With travel, much like life, we learn lessons along the way. Making mistakes and learning from them is part of life, but as the saying goes, ‘you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself’.
When you travel and are responsible for yourself, you truly come to understand what being ‘self-sufficient’ means. Your bags may get lost, you may miss a flight, or your Airbnb may look nothing like the pictures. But, if you expect there to be bumps in the road and have confidence in your ability to overcome them, you’ll not only learn from your mistakes, but come out stronger.
When I think about the trips I took this past year, there are five instances where I learned big travel lessons- not the lost luggage kind, but the, ‘I won’t make that mistake’ again kind.
Taking a trip without travel insurance
Normally, I book one-off trip insurance through World Nomads. Since living in Europe, where I’m traveling much more often and for shorter periods of time, I do annual insurance through Trailfinders for all EU trips.
Trust me on this one, you need travel insurance. It’s not a frivolous cost or place to cut corners. The moment this year that jarred me into realising I could no longer compromise on this area of travel? A £1,700 hospital bill from Paris for a 10 hour emergency room stay. Yikes.
Not knowing the location of the closest hospital
Transitioning from the above, when I had an anaphylactic allergic reaction in Paris, it took me almost 45 minutes to finally get to the right hospital- at which point, I was starting to lose consciousness.
How’d that happen? I ate ice cream that’d been cross-contaminated with pistachios (without me knowing, of course).
My biggest mistake was not knowing which hospitals in Paris had 24 hr emergency rooms. Google ’emergency room Paris’ or ‘hospital Paris’, you get a bunch of return results. I tried asking someone in a pharmacy, but she barely spoke English.
Knowing I needed to get medical treatment asap, I chose one of the hospitals and hopped in an Uber. Unfortunately for me, I’d chosen a children’s hospital where they refused to treat me, even though my reaction had become critical. They did, at least, direct me to the right hospital, but it was another 15 minutes before I got there and found the ER entrance.
Lots of important lessons learned from that incident, most importantly: always know where the nearest hospital is in relation to both city center and where you’re staying.
Neglecting to read the fine print on a flight reservation
If you live in Europe, you likely remember the time Monarch airlines declared bankruptcy and cancelled all flights.
One of the people impacted? #RaisesHand. Luckily, I wasn’t traveling at the time- it was for a flight scheduled for two weeks later. Unfortunately, the cost of rebooking the flight was almost 5x what I originally paid, which meant I had to post-pone the entire trip.
The mistake here? Not reading the fine print at the time of booking, or doing enough research into an airline I hadn’t flown before. If I had, I may have booked the flight that was £20 more at the time of booking, but also with a more reputable airline.
Forgetting to cancel a reservation and paying for a hotel I didn’t stay at
9 times out of 10, I reserve lodging with Airbnb. Traveling through Japan for the first time, I noticed hotel rooms on Booking.com were often similarly priced to affordable hotels (at least in Tokyo and Kyoto for the dates we searched).
Opting for guaranteed comfort and a front desk to leave luggage at before check-in, I reserved rooms with the ‘pay later’ option in Kyoto.
The problem? I forgot about the initial reservation I made. I ended up rebooking another room, but forgot to cancel the first one until it was too late. Not a massive mistake in terms of travel issues, but a financial cost I could have easily avoided if I’d been more organised.
Feeling bad for an Airbnb host at the expense of my safety
Booking a weekend jaunt to Prague on the heels of a trip to the States (plus a few crazy weeks at work), I forgot to contact my host to talk check-in time until the day before my stay. Usually, I try to give them at least a week’s notice.
Granted, this host didn’t reach out to get in touch with me either, I’ll take the blame for what happened as a result.
When I checked in late night after a delayed flight, the host made it well known he was irritable I hadn’t given him more notice I’d need to check in at 10 pm on a Friday night, even stating, “I had to cancel my plans to be here for you.” Couple that with the fact that I was feeling pretty sick, I couldn’t stop apologising/just wanted him to leave so he could get on with his night.
Why was this a problem? I didn’t have him show me details I usually wouldn’t let a host leave without discussing, such as how to open/lock the door.
Fast forward two days later: My ‘feeling pretty sick’ evolved to ‘very ill’ and my friend staying with me left one morning to get me orange juice and soup. As he left the Airbnb, he closed the door behind him.
But, what we didn’t know (and hadn’t realised), was that if the key wasn’t locked in the door from the inside or used to double lock from the front, you could push the door open with enough force. To our credit, if you tried to turn the knob from the outside without properly locking, it felt like the door was locked.
Imagine my surprise ~20 minutes after my friend left when I was just starting to doze off and a strange man burst into our apartment. He ran out apologising immediately but it was enough to jilt me.
The biggest lesson here: Locks in foreign countries are always strange. Make sure you know how to lock/unlock them from both sides. If you’re renting an Airbnb and your host leaves the key under the door or gives you a code to access it, make them write out anything you need to know about locking/unlocking. You’re paying them for a service, it’s the least they can do to ensure you and their property remains safe.
Here’s to another year of travel in 2018. I’m sure I’ll make new (and even bigger) mistakes, but that’s just a part of the journey 🙂
What did you learn while traveling this year? Anything you’d share as a precaution with other travelers?