Published on December 17th, 201336
My Top 10 Dumb Travel Mistakes
Needless to say, what with 30+ years of bouncing around the Planet, not all has always gone peachy-smooth. Indeed, I’ve clearly made some serious blunders along the way. These are but a handful of them:
- Left my camera SD card in my netbook (after transferring pics from my camera) before dashing off on a day trip to Brunei. Result? As the ferry glides away from the Labuan Island dock, I suddenly realize – uh-oh! no memory in my camera for pics of the Kingdom. ;( Solution? Buy a SD card in Brunei (Plan B) else… use my trusty (if abysmal) iPhone camera. Lesson learned? Used the phone, but next time I’ll write a big “SD CARD!” reminder on my hand whenever I remove it from the camera to upload pics.
- Politely agreeing to that tiny sip of fermented mare’s milk in a dimly lit ger amid the wilds of Mongolia. Result? Don’t remind me. (gag!) Solution? None save clutching the toilet all night in my Ulanbaatar hostel (though I did manage to stumble to the airport the next morning and crawled onto the plane to western Mongolia). Lesson Learned? Nothing really. Crud happens. Plenty of folks get sick from eating at their neighborhood Applebee’s for heaven’s sake. No way am I gonna start passing on exotic eats in my travels. It’s among my favorite aspects of traveling, and I’m willing to chance a night hugging a porcelain throne in some far off land.
- Trusting my xe om (motorbike taxi) driver in Ho Chi Minh City to wait with my carry-on bag – not once, but TWICE – while we sped from bus station to bus station to buy a ticket to Dalat. The result? First time, he patiently waited (bless his heart). Second time? (not surprisingly), he succumbed to temptation and absconded with my bag while I was at the bus ticket counter. Solution? Thankfully I’m leastwise travel-wise enough to always keep my valuables (credit cards, passport, netbook, etc.) in a small rucksack on my body, so – all he got was my pajamas and a few threadbare travel clothes. Lesson learned? I’ve since learned (from other travelers) that some xeoms have been known to drive off w/ a bag – in the moments before a passenger hops off to get out a wallet to pay them! So… best to stay on the bike til the bag is at the curb before hopping off to pay.
- Failed to precisely pinpoint the car park for SEATAC airport on an early morning run to catch a 6:30 am flight to NYC. Result? I got utterly L.O.S.T. trying to locate the car park in the pre-dawn gloom, and missed the final (45 min.) boarding gate call by 3 minutes. THREE MINUTES! So they wouldn’t let me on the plane. Solution? Fortunately (after a lot of coaxing) one cheerful agent allowed me to take a bit later flight on a partner airline with no extra charge. Lesson learned? While I’ve long advocated the “better-too-early-than-too-late” notion when it comes to flights (and thus normally allow an extra hour beyond the airlines’ suggested 2 hrs. for int’ls; 1 hr. for domestic flights) in this case (i.e. when finding a car park is involved) even an extra hour won’t do. Indeed, perhaps better to simply take the airport shuttle and leave the car at home.
- Ditto #4 (a.k.a. will I NEVER learn???) on a flight from Dalat to Saigon in Vietnam. Missed the (30 min.) gate closure by 2 minutes (geez, but those airport gatekeepers sure are picky). Result? Far less dramatic than the NYC blunder, but nonetheless… My choices were A. to wait at the Dalat airport 14 hrs. for the next flight, else B. opt for the 8 hr. bus instead. Solution? The bus got me to Saigon 6 hrs. sooner, and I was (amazingly) able to get a full refund on the Vietnam Airlines ticket! Lesson Learned?…
- I REALLY need to step up my game when it comes to getting to these airports with plenty of time to spare. 😉
- (rewind to Neanderthal travel times) A long-ago foreign currency mistake. We’re talkin’ way back in the heady days when Greece and Italy had each their own currency. As I dimly recall, back when 1,000 lire = 10,000 drachma or some such. Of course – as a newbie traveler (albeit living in France with my two young daughters) I hopped off the boat from Brindisi to Corfu, and (naturally) handed over TEN TIMES the going rate for a taxi. Solution? With today’s handy smart phone currency exchange apps (not to mention conversion to the Euro) such travel bloopers should never happen. Right?
- Mexico: First international backpack trip, with my two young daughters (then aged just 5 and 8 yrs!) in tow. A fine summer taking the 24 hr. train from Arizona to Mazatlan, hopping on local buses down the coast to Puerto Vallarta, et al, sleeping in a neon orange pup tent on beaches with my chum (fellow single mom) Candace and her 8 yr. old son. Mistake? I bought an entire box of the most lusciously colorful Mexican ceramic tiles (can you spell h-e-a-v-y? WhatwasIthinking???), and whilst we waited at a bus stop each child had been given the responsibility to watch over one bag. Result? Somehow, the tile bag was errr… left behind when we boarded the bus. Solution? Nobody to blame, it could have been any of us. But bye-bye luscious inlaid tile table I’d planned to make. Oh well. Lesson Learned? See “heavy – whatonEARTHwasIthinking?” above.
- Not one, not two, but THREE pricey filtered water bottles – lost. The first, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the 2nd – somewhere in Sumatra, and the last – specially purchased (at $80!) and kindly carried over from NYC to Mongolia by one of my “Girls Do The Gobi” chums. I was thrilled to have a new Sawyer water bottle again (the only kind, with a filter guaranteed for LIFE!) Result? I promptly left it – I dunno, probably in some stray ger out in the middle of nowhere (the local Kasaks no doubt now using it to hold yak milk). Solution? I give up. Though I LOATHE the reckless proliferation of plastic water bottles all over the globe, I guess the best I can do is boil my own water whenever possible and leastwise refill the same smaller bottle from larger sources. Might also look into the “Steri Pen”. A bit more trouble than a Sawyer bottle but perhaps not as easily left behind?
- Speaking of Mongolia… Ditto my beloved geocaching GPSr. Last photographed showing an elevation of 9,639 ft. at a remote outpost overlooking the Mongolian/Chinese border. We’d trudged there by hoof and foot (bundled up against the frosty cold) for 7 hours. Result? Obviously left for the eagles to play with, or perhaps an Eagle Hunter will divine how to use it to track wayward yaks and camels.
I could go on (and on ‘n on), but 10 seems like a such a nice round number, dontcha think?
And the moral to this pathetic tale of travel blunders?
Dumb stuff happens. Travelers are no different than anyone else. We can be forgetful, miscalculate, and make some real boners. Indeed, traveling is arguably far more challenging than sitting comfy at home where everything is familiar and everybody around you leastwise speaks the same language.
We travelers are often physically and mentally stressed – exhausted from 14 hr. bus rides, wrangling with touts, bewildered by gibberish, ever new currencies, strange and dubiously edible foods. Ever vigilant of safety, and where we might locate our next bed. Guarding our preciously few valuables, noodling out visa regs, rushing to airports, buses, trains, boat docks. Never knowing for certain if we’ve got the true dope on our next move – how we’re gonna barter the next tuk-tuk driver down from the rupee stratosphere, and what surprises our next destination holds.
The truth is – traveling is pretty much a crap-shoot, and we’re only human after all. So mistakes are bound – indeed, verily GUARANTEED to happen. But I must say – though I’m supremely grateful I’ve not met with any truly monumental disasters in my travels (I mean, it could always be WORSE, yes?), it is precisely the challenge of wending my way through baffling foreign lands that keeps me seeking ever new corners of the globe to tackle.
Especially solo. For when traveling solo, there’s nobody around to remind you to grab your passport before you leave the hotel, nor pick up the pieces and give you a hug when you utterly lose it. Ah but conversely, (one of the many) upsides to solo is the exhilarating pride you feel when you challenge yourself, and – by golly, find your way to that obscure hostel buried amid the labyrinth of cobbled streets in Marrakesh, or manage to make it through Israeli customs at some hot, dusty outpost in the Sinai.
So what about you? Even if your style of travel doesn’t involve mare’s milk and naughty xeoms – surely you’ve made a few missteps in your travels. Do share in the comments – with any luck these confessions might help others not make the same mistakes!