It’s easy to make mistakes on the road. Take, for example, Robert O’Hara Burke, one of history’s worst travelers.
In 1860 Burke decided to lead an expedition into the heart of Australia. His goal was to find a passage across the continent that would connect the settled areas of Victoria, in the south, with the northern Gulf of Carpentaria.
Problem was that before he left Melbourne at the head of 19 men and 60 pack animals, Burke had never explored anything more dangerous than his linen closet. Charging him with a mission to map some of Earth’s harshest wilderness was like assembling a NASCAR team from last week’s driver’s ed class, and it ended as well as you’d expect. Despite carrying such essentials as a gong, a full dining room set and several rockets, Burke’s overfunded, under-planned team never completed their round trip. In fact, only one man made it back alive.
It’s rather dark little tale.
We all screw up; learning how to fall down and get back up again is one of the great joys of travel. That doesn’t mean you should seek out trouble though. Some of the most common travel problems can be avoided altogether, such as:
Buying the wrong one way ticket.
“U.S. Citizens carrying a tourist passport and in possession of an onward or return airline ticket do not require a visa to enter Thailand.” – Embassy of the United States, Bangkok (Emphasis added)
This rule is pretty common, but many travelers don’t know about it, don’t plan for it and occasionally allow it to bite them in the ass. A lot of countries require proof of onward travel for entry and may turn you away at the border without it. True, not every passport agent checks. The ones that do, though, will toss you on the next flight home and send you the bill. It’s a good way turn that grand trip into your own personal version of The Terminal.
Packing too heavily.
For a brief period I lived at a wonderful little hostel in Oxford. One day, while a pair of Swedish girls were checking out, one of them dropped a suitcase on her foot and snapped her little toe. The moral of the story: don’t pack as much as she did.
We all screw up… [but] some of the most common travel problems can be avoided altogether.
Heavy luggage leads to baggage costs, enormous hassle and even occasional personal injury, all for stuff you can get later on. Soap, toothpaste, even fresh paperbacks will all be available along the road, so there’s no reason to lug pounds of it all everywhere you go. If you won’t need it in the next seven days, then it stays.
Except toilet paper. Always pack extra toilet paper.
Picking a lonely hotel.
Where you stay can make or break a trip.
Traveling should be a social experience. One of the best parts of seeing the world is the people you meet along the way, whether they’re locals, fellow travelers or a five day romance. It’s how I’ve gotten some (most, in fact) of my best stories. Meanwhile sitting by yourself is a pretty lonely experience even in the most beautiful settings.
Where you stay has a lot to do with that. The easiest place to meet people is at the guesthouse/hostel/hotel bar so pick a somewhere with the same spirit you have. Unless you’ve got a good sense of what else to do around town at night, picking the wrong place to stay can lead to some long nights in the hotel room.
Arriving early with nowhere to go.
Maybe I’m alone in this but I can’t sleep on airplanes. Certainly not well. So whenever I arrive from a really long flight I generally do so exhausted. Now, this is no problem if I get in at 7:00 pm, grab a quick dinner and head off to crash, but what about if I land at 7:00 in the morning? Well in that case I can look forward to many hours of wandering around a foreign city like a passport carrying zombie.
The solution is simple: if you can’t plan around it, book the previous night at your hotel. It may feel like a waste of money, but the ability to get in crash for a few hours and refresh is simply golden. It costs a little extra, but it’s much better than sitting surrounded by the great cities and cultures of the world and knowing you’d happily trade it all in for a place to rest.
Planning too far ahead.
Do not plan too far ahead.
Travel is an adventure. It’s supposed to be spontaneous, organic, beautiful, unpredictable and fun. Spontaneous and organic are a whole lot harder, though, when you planned every move two months ago from a living room far, far away. Make plans, certainly, but stay open to change. Some of my favorite places on Earth are ones I hadn’t even heard about until I was only a few miles away and in the middle of a conversation that began with “You know where you’ve got to go…”