After two study abroad trips and a year teaching English in Spain, I spent a lot of time learning how to travel alone and made a lot of mistakes in the process. I made so many in fact, that when doing research for this article, I realized that I had not only committed all of the common traveling errors, but new ones as well. So I decided to share my 10 worst mistakes that I have made while traveling and hand out my advice to you (and myself) to help avoid this those situations again. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, or at the very least, get a good laugh from them.
Forgetting My Flashlight In the Amazon
During a college course I took in Ecuador, my class and I went to the Amazon Rainforest. We were given a packing list for this part of the trip and on it was a flashlight, because the lodge we were staying at turns off their electricity off at night. I hadn’t brought one to Ecuador and decided to spend what little money I had on souvenirs, figuring I could just share with someone else. This logic failed me one night when I woke up at 4am having to use the bathroom. Upon realizing that everyone else was sound asleep, I whisper-screamed for someone to wake up and give me their flashlight. Selfish? Yes. However, there was a lightning bug ten times the normal size swarming the outside the netting around my bed. My imagination raced as I imagined what other beastly insects laid waiting to pounce on me once I exited. The only person who responded to my cries of help told me to shut up, so I quickly peeled open the netting and went for it. Somehow I made it back into my bed without incident, though my mind still wonders what other creepy crawlers I unknowingly walked passed that night.
My advice: If someone tells you to pack something, they probably know better than you. So just pack it.
Wearing Inappropriate Clothing in Morocco
During a cultural exchange program in Morocco, I overestimated the heat, because Africa is always hot, right? The weather dropped as low as 40°F at some points and I had only packed summer clothes-except for one sweatshirt that I usually only wore around the house. Written on the front of the sweatshirt, was “Dope.” In a country with strict laws surrounding marijuana and hash, I was hesitant, but I wore that sweatshirt around Morocco for the next five days.
My advice: Pack for all types of weather and make sure your clothing is culturally appropriate.
Asking Strangers for Drugs in Barcelona
While studying in Madrid, Spain, my friends and I took the train to Barcelona for spring break, because we heard that coastal city has some of the country’s wildest parties. Upon rolling up to a club with five different dance floors, we realized that almost everyone was on something. Feeling a bit of FOMO with only a vodka red bull in hand, I decided to go up to people who looked like they could help us find some party favors. Eventually, I found a guy dancing by himself that told me he could get me some, but we had to go to his car. I went to his car with him, alone. Once in his car, he pulled out a bag of white powder which he called Special-K, which I assure you, is very different from a beloved breakfast cereal. He told me it was great for partying, but my friends and I decided to take it back to the hostel to test it out. Special-K ended up affecting us much like an extra strength Ambien and we spent the rest of the night spooning with a bag of Lays potato chips nestled between our bodies.
My advice: This isn’t a D.A.R.E. campaign, so I’m not going to tell you not to do drugs. You are an adult and can make your own decisions. But, while traveling, be aware that laws are very different than what you may be used to back home (have you ever seen Locked Up Abroad?) Also, don’t get into a car alone with a guy you don’t know. Ever. What the hell was I thinking?
Missing Your Flight…By A Full Day
After a semester spent studying in Madrid, my best friend (same one from Barcelona) and I decided to have a mini Euro trip to celebrate the end of our semester. Starting in Madrid, we traveled to Amsterdam, Geneva, Zermatt, Venice and then finally, Rome. Going on a multi-city trip has its risks, because one mistake could cause a chain reaction of horrible ones. After a weekend of enjoying Amsterdam’s finest herb, we arrived happily dazed to the airport to board our next flight to Geneva, Switzerland. However, when we checked in, the airline attendant kindly told us that we had missed our flight, yesterday. Luckily, I had enough money to rebook my ticket for that day and avoid missing all my other flights/trains, but my friend sadly did not.
My advice: Double check travel times and dates. Even when you THINK you know, triple check.
Falling Asleep on a Train
The only reason we were flying to Geneva was to get to Zermatt, Switzerland. From Geneva, I was supposed to take two trains before arriving in the town that inspired one of Disneyland’s most famous roller coasters. Of course, I fell asleep on the first train and woke up to an empty train. By some miracle, the train did not move on to another city and I still had enough time to catch the next train I was supposed to be on.
My advice: If you plan on sleeping on public transit, set an alarm or ask a friendly stranger to wake you up at your stop.
Going to Venice Single and Alone
During the aforementioned trip, I also went to Venice, alone. Normally, I make friends at whatever hostel I’m staying at, but it appeared as though my hostel was actually a low budget hotel and my roommates were a family comprised of three generations of Colombian women. Though they were kind enough to invite me on the gondola with them, I was over communicating in Spanish after a semester in Spain and decided to eat carbs in various locations alone instead. But I will admit, seeing all the lovebirds living out their Rom-Com fantasies in this beautiful city made me realize there maybe is SOME places where it would be nice to have someone with you.
My advice: Do not go to a romantic city alone, at the very least bring a friend along who is also tragically single.
Getting Bed Bugs, Twice
While working in Spain as a teacher, I was unlucky enough to get bed bugs not once, but twice. I was advised not to look for an apartment until I got there, so I spent my first couple of weeks bouncing around between a hotel, hostel, and home-stay. It was in the hostel that I encountered the bed bugs. Now, bed bugs normally come out at night, but so do I. It was my first night staying at the hostel and I came back late after a night of drinking. Using my phone’s flashlight to find my way, I discovered something waiting for me in my bed. Bed bugs. After yelling at the night manager, I was given some free laundry detergent to wash the bed bugs out of my clothes. Unfortunately, my suitcases were not washable, so I simply shook them out. I ended up brining the bedbugs via my suitcases to the home stay I fled to next. I learned my lesson that time and threw the suitcases away.
My advice: Check underneath the mattress and area around the bed for signs of bed bugs when staying at a new place.
Having My Backpack Stolen On A Date with a Local
About a month later, I met a date at a cafe in one of Madrid’s most touristy neighborhoods, Malasaña. While getting lost in each others eyes or something, we were interrupted by a beggar that entered the cafe trying to sell us packs of tissues. Distracted by this, I failed to notice when my backpack was stolen out from underneath the table in front of me. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have to worry about who was going to pay for the check.
My Advice: Thieves are tricky and sometimes work in pairs, watch out for anyone trying to sell you something, as it may just me a distraction for theft. If you need to put your backpack on the ground, wrap the straps around the chair leg or your ankle. You will easily notice if someone tries to move it.
Riding a Stranger’s Vespa
My family and I went on vacation in Barcelona during holy week, which all the teachers had off. It was the night before my sister’s birthday and the revival of Jesus Christ, so I prepared for these events by partying until sunrise at one of Barcelona’s hottest beach clubs, Opium. I must have felt the spirit within me, because while walking back to my hotel, I saw a guy driving a Vespa and flagged him down. I proceeded to hop on his scooter and commanded him to bring me home. Instead, he tried taking me to his home. Upon realizing we were going to the wrong way, I hopped off and ran back to my friend. I continued walking with him as if nothing had happened and he spent the next 20 minutes laughing.
My advice: Do not get on Vespas with strangers in the night! Or in the day. Just, be careful with strangers in general, at any time of day, m’kay?
Neglecting to Pay My Student Loan Debt While Abroad
While I can look at the nine mistakes above and laugh about them now, the one mistake I made while traveling that still haunts me to this day is neglecting to pay a student loan while I was off teaching in Spain. Apparently, the calls to remind me to pay the loan were being sent to my American phone number which I had long since ditched upon arrival in Spain. Suffice it to say, renting an apartment in New York City was a very difficult task now that my credit score has been trashed.
My advice: Make sure all your debts are paid before leaving the country. Or have a friend or automated solution to make payments in your absence. Unless you don’t plan on coming back…
What travel mistakes did you make in your 20s? Let us know in the comments! You may be featured in a follow-up piece :)