Traveling is a lot of fun when everything goes according to plan. You get to enjoy a beautiful sunset or visit that one temple with a spectacular view. But there have been moments during our travels when we just wanted to head home and forget about traveling altogether.
Situations that take you off guard and make you question everything you know. We’ve made our share of mistakes while traveling long-term and while we can laugh about them now, at the time it happened we were ready to give up. That’s why we share our biggest travel mistakes.
Making mistakes is part of traveling. Sometimes they cost you a lot of money, but you’ll probably learn to not make that mistake again. Instead, something else might happen and you learn about that. And so on. So let’s take a look at some of our biggest travel mistakes.
1. Forgetting the e-reader
Before our first long-term trip, we did some research and bought an e-reader. For entertainment purposes, but also to take a bunch of digital Lonely Planets with us. We just love the fact that you can take unlimited books with you.
We chose an e-reader with a backlight, so we would be able to read anywhere. Before departure we put all our books on there, so we wouldn’t get bored. The last night we slept at Kenji’s parents and Kenji used the e-reader to fall asleep.
The next morning we had to get up early to go to the airport. We made sure we had our backpacks and our travel documents and got in the car. It wasn’t until we were standing in line for customs that we realized the e-reader was still… under Kenji’s pillow.
In Moscow, we went searching for a new e-reader (yay additional expenses!) and found a similar one to the one that was still at home. You would think we learned our lesson. But to this day, this is still something we almost forget. Our new routine before checking out anywhere is to check under all the pillows.
2. Booking accommodation in the wrong… country
When we left China and wanted to go to Hong Kong we couldn’t find any cheap hotels or hostels. A good time to try out Airbnb and see if we could find cheap accommodation. There were a lot of properties to choose from and we found one that was under budget.
By the time we had to leave China and started to take a look at the next couple of days, trying to figure out how to get to the Airbnb, we got the worst surprise ever. The Airbnb that we’d booked wasn’t in Hongkong, it was right next to the border in China.
We couldn’t overstay our visa and we had already booked a flight to Hongkong. And flying to Hongkong and crossing the border to China meant we had to get a new visa for China which isn’t easy. So not only did we have to cancel our Airbnb but we had to find a last-minute hotel/hostel in Hongkong.
An important reminder to always check before booking accommodation where it is via Google Maps. Especially when you’re crossing borders.
3. Back in time
While traveling the world we’ve crossed a lot of time zones. In Asia, this was pretty easy because it’s usually just an hour’s difference. If you’re traveling by bus or train you don’t even notice. But if you’re flying, this is something to keep in mind.
When we left Australia to travel to the United States things went wrong. We opted for a direct flight because it wasn’t more expensive than a flight with layovers. Our flight would leave at 10 am and arrive at 6 am the next day. Or so we thought.
We took another good look at our ticket and there was no plus sign or anything like that indicating that we would arrive the next day! We took a closer look at the time zones and came to the simple conclusion that we were going back in time.
This meant that we made a mistake in booking our accommodation and since we didn’t have time to correct this we had to book a hotel last minute on arrival.
4. Proof of Onward Travel
Oof, this is a tough one. When you travel to certain countries they might request proof of onward travel. The keyword is might. If you’re on a regular holiday this isn’t a problem because you have a flight back home. When backpacking the world you usually don’t have this. And since they MIGHT ask you, we always had to think about our options and if we should arrange something.
We never had any problems until we were ready to leave Australia. Our next destination is the United States so we made sure to get our ESTA on time. But when we’re checking in we need to show proof of onward travel. Which we don’t have because we’re not sure how long we are staying and the websites of the United States government clearly states you don’t need proof of onward travel. I’ve been to the United States numerous times and never once has anybody asked me about this.
But the airline is very strict, we cannot board the flight without proof of onward travel. This needs to be a flight from the US to anywhere else in the world. Without wifi, we ran around the airport to find something quickly so we could board the flight.
This turned out to be quite an expensive flight with an impossible layover and the worst part was that it was nonrefundable.
5. Thinking English will get you everywhere
Although English is our native language, we thought it would help us all over the world. Maybe a bit naive, but on tv/online/social media we hear people from all over the world speak English. It might not be perfect be we would be able to talk to people. At least, so we thought.
But as soon as we entered China that idea flew out of the window. People were not speaking English at all! Or, some of them did, but they were hard to find. Checking in at hostels or hotels became quite a struggle and if the location of our accommodation was wrong (which happens a lot in China) it was almost impossible to find help.
The thing that even surprised us more than the language barrier is that even signing or counting on your hands was different. We thought the old lady where we bought ice cream wanted to call someone. Back at the hotel, we did some research and she was showing us we needed to pay 6.
Yes, we were naive and it was a hard lesson to learn. After China, we started learning small sentences or greetings before traveling to a new country so as to not repeat this mistake.
6. Scammed by a taxi-driver
Are you really a traveler if you haven’t at least been scammed once? It’s what most people are afraid of when traveling to a foreign country. After a scam in Morocco where we ended up in a store without any sense of direction and no clue how to get back to our hotel, we have been careful.
We usually do a little bit of research before heading to a new country as to what to pay attention to. And it pays off, because, during our travels the first time, we really felt like we got scammed was on arrival in Colombia.
After a long layover in Mexico, we were dead tired. So we went looking for a taxi and made sure it was one that had a meter. It wasn’t running yet, so let’s go. But it must have been a magic meter because it kept going up and up. Maybe we drove around in circles, we don’t know, but the amount that we ended up paying would have brought us to another city!
7. Applying for the wrong visa
When we headed to Australia we knew we had to apply for a visa. This was our second time and we thought we had a free visa in 2017. But when I went to the official website of Australia I read that now you have to install an app and pay a fee of $ 20 AUD. Not too bad, but something felt off.
We installed the app and applied for the visa which we got right away. Ready to go to Australia. But then I was reading a blog of another couple who was traveling and they said the visa was free. Which we thought as well, but I couldn’t find it when we needed it.
Turns out there are two different processes and we simply picked the wrong one. We applied for the ETA and we should have gone with the eVisitor. So even though you’re on the official website of the country you’re visiting, you might still be on the wrong page for your country.
Never rush these things and take your time. This was only a small amount but it was unnecessary and we could have bought dinner with the money we spent.
8. Welcome to Bali, please pay $ 35
In 2017 we traveled from Malaysia to Indonesia. We’d spent 5 months in Malaysia and were ready for a change of scenery. As always, we did some research as to what visas were available and how long we could stay.
We read that Indonesia has a Visum on Arrival, which is free and allows you to stay up to 30 days. This was perfect because we had no intention of extending our visa or staying longer. So that’s the one we went with. We spent 3 weeks in Java and 1 in Bali and flew to Australia before our time was up.
In 2022, we started in Kuala Lumpur and wanted to travel to Australia. Flights were pretty expensive but a stop in Bali would be a lot cheaper. No problem, we will stay in Bali for a few days and continue our trip. But as soon as we land and get to immigration (after all the Covid stuff, which we knew and read a lot about) we can’t get a free Visum on Arrival anymore.
They ask us to pay $ 35,00 USD per person. And we’re only staying for 5 days! There is no way to reschedule our flight without a huge additional fee and there is no way of going back now that we’ve landed. The website of the Indonesian government was still promoting the free visa and the signs on the airport “guide” use to the desks for the Visa on Arrival. Never trust what you know and always, always do research!
What are your biggest travel mistakes?
All these mistakes cost us a lot of money and could have been easily prevented. By doing a little more research, paying attention a bit more, and not trusting only on what you know. Still, it could have been worse and these are now stories we can laugh about.
I’m sure you have your stories as well so please share your biggest travel mistakes in the comments. We can all learn from each other and it makes us a bit wiser and better-prepared travelers. It’s a great way to keep other travelers informed as well as to new scams or things to look out for.
Now that we’re wiser and learned from these mistakes, I’m sure our travels will throw us something new our way. And if it does, we will update this post!
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