Ok so I get asked this question A LOT.
“What would you say is the biggest error people make while traveling?”. I have to admit it. I´m not an expert yet. I´m still not the Nomad I´d like to be but I have traveled quite much. And many times you don´t even need to travel that much to figure out the big DON’T´S.
Maybe reading what others have stumbled on and learnt “the hard way” helps you avoid these problems. Believe me, I have gone through every one of these mess-ups and learnt from them!
So here goes my list of don’ts for traveling.
nº1- Don´t pack too much. Weight is everything while traveling. A couple extra kilos when you consider a whole day walking is the difference between having just a sweaty back and need of a beer or two at night and destroying your back AND your trip. Better to take time out of your evening to clean some dirty clothes to be able to use it again next days than to bring too much extra clothes.
Needless to say, right before you leave, you see a use for every object and gadget you have. A flash-light, binoculars (yeah, I did this once…), inflatable cushion, extra chargers, compass, etc.
Add things up and you are carrying some extra weight. Mostly you bring them thinking of one hypothetical situation that could occur once in the whole trip. DON´T BRING THEM. You can do without them or find a way to get one for a few minutes wherever you are. Just be flexible and creative. A well folded sweater is a cushion, your phone is a flash-light, people can give you directions instead of using a map and a needing a compass…
Travel light. Don´t destroy your back.
nº2- Don´t think about how good you look! Comfort goes before fashion. This one seems easy to guess but I have had a couple of female friends who didn´t guess this one! You should bring just enough clothes and very versatile. Just remember nº1! Your shoes should be good trekking shoes and good enough for “dressing up”. Your jacket should be warm and sturdy against bad weather and still do the trick at a meeting.
Remember, if people know you are traveling they won´t care that much about how you are dressed. Friends can help you out and lend you a more suitable shirt or pair of pants once you are there.
nº3- Don´t forget that you are an objective! Before you freak out I don´t mean Al-Qaeda is looking for back-packers. I mean that you are a tourist, a source of money. You will find all the tourist traps in all the perfect locations. Cities like Paris, Zürich, Amserdam, Brussels, etc are made to make you spend all but your last penny. Be wary and know where you are. Organize just a bit before you go. Ask the locals where to eat cheap, what to avoid, and what´s REALLY worth a visit.
Buy some food before getting in the city center, print some maps for places where you have to pay for them (some cities in the Netherlands), get a local couch surfer to bring you to the best places, don´t fall for the typical overly priced tourist shops and money exchange places!
This could be the difference between a two week tour and a 4 day visit!
nº4- Don´t be shy! Talking to strangers and contacting locals (through couch surfing specially) is a MUST. People are eager to help and usually help out more than you would expect. The best example is Couch Surfing where people lodge you for free. You can cut expenses AT LEAST on getting a bed. Normally you will be offered a good party plan, dinner, sightseeing tour, etc. That just depends on you host. Think that a few seconds of blushing when you ask something to a stranger is well worth it if it helps you get good info or help.
nº5-Stop checking your “Whats-app” or Fb every time you hit a free Wi-Fi zone. This is like being the guy at a party who is always interrupting each conversation although he has nothing smart to say. It´s just being a party pooper. Just post once or twice a day saying all is ok and you are having an epic time. Your friends can wait till you are back. No need to waste precious time on that. Look around, not at that damn screen all the time.
Live the moment.
nº6- Don´t stress yourself all the time about where you actually SHOULD BE at the moment or what´s left in the city to see. Plans, 99% of the time, don´t roll out as you would wish. You can´t see everything you want and a 10 minute walk in a city you don´t know with 4 friends will always add up to 20. Your tight “run-around-the-city” sightseeing schedule will not work unless you are Swiss or German.
Enjoy, Disfruta, Geniess, you should take your time seeing things and getting lost in the city. I personally HATE totally organized trips with schedules and strict timetables. People go from one Monument to another using the metro or bus, get a photo done(jumping in the air during the photo, optional) and then run off to get to the next monument. Use google maps from your home if that´s what you are looking for.
Just relax and enjoy!
nº7-Don´t forget that YOUR MOTHER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. If she says “put on a coat” 10 times per day in 10 different messages LISTEN TO HER. Getting sick while traveling is, needless to say, a big fuck-up. You don´t only put you own trip on the line, but also that of your travel companions.
Get ready for a visit to the doctor with all its difficulties and add up the language barriers, sometimes low sanitary and medical conditions, problems with payments, cards and insurance companies…
It´s not always easy and of course we all get sick once in a while. Even more while you are traveling because you are on the road and moving around all the time, cold, sometimes hung-over and battered. Just stick to the basics of keeping warm and dry, fed and not overly intoxicated!
A apple a day keeps the Doctor away! Depending of course how hard you throw it at him.
nº8- Don´t think you are Superman/Superwoman! Stay smart. Even though I have a good idea of my physical condition I have learnt that you have to stay rational when it comes to holding out a whole day of walking, visiting, meeting, etc… and then go one or two levels more pessimistic.
No you should not carry your backpack around with you the whole day. Get rid of it at somebody´s house or talk to someone in a local shop to leave it there for some hours. Bring a smaller backpack with you to bring only the essentials. Remember the weight.
Eat little “snacks” every now and then and drink often to keep your body going. Forget the Italian/Spanish style 3 hour lunch. You spend your energy much quicker while you travel than normal because you are looking at everything, attentive, enthusiastic and nervous.
A to-go coffee can also be a help when you are starting to feel a little weak. Give yourself some rest at night. Don´t think you´ll get up after a huge party and a 3 hour sleep and visit the city in the time you guessed. Take your fatigue into account!
If your idea is to walk through Barcelona the whole day to see everything from early in the morning to late at night…forget it. Be less ambitious for the day. Go relaxed. More calm. What you calculated would take 1 hour will normally be 1,5.
nº9- Don´t bring 7 books “because you will have plenty of time to read on the bus”. Nah, that doesn´t work. I do it pretty much every time I travel and still stumble on the same stone every time. You won´t have the time. You will be sleeping, talking, or figuring out where the hell you are going. Those books just add weight and problems when it rains. Bring one or max two. Exchange them in hostals or ask hosts if they have a good book to spare. Believe me, you´ll find a way if you really need one.
Plus, if you have time to read all those books in a short trip…you are doing something wrong..
nº10. Don´t think that English or Spanish is a secret Elvish language that nobody undesrtands! Everybody understands you. Just be careful with your criticism and brave words when talking about the country you are in or it´s people. Don´t be an ass. I have seen and “felt” what can happen when you think you are being funny and nobody understands you. Don´t try to be a smart ass saying some nasty words to somebody you are pissed off with just because you GUESS they don´t understand you. These are two of the most spoken languages of the world!
nº11(Optional). Don´t go to McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King…etc. For Spanish people: let´s just stop going to the typical “Spanish Tapas bar” just “to see what it´s like”. We know what these restaurants taste like and what to expect. We haven´t come to a new country to taste our own food, right?
This is all unless you are in a country so expensive that it´s needed OR you need “almost free” Wi-Fi. Then Mc Donalds comes in quite handy!
Try national dishes. You can almost always find cheap things in stands that are quick to buy and tasty!
Any other big DON´T? I can think of at least 5 more right out of the top of my head…but…I´m going to leave those for further on. Let me know what you think!
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