15 Travel Mistakes I Won’t Make Again

I believe that traveling has a learning curve.

Sure, exploring the world is about adventure and spontaneity. But doing those things well is a skill.

In my 16 years of globetrotting, I’ve made good choices on the road, but I’ve also made plenty of mistakes. You too?

This morning, I made a list of 15 travel mistakes I’ve made through the years. Some of them I learned from easily after the first erring of my ways. But others, I struggle with still.

1. Checking in luggage

These days, I’m proud to be a carry on girl. Yes, it takes a little bit more work to pack minimally. But the benefit is time! Everything is with you (no lost luggage) and there are no delays waiting around at baggage claim.

2. Buying cheesy souvenirs

Those African wood carvings look fantastic at the open market, and goodness, how much work went into making them! Wow, I really need this jade ball carved inside another jade ball! Β I really like these green tea scented cakes, so I’m sure my friends will too.

How many times have you bought souvenirs for yourself and when you got home, they lost their exotic appeal? Or have you ever noticed that the box of turkish delight goes unconsumed by friends or family?

3. Not buying a unique souvenir when I see it

This item seems like a direct contradiction to the previous one, doesn’t it? But it’s also a travel mistake I’ve made. The lesson is this: if you see something special, buy it right there on the spot. Don’t assume that you’ll be back there the next day or you’ll find it somewhere else. In my experience, this almost never happens. In Shanghai last year, I fell in love (strange, I know) with a statue of Chairman Mao drinking a coke. In my mind I thought, “Oh, I’ll see this again somewhere else and then I’ll buy it.” I never did find it, and I still think about it.

(On A funny side note: I wrote about this before, and a reader in Holland commented that he also saw that statue and also regretted not buying it)

4. Changing money at a hotel

5. Going with someone else’s travel agenda even if it didn’t suit my desires or goals

6. Turning down opportunities if I thought they were too expensive

In Tahiti a few years ago, I wanted to do a swim-with-dolphins excursion, but at the time, it seemed expensive.

On the night before I left Tahiti, I met a couple who did it that day and loved it so much that they signed up to do it again the next day. I’ve often regretted not just taking the plunge. It could’ve been overrated, but I still wonder what I missed out on.

7. Not living in the moment because I was too concerned with getting the “right” shot

There are times when the camera should just stay in its bag.

8. Being afraid to eat in a fine dining restaurant by myself

9. Turning down a fun opportunity from a local

Sometimes if we’re lucky, we meet a local when we travel who offers up some insider experience. Years ago, when I was in the Czech Republic, a group of people invited me on a camping trip. I turned them down, worrying about the fact that I didn’t know them well. Of course, I could have done it in a way that ensured my safety and security, but I didn’t even consider.

10. Not learning basic history of the country or city ahead of time

11. Rushing through museums

12. Haggling too much

It’s a lively part of the cultural interaction in many countries, but come on, do I really need to haggle over $1?

13. Going so cheap that I compromised fun or security

14. Assuming I’ll have a chance to visit that place again

We just never know what the future holds, do we?

15. Not exploring the nightlife

This is not a one or two-time mistake for me, but a travel tendency. Sadly, it’s also the most challenging for me to change. A morning person, I’m wide awake at 5:30 am without an alarm and I hit the ground running. But when it gets to be 8:00, I can’t stop yawning. I really wish 8:00 pm were a respectable adult bedtime! I’m saddened when I think of all the exciting night culture while I’m sleeping.

What do you think about this list? Are there some items you don’t feel are really mistakes? What would you be on your list? I welcome your comments!


31 thoughts on “15 Travel Mistakes I Won’t Make Again

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jude,
      Thankfully, we can learn to travel better the next time. Have you made any food mistakes traveling? I’m trying to be so much more open minded about that.

  1. That statue of Chairman Mao would be cool to have, but I know what it’s like when it comes to souvenirs. When I first started traveling, I made it a goal to get at least one souvenir from each country. I got a really cool wooden frog in Thailand and I thought it was so unique. That is, until I saw it for sale back home and in just about every country I’ve been to after that.

    Those other tips are great too. I’ve been trying to get it so that I don’t need to check in luggage. I figure I’ll have it down by my next trip.

    • maryrichardson

      Oh, how I hear you! When I was in Taiwan years ago, I painstakingly chose gifts for friends at home and spent a lot of money and time doing so. Then I found them all in a Chinese 99 cent store in San Diego!

      Next trip, don’t check luggage, Steve! You’ll never regret it!

  2. this list is spot on! totally agree with the camera needing to find its place in the bag sometimes, and i am all over CHECKING IN LUGGAGE! also, on our honeymoon recently, we had decided we couldn’t take the helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon b/c of the expense. But after we got there and saw the grandeur of the canyon, we decided we HAD to do it, and chalk it up to a once in a lifetime experience. and we are so happy we did!!

    • maryrichardson

      I also regret not doing a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Glad you went for it, and now you have fantastic memory of it, right?

  3. I wish everyone could understand the merits of #15 and the kind of memorable moments that can be created by nights out! Maybe instead of waking up at 5:30, you could try staying up until 5:30… just an idea πŸ˜‰

    I am definitely a carry on person, as long as it’s not a long trip… it’s helped me fine tune my packing skills and in the end, I am always grateful to not bring a bunch of crap I didn’t end up using.

    For #6, I think that can go beyond specific experiences to travel as a whole. I am debating a big trip right now, and on the verge of just going for it because the “what if?” would be so big.

    • maryrichardson

      Tell me how to be a night person! Please! I really want to change this about myself… I know I miss out on all kinds of great stuff because I just can’t stay awake!

      • I don’t know of any tricks for becoming a night person, haha. I have always loved the late night and early morning hours and the sunrise. Maybe you should start to shift your sleeping schedule little by little before each trip and by the time you leave, you will be ready for nighttime fun…

      • maryrichardson

        Maybe if take a nap in the afternoon, that will give me a few more hours of alertness in the evenings. Thanks Ekua!

  4. Hi Mary – just wanted to pop back in and say I’ve tried to be cautious whenever traveling somewhere where I was told to be food-cautious (e.g., raw food, open surfaces) – but I think I was *too* cautious sometimes! E.g., I regret not sampling some of the fare in Tangier when I had the chance πŸ™‚

    Also, totally with you on cutting a rug whenever!

    • maryrichardson

      That’s so interesting that you say that. A friend of mine from Japan told me he thought Westerners were overcautious when it came to eating meat abroad- specifically chicken! Like you, I remember these night stalls in Istanbul piled high with rice and fish salads. I always wish I had got a sample, but there cats jumping all over the place, and it didn’t seem right.

  5. This is a great list! 6 and 7 I think are my favorites. I think they go hand-in-hand, really, when it comes to just living in the moment. That’s what I strive for the most when I travel.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Amanda,
      Thanks! Sounds like you know how to travel well. I really struggled with the spending money issue when I was younger and broke. On one hand, it helped me avoid a lot of less than exciting cheesy excursions, but I probably missed out on some good things too. Glad you live in the moment when you travel… it takes some focus sometimes, but it’s worth it, right?

  6. oh yes, the more you travel the more you learn. what to bring, what to leave at home, cheapest ways to get money, best strategy to negotiate prices for hotels, trips… basically everything… and after a while you have the feeling you have never done anything else…
    since I have to travel also so much for business, I am getting very good at packing quickly and navigating smoothly at foreign airports πŸ™‚
    Viele Gruesse, Kristina

    • maryrichardson

      Yes, it becomes second nature after awhile, doesn’t it? Would love your tips for negotiating prices! Looking forward to reading more about your travels too.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Marsha,
      I thought the same thing when you described your day in SF! I don’t know why the exploring at night is so darn hard for me, but my battery just wears down after the sun goes down.

  7. Whoa! Lovin’ the new blog layout. I’ve been out of the blogosphere for a few months and it seems like lots of people have done makeovers. Now I just need to resurrect my blog posting.

    One thing I would never do again – pay for left luggage service at London Heathrow. Ridiculous. I could have bought my luggage its own seat on the plane.

    • maryrichardson

      Hi Heather,
      Yes, I gave myself a little makeover…

      Ooh, left luggage cost. That sounds awful… I’ll remember that if I’m ever in that situation.

  8. Utterly brilliant – spot on! But especially

    1- I never check in either
    3- Indeed, if you see something truly nice, don’t think I’ll shop around some more and come back later. Snap it up then.
    5 – you ask others for advice, and for some reason feel obliged to follow through with all of their suggestions – as you say, don’t take someone else’s trip…



    • maryrichardson

      Dear BB,
      Thanks! Yes, sometimes I feel like I have to report back to someone who recommended a restaurant or area of town or something, as if they might be offended if I don’t visit it. Of course, they probably don’t care at all, but I feel like I have to investigate it at the least…

  9. Love these! Completely agree with #3! There have been too many times I have kicked myself for not getting something, so now, if I love it I take it, because you really never know if you will ever see it again!

  10. One time in Bali my wife and I went for a walk down to Kuta Beach. I was going to take my camera but at the last minute decided I was tired of carrying it around. As we got closer to the beach the sun was setting and it was just incredible. My wife said I should go back and get the camera but I said “Hey this is Bali and we’re here for 2 weeks there will be plenty of sunsets.” Two lessons here: 1) Always listen to your wife. 2) Always take your camera with you. It was the most incredible sunset we’ve ever seen and we didn’t see another one for the remainder of our stay.

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