My biggest travel mistakes and how to avoid them

Everyone makes mistakes when they travel and I’ve made so many it would be impossible to recall them all. I do my best not to dwell on things or regret anything. I think as long as you learn from your mistakes it makes you a better traveller in the long run.

Here are a few of the worst:

I didn’t do enough research

While I was backpacking through SE Asia I looked up where all the other backpackers were going at the time but I didn’t research why they were going there. If you learn about the history and culture of a place before you arrive, I definitely think you appreciate it that bit more and get more from the experience.

I remember going to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and seeing hundreds of people chanting and carrying bowls of rice. At the time I was just really confused, but if I’d known it was The Festival of the Dead I would have appreciated this unique experience.

I forgot my passport

Have you ever had that sinking feeling when it feels like your insides have just fallen out of your stomach? It happens quite often when you’ve got to the airport and you think you’ve forgotten your passport, but 99% of the time it’s there, tucked inside a book or at the bottom of your bag. I have this virtually every time I go away but I had it for real when I caught the ferry to Amsterdam.

Thankfully I had just enough time to dash back home and get it but I can guarantee that I will never forget my passport ever again. This experience has actually made me the most organised traveller possible. I now have a special wallet for my tickets and a checklist that I go through before I leave the house (for any other forgetful people I would definitely recommend one of these!)

I didn’t take my laptop

When I first left to go travelling I barely even knew what a blog was. I wasn’t into social media and I had no idea about photo editing software, so I didn’t think I’d need a laptop. Oh, how I was wrong!

As a long-term traveller, there is nothing better than finding a nice café with wifi where you can chill out and have a beer or a fruit shake while catching up with your friends and family on Skype. But if you don’t have your own laptop you’re restricted to dingy little Internet cafes with slow connections and computers the size of a small car.

Please note: I’m not in any way suggesting you should spend your entire trip with your head buried in your laptop.

I ended up getting my laptop posted over which cost a small fortune and I wish I’d just taken it with me in the first place. It’s also great for watching films on long journeys and backing up your photos. Which leads me to my next point….

I didn’t back up my photos

When you’re travelling continuously it’s easy to forget certain places or people you’ve met (well it is for super forgetful people like me) but photos can help you remember everything. Well they could if you didn’t lose your memory card before you backed them up.
Sites like Flickr are really good and Facebook is getting better now that you can store high res pics. At the time I was too impatient to upload everything to Flickr so I would put them onto a disk and mail them home.

On the topic of photography I’d also recommend getting a decent camera and learning how to use it properly. When I travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam I had a cheap and useless point-and-shoot camera and it pains me to see those rubbish photos. At the minute I have a Sony NX3 which I love and if you’re a beginner to photography it’s a great option. It’s a SLR but really compact and easy to use.

I didn’t insure my expensive belongings

Of course I had travel insurance to cover medical costs but I didn’t insure my expensive belongings like my laptop, phone or cameras. I was careless but incredibly lucky for over 20 months and didn’t have so much as a sock stolen. Then, after climbing Mount Bromo in Java (and getting some amazing photos of this live volcano) Sam and I fell asleep on a bus and had both of our cameras stolen. We were devastated to have lost all our photos from the volcano and even more upset when we realised our insurance didn’t cover these belongings.

I didn’t appreciate just how lucky I was

My beach hut in Koh Lanta. I would give anything to be back here!

To travel continuously for almost two years was the best experience of my life but there were times when I took it for granted. I remember complaining about not having air-conditioning in my beach front cabin in Thailand and whining about always having sandy clothes. What!? I would do anything to be back there now and I can guarantee that I wouldn’t take one single moment for granted.

Have you ever made any massive mistakes while travelling and if you did, did you manage to learn anything from them?


Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a full time blogger and has travelled around the world in search of the best holidays. Monica lives in Wales with her growing family and now also blogs about travelling with young children!


  • July 16, 2012

    Hmm…packing too much, not being careful enough with batteries and chargers then losing them, booking plane tickets on the wrong dates, always putting my keys/passport/wallet into a different pocket then not being able to find them, not remembering to write down the name of where I’m staying and address/phone number before heading out to explore… Luckily I’ve never been burned too badly, but I also keep making the same mistakes over and over!

  • Jen
    July 16, 2012

    That beach hut in Thailand looks like paradise! Great advice – taking my laptop away was a spur of the moment thing for me but it was the best thing I could have done. And backing up your photos is crucial – I lost so many good photos when I lost one of my memory cards x

  • July 16, 2012

    I definitely agree that my laptop has been invaluable (ok, so my passport has come in handy from time to time as well). I use it to edit and store pictures, to study, to watch movies or catch up on TV shows and of course to blog. In this day and age where it is required by international law that every traveler have his or her own blog, a laptop is basically indispensable.

  • July 16, 2012

    One of my biggest priorities has always been to research the history and culture of a place and their customs. You are SO right! You definitely get more out of the experience and really appreciate something when you learn its significance – I think travel is not about seeing the sights but finding meaning in the places you travel to. Personally, I think this makes me a way better traveller than I used to be. There are some places I’ve been to but feel like I didn’t really try hard enough to understand it when I was there and I would love to go back.

    Just because a person is well-travelled doesn’t mean they travel well.

  • July 16, 2012

    One of my bigger mistakes that luckily did not cause any real problems was that I did not realize that daylight savings time had happened. I was in Spain and could not figure out why everything was an hour off on the day that the time changed. I figured it out late in the day which was good because I probably would have missed my flight the next day.

  • July 16, 2012

    Wish we got the GoPro HD camera before we left for our trip. There were so many video opportunities that were missed. Very difficult to shoot video with the Digital SLR when you are not in the most savory of places.

  • July 17, 2012

    I actually lost tons of photos when my computer broke, someone tried to fix it, failed, and didn’t back up my photos! So many pictures gone forever! Horrible! How can I ever replace them? I can’t. Lesson learned. The hard way.

  • July 19, 2012

    Oh I’m terrible for research too! I used to be so good and then, because I’ve been away from home for so long now, I’ve got really complacent! I never forget my passport though, my OCD’s way too big for that haha!

  • July 19, 2012

    I agree with the laptop to an extent. My laptop always seems to break wheni travel, so I’ve started leaving it at home. If you’re prone to breait may make sense to jot Allen your thoughtsking electronics like

  • July 19, 2012

    Ugh, but Thailand is sooo hottttt…

    Joking aside, I am so paranoid about all of my electronics: laptop, camera, etc., that I rarely have them leave my physical person. Some people wear jewelry, I wear electronics.

  • July 29, 2012

    One mistake I’ve see while in Florence was someone using hostel’s computer to upload their photos from their SD card to the web only to learn that there was a virus on the machine that wiped out her card. Lesson – Bring your own notebook computer when you travel.

  • Sky
    August 6, 2012

    My biggest mistake was not packing the right clothes for Panama. One of the girls who had gone in a previous year told me that shorts and tank tops would be okay and, against my better judgement, that’s the majority of what I packed. Bad idea…was definitely not culturally appropriate for the purpose of our trip.

    One of the guys who went to Panama with me left his passport at home and ended up spending the night in a hotel and getting to Panama a day late. No idea why it’s always the most important documents that mysteriously disappear.

  • August 8, 2012

    Remembering to appreciate your travels is key! Particularly when you travel long-term, it’s so easy to get caught up in minor setbacks and problems and forget to just be grateful for the experience.

    Personally, my biggest travel mistake was over-packing. After being on the road for a few months, some of the items I once thought I just couldn’t live without seemed ridiculous!

  • August 17, 2012

    Great tips. I actually woke up this very morning in a panic as I realised nearly all my photos aren’t backed up. Definitely first thing I’ll be doing tomorrow!

  • September 22, 2012

    I think the first mistake is not such a bad one. Sometimes it can be fun to not know what you are approaching and learn as you go. On the other hand, you are right, it helps to have a little knowledge as you go.

    My biggest mistake was showing up to a national park in Costa Rica without a permit. Most national parks you can easily get one by just showing up, but not for Corcovado.


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