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From getting back with an ex who resembled Hagrid to hitting “Reply All” when joking about a colleague with your office BFF, we’ve all made our fair share of mistakes. However, big mistakes when you’re travelling can lead to some sticky situations, so we’ve rounded up a few key learnings we’ve picked up from our travel mistakes on recent big trips. Enjoy!
1. Take your health seriously
Get your jabs, take your malaria tablets, buy your travel insurance. Being young in a developed country can make you feel invincible, but Andy’s run-in with typhoid on the Gili Islands made it really hit home for us that you just don’t know what’s around the corner. Andy had had his typhoid jab, yet was unlucky enough to come into contact with a strain that wasn’t protected against (granted, drinking water from an ancient temple spring probably wasn’t worth the photos). Taken out of its usual environment, your body may not be as iron-hard as you think. Some things aren’t worth risking.
Some countries will refuse you entry if you don’t have evidence of certain jabs. If you’re not sure which you need, check here: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
2. Book at least one night accommodation in every new place in advance
There’s nothing worse than arriving in a new place wearing a 60L backpack in 35 degree heat and realising you have a few hours before it gets dark in which to find a decent place to stay. This is especially important in high season, or during weekends if the place you’re going to is popular with locals. If we’d have done this in Gili T, maybe we wouldn’t have had to sleep in a shed that was still being built… Luckily we made friends with the builder and he took us out to a food market for barracuda on local prices, perhaps to say sorry for waking us up at 7am every morning with a hammer.
3. Screenshot every last detail
Similarly, even if you have booked a place to stay, that doesn’t always mean that your taxi or tuktuk driver is going to be able to get you there. Make sure you screenshot detailed instructions and a map to show the driver – even if you have bought a data sim card, you can’t be sure of your connection strength in new places. Most hotels will provide their address in the native language, but that wasn’t enough in Beijing, and after 4 hours of walking around the city we were nearly ready to get back on a plane to London. Our airport taxi driver had given up and kicked us out after half an hour, and the Tourist Information Centre we stumbled upon couldn’t even find themselves on the map. After walking down a dual carriageway and through a hutong alley amidst stares and laughter from locals, we finally found our hostel, 50m away from where our taxi had decided to call it a day. Yep.
4. Pack layers, even in hot climates
I get cold even on the clammiest of nights. In new and faraway countries it can be difficult to truly predict what the weather will be like. Some places can go from sunny to torrential downpour within minutes, but it can be a bore to lug a full coat around when you may only need it a few times a month. When your luggage space is limited, taking clothes that can be layered means you can adjust your outfits for multiple climates (or just wear them all at once if, like me, you’re always cold).
5. Pack light
This should really go without saying. The more you pack, the heavier your bag, and the larger the pang of impending doom you feel at the thought of your next transfer. Travel days are almost invariably hell on earth, and anything you can do to make that a teeny weeny bit better will have your future self thanking you from the bottom of your heart. Besides, you need space to buy tacky souvenirs, so try not to leave your home country with a backpack stuffed all the way to the top, you’ll only end up binning stuff along your journey. I’ve seen people travel Asia for a month with only a 15L rucksack; it can be done! Also, packing cubes are a must to organise everything.
6. An emergency torch can be a life-saver
Though we may have joked about taking mini novelty torches with us to Indonesia, they became our only hope of getting across an unlit, rural island to find a doctor after midnight when we realised Andy’s Bali-Belly was obviously something a lot more serious. If it’s small and could come in handy during an unsafe situation, best to pop it in your backpack. Plasters, paracetamol, spare batteries... Shove 'em in.
7. Learn the country's customs
Ideally, you’d have super-duper language skills to help you immerse yourself in local culture and get to know its native people. If that’s not an option, the least you can do is learn the local customs and traditions to avoid offence and show locals that you respect their culture. Hand gestures can be especially important; you know when tourists in the UK tell us they have two of something and they use their two fingers THE WRONG WAY ROUND and us Brits kind of want to slap them…? That.
8. Have a second money source
There’s nothing like arriving in the first city of your 5-country trip to discover you left all your money on a travel cash card on your mum’s sofa. And although it thankfully hasn’t happened to us, discovering your one and only debit card has been pick-pocketed must be particularly devastating when you’re far from home. What we do is have 2 Revolut commission-free cards in different places and top them up every now and then from our savings account. This allows us both to have our own debit cards, and in case both somehow get lost or stolen we won’t be at risk of losing all our savings.
And in case that fails, we’ll have a back-up account to tap into that we’ll leave empty unless needed. Hopefully once we settle in Colombia we’ll be able to open a bank account there to make things slightly easier.
9. Check your visas
With a British passport, most of the world is your oyster. But some countries, like Indonesia, will require proof of your flight back out (which left my sister with 45 minutes before her plane took off to decide whether or not to go to The Philippines); some, like Cambodia, will require a small cash payment upon landing, and others, like China and Russia, ask for your passport to be sent to the embassy with your entry and exit details, payment AND a letter from the hotel you’ve booked confirming that you’re going to be accounted for. This can take a few weeks to arrange, so these aren’t places you can hop onto a plane to willy-nilly.
A recent change to China’s visas mean you can stay visa-free if your transit flight leaves in the next 3 days, but you or your hotel will need to take your passport into a police station during your stay, because who doesn’t love visiting a police station when you only have 72 hours to soak up the city’s sights? We took advantage of this in Beijing when it first came into play a few years ago, when neither the air hostesses nor the Chinese airport staff had any idea of it, and I can tell you from experience that waiting for hours on the wrong side of Passport Control knowing that your life’s belongings are currently going round on an otherwise empty luggage belt is no fun at all. Always check before you fly!
10. Back that thang up
One of the least forgiving travel mistakes. I don’t really have words to describe the look on my friend’s face when he realised the Thai ladyboy who seduced him had in fact stolen his phone. This was made worse by the fact that said phone contained 4 weeks of now irretrievable photos. Whatever form of backup you use, make sure you’re doing it as often as you can. If you won’t have good internet access so are using an external hard drive, try and do a cloud backup whenever you hit a wifi zone.
11. Get organised
By far the hardest thing for me. I'm more of a floordrobe kind of girl, but it has to be said that making the effort to keep important docs, money and passports in their designated places within your luggage pockets can save a huge amount of stress. Take Andy's friend Nick as an example, in which he had to miss his flight home from Lithuania and stay an extra night on his own after a lads' trip because he'd lost his passport. The next day, he booked in to pay for a new passport at the embassy, bought a new flight ticket, paid for an airport taxi on his own, then when he got home unpacked his suitcase to find the old passport there all along. Hilariously funny? Hell yes. Expensive and a massive waste of time? That, too.
12. Don't burn out
For every travel day, you need at least 2 rest days. It can be tempting to squish everything into a few days when your time is limited, but this is one of the most common travel mistakes. Sometimes, it's just best to pick a few things and then chill for half a day to make sure you really enjoy the place. And besides, who doesn't love a day of doing sweet FA?!