9 Travel Mistakes That Will RUIN Your Dream Trip
There are loads of posts about how to make a vacation epic, but what about how NOT TO RUIN your trip? There are so many different ways to make a holiday unpleasant, but I’ll touch on a few that will resonate with misery.
The TL;dr version? It’s all about your attitude.
1) Expecting everything to be just like it is at home
Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
One of the ways I see a lot of travelers ruining their own trips is when they expect everything in Macedonia to be exactly like it is back home in Maryland. Let me give you a hint: especially if you are traveling to other countries, things are not going to be like they are at home. And when you demand that they be the same, then you are the classic “Ugly American” that Europeans really hate.
Here’s an example: during my travels throughout the Balkans, I have experienced a plethora of different bathroom styles. I’ve peed in everything from standard toilets like we have here, to standard toilets with no seat on them, to toilets in the floor that you have to squat over. I have paid to pee, I have peed outside while hiking, and I have peed in basements with ceilings so low I had to be careful not to whack my head. I peed in all these places and survived to pee again. It might not be what you’re used to, but it’s no big deal. It’s all part of the experience if you have the right attitude.
You may find differences like:
- teeny tiny bath towels (you just wipe yourself dry instead of wrapping up in them)
- menus that only tell you what the main dish is (you get what you get)
- different kinds of bathrooms (see above)
- lots and lots of stairs (all the public bathrooms in Greece seemed to either be upstairs or downstairs)
- the food offered is what is on the menu, not a whole bunch of no-gluten, no-dairy, no-sugar substitutes
- people who (gasp) don’t speak English
The key to all of this is your attitude. Embrace the differences. Don’t whine about them.
2) Being married to your itinerary
If you are married to your itinerary, you’re going to miss out on a lot. In this article, I told the story about my first visit to the Plaka. I had been trying to get to a certain restaurant but due to a language barrier between my driver and me, I ended up way across town. Instead of indulging in a hissy fit (my initial annoyed thought) I decided to roll with it and I had a wonderful adventure exploring an area that was like something from a postcard.
If you jam your itinerary too full, you’ll miss out on the wonderfully random adventures that are waiting for you. Because I usually stay in most places for 2 weeks to a month, I make it a practice to schedule no more than one thing per day.
So instead of hitting the archeological museum, then going to the market, then going out to see fireworks, I choose one of these things. That way, I can stay at the museum for a solid 6 hours (like I did in Greece) without worrying about messing up the rest of my plans. Or I can wander out of the museum and see what else is in the neighborhood and perhaps discover some delectable little bakery or a tiny shop with handmade jewelry.
If your holiday is for a shorter period of time, pick something for the morning and something for the afternoon/evening. But resist the urge to try and cram everything in or you will end your holiday exhausted and you won’t really get to fully experience the places you visited. You are not on a clock and you are not required to visit 14 places in two days. This is YOUR trip, not the trip of some hyper-energetic blogger who lives on Red Bull and blow.
3) Being inflexible
As I mentioned in #1, you can’t expect everything to be like it us at home, but that isn’t the only thing about which you may need to be flexible.
For example, you may not get meals precisely when you want them. Even if you are a 6 o’clock on the dot for dinner person every day of your life, this may not happen when you’re traveling.
I’ll never forget a trip I took to Italy attending a trade fair. I had just enough time to grab a biscotti and a cappuccino for breakfast, I skipped lunch because I was at the show and couldn’t really afford to skip out and find a restaurant and the places near my hotel didn’t open for dinner until around 7 or 8. I felt like I was going to starve to death and who feels like they’re going to starve in Italy? If I’d been a bit more flexible, I could have figured out a way to smuggle some snacks into the trade show, I could have gotten up earlier for a more hearty breakfast, and I could have staunched my hunger so I could wait until the cafes opened for dinner. But back then, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
When you reach your accommodations, you may discover they aren’t what you expected. Of course, there are some extreme circumstances that might make you bail (like no heat in the winter or a suspicious camera or other weirdness) but most of the time, a little bit of flexibility will allow you to stay there and get on with the fun of being where you’re at.
Perhaps your bed isn’t comfortable or there’s only one pillow per person. Maybe there’s only enough hot water for one shower at a time. It could be that the oven is inoperable. In the grand scheme of things, these are all minor inconveniences for a flexible person.
After 6 months of non-stop travel, I can sleep just about anywhere, I can cut my shower down to 3 minutes including leg-shaving and hair washing, and I can eat leftovers cold. I can live without coffee in the morning with little to no effect on the rest of my day. Even the least comfortable of all the places I stayed in, I was able to find a way to get some sleep, eat some food, and enjoy the area. Really, it’s a decision. You choose how to react to inconveniences – and if you choose flexibility you’re going to have a much better time.
4) Taking the wrong people with you
I live for travel but I would rather not travel than travel with the wrong person. Some people are just miserable to share a vacation with and if you can avoid traveling with them at all, you should. Often these are the people who flout every piece of advice in this article. They want everything to be like home, they want waiters in Bosnia – the most bread-happy place ever – to cater to their gluten-free diet, and they demand their money back if the mattress at their Airbnb isn’t memory foam.
Oh, honey. Just don’t do it. Don’t spend all the money to go somewhere glorious and listen to somebody else complain nonstop. Wait and go by yourself later.
If you have no option, make it clear that you intend to do some exploring on your own. Don’t feel obligated to sit around a room listening to someone bitch and moan while there’s a glorious new culture you could be basking in.
5) Allowing no time to rest
I know a lot of travelers who get off an 18-hour flight and hit the ground running. They drop off their luggage and they’re ready to climb to the top of the Acropolis that very day. I am not that kind of traveler.
Maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Maybe it’s because my 40s are in the rear-view mirror. Whatever the reason, I don’t find it pleasant to just go-go-go. When I arrive at my lodging, I like to settle in. Depending on the time of day I might order some food to be delivered or pick something up if there’s a shop or cafe right across the street. Alternatively, I might eat something I brought with me.
Sometimes I might not even go anywhere the next day, particularly if I’m staying someplace for a full month.
And it isn’t just about the first night, either. Throughout your trip, allow some time to relax in your room with some Netflix or a book on Kindle. To get full enjoyment from your holiday, you need to not exhaust yourself. There’s nothing worse than getting home from a trip and feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.
6) Focusing too much on fashion and not enough on comfort
Everyone wants to look good for the ‘Gram but don’t sacrifice comfort for fashion. Find some shoes that are both comfortable and good-looking. Don’t wear clothing that makes you feel constricted or that requires constant readjustment.
Understand the weather quirks at your destination. Does it rain every afternoon? Is it humid? Are the nights super-cold? Plan for this in your wardrobe. There isn’t much that is more uncomfortable than being too hot or too cold because of your clothing choices.
Bring things that mix and match so that you can bring less. In a lot of places in Europe, elevators are few and far between. Do you really want to lug 3 checked bags, a carryon, and a backpack up six flights of stairs? (Also, flights are counted differently in Europe. The first floor is what we’d consider the second floor in the US. The ground floor doesn’t count as a floor, so note this when booking a room.) The less you’ve got to lug, the more pleasant check-in and checkout will be.
7) Seeing everything through a screen or lens
When you’re out there seeing so many things, it’s only natural to want to capture it all with photos. But don’t spend all your time behind the lens or you’ll miss out on a lot. It’s impossible to really sink into the experience when you’re too busy grabbing the perfect shot.
For this reason, I keep my phone in my pocket or purse instead of carrying it in my hand. Sure, I may miss a few once-in-a-lifetime photographs, but I’m not going to miss living in the moment. Which is more important to you? The experience or the picture of the experience? For me, it’s an easy choice – I’m there to LIVE.
Number 2 and number 5 can really help with this. If you aren’t rushing pell-mell through the streets of Zagreb, then you have the leisure time to photograph the sights that really speak to you.
8) Staying in because the weather is “bad”
You went all this way and you’re going to let a little rain stop you? You’re going to stay inside your Airbnb because it’s “too cold” or “too windy” or “too hot” or some other minor inconvenience?
You’re not made of sugar. You’re not going to melt. You aren’t going to blow away in the gusting wind. You need to put on your boots, your hat, and your coat (or whatever is applicable) and get yourself out there and enjoy your travels. (Obviously, it’s important to pack for a variety of weather conditions – be sure you have some layers with you.)
If the weather is truly awful then take an Uber and head to a museum or some other indoor adventure. But for the love of all things cute and fluffy, don’t sit in your room and sulk because of the weather. Crazy weather can make for some glorious photos and some fun stories to tell. For example, I got to test out my new Palladium boots when I was in Montenegro and a strong gust of wind blew an ankle-deep wave from the Adriatic up over the seawall and onto the sidewalk. Score – my feet stayed perfectly dry!
Get out there and experience the smell of the flowers on a hot humid day or the feel of the wind battering your hair or the taste of the rain on your lips. Feel your cheeks getting rosy in the cold air and listen to the quiet soothing song of the snow falling on the ground. Embrace the experience even when it isn’t the one you thought you’d have.
9) Not treating your trip as a choose-your-own-adventure story
I think the very worst mistake you can make is approaching your trip the wrong way. Instead of going with the flow and being swept away in the adventure, if you rigidly adhere to how things are “supposed” to be, you’re going to be upset frequently because travel rarely works out exactly as planned.
Instead, go out and seek adventure. Get ready to walk around, find an interesting restaurant, buy a one-of-a-kind treasure in a second-hand store, and see what’s around the corner down the cobblestone walkway. Smile at people, do your best to communicate even if you have no mutual languages, and be prepared to laugh often at your own mistakes. I’ve found a warm smile and genuine appreciation goes a long way in making new friends -even if you never exchange a single word together.
I visited the same restaurant almost every day for lunch in Thessaloniki and even though nobody there spoke English and I didn’t speak Greek, within a week, they were leading me by the hand into the kitchen to show me the daily specials. When I Google-translated to them that it my last day there that I was leaving, they gave me a beautiful meal including dessert for free.
Your trip will be what you make it. Make it a fabulous adventure!
What about you?
What are some travel mistakes you’ve made that kept your trip from being an optimal experience? Share your stories in the comments.