Rookie Travel Goofs
Costa Rica was the scene of my first international solo trip back in 2012. With my imminent return I started thinking a lot about that trip. I was such a baby traveller back then. Everyone has some misconceptions and makes some silly travel mistakes when they first start travelling. I was no exception.
I thought I needed special travel clothes. Looking through photos, I exclaimed to a friend, “I even wore zip-off hiking pants for God’s sake!” I hate zip-off hiking pants. Unless I’m actually doing a multi-day trek and then I reserve the right to change my mind. I packed hiking sneakers and special hiking tops bought at Mountain Equipment Co-Op for the “volcano hike” in Arenal. In reality, it was a walk up a trail. Converse would’ve done the job.
I packed too many snacks for the plane, despite the fact that I almost never snack on planes. So I landed in Costa Rica with apples I had to hand over to customs and a bag of half-melted M&Ms in my carry on.
I didn’t pack a raincoat or umbrella…or decent pants…for Monteverde. They don’t call it a cloud forest because it’s dry and sunny all day and being at 4,000′ elevation it’s a bit chilly at times.
I left my hairdryer at home because I wanted to save space in my newly purchased hiking backpack and also thought going without it would somehow mark me as a “serious traveller who doesn’t need the trappings of first world luxury.” Yeah, my hair was a flat disaster and every day I just longed to leave my room without a wet neck. Things take forever to dry in the jungle.
I’ve learned some lessons over the past few years and this time I headed back with a raincoat, sneakers, leggings, a hair dryer and no snacks. But it got me thinking, what are some other goofs people have made when they first started travelling? So I put the word out and seven travellers sent me a few of their own favourite stories.
The Illegal Hike
“There’s a reason crooks wear black and white.”
So there’s this hike on the island of Oahu called the Haiku Stairs, or as it’s more popularly named, the Stairway to Heaven. It scales 2,000 ft to the summit of the mountain and is insanely beautiful, completely exhausting, unbelievably peaceful, and utterly inspiring.
Oh, and it’s a little illegal. And by a little, I mean actually illegal.
But just like using a free water cup to get lemonade at a fast food joint, legality is only relevant if you get caught.
So there I was, feelin’ like a straight up gangsta for sneaking past the guard and climbing thousands of feet, when out of nowhere A HELICOPTER DECENDS UPON ME FROM THE CLOUDS. I shielded my face from the windstorm, and also what I assumed was a news camera. I had taken so many precautions and I hadn’t disturbed any neighbors that would have called the police on me, so how did they spot me?
Then I realized my neon yellow backpack could be spotted from the other side of the island. Probably should have gone more incognito.
The Over the Top Overcoat
I am from the tropical non-Himalayan part of India, a part of the planet which suffers severe heat in the months of summer. Winters in my city are mild. Many years back we planned a winter trip to the Himalayas with our extended family. Scared of the cold that we may face on our vacation, all of us bought overcoats similar to those that are worn in polar winters. During packing, the overcoats captured fifty percent of the volume of the luggage and increased its weight by a dozen kilograms. On reaching the venue we did the unthinkable, we actually roamed around the streets of touristic Himalayan towns in those overcoats. If you think that’s the worst we could do with the overcoats, wait a minute. The car did not have temperature control so we decided to keep wearing the overcoats inside the car. Fattened by the volume of the overcoats, we struggled to fit inside one car. Hiring another car was out of question due to budget constraints, so, some of the family members sat on top of each other. The ones who got squished at the bottom finally started sweating and only then our insane family realised it’s high time we should consider removing the overcoats!
Tania Banerjee – Azure Sky Follows
Visa? What Visa?
I was super-stoked to be visiting Australia for the first time and stay with a friend of mine who had moved out to Melbourne. I’d booked my flights, requested a week off work, made a packing list and arranged how to get to my friend’s apartment once I’d arrived at the airport. The day before, I was chatting to a friend about how excited I was for my trip when she dropped this bombshell:
“So, you got your visa sorted and everything, right?”
To my horror, I had really been that ignorant to assume my British passport would get me into Oz visa-free! I hadn’t even checked! Cue a frantic panic of phone calls to embassies and consulates and travel agencies to get a visa approved with less than 24 hours until my flight. Thankfully, the process was quick, I managed to obtain a visa the morning of my flight and I entered the country without a problem, but it was a close call! Lesson learnt: always check if you need a visa, even if you think you don’t!
Amy Poulton – Page Traveller
Is it just me, or is renting a car while traveling one of the most stressful things ever? There are always so many decisions to be made; how many drivers you will have, if you want to prepay the gas, if you want insurance, if so how much coverage… the list goes on. On my recent trip to Azores, Portugal it was my first time renting a car internationally, so you can imagine a travel goof coming.
After 5 amazing days of driving our car around the island having the best time exploring, it was time to drop the car off and head to the airport to return home. We stopped at a nearby gas station on our way to the rental return to fill up. The previous times we got gas, there was a gas attendant who pumped the gas for us, but for some reason this gas station didn’t have anyone around so we had to figure it out ourselves (which reading a pump in a different language was easier said than done). We figured it out though, so we thought, and got back in the car and made it about 3 miles before the car slowed down and the accelerator stopped working. Thankfully we were able to pull off to the side of the highway before the car came to a dead stop. After countless tries to turn the car back on with no success, we had no choice but to call the rental company to come get us. After waiting for an HOUR we finally got picked up, our car got towed, and they brought us back to the office to figure out what went wrong. Later we found out that the gas we had put in the car was the wrong type of fuel, at the pump I swear they all looked the same! Even though we chose to get the highest level of insurance coverage, of course this didn’t protect us from a rookie mistake like this. We ended up with a hefty repair fee, a loss of use fee, and a tow truck fee, goodbye travel budget!
Rachael – Bee Anything But Boring
Have Heels, Will Travel
I’m from Chicago, aka the Second City, but it wasn’t until ten years ago, that I first went to New York. I was in town for a work conference and wanted to explore the city so I got in a day early. The only knowledge of New York that I had up until that point was from Sex and The City and New York Fashion Week. I thought that everyone in New York was going to be dressed to the nines at all times. That meant wearing heels. While my hotel was downtown near Battery Park, I made plans to meet a friend after work in Bryant Park. I put on my 2.5 inch heeled boots and decided I would walk down Broadway, all the way to Bryant Park.
The first mile and a half wasn’t bad, but I took a break and sat down for lunch after the second mile. By mile three and a half, my feet were on fire. At about that time, people began leaving work which was when I noticed that everyone was wearing sneakers. Women in skirts and suits were all carrying their work heels and walking in sneakers. I felt so stupid; I walked four miles in heels because I thought that all New Yorkers dressed like Carrie Bradshaw! By the time I met my friend, my feet were so blistered and painful that I had to wear sneakers to my conference for the next three days. What a rookie mistake!
Jaime – Jaime Says
The Hiking Boot Quandary
Each and every trip I take I’m reminded of the ridiculous things I’ve done on the trip before. I cringe at the thought of the unnecessary equipment I carried for months and just put up with it!
One particular mistake I always remind myself of is carrying hiking boots that I used only twice in a 6 month trip. It doesn’t sound like much, but you’ve seen hiking boots… They aren’t exactly compact and backpacker friendly by any means! While those two precious times they fulfilled their purpose are wonderful, blisterless memories, I can’t help but wonder if it was really worth it! I could have just as easily brought study weather proof shoes instead of big bulky boots.
Further to my having to wear them on flights, squeeze them in ungodly ways into my backpack, and generally be reminded of their nuisance, I also managed to injure myself with them. In wearing my hiking boots as a substitute for carrying them, I managed to trip up not once but TWICE in the space of a week. Moral of the story: always check your laces…
So present me is calling telepathically to past me: if you insist on taking walking shoes, please make sure you splash out a bit more for ones that won’t take up half of your bag. Or at the very least, remember to do up the laces!
Suzy Whittle – Suzy Stories
Better Early Than Never
When I first started travelling on my own, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Maybe I should explain. I am the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. For those of you who aren’t enlightened by bad luck, Murphy’s Law states that “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.
I had moved to London from Sydney and was working the night and weekend shift at a major newspaper. So I was fairly bleary-eyed and sleep deprived.
One of my first solo jaunts was a whole week in the Emerald Isle. I spent a rain-filled time traipsing through Dublin and Galway before heading back to the airport for my flight home.
The attendant checked my boarding pass. She looked at me. Then she looked back at my boarding pass.
“Uhh, you’ve arrived for your flight a little early,” she said to me. My heart stopped. “You’re booked on tomorrow afternoon’s flight to London”.
I’ve never felt so foolish in my life. It was close to 6pm and I had nowhere to stay for the night, since I was so sure I was leaving that day, that I hadn’t booked my awesome $10 a night hostel room for one more night.
Cue the mad dash for a place to stay. Luckily a pub in Temple Bar had an attic room and I got to spend another night and day in beautiful Ireland.
Katherine Fenech – Bright Lights of America
What’s one travel goof you’ve had as a newbie traveller?