5 Travel Mistakes I’ve Made in Three Months (and How You Can Avoid Them)

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.

Parc Guell 1k
Barcelona was a fairly easy place to replace lost and broken items, but I’d naturally prefer to save that money for more fun things!

Table of Contents

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.

Montpellier Street Art 1g
On any mode of transportation you take, there’s a risk of losing your things. Always double check your surroundings before moving on.

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.

Backpack Tech
Respect your tech. Don’t let travel put too much wear and tear on your chargers.

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.

When you can’t find your hostel, sunsets are more stressful than beautiful.

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.

I didn’t have nearly enough time in Milan – all because I booked my bus rides too hastily.

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).

Pace yourself

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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  1. Great post 🙂 totally agree with all of these, particularly looking up directions before you arrive, I’ve had a few disasters from not doing that in the past!

    1. I’ve been fortunate enough to not land in any truly dangerous situations, but when I arrived in Dubrovnik at sundown only to find out just how far away my “central” hostel was, I was ready to cry.

  2. All really helpful advice, especially the bit about pacing yourself and not booking too much at once. I always end up overstretching myself and wishing I had allowed more time for everything!

    1. Overstretching is right. I thought visiting two or three attractions in a sightseeing day would be a good pace, but more and more often I find myself scaling down to just one.

  3. Hi! Thanks for this! I can relate I lost so many things on the road! Like extra batteries for my camera etc and I totally agree for not booking too much in advance you ger confuse and make mistakes and not enjoying the moment because you re caught up in planning plus you can be flexible! I went to Nepal a couple months ago and i would have stayed longer I hadn t plan and paid for the trip after! So thanks for the tips 😉

    1. Extra batteries is a good one! I thought I was so clever packing rechargeable batteries and a portable charger, but I still have to make emergency restocks from time to time.

    1. I find no matter how much I hurry, I still have to wait. Taking an extra minute on the plane to gather my things (and my thoughts) usually makes that wait at customs go more smoothly. Taking steps like checking in online, signing up for TSA Pre-Check, and packing light so you don’t have to check a bag are where you can cut down your airport time.

  4. I’m sorry these mistakes happened to you, but thank you for sharing. The taking care of chargers is so important. I just had a friend staying with me on a very small budget and she was SUPER bummed when she had to buy a new charger. Adding $$ to your budget and taking care of them is great advice. I always print our directions from a train station to my hostel and have hard copies on me.

    I hope the rest of your trip goes a bit smoother!

    1. Ugh – replacing chargers is the worst! I’m so glad I’m not the only one, though.

      Keeping hard copies is so smart of you. Next time I’m in a hostel with a readily available printer, I’m taking advantage and printing every possible confirmation I can.

  5. Definitely agreeing with you on all points, but especially on not rushing to much and the checklist. I always forget stuff, I just know it already when I leave that there is something I’m forgetting. But in the days before I don’t think about them even though I make a little checklist (probably not big enough haha).

    1. I keep my main packing list on my phone, which has been enough on the road. But gosh, in those days before leaving…you’re right, bigger is better!

    1. It sounds like it’s all of us! I’m finding the most important thing to reducing my stress level on the road is learning to be less hard on myself when I do things like this.

  6. Lol I do the SAME thing with the note on the door! If I’m ultra paranoid I’ll forget something super important, I’ll set an alarm for the hour before I need to leave. As long as I have my passport and glasses, I can survive… but missing something you love – like a cardigan – can be a major damper for sure.

  7. Great tips for traveling. Agree, it is important to look behind you when getting up from a flight, train or bus. I’ve also found things I would have left behind if I didn’t look. I am going through the personal challenge of wearing out chargers as well. So right, need to be gentle with tech…and no buying cheap replacements 🙂 Cheers!

    1. I’m so relieved I’m not the only person who has worn out chargers on the road. No cheap replacements is right! I’ve also heard a pen spring can help keep the cord straight.

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