“How to Ruin Your Trip”…what kind of a downer title is that?!?! After all, you’ve plotted, planned, packed and prepared. Dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. What could possible go wrong?
You’d be surprised.
How to ruin your trip–not as hard as you think!
Here are a dozen small ways things can go sideways. Some are easy to miss, some are simply a lack of foresight or shyness. Let’s go though a trip and find some of the glitches that can cause trouble “down the road” without proper attention.
- NOT checking your passport. Always start here. Although some countries may have different criteria, generally, your passport must be valid for 3-6 months after you return from your trip. You’ll also need to have a certain number of blank pages (usually 2-4) before you leave. You can be prevented from boarding a plane if your passport doesn’t comply. For U.S. passport FAQs, click here.
- NOT researching your destination. This doesn’t mean which attractions you plan to visit. It means basic information that will allow you to enter the country in the first place, then tour it safely. Honestly, you don’t want to be caught unaware. Here are some things you should do:
- Go to the U.S. Department of State Destination website. Yes, I know the government isn’t concerned with the ease of site navigation. Get a cup of coffee–or glass of wine–and settle in. Useful stuff is there: travel warnings, passport requirements, etc.
- Or, just Google “What do I need to know about going to [….]”
- And Google the country: tourism, government, etc.
- What else should you know? Immunizations? Entry/Exit Visa? How’s the water?
- How does the health system work? Are there 24-hour pharmacies?
- How do you get from the airport to your hotel or wherever you’re going? Are there official taxis? How much should you pay? Do they take USD, or will you need local currency?
- What’s the weather? Average temperatures? Will it be rainy season? When is sunset?Weather.com provides annual/monthly information.
- Do you need outlet adapters? Do you need to pack an ethernet cable?
- If there are any other logistics you should know, find out NOW.
- NOT booking your first and last hotel rooms. Perhaps, back in our crazy youth, we decided to just go someplace and figure it out when we got there. It was a bad idea then, and even worse as we get older. Here’s the deal: You have a plane ticket. You know when you are arriving and when you are departing. There are no surprises. Give yourself peace-of-mind and find a nice place to stay. When you arrive, you will likely have jet lag and feel discombobulated. Before you leave, you need to repack and become airline-compliant. However devil-may-care you may be during the interval, just do this for yourself.
- NOT reading reviews or guidebooks about hotels…or must-see sites. Get at least three guidebooks from your library to learn about how to exchange money, public transportation, best neighborhoods, phones…all the things you do every day without thought. Check the places you want to visit, and some you’ve never heard of. Then purchase your favorite book. Of course, the Internet has plenty of resources. Trip Advisor has millions of reviews to help you plan. Although there has been some brouhaha about “planted” reviews, I rely on the folks who have gone before me to tell me what’s-what. Still, I travel with a guidebook. Depending where you’re going, there are some outstanding choices: Fodor’s, Frommers, Lonely Planet, Moon, and Rick Steves come to mind. Find one that fits your travel style and philosophy.
- NOT getting a cell phone plan or SIM card or making a Skype account. How will you maintain contact with your family and friends? Depending where you are heading, it can be a challenge. If you want to be off the grid, no problem. But if you like to post updates and photos from your tour, or want to call your mother or kids, find out how to do that NOW. Without a plan, international calling and data rates will force you to take out a second mortgage. Start with your carrier, but also look into other options: I used Skype during my 7-week walk on the Camino de Santiago. I can’t advise you here, but don’t wait till you arrive to figure it out.
- NOT packing light. You already know this. Nothing weighs you down like luggage filled with a “what if” wardrobe. And, if you can’t manage your suitcase by yourself, then something needs to come out of it. This cannot be over-emphasized. On a tour? Some may even require that you learn to pack light. Read my Packing Light tips here. NOT bringing easy health fixes. Expect the best, prepare for the worst. Literally, sh*t happens when your gut encounters new foods. Or your shoes get tight, or a headache pops up, a new rash, constipation…don’t be naive. Bring a few essentials to save the day.
- NOT making hard copies. New flash: not every destination has 24-hour Internet. Even the most popular destinations may only have it in the hotel lobby or at sparse Internet cafes. To expect otherwise is, well, not realistic. Make a trip spreadsheet, print out reservations, do whatever to be sure that you can do your trip without the Internet or Cloud. Is carrying paper old-fashioned? You betcha. But until things get more reliable, just do it.
- NOT bringing easy health fixes. No matter how robust you are, there is still a chance of diarrhea or constipation. A blister or a rash. A headache at 3 am. Packing a few basics can save you both misery and a trip to an all-night pharmacy where you have to pantomime your ailment. Some countries won’t dispense things like cortisone cream without a prescription. Be like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared.
- NOT charging devices before you go. If you don’t do this, you deserve to suffer the consequences. Phones, laptops, notebooks, cameras, backup batteries, eBook readers…if it plugs in, don’t leave home without it being fully charged. If you require a C-PAP machine, make sure you have a back-up battery. You never know when you will see the next outlet.
- NOT being in “real time.” Once you’re there…it’s time to give it your full attention. This means removing your eyes from behind the camera lens. LOOK! WATCH! Yes, you want to record these memories, but all you can see is what the narrow view is as you search for the perfect angle or lighting. Too many people do this, in their effort to take photos for social media. Stop! This is your trip, not anyone else’s. As a wise friend told me, “Either you see it, or you photograph it.” Give yourself permission to simply be present and enjoy the moment.
- NOT talking to locals. To me, it’s really sad to think that we could go far away and never leave our comfort zone. All over the world, people are delightful, and not that different from us. They worry about their children, their old age, how to make money, whether the harvest will be good, if the politicians are crooked… Language is less important than making the effort. Gestures and facial expressions work wonders. Head into a local pub or family restaurant. Visit a church during a service. Talk to a shopkeeper, taxi driver, or hotel maid. This is where the treasure is. Absolutely, visit the museums and monuments. But you’ll miss the best opportunity by not interacting with a local.
- NOT rolling with the circumstances. “The best laid plans…” After all your careful planning, you arrive, ready to make the most of your experience. Then: Storms or strikes. Detours or delays. Volcanoes. Floods. Droughts. Zika. A complete renovation of the only museum you have wanted to see your entire life. Yes, these things happen. And they are not personal. There can be no denying your enormous disappointment. Go ahead and feel it. Then, look around and find something else to do. The gift of travel? There is always something to see, and it can be amazing. You would never have known about it otherwise. Buck up and get out there.
So…that’s how to ruin your trip. Travel is precious in many ways. It takes our time, energy and resources to make it happen. Will everything go smoothly? Probably not. But if we anticipate some of the hurdles, all will be well. And it will be our own experience, our own memories. Ones that we’ll treasure for years to come.