Travel Tips

Published on December 17th, 2013


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:

  1. 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.
  2. BestFriend350x350

  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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.
  6. NoBoardingForYou350x350Ditto #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?…
  7. I REALLY need to step up my game when it comes to getting to these airports with plenty of time to spare. 😉
  8. (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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

    Surely there is something better than wantonly tossing these all over the globe?

  11. 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!

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

36 Responses to My Top 10 Dumb Travel Mistakes

  1. Patti says:

    On our current road trip, we spent the night in Little Rock, Arkansas. Due to a broken heater we switched hotel rooms (actually to the room right next door) and somehow I managed to leave my bathroom bag sitting on the counter, but didn’t realize it until I was getting ready for bed. In the bag was all of my prescription meds. Very sleepless night, but fortunately, I was able to retrieve it the next morning with nothing missing. Actually very unusual for me to leave something behind but I sure hope it was the first and last time! Yep. Stuff happens!
    Patti kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Finding the Balance ~My Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Oh my yes Patti, leaving things behind is so (dangerously!) easy to do when you’re on the move. Checking out of hotel rooms (I *always* look under the bed, but still…), taxis, trains, planes, buses, younameit. g-knows hiw many gadget charger plugs I’ve left in hostels all over the globe!

      Lucky your prescriptons were still there next morning – that could have been disasterous!

  2. Tom Bartel says:

    Made a few of these myself. Thanks for the reminder…unpleasant though it was.
    Tom Bartel kindly contributed to world literature by posting…We’re Your Boomerang ParentsMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Unpleasant, no doubt Tom. But hopefully we learn from our blunders (well o.k. except for me, when it comes to getting to the %#@! boarding gate on time!) 😉

      And in any case, such mistakes make for some dandy travel stories, yes?

  3. Neva says:

    That’s quite a list. I can relate to some of the fiascos.
    Neva kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Older Than The Pyramids and Still GrowingMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes Neva, and I could add quite a few more!

      How ’bout you? Which of of my travel blunders can you relate to most?

  4. This was great!
    Elizabeth Rose kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Wordless Wednesday: Discovering Hippo Hardware in Portland, OregonMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad you enjoyed my blunders, Elizabeth – I could have easily listed at least a dozen more. 😉

      What about you? Any such tales to tell?

  5. Always fun to read about the travel mishaps of others — makes me feel like I’m in good company. The SD card issue is a big problem these days — I’ve done that more than once! You’re right – “Dump stuff happens” especially with jet lag,etc. I’ve got a few stories that I’m still too embarrassed to admit in the blogosphere.
    Cathy Sweeney kindly contributed to world literature by posting…A Gem for All Seasons: The Four Seasons PragueMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Goodness, yes – that insufferable SD card thing DRIVES.ME.NUTS! They really should make them with a chain attached so I can string the silly thing round my neck! 😉

  6. I got scammed on a shore excursion in Russia—when we went to the Hermitage Museum with our guide and her fake tickets, we almost were arrested!

    Great post!
    Irene S. Levine kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Where we went: 2013 in picturesMy Profile

  7. Greg Rodgers says:

    True, so true. The longer I go, the more mistakes I tend to make, it seems. Have made plenty of these and worse. 🙂
    Greg Rodgers kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Homecoming 2013 Was a Little TrickyMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Do tell Greg – what were some of those “worse”?

      Errr, I mean – besides those cammo shorts for your recent Saudi Arabian flight? 😉

      Seriously. Among the bar-none BEST travel blog posts I’ve ever read.

  8. Some of our travel mishaps involve weather and airplanes—-never fly out of Chicago O’Hare in the winter time—or in the summer, spring or fall for that matter. You will eventually get home to Philadelphia, but usually not in a straight line—last 2 times: via Dallas and Minneapolis. Then, there are the ones that involve geo-political turmoil: Colombia, right before the explosion of narco-terrorism in 1974; Spain right after the attempted coup in 1981; Peru for our honeymoon in 1982 – just in time for the outbreak of the Falklands War, and an upsurge in violence by the Shining Path Maoist revolutionary group—and our airline went bankrupt in the middle of our trip. We’re scheduled to fly through Bangkok on January 9th, 2014. What could possibly go wrong?
    Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque) kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The High Road to Taos, New MexicoMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Goodness Suzanne – you seem to be a MAGNET for coups and mishaps! And yes, yes – coming to Bangkok on 9 January? What could POSSIBLY go wrong??? 😉

      btw, not sure where you’re flying from into Thailand from, but… not too many options w/o a stop in Bangkok, but it looks like Tiger Air has a flight direct from Singapore to Chiang Mai (i.e. avoiding Bangkok altogether). Then again, you should be o.k. if you just transit through the DMK airport (well o.k. that is IF they don’t close the airport as they did in 2008).

      Oh, and btw, don’t even THINK about taking the train – no less than *16* derailments this year.

      Ah travel – ’tis nothing, if not exciting! 😉

    • Graefyl says:

      Where you going next? (so we all know – and avoid the bloodshed ;))
      Graefyl kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Cranham Marsh SplodgeMy Profile

      • Dyanne says:

        LOL Ted! But… haven’t you been following along here, young man? I’m soon headed to a country on a wholly new (for me – have never before stepped foot on it) continent: Ecuador in South America!

  9. Hi Dyanne, I’m really enjoying your blog! I thought I’d share a quick positive story about Xeoms since I know that so many experiences with them are negative. A friend of mine once forgot a small bag full of Christmas gifts at her house and left for the Saigon airport to head home for Christmas. Not having enough time to go back, she called a friend, who went outside and handed the bag to a random xeom along with 100,000 bill. Not only did the driver turn up at the airport with the bag intact, he also refused a tip. Good hearts do exist!
    Aimee @ TeflAdventures kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Holy Mistletoe! Time for a Christmas Lesson again?!My Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Well hey there Aimee – thanks so much for sharing that lovely xe om anecdote. Yes, yes – my own xe om gaffe was purely my own fault. I lived in Vietnam for two years and hopped on and off a gazillion xe oms – and all were exceedingly kind and honest. Indeed, good hearts exist all over the globe!

      So where are you teaching in Saigon? I taught at ILA, and then at AMA in Dalat. I’ve not been teaching here in Chiang Mai (the pay’s quite a bit less here than in Vietnam), and I MISS it!

      • Aimee @ Tefl Adventures says:

        I’m also at ILA. I’ve been here about 2 1/2 years now, which center were you at? I was at 4, now 11 (a new one) and soon 3. I’m sure we have friends in common. I was just in Chiang Mai two weeks ago and loved it. I have to say, xe oms have got me out of a jam more than once (last night for example when it was clear there was no way a taxi was going to get me to the ILA Christmas party on time) but I much prefer driving myself and not having to argue over the fare every day.

        • Dyanne says:

          ILA Center 10 Aimee – Tan Binh Dist.? I forget – out near the airport. But I lived in Dist. 1 and had my trusty xe om take me to ‘n fro. I only taught part time, and had a lovely schedule – normally just 6 classes on the weekend, so didn’t have to make many trips.

          Personally – I’d never DREAM of driving a motorbike in HCMC – you’re a mighty brave one, my dear! 😉

  10. Graefyl says:

    Really can relate to connection times and locales. Missed bus in San Sebastian, had to pay 10 times what the fare was to stay a night in the only place left with a bed. Lesson, learn where the bus station is – before taking train to town.
    Graefyl kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Pukka Pad misplacementMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      For sure Ted, it seems those (numerous and insufferable) “connections” are the bane of we travelers.

  11. Hogga says:

    don’t trust anyone!
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    • Dyanne says:

      Really, Hogga? Not anyone? What mistakes have you made in your travels have led you to not trust anyone at all?

      Sure, one must be alert and cautious when on the trail, but to be honest, I’ve found that to travel at all, requires one to take one great big ol’ huge leap of faith!

  12. In German, there’s a word called Freizeitstress or ‘free-time stress’. You are right about travelers being stressed out while on the road. Holidays do not necessarily come synonymous with relaxation, after all
    In my case, I tend to fall into tourist traps when my mind is totally overwhelmed. it happened to me twice in Spain when I ordered something without looking at the prices that I ended up paying 10 euros for an orange juice and buying a map on the train platform without knowing there were free maps inside the station. And of course, the classic mistake of leaving the memory card and carrying a tripod without the thing attached to it. my travel.mistakes list could go on but at the end.of the day, it’s just another small lesson to smile at and learn from;)
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    • Dyanne says:

      Indeed HV, when all is said and done, all you can do is smile (even if it’s a bit more of a grit-teeth).. What’s done is done, after all, so best to look on the bright side, and swiftly move on to a Plan B.

      That and… lol, $14 for a glass of o.j.? I’ll bet you’ll not order a glass of ANYTHING in Europe w/o looking at the price again. Live and learn. 😉

  13. The time between a mistake and the transition to ‘life goes on’ makes all the difference. Some never let go, some stew, some realize they’re now on a different trip than was planned, so why not start getting back to enjoying it now? You’ve shown time and again the important of attitude to both travelers and expats.

    Most of my mistakes were small scale, so not worth remembering. Some stand out.

    – Before the Internet, I used, without questioning, a Lonely Planet guidebook.

    – Drove just off the pavement and got stuck in the desert. We walked 3 hours to get a tow truck, after spending 2 hours in a failed attempt making a road out of broken asphalt which was nearby.

    – It wasn’t until the second time I visited Waterwheel Falls on the Tuolumne River in Yosemite that I realized on the first trip we’d mistaken the small precursor to the falls as the real deal.

    – None of my credit cards worked for buying an airline ticket out of the Philippines. Became so exasperated with the travel agent that I booked for 1 month earlier than intended. That meant I couldn’t say goodbye in person to a young woman who’d become like a little sister to me.

    – A quote from my post Adriatic Trip: I Smell Like Fish: “…After being well and truly rescued I asked if she knew the stories of Winnie the Pooh. She did. I said with a big smile I’m having an adventure. She got it immediately, giving me a big warm laugh in return.”
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    • Dyanne says:

      Fine blunders all FLN (esp. the waterfall one – I too first mistook the bitty “David” statue outside in the plaza in Florence for the true magnificent one INSIDE!)

      And yes, yes – blunder transition time. I ever strive to nip it down to as short as possible. What’s done is done, after all. So may as well get on with it. Grumbling only serves to extend the ack of it, so best swiftly look on the bright side (not to mention, be grateful it wasn’t worse).

  14. You really are making a habit turning up just a touch too late for flights!

    Really? Other people have had the some experience with xe oms driving off with their bags? You’re the only person I’d heard of.

    It took some thinking for me to remember any dumb choices. I think like your previous commenter, I’ve accepted them as part of travel (and luckily haven’t had any serious problems, apart from bag-snatchings in Saigon that could have happened anywhere).

    The worst has got to be in Luang Prabang when I got up early to see the alms giving but no-one was up in the guesthouse and the gate was locked so I chose to climb over the wall… and fell. I was laid up for a few days, but a lovely fellow traveller found me a pair of crutches so I could get around. That downtime was when I finished my CELTA application so there was a silver lining!
    Ruth Elisabeth kindly contributed to world literature by posting…It’s ok to forget wordsMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      I know Ruth – apparently I’ve managed to hone the mechanics of missing flights by minutes, to a fine Art!

      And yes, I was surprised too, when a long-time Saigon lad (a fellow blogging chum and editor of a major Saigon print mag) reported that xe oms zooming off with a bag whilst the owner fumbles for the fare apparently isn’t all that rare. I mean, you’ve really got to hand it to them for their creative entrepreneurial spirit! 😉

      And LOL, I can just picture you pole-vaulting over that fence (hey, I’d be there right along with you if they locked the %&@! gate). Sorry you ended up on crutches though – so did you ever manage to see the alms procession?

      • No, I didn’t. I was in two minds about the ethics of attending anyway so that sealed the deal for me!

        So strange, I guess they must figure they’ll get more for the contents of the backpack than for the fare. (I guess that people’s “regular” xe oms don’t do this.) Wonder if they’ll wise up to the fact most of us only keep clothes and toiletries in our large bags?
        Ruth Elisabeth kindly contributed to world literature by posting…It’s ok to forget wordsMy Profile

  15. MCRT says:

    Looking through the list it seems like they come down to a few basic things.

    1. Stuff is stuff. You have it, you lose it, you wear it out. Whatever. There is always more stuff if you want it. Have I lost stuff? Yup. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things. Nope.

    2. If you miss some sort of transport big deal. There is another way to get somewhere. All part of the adventure. One night I headed to a train station planning on a night train to Berlin. Train was cancelled that night. I just looked at the board and picked another destination that had sleeper cars and ended up in Oslo. Another time I was talking to a girl in Spain and missed my train. Just meant I took the next train. Life goes on.

    • Dyanne says:

      Indeed Mike – in travel (as in all of life) it all boils down to attitude. And often, it is precisely those “gah!” moments that can lead to amazing experiences.

      Thanks for sharing – sounds like you have the fine “whatever” spirit of a happy wanderer.

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