Sometimes, it seems like my RTW trip is an endless string of mistakes. This was especially true in my first couple of months on the road. I’ve gradually come to terms with the fact that I’m not defined by my mistakes. In fact, the last time I left my shampoo at a hostel, I barely batted an eye. All the same, travel mistakes can add up to a lot of stress and a lot of extra money spent, so take a moment to learn from my worst.
Tape a last minute checklist to your front door
I was devastated my first afternoon in Reykjavik when I realized I had left my everyday black cardigan hanging on the closet door at home. I wasn’t even 12 hours into my RTW trip, and I’d already screwed up?! Fortunately, this was something that was easy and inexpensive to replace. But to leave behind something I use all the time, both at home and on the road, felt mind-numbingly stupid to me.
Whether it’s an extra layer for the plane or a toiletry you need before leaving, there are bound to be at least a couple things that won’t go in your bag until the last minute. Tape a checklist to your front door the day before you go. Bonus points for putting it on bright paper. Anything that will help grab your attention as you leave and keep you from forgetting a last-minute packing item.
Don’t rush off the plane
At the end of a long travel day, it’s natural to be eager to get out into the world. On flights, there’s also a sense of pressure from other passengers to move out as quickly as humanly possible, which can be a tall order when you’re in a middle or window seat and have baggage in the overhead bin.
Give yourself some lead time by gathering anything you’ve removed from your bags as the plane lands. When it’s time to get up, take a moment to double check your seat before taking your bag out of the overhead bin. The people behind you can just deal. If I had taken even a couple seconds to look at my seat after landing in Barcelona, I wouldn’t have lost my sarong.
Before you leave any mode of transportation – plane, train, bus, or taxi – double check that you have all your belongings. And that goes triple for your hostel.
Take care of your chargers
The amount of stuff I have either broken or lost in just three months is astonishing. It often seems like the minute I repair or replace one item, another one bites the dust. In moments like these, I’m so grateful I followed Katie Aune’s advice about adding 5% to your travel budget to cover contingencies like this. Nonetheless, it is frustrating to constantly have to troubleshoot your packing list.
The most frustrating thing by far has been the endless parade of phone chargers. I’m convinced I must be doing something wrong because in three months I’ve gone through four separate charger cables. The one I brought with me from home broke at the end of my first month. So I bought a cheap replacement. Surprise, surprise, the cheap replacement didn’t work. So I splurged on a nicer replacement, one with a woven cord. Surely that would last longer! Nope, after about six weeks, it started charging my phone about five times slower than usual. Now I’m on charger number four and I’m making this one count!
Treat your electronics with care. Be very cautious in how you pack up your chargers and their cables so the wiring doesn’t get bent out of shape. And maybe carry a backup from home with you, just in case.
Look up directions before you arrive
My most stressful moments on the road are typically when I’m trying to find the hostel I booked. That stress quadruples when I turn up someplace near sunset and every minute that passes puts me closer to wandering around alone in the dark.
If you book on Hostelworld, nine times out of ten, your confirmation email will include directions to the hostel. These are written by the hostel staff, so the quality can vary. Sometimes they aren’t detailed enough and you’re better off using Google Maps. But many times, they will include things like landmarks, bus prices, or other details that make them better than Google Maps. Go ahead and pull up (or print out) both your confirmation email and a map before you arrive.
Have a strong game plan the minute you set foot off the plane/train/bus. It will be less stressful and (bonus) if you don’t look lost, you won’t attract as much attention from pickpockets or other unsavories.
Don’t book too many things at once
Traveling long term means you often have to make travel arrangements while you’re on the road. It can be tiresome to have to set aside time for travel planning every few days. I thought I was saving loads of time by booking a fast-paced month of travel all at once. If you have a big chunk of travel to book from another destination, do yourself a favor and pace yourself.
By booking tons of hostels and bus rides at once, I lost sight of many details from minor ones, like which hostels only accept cash payments, to major ones, like what days I’d be traveling.
In the rush of trying to get everything done, I somehow managed to book an overnight bus ride and a hostel for the same night. I didn’t realize it until I was already within the hostel’s 72 hour cancellation policy, so I lost my entire payment for the night.
I also got just one of my travel dates mixed up, which threw off the entire rest of my itinerary. For the most part, I was able to correct this. But while all my hostel reservations got sorted out, I completely forgot to reschedule my bus from Split to Dubrovnik. I wasted hours tracking down an Internet cafe to print my ticket and then waiting for a bus that would never come before realizing my error. Getting a new ticket was simple, but it definitely hurt my budget (and my ego).
What much of this boils down to is pacing yourself. One of my biggest frustrations in a couple months of very fast paced travel was the sense that I kept making the same mistakes over and over. It’s hard starting over every few days. I’m slowing down and spending month four in just one place so I can regroup!
Learning how to travel long term is a process. One of my greatest accomplishments so far? Getting more comfortable with dining alone. Read my tips for solo travelers eating out.
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