Most experienced travelers have made mistakes that have taught them valuable lessons of what to never do again. Traveling in an unfamiliar place and having your guard down can always be a little risky. A seasoned traveler knows that “when life throws you lemons, make margaritas”. Drawing from past experiences can teach us how to travel better in the future as well as helping others learn from our misfortune. Here’s six hard lessons I learned the hard way and a few suggestions to avoid similar pitfalls:
I was traveling through Thailand, when I “accidentally” bumped into a couple who started raving about this emerald shop that was a must visit destination. It was my first trip to Asia and I believed everything that they and the shop owner told me. After assuring me that I wouldn’t need to pay anything until I sold these “undervalued gems” in my home country, I agreed to let them have my credit card numbers as a security deposit. It sounds dumb now, but I was devastated when I found out they had charged all my cards to the limit. I had to do the remaining weeks of my trip on virtually no money and made up my mind to never get scammed again. Since then, I’ve had many attempts of other scams. Almost of them of them usually involve a stranger approaching you, inviting you somewhere, and then leaving you stuck with a bill. The rule is don’t believe things that sound too good to be true, don’t accept drinks that you haven’t seen prepared, and don’t order things with a group of people you don’t know. If someone wants to “practice English”, be cautious. Finally, “free” rarely means “free”.
On the way back from Antananarivo, Madagascar Air had major delays getting me back to Johannesburg. Because of their tardiness, I missed my flight to Namibia on British Airways by 30 minutes. Rather than reschedule my flight, British Airways canceled my ticket PLUS all my remaining flights (including my flight back to the US). Missing the flight was beyond my control, but because the Madagascar segment wasn’t booked with them and the rest of my flights were. They took advantage of a clause in their contract that allows them to leave passengers without a flight or compensation if one segment is missed. The lesson is this: if you have flights that aren’t bundled together, allow enough time for connections so that if something goes wrong, you can still make it to your next one. You can also book your flights as separate tickets rather than round trip (if you can do so without having to pay a lot more). That way, if you miss one, you can’t be penalized on another because they’re not connected together. You’ll possibly lose one ticket, but that’s often cheaper to replace than the penalties associated with rebooking last minute. Pay close attention to your fare rules if your connections are tight.
Having Proof of Vaccinations
I was traveling in Ethiopia and bought a ticket to a country I had always wanted to visit, The Seychelles. As I checked into the airport, I was asked for my yellow fever card. I had gotten the vaccine 6 years before for a flight to Colombia. No one really ever asked to see the card, so It just kind of disappeared when I renewed my passport. Without that card, and coming from a risky country like Ethiopia, I was denied boarding with no refund. Later that same year while traveling overland from Suriname to Guyana, I was almost denied entrance into the country. Yellow Fever is the ONLY vaccination that is required for travel, although many others are suggested. If you’re traveling to or from countries that have a risk of yellow fever, get your vaccination and staple the card into your passport- take a photo of the document and email it to yourself as well so you can replace it if you lose your passport.
Avoiding Being Robbed
In my early travels, I hitchhiked to Madrid from Barcelona and was looking for a budget hotel in the center of town. The streets were dark and as I rang a doorbell on a pension hotel, a man walked up pretending to be looking for a room as well. Two accomplices rushed behind my travel partner grabbing two of her smaller packs and ran down an alleyway. I put down my baggage to chase after them and a 4th man grabbed my bag and disappeared the other direction. I ran behind the thieves yelling “Policia” but no one did anything to help. We lost all of our camera film, travel books and other essentials that we needed to continue. We had to delay our trip to Africa a week because of the setback. Years later I’m still still a little soured against traveling to Madrid. I haven’t been robbed since (although a few attempts have been made) because I’m much more cautious. Being aware of your surroundings, who is near you, and making sure that you don’t have your passport or valuables in a bag that is not on your person is extremely important. The more difficult it becomes for a would-be thief, the more likely he’s going to seek another victim. Staying away from dark unpopulated areas when you’re loaded down with gear and valuables is also smart. If I had left my travel partner in a restaurant with our bags while I secured a room, the robbery would have never taken place. If I see someone suspicious, I look at them and let them subtly know they’ve been seen. Sometimes carrying a walking stick or some other potential menacing object can be a theft deterrent.
Safeguarding Your Phone
Last year my phone slipped out of my rental car in Trinidad during Carnival and I never found it. I was able to use my travel partner’s phone to take some photos and help with navigation, but modern travel has become so dependent on mobile devices, not having my device made the trip much more difficult. Even though I had Find My IPhone enabled and used my laptop to search for it, i came up empty handed. I contacted support and setup an option to take the photo and location of whoever turned it on. It was somewhat of a relief that I had insurance and my ICloud backup enabled. I was able to restore everything to the point where the phone was lost, making the bad situation a little more palatable. Now I carry an older model IPhone with me in the event anything happens to my primary one. I can also use it to help locate my phone if I accidentally leave it somewhere. I often put a local SIM card in it and use it as a WiFi hotspot as well as local calls. If i want to film an event from two different angles, it is also useful.In some places, finding a replacement phone comparable to what I have would be impossible. My backup does the trick.
Being Cautious with Animals
I’ve traveled the globe on countless African safaris and have visited many animal sanctuaries. Sometimes it’s impossible to resist feeding monkeys and getting close to local wildlife for an exotic selfie. I’ve been lucky to have never been attacked or bitten on any of my animal encounters. However, a few months ago I was traveling in Madagascar and had an opportunity to do some photo ops with dozens of lemurs. Who doesn’t love those buggy eyed little critters? One of the bigger ones nipped my traveling companion’s finger and other than the initial surprise, we thought little about it. A few days later, we read about how rabies is spread in the country and lemurs were one of the potential carriers of the disease. My friend noticed that she was exhibiting a few possible symptoms and visited a specialist when we returned home. It turns out that rabies is a horrific incurable disease that kills its victims with a slow agonizing death. Because the disease moves slowly through muscle, rather than blood, you can possibly stop the spread of it with a series of 18 injections that costs over $8,000! There’s really no testing for it, so you roll the dice and hope you don’t die. The best advice: get a rabies vaccine if you’re going to be around wild animals and avoid contact with those that can potentially bite you. Bats are the most likely creatures to spread the disease and can even be hiding in your hotel room and bite you in your sleep. If you’re in an area where there’s a possibility of such things, give your room a quick check before you get settled in.
Being prepared for potential problems can save you lots of grief down the road. Talking to other travelers about their experiences can also be helpful.