Friday, August 8, 2014

11 common travel mistakes to avoid, thanks to Nomadic Matt!

Nomadic Matt

Hey ,
When I left for the road in 2006, I knew nothing. I had read some guidebooks and looked over some Internet forums but back then, there were no travel blogs, Twitter, Facebook fan pages, or the vast amounts of information on the Internet you see now. To compensate for the lack of wisdom, I followed my guidebook religiously and wet my foot with small group tours. I was young; I was inexperienced; and I made a lot of rookie travel mistakes.
Now, with seven years of round the world travel under my belt and a book on the subject, I know a lot more. If I could sit myself down on the day he left for his world trip, I would give him these twelve tips:
1. Don't Be Scared - Fear is a powerful deterrent. Despite what they say on CNN and Fox News, the whole world is not out to get you. People everywhere are just like you - they have hopes, fears, want the best for their children, hate their jobs, and are just trying to make it through the day. Moreover, don't worry about meeting people. There a lot of travelers out there looking for friends and one of those friends is you. If countless 18 year olds can travel the world, so can you.
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2. Don't Wait Too Long - Tomorrow never comes. Too often we try to wait for the perfect time to travel, that time when all the stars align but that time never comes. You will never have enough money and there will always be someone's wedding, birthday, etc. etc. Don't wait. When you want to go, just go. The Dutch have a proverb: "He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him." Those are words to live by.
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3. Avoid Packing Too Much - You won't even use half of what you take. When I went on my first trip to Costa Rica, I brought a big bag filled with tons of stuff- hiking boots, hiking pants, a fleece, and a enough first aid stuff to fill an emergency room. I didn't even use half of anything I took. Everything just sat in my bag. The lesson: Pack light. It's less to carry and less to hold you down. You can pick up stuff on the way if you really need it.
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4. Stay Connected to Your New Friends - You meet a lot of people on the road who are all going different ways and you may find your paths will cross again. However, it's hard to plan events around e-mail. Did they get it? Will they be there? I don't know! Invest in a cheap phone so you can stay in touch with people better. Plus it comes in handy in an emergency.
5. Avoid Overplanning - Want to stay longer? Leave sooner? Change hotels? If you pre-planned your trip, that's something you can't easily do. When every day is planned out, when there are timetables to follow, you get stressed. Any kink in your plan, and you don't know what to do. When you plan too much, there's no room to experience the happy accidents of travel. Put some flexibility into your schedule, and go with the flow. It'll make for a more enjoyable and less stressful experience. Let life unfold the way it should.
6. Take it Easy and Slow Down - I know it can be tempting to try to see it all. Who knows when you'll get another chance? But DON'T! With limited vacation time,we are always trying to squeeze in everything - rushing through twenty cities in twenty days, 100 countries on your round the world trip, etc. ,etc. In the end, all we have to show for it are photos, stress, and a whirlwind of experiences but no real deep knowledge of the places we went to. When you travel, less is more. It allows you time to drink deep from each culture and soak it all up. Get to know the place - where the locals go, where they eat, what they do. Go slow, and you'll experience more.
7. Avoid Giving Banks Your Hard Earned Money - ATM and credit card fees can really add up. For years, I just assumed that it was a cost of traveling. Then I got smart and started looking deeper into it. I haven't paid an ATM or card fee in over 3 years and neither should you. You can avoid paying ATM fees by either joining bank in the global ATM alliance or, if you are American, Charles Schwab (no ATM fees). Don't forget to check a local bank too.
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8. Know You Can Rest Your Head Anywhere - When you start traveling, you often think that you either have to stay in a hotel or a hostel. But there's a lot more out there: you can Couchsurf, rent Apartments via Airbnb, Homeaway, Wimdu, or similar sites, stay in monasteries, work on farms, stay on farms, or find small non-chain budget hotels. In short, there are a lot of options beyond a hostel or a giant chain hotel.
9. Learn to Maximize Your Miles and Fly Free - When you travel a lot, you fly a lot. I didn't get into the mileage game for a long time and by not signing up for loyalty programs (airlines, hotels), I missed out getting thousands of free points that I could have used for future free travel. Always sign up for a rewards program. Even if you don't think you will use it, you might in the future and there's no cost to sign up.
10. Budget Your Money - People get blind sided by stuff they should have anticipated. "Wow! That tour is so expensive. I blew my budget." "I didn't expect to drink so much!" "This place is more expensive than I thought." You hear these comments on the road a lot and my response is usually "Why? What did you expect to do on the road?" If you do your research well, you will know exactly how much things cost and you can plan you budget accordingly. Your budget will only last as long as you planned it to last. If you planned your budget well it will last until the end of your trip. If you love outdoor activities, over budget because they cost a lot. I know I will eat and drink a lot so I budget accordingly. Do I go over budget? Sometimes. I make it up on other days. Do research before you go, keep track of expenses as you, watch your money last until the end.

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11. Only Stupid People Skip Insurance - I've said it before and I'll say it again; this is a huge mistake too many travelers make. They think "I'm young I won't get sick." Or "I won't be doing dangerous activities." But you never know what can happen on the road and travel insurance is more than just health insurance. It covers your gear, trip cancellation, delays, and emergencies. It covered my camera when I fell into the ocean in Italy, it covered my lost bag from Africa, and my punctured ear drum from diving in Thailand.

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So there are the 11 mistakes I made on the road and ones I want you to avoid so you travel better, cheaper, safer, and happier. I want to make your travel experience as fun as possible and I hope these lessons help do that. 

If you have any questions, please e-mail me! 
Until next time, travel often and travel wide.
- Nomadic Matt

Nomadic Matt, 139 east 12th street, New York City, NY 10003
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