1. Booking a Hostel in the Wrong Location
I understand the low-budget/no-budget mentality of looking for the cheapest hostel to stay in. Why wouldn’t you since all you’re going to be doing at the hostel is sleep, right? While this is true, you need to remember the three most important things when booking a hostel: location, location, and location.
No matter what, never go for the cheapest hostel. Obviously read the reviews, but don’t think that you’ll be saving money by booking a cheaper hostel far from the center of town. Not only will you be spending money on the transportation to get from where you are to where you want to be, you will also be wasting the little time that you have. Not to mention the struggle to get home late at night after a couple of drinks with the hostel mates.
It’s a very simple concept but I definitely almost made that mistake on a trip to Italy in 2009. Fortunately for me, my friend Ivan (the handsome young fellow below) set me straight and we picked a centric hostel in Rome. We also made some awesome Finnish friends and had one of the best Easter Eve nights of our lives.
2. Not Getting All The Necessary Visas
I know that the U.S. passport is one of the most powerful passports out there, getting you into 157 countries visa free. However, please do your research beforehand because not all countries that require a visa allow you to get one on arrival. Some countries require you to obtain a visa prior to arrival and will literally send you back if the airline didn’t catch your error before boarding the plane.
I know a couple of people that have purchased their plane ticket (almost always non-refundable) and were turned away at the gate for not having the necessary visa. I also know a few people that have reached a border, only to be told to head back to the nearest consulate and to return only with a visa.
So please make sure you go to your official government’s website to see which countries you can get in visa free and which require a visa prior to arrival. Even if it is just a pdf list like the Peruvian site is, be sure to check it out.
3. Arriving with no Cash
I know we are in the 21st century and most of us walk around without a single Washington. However, when you travel, I recommend bringing a minimum of $300 (2 $100 bills & 5 $20 bills) or a standard of $500 (3 $100 bills, 2 $50 bills & 5 $20 bills) with you. Use your card all you want but it’s very useful to have the $20s handy for quick currency exchanges to buy souvenirs or whatever you need to do at the local market.
Also, errors happen. I’ve seen people arrive with no cash and none of their cards work for whatever reason. That means you are literally stuck with no form of currency until you can call your credit card companies to ensure your cards work abroad.
Two very important tips: 1. Plan on coming back to the U.S. with most of the cash you brought and 2. keep your cash & credit cards separated.
1. If you plan on coming back with the majority of the cash you brought with you then you will have cash for an emergency throughout the trip.
2. In case you get your credit cards or cash stolen, you still have one form of payment with you.
Real life example: My sister and I went to Rio for Carnival in 2016. She booked her flight to leave a day after me since it was cheaper for her. On my last day of the trip, I dropped my sister off at her hostel before I took a cab to the airport. While I was waiting for my cab she told me that she had no cash left. From the $300 I had, I gave her $250 just in case. She thought she wouldn’t need it and even $100 was more enough.
I told her to keep the cash just in case. What do you think happened the next day on the beach when she left her bag in the care of a hostel mate while she enjoyed 2 quick waves in the ocean? The hostel mate turned away to the side to get sand out of her eye, and since my sister’s bag wasn’t strategically placed, a thief grabbed it and ran.
Her credit cards and new phone that I had just bought her (I literally gave it to her once I arrived in Rio) were gone.
Fortunately for her, she had left the cash back at the hostel locker. That meant that she had enough to pay for everything she needed on her last day including the transportation to the airport.
Moral of the story? No one will protect your things as good as you or your brother would. Also, bring cash and keep most of it separated from your credit cards.
4. Not Including Rest/Just-in-Case Days in your Travel Plan
I know, I know. I think I’m Superman too but our bodies, minds and souls do have their limits. It’s great when you plan this awesome adventure, jam packed full of sites to see every single day. You’re also taking night trains/buses to ensure you take absolute advantage of a country you may never go back to.
But chill (wo)man.
You. Will. Get. Tired. And. Need. To. Rest. Trust me. Every 3-4 days make sure to add an extra day in your plan to do absolutely nothing. You will need to rest and kick it back every now and then.
Perhaps you are actually Superman and you don’t need any rest days. However, you always need some Just-in-Case days as well. Just-in-Case you really like a city you are in and want to spend more time there. Just-in-Case you lose your passport in Vietnam and have to spend an extra, unexpected 5 days (since it was over the weekend) getting another U.S. passport.
Shit happens but lets go there prepared. Once we’re there, let’s not forget to rest.
5. Arriving Late At Night
You search online for the cheapest ticket possible and you finally find it. It arrives at 11:50PM but who cares? It’s the cheapest flight and the hostel confirmed that they will come pick you up from the airport so you’re all set right?
The hostel’s pickup service never arrived. Now your mother is stuck alone at the international airport in Amman, Jordan with no way to call anyone in the middle of the night. Not to mention how uncomfortable she feels being the only woman around as she looks for another woman to no avail. What do you do as a female in a foreign country late at night and aren’t comfortable getting into a cab with a man you don’t know?
Well, lets first take a step back.
Public transportation drastically changes at night. Metros usually shut down. Buses that came every 10 minutes now show up once every hour or two, if that. Expensive taxi prices have now shot up at least 30% and that’s all you’re left with. That’s a reality we tend to not think about while planning our great adventure.
So, when arriving late make sure you check the airport’s website and know the times and frequency of all public transportation. Be prepared to take a cab and map out the route to the hostel before hand.
Anyways, what did my Mom end up doing?
Pray of course.
And that’s when she met the Consul of the Republic of Poland to Amman, Jordan who was waiting to pick up two female university professors from Poland. Piotr, being the respectable gentleman that he is, said ‘no way in hell’ (or the equivalent) would he leave my mom at the airport and had my mom join them back to their hotel.
Obviously I felt like shit knowing about what happened. To my defense, it’s hard to argue with a woman, who raised twins as a single mother (and me of all kids), when she tells you that she can handle herself and wants the cheapest ticket regardless of arrival time. Probably one of the few times I should have disobeyed her orders and would have been right. However, if I were to rank everyone I’ve ever met from around the world of who can take care of themselves in any situation, my mother would be first on the list.
I’ll forever be grateful to Piotr for being there for my mom when I wasn’t. Yet even in bad situations, life has a way of making them good. We had the opportunity to meet an intellectual full of culture and passion of both the country he is from and the country he was in. An overall kind human being who took us around Amman on his own accord. After all these years, thanks again Piotr! Your kindness has not been not forgotten!
I did end up taking my mom everywhere she wanted to go on this trip and we had a great time. Be sure to take care of yourself and those around you. Safe travels everyone!
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