I have come to terms with a very confronting fact. I am human, and I make mistakes.
The ironic thing is, I hate making mistakes. And yet, I know if I didn’t make them, I’d pretty much know nothing about life (I like to see the good in everything). So the whole situation is a catch 22, like a bad relationship you keep going back to, like that chocolate dessert you want, but know you shouldn’t have… mistakes: can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
And when it comes to travel, I’ve made many. But lucky for you, I’ve made all these errors, so you don’t have to. So read on, and learn about some of the mistakes I’ve made while travelling, and how to avoid them. I go through it all for you, my dear readers.
1. Flight Panic
For my recent trip to Canada and the US, I booked flights to Vancouver via South Korea. The flight from Australia was long, and I was eager to get off the plane at Incheon Airport, even just to stretch my legs before the second long haul flight to my final destination.
We had to move through security again, and I noticed that the boarding time for my flight was getting scarily near to closing. Naturally, when waiting in a long line that you need to get through fast, snails begin to overtake you, and I started to get anxious about making the flight in time. I already had a bus transfer organised for when I arrived in Vancouver, and I hated the thought of organising another flight and the transfer afterwards (I also imagined briefly the domino effect, one missed flight leads to several disasters, disasters I was way too tired to deal with). I swear the security guards noticed my impatience, and decided to take it easy that day, because I’ve never seen people move so slowly in my life. Alas, I finally got through the line, and followed the signs that said ‘International Transfers’. My boarding pass for Vancouver already had the gate number printed on it, and I strolled to the end of the airport, happy that I’d made it to the gate in time to board the flight.
However, when I got to the gate, I noticed that nobody was moving, despite the fact that boarding was about to close. And then I saw the sign that said ‘Honolulu (insert flight number here)’. So I walked up to the attendant and asked where I might find the gate for the flight to Vancouver… and then was told that the gate had changed.
Yes, this does happen. Usually, it’s not a big deal. However, Incheon Airport is huge, and as the attendant checked the flight details, he informed me that my flight would ‘now be leaving from Gate 6, rather than Gate 32’, as originally planned. I then realised I had less than five minutes to get from one side of the airport to the other.
I have to paint the picture for you: I am not a runner. And yet, I was forced to run. To sprint. I could have won a marathon the way I flew through that airport. I had a heavy Country Road bag (which I’m sure is always over the weight limit for carry on baggage, because I cram so much in it), my bootlaces were undone, and I was shoving people out of the way as I ran. Shoving people who had probably done the right thing, and checked the departures board for their gate numbers. The best part was the lady who had made the same mistake, and was running after me with a pram. We were seated together on the plane, and she told me how she sat at that gate for hours and hours until she saw me, as I sucked on my asthma puffer and tried not to die.
The Country Road bag: my one constant travel companion. And running buddy.
The moral of the story is: check the departures board for your gate, not the boarding pass printed fourteen hours beforehand. The bonus was, I got my 10000 steps for the day, saw the sights of Incheon Airport, and learned a valuable lesson. And while we’re here… checking your flight details carefully is of the utmost importance (because well, without the flight, you won’t be getting to your destination.) So triple check your flight times, gate numbers, transfer details… anything that will get you where you want to be. They are too important to get wrong.
2. Frivolous Spending
So you’ve saved up all your dosh, and your bank account is looking healthy. Your much-anticipated holiday is just around the corner, and soon, you’ll be allowed to take that money out of its hidey-hole, and spend, spend, spend.
No. Travelling is not an excuse to make it rain with your excess dollars. Be sensible. The sinking feeling you get when you realise you only have ten euros left… it’s so not worth it. Sad face.
In terms of finance, why should travelling be any different to real life? The only difference is what you spend it on. Money that might normally be spent on rent or gas, might be spent on clothes and dinners out. However, the principal is still the same: make a budget, and stick to it. You want to afford that new dress in Prague, or that fancy restaurant in Paris? Plan for it. I have run out of money while travelling, I’ve had my Visa card frozen… I’ve been through it all, and it’s a scary situation to be in.
And while we’re on the subject of frivolous spending, do away with the tacky souvenirs. They’re a waste of money, and usually fall apart the second you set your suitcase down at home. See my post ‘Some Common Sense: Easy Ways to Save Money for Travelling’ for more information about why snowglobes are useless.
3. Frivolous Spending, leading to Suitcase Overload
There is a person in London, who has probably found a flamingo onesie discarded at Gatwick Airport, left behind like the Fox in ‘Fox in the Hound’… sad, but necessary. They’re probably wearing it, all snug and warm, and wondering who could possibly leave such a novelty behind. That person was me. I had to leave it behind. All because of my frivolous spending, leading to total suitcase overload.
When travelling, there are limits. Suitcase limits, that is. And you have to abide by them, or end up purging ski pants and onesies, in order to avoid paying those nasty excess baggage fees. As said before, frivolous spending is one mistake I’ve made while travelling… I am learning slowly. But my frivolous spending also has other consequences, some of which have led to my suitcase reaching bursting point.
The ill-fated flamingo onesie.
When I went to Europe last, I went a bit nuts. I bought a lot of clothes… a lot. Including a sequinned cardigan, that my mother later discovered weighs half a kilo. I not only spent all my money on that Europe trip, but also acquired a flamingo onesie for our ‘bus pyjama day’… if there was any competition, I totally won hands down.
Except when it was time to go home, it was only when we got to the airport that we realised our bags were about twelve kilos over the required limit… and we were told that if we wanted to check in, we had to pay a ridiculous sum of money.
So the entirety of Gatwick Airport saw us rearranging our suitcases at the side of the check-in counter… pulling on jumpers and snow boots, and discarding useless items, sentimental items… like ski pants, and flamingo onesies. In hindsight, I’d never have use for it in the Australian climate. And I look back on it now as a frivolous purchase. But again, I learned a valuable lesson: pay attention to your suitcase. And I did… coming home from the US in January, my suitcase weighed about ten kilos less than required. I’d say that’s a lesson learned right there.
Sequins from Prague: definitely not an impulse purchase.
4. Maps: Not Just for Explorers
Do you think Captain Cook, Christopher Columbus or Genghis Khan got what they wanted without reading a map or two? No. And while you probably aren’t discovering new lands, or conquering old ones, it goes without saying … you my friend, should not walk around a foreign city without a map.
I was in Strasbourg, France with my orchestra a few years back, and we had a few hours to spare. So we decided to do a bit of shopping, and check out the Notre Dame Cathedral (there are two, one in Paris and one in Strasbourg). Nobody had a map, but somehow, we made to the cathedral by asking people on the street (one man rather berated my friend’s French pronunciation of the word ‘cathedral’, without giving directions). However, on the way back to our hotel, we found ourselves lost, and unable to understand any of the directions given by the street goers. Finally, after walking for what seemed like hours, we decided to go into a nearby hotel and ask them for directions. What do you think the first question we were asked?
‘Do you have a map?’
When we shook our heads, we were met with a blank stare, and it was clear. We were idiots. Idiots without a map. The lady behind the counter handed us a map, and sent us on our merry way. We slunk out with our tails between our legs, and found our hotel about ten minutes later.
These days, I delegate map reading to other people in my travelling party… because otherwise, I’d probably walk around aimlessly without one. I got given a map of my school on Friday, and I was impressed I could even read that… because my map reading skills are pretty poor. But the point is, they are there to guide us, and even if you’re terrible at reading them, it’s better to be mapped up, than to go it alone.