’ve made these mistakes countless times. The point of all this transparency is to show you that the people who seem to have their travel lives together make some stupid ass mistakes while traveling so you don’t have to.
So take this advice, or don’t. Just don’t ever say I never warned you.