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My 10 biggest travel mistakes

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

Writing this post has been so much fun: my 10 biggest travel mistakes. Some of them should not be taken too seriously, others might indeed help you avoid making the same mistake. Enjoy! And please don’t forget to leave your own noteworthy travel mistake in the comments!

Travel mistake no. 1: Traveling in a group

Many of you love to travel in a group. It’s safe, you meet nice people and you don’t have to think of anything. And true, we met some great people while we traveled with a group. But for us, group travel turned out to be a mistake. If you, like in a group, don’t have to arrange anything, you won’t get to learn about a country. More importantly, group travel witholds you from wandering off, from walking forking paths.

Travel mistake no. 2: When crossing the river Nile, following a sign mentioning “Tourists”

This is our most stupid mistake. I am making confessions here, I am ashamed…
We rented bikes to visit The Valley of the Kings in Luxor. We drove back to Luxor town and had to cross the Nile. There were regular ferries, used by local people and without hardly any costs. We drove downhill on our bikes when we had to choose left or right. We knew turning right was the way to the local ferry (costs like 10 cents). But a sign saying “Tourists” pointed left. We hesitated and chose to go left. I still don’t know how we fell into that obvious tourist trap! But we did. Paid a ridiculous amount of money. But hey, it was a private tour….

Most amazing ancient ruins

Travel mistake no. 3: Believing you have negotiated a good price for transport

“No Mister, I didn’t mean Egyptian pounds, but English pounds!”

We had a wonderful trip with horse and carriage in Luxor, Egypt. We negotiated a price on beforehand, according to the books. 10 pounds I believe it was, Egyptian pounds we assumed. When we got out of the carriage this guy put up his pokerface and dared to ask British pounds! We had quite an nasty argument, didn’t pay the full amount but had to give him some extras otherwise things might gotten out of hand. You will always be victim of such tourist scams. Know how to react and surely don’t let it ruin your vacation!

Travel mistake no. 4: Trusting nobody

This is a FEAR component of traveling. People are so afraid of strangers approaching them. Or they are afraid to just ask strangers when they got lost.
You are a stranger in a strange land. Yes, please read that sentence again. YOU are the stranger when you travel abroad. So please do not hesitate to ask other people for help. Don’t only talk to fellow tourists, but ask locals. They are for sure happy to help you and they might even show you something that you did not find in your travel guide.

Travel mistakes

I was afraid approaching people in Cuba because we couldn’t speak Spanish. Had I known before that you can also speak very well with hands, sounds and smiles, we might have had a different experience.

Travel mistake no. 5: Trusting everybody

What’s that Emiel?! You just told me to trust everybody, now you say that’s a mistake and we should trust nobody. Some kind of advice from this “travel-expert”!

Well, people are people. You always meet some who only want to make some money by ‘helping’ you. They might guide you to the factory of their cousin. You all know these embarassing moments when you said yes and ended up in some factory listening to a guy explaining (in bad, impossible to understand English) how tapestries are made. Yes, we have been there…

In the end no (physical) harm is done, you just lose some time. However, if you travel on a tightly scheduled itinerary, time is valuable and that visit could turn out to be a pain in the, well you know what.

Talking about full itineraries, here comes another mistake:

Travel mistake no. 6: Planning a full itinerary when traveling with children

Luckely we didn’t make this mistake, but I would like to warn families that are on the verge of traveling the world: don’t plan a full itinerary. Don’t plan to see the whole country. Adjust to the speed of your children.
Do enjoy days without anything planned. Your children cannot absorb that much as you can, so slow down..

Family travel Bali

Travel mistake no. 7: Believing you won’t get sick in India (Delhi-belly for sure!)

If you want to visit a dazzling country, one where the memories will stay with you for the rest of your life, go to India. We departed after first listening to all kinds of warnings, most of them about hygiene. If we had to believe everyone, we couldn’t touch anything in India! According to ‘them’, we had to bring our own plate, fork, knive and glass because anything else would be contaminated. But we were young and strong, thought we could do without all the advice. We believed Delhi-belly (the disastrous result of contaminated food or water, you know what I mean) was not meant for us.
Stick to hygiene rules if you want to make the most of your time (especially in India), and yes, particularly when you travel with your children. Your kids don’t like sick parents…

Travel mistake no. 8: Staying in jungle lodge when family member is extremely afraid of bugs

Mistake, mistake. Spouse is quite afraid of spiders and bugs. So then why book a jungle lodge?

During the day everything looks peaceful. But then the sun sets and someone pushes “Mute Off”. The sounds of the jungle are astonishing! It’s music and at the same time hurts your ears. And yes, things start flying and crawling around. Outside and inside your cabin….

Jungle lodge

But we survived (of course) and had a great time (daytime that is). But I guess the next jungle trip will be a concrete one.

Travel mistake no. 9: Second time around creates the same experience

I am not sure about this one, maybe you can help me. I don’t believe in second-time visits. You will never get to that same level of wonder you had the first time you discovered this amazing place.

Your memory of that first visit is the most valuable one. Treasure it. There is so much to see in this world that a second visit is just a waste of time. Agree?

Travel mistake no. 10: Trusting your kids to watch their own back-pack

This is unbelievable. We were on our way to Bali, Indonesia. We took the bus from our house to the train station downtown. We got out of the bus and walked toward the train station. Our trip finally begun!
Just as a common question I asked my son if he still had his backpack (carrying his Ipod, Nintendo and all other important stuff for a 12-hour flight). He looked at me with guilt and he didn’t need to say more. He forgot his bag, after 10 minutes! (very) Luckely the bus stopped for a while at the train station so we could ran and retrieve his bag. Kids are just too enthousiastic and have a lot of impressions to cope with. Make sure to watch all your posessions when you leave a car, bus or train.

Maybe next time stitch it to his sweater?

Actually it wasn’t all that bad, was it? I didn’t make very big mistakes….right?
OK, now it’s your turn: tell me about your biggest travel mistake. Help other readers avoid them so only magic travel memories remain…

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Justin May 15, 2011 - 21:09

Great List! For me trust has been huge when traveling. It’s always a risk, but my gut has always served me well and most people are nice and helpful. No point in being scared of travel unless you really see something really scary. Give yourself a chance to make your impressions of a new place and people.

Thanks for reminding me.

Riyad Almubarak May 6, 2011 - 14:28

You know, I’m strongly agree with you concerning second time visit, I don’t think there will be more to discover at the same place you’ve visited once. And more important as you have mentioned, there are a lot of places to see and discover on earth so why we waste our time doing the same trip again, and watching same faces and views?

keep it up, I really got benefit from it 🙂
Thank you indeed

Emiel May 12, 2011 - 22:35

I will keep it up Riyad, hope you stay inspired and create more benefits. If you want to read about a particular subject, please let me know!

Emiel April 29, 2011 - 21:50

@alastor993: love your comment, great advice on how to deal with these kinds of experiences. And bringing a notebook is a very good idea: guess making little drawings always put a smile on everybody’s face!

alastor993 April 28, 2011 - 02:57

I completely agree with #4 and #5, the whole trust thing.
Living in China has taught me that some taxi drivers and all shopkeepers will try to make the most profit they can, it’s not because they enjoy taking a piss, but it’s life and business. It is your busniss then to get a good price. Afterward everyone’s happy, you got your best price and so did they.
As for asking the locals, some people will gladly help eventhough you can’t understand eachothers language, but I have also encountered some that won’t even look at you while you’re standing in the middle of nowhere being very lost.
When this happens, again don’t get frustrated, in China some people just get very nervous and scared being confronted with a Loawai – a foreigner.
In any case bring a notebook and pen so you can make little drawings and write things down to make yourself understood when words can’t help you!

Sarah April 22, 2011 - 04:15

I agree with you on the 2nd time visit. I think 2nd item visit is good but you won’t have the first wonder and surprise experience. Unless you visit a different place or town.

bringingtravelhome April 21, 2011 - 04:47

I’ve been there with #5 .
#9 is interesting to think about as we will be going back (for the first time) to where we used to live in Italy .. It’s magical to us because of our time there and memories, but 8 yrs later, will need to realize it will feel quite different.
great post!

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:43

Thank you Monique. Great news that you go back to Italy! Don’t worry about #9, this has been your home town and in that case it will never be dissapointing. Although it might have changed a lot during the time you lived in the USA. I wish you a fabulous time in Italy: let’s bring travel home!

bringingtravelhome April 21, 2011 - 22:25

thanks emiel, yes, we will go back to Italy but only for a holiday next year. We are in the states for a good long while !

Mark Robertson April 20, 2011 - 11:49

I love 4&5. Know exactly what you mean. There are “calculated trusts” (like risks) that are usually very rewarding. But we’ve gotta know the culture and so forth.

I’d also add: Don’t argue about driving tickets with police that are obviously part of a corrupt system (especially in Nicaragua). If you’ve done this once, don’t do it again…ugh.

GREAT list. I’m taking mental notes re:the kids parts


Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:39

Great comment Mark! Calculated trusts is a very good definition, sometimes you have to take a risk. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you have an experience of a lifetime!
And yes, don’t ever argue with the police…

Tien April 20, 2011 - 02:51

Emiel, I couldn’t agree more with number 1. Travelling to a new place, one would think that it’s best to get professionals to plan everything for you because well, they know best! Taking a solo trip once without a tourist guide was all it took to convert me. Now I realise why the thought of travelling to a foreign land was always much more magical than the travelling experience itself (in a group). After a group trip, I always felt like something was missing but I couldn’t pinpoint what. Planning a trip and learning your ways around a new place is a big part of the adventure itself and that was the missing puzzle. I’m not too sure ofnumber 9 too and I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet.

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:35

Spot on Tien! Group travel is a safe way of discovering unknown countries. But at the same time it’s a wall that prevents you from soaking up the culture and the local habits. I am sure there are some great guides and group travels out there, but for us no more. Thanks for sharing!

jacquelincangro April 19, 2011 - 17:10

Great suggestions. I agree with number 1. Group travel means you won’t meet as many locals or go to local places, such as restaurants. You are less likely to meet local people because it’s easier to talk to the people in your group. (Although women traveling in certain areas might be advised to stick with group travel for safety.)

My biggest mistake is trying to save as much money as possible. Sometimes there are things worth the splurge: a cab to the airport when you’re exhausted, a hotel in the center of town rather than the outskirts, getting a rental car with air conditioning in the middle of the summer. 😉

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:33

That’s a very good travel mistake you mentioned there: trying to save as much money as possible. I know exactly what you mean and I also make that mistake. Saving money is fine, but spending money on a great experience is even better.

Dheza - The Weekend Traveller April 19, 2011 - 11:10

I have to disagree with no. 9. Second visits are not a waste of time. There are places that merit second and even third visits because of the first-time experience. Especially if those places leaves you with very special memories.

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:27

Hello Dheza, welcome! I am glad you disagree. That #9 is a difficult one. I always long to go back to a place I really liked. But most of my ‘second-times’ were different experiences which made me hesitate. But anyway, I know now you have some gems in Belgium and the Philippines which are paradise to you. Places that you can visit a dozens times without getting bored. Thanks for your comment!

Bama April 19, 2011 - 01:29

My biggest and most stupid mistake is when I traveled to Manila. I have the map but I didn’t check for the scale. When I tried to reach the hostel where I stayed I simply chose to get off an MRT station which on map looks close to the hostel. When I got off the I got confused and decided to ask local people which direction is the street that I was looking for. Everyone that I asked told me that it’s far away and I should take the Jeepney. But then I asked how far is it. One guy said it’s 1 km away. Then I thought, well, I can walk 1 km, so I decided to walk instead of taking the Jeepney. WRONG DECISION. It was not 1 km, probably it’s 5 km (I don’t know, I just felt extremely exhausted when I finally reached the hostel). So, my mistakes was:
1. Not checking for the map scale (stupid, huh?)
2. Not listening to what local people told me

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:21

That’s a travel mistake worth sharing here, Bama! A bit of walking never hurt anyone (although with lots of luggage it might be a bit strenuous) but not listening to what locals have to tell you can indeed turn out to be a big mistake. On the other hand, when I was in Chicago in 2005 I wanted to walk for 1km or so and asked for directions at the local Taco Bell. They looked at me crazy: “You don’t want to go walking, take a cab!”. They just didn’t like the idea of walking. So there I also didn’t listen to the locals….

Michi April 18, 2011 - 23:42

Great post, Emiel! I’m with you on #9 especially. I don’t like second time visits at all, unless it’s somewhere that I really loved, like Prague or Morocco (and okay, I’ve been to Vegas countless times but I lived close by at the time). 😉
These are very good traveling tips, thank you for sharing! I love your view on traveling with family as well.

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:15

Gracias Michelle! I know you love Morocco, just as we love it. Prague we still have to visit someday. Just as Vegas, but well, we’re not in a hurry for that one 🙂

amblerangel April 18, 2011 - 23:35

You mean bringing the Offspring isn’t a travel mistake? Kidding! This isn’t exactly a mistake- but- a recommendation based on lots of traveling with kids. When luggage space is at a premium, opt for bringing fewer clothes (can rinse out with shampoo and hang dry over night when needed) and make sure kids have digital cameras to keep them busy and engaged all along the way. Plenty of inexpensive versions available.

Emiel April 21, 2011 - 21:13

Emily, Emily, I know you love your Offspring 🙂 I guess some indeed believe it’s a travel mistake to bring kids along!
Giving kids a digital camera is a great idea. We did it twice and I must say they made some great shots! And indeed it keeps them busy. It also kept them fighting with each other because they both wanted that one camera… have to buy another one..


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