There are many things you will do right and many things you will do wrong over the course of a round the world trip. Here are some personal gaffs that could quite easily have been avoided had I heeded warnings, followed advice, and planned just a little bit better .
1. Packing too much
Most travel guides offering advice on this point will tell you to get everything together that you want to take, and then halve it. For my round the world trip, I had to pack for all seasons, and although I did use everything I took, upon returning home I definitely had the impression that I had far too much stuff. Remember that you can pick up bargain clothing or articles better adapted for certain climates and situations along the way (e.g. light cotton shirts in India, mosquito repellent used by the locals where there is a problem). Every superfluous item has to be carried, lifted on to trains and buses, sifted through to find something, and re-packed as many times as you move on! When packing, instead of saying, “That might come in handy,” or “It won’t take up much room,” ask yourself, “Could I manage without it?”
2. Being overly optimistic
This might relate to a country’s infrastructure, your physical capacities, or just the hazards of traveling, but it is important to know your limitations and not be too overly optimistic. I’m not saying you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but it is important to be aware. If you’ve never been trekking before, you might find that a week in the Himalayas is plenty rather than continuing on the circular tour for another 5 days. This goes for your itinerary as well. Once you’re on the road, you will realize that moving super fast all the time is exhausting. Don’t be afraid to skip out on a few places you had planned on visiting if you’re tired and need a break. Slowing down is essential for long-term travel, and if you have to skip a few cities, then you can visit them on your next trip.
3. Traveling with the wrong person
There are reasons why an ex is an ex, and our traveling together was probably doomed from the start. I set off on a round the world trip with my ex, but finished the last 2 months of the trip alone. It would have been a complete disaster if we hadn’t been able to get along as friends. As it was, we made a good effort, considering that our motivations for doing the trip were completely different. For me, this was my “dream trip” that I’d been wanting to do since leaving university. For him, it sounded like a good idea at the time, and he had nothing better to do! Our priorities, aims, and previous travel experience were also vastly different. You will most likely be together 24 hours a day, so at some point you’re bound to see more than your companion’s “good side” – ask yourself if that’s okay. Even if you plan on traveling with your best friend, you want to make sure you will be compatible on the road – not everyone is. It may be a good idea to take a shorter trip together first before embarking on an extended trip.
4. Not trusting your research
At a minimum, you should have an idea of what you would like to do and see when you arrive in a country, and a little more planning before you arrive can help you to make the most of your stay. However, there’s little point spending time on research if you’re not going to believe what you find! I made the mistake of thinking I could get a discount “foreigner’s train ticket” once in Japan, despite travel agents claiming otherwise. If tour operators advertise that you can make big savings by buying your train ticket in advance, it’s because it’s true. However, having decided to see what was on offer when we arrived in Japan, we never took a single train (even the slowest trains were just way over our budget). Instead, we hired a car, which is also expensive and even more so if you take the motorway, the alternative being to drive in a constant traffic jam from one town to the next. We had originally planned to travel as far as Tokyo, but with time and budget constraints had to resign ourselves to only going as far as Osaka.
5. Ignoring local dangers
In an ideal world, we could skip happily along from one country to the next and not be bothered by niggling problems related to the culture or environment around us. I was naive enough to travel with this sort of happy-go-lucky attitude until I decided to hitch-hike along parts of the Baja-California Highway, Mexico. OK, so I was a woman, walking along the side of the road, and it was still dark (I set off early to go whale-spotting). It’s sounds like a very silly thing to do now, but at the time I was just focused on getting to my destination. Hitch-hiking at night isn’t to be recommended anyway, as with the glare of the headlights, you have no idea who is inside the car. Fortunately for me, the car that stopped to pick me up was an unmarked police car. It was then that I found out that the stretch of road I was on was notorious for drug trafficking and violent crimes. I had no idea and did feel relieved and lucky to have been picked up by the right people. Despite being a visitor in a country on a temporary basis, you can still make a difference – learn the rules and adapt to local customs and advice so that your interactions with locals can be honest and meaningful, rather than provocative or inappropriate.
6. Not considering local information
Without going too far from home, you ‘ve probably witnessed a situation where people have ignored warning signs; whether it’s swimming at the beach when there’s a red flag flying or skiing off-piste with avalanche warnings, people just can’t seem to help themselves! Local authorities either put out warnings for no reason, or people think they know better, “Hey, I’ve traveled half way around the world, of course that’s not going to happen to me”. At one point, I was actually all for heeding the signs warning that the desert road is not advised if your vehicle isn’t suitable, i.e. a 4-wheel drive, and against taking a short cut in the Australian outback. But I let myself be persuaded otherwise by my traveling companions, which is something I wouldn’t do again. To make matters worse, we were traveling in a hire car, for which the insurance doesn’t cover you for leaving the tarmac. Who would think that in the middle of the desert that we would get stuck in the mud? Far from saving us time, it cost us in time and money – waiting to be rescued, returning to the highway, and taking the road we should have stayed on in the first place, then cleaning the car and paying a penalty to the hire car firm – doh! If the sign says there are crocodiles in the water, then just accept that there probably are.
7. Traveling through Asia in the height of summer
This was the result of our leaving home when we had the opportunity and timing our travels to be in Sydney for New Year and in Brazil for Carnivale. However, with a searing heat of 105°F (40°C), we struggled to follow our itinerary; it was too hot to go out in the middle of the day, we were too lethargic to walk and even to eat sometimes. If this happens to you, I recommend you make your way to a cool, mountain retreat or desert oasis, where even locals might go to escape the summer heat and pollution. We were in Rajasthan in India and our haven was Mount Abu, a place not in our guidebook, but recommended by the locals. A couple of days will refresh the mind and body, so you have enough energy and enthusiasm to move on.
8. Ordering salad
Despite knowing of the dangers of eating salad in places where water quality can be suspect, I decided that the restaurant in Cairo, Egypt, where I found myself on the last day of my holiday, looked up-market enough not to carry such a risk. I was fortunate that this was the final day of my holiday, but before I got home I was already starting to feel ill. I spent the next 3 weeks between my bed and the doctor’s, seriously regretting having eaten that salad. Being a vegetarian traveler can have extra difficulties, and choices can be limited, but next time, I’ll choose to go hungry.
9. Arriving in China without a guidebook (with Chinese translations)
Never again. I don’t speak Chinese, and I made the grave mistake of arriving without a guidebook – an essential piece of luggage for this destination. With the names of places and sights written in Chinese, it serves as an indispensable communication tool. Most Chinese people don’t speak English, but they do have an impressive literacy rate, so showing a passer-by the name of where you want to go will usually get you pointed in the right direction. Thank you to the fellow travelers I met who were better prepared than I and let me copy some of the pages of their travel guides. Without their help, I could very well still be in China now.
10. Missing your flight (or train, or boat)
OK, so it sounds like an obvious thing not to do – so why does it happen to so many of us? Here are some personal reasons:
- Know the date of your flight AND today’s date! Don’t assume you know – check it, look at your tickets, and ask other people.
- Take into account the time zones (especially when crossing the date line, when you might lose or gain an entire day) and seasonal changes to add or take away an hour.
- Plan your trip to the airport. Know in advance which airport you are flying from (especially if you are in London), know how you will get there, and what time you will need to leave. I once got a local bus to save a taxi fare and ended up getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere. With time running out, I eventually found a taxi and got to the airport in the nick of time. However, I was in such a panic leaving the taxi, that I left my tickets and passport behind, so missed the flight anyway – doh!
- Leave enough time to get to the airport in a city you are unfamiliar with. Work out how long you need, and then double it (at least). You never know when your train is going to be late so that you miss your connection to the airport, or when accidents and traffic jams on the motorways will, seemingly, heed progress interminably.
Keeping out of trouble and on the right track isn’t rocket-science, in fact a lot of it is common sense and it’s easy to apply. If , however, you find yourself in some compromising situations, don’t worry too much. Put it down to enriching experience, and once you’ve moved on, enjoy re-telling your real adventures, as it’s these that often make the most interesting and amusing anecdotes.
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Check out the following articles and resources to read more about round the world travel:
- The Hardest Part of Round the World Travel?
- 8 Ways to Beat Long-Term Travel Burnout on a Budget
- 10 Round the World Travel Myths Debunked
- Planning Your RTW Trip – Overplanning vs. Spontaneity
- 8 Lessons to Learn From My Round the World Trip