Is there any such thing as a “mistake” when you’re travelling? Or is every bump in the road just another lesson to learn, another opportunity for adventure?
If there are mistakes, we have made most of them. These are the top 11 mistakes we made on our 2-year cycle trip – with tips on how you can avoid them.
(Don’t miss: How my biggest travel mistake almost killed me (and how to avoid it yourself)
Packed Too Much
Packing light is the golden rule of travel (for any trip that doesn’t involve tipping the bellboy), so why do we all fall into the trap of overpacking?
When you’re in your cozy home full of all your stuff, it’s so hard to imagine that you’ll be happy wearing the same three t-shirts every day for the next year, or that you’ll be able to live without your favourite coffee mug or your fluffy slippers.
We started leaving stuff behind in Croatia, our second country. We got rid of more stuff in Poland, in Berlin, in Beijing, and in Central China. It wasn’t until we reached Vietnam, 8 months into our trip, that we finally felt like we were carrying the optimal amount of gear.
To avoid this travel mistake: Don’t bring anything that you think you’ll “maybe” need. You won’t.
Spent Too Much on Special Gear
The bulk of our gear budget went on our bikes and our bike bags, which were definitely worth the money. But we also bought Merino wool shirts and socks, a fancy power-generating hub for Stephen’s bike, and a UV water purifier (which we never used).
The Merino socks were great!
But as for the Merino shirts, we both found that our old yoga t-shirts were better for cycling. Stephen’s power hub on his bike was far from essential. The money we could have saved by not buying this extra gear would have gone a long way in Southeast Asia.
To avoid this travel mistake: Go through your closets before you buy. Many of the items you already own will be perfect for travel.
Planned Too Carefully
Before we left, I had read almost all of the guide books for eastern Europe, we’d created a map filled with points of interest, and we had researched places far in advance of where we would land. Though having a rough idea of where we would cycle was a good idea, we didn’t need to spend nearly so much time planning the details.
By the time we reached China, we knew our plan to “just head south(ish)” was about all we would need.
To avoid this mistake: If you like planning, go ahead, but keep in mind what they say about the best laid plans. Or, instead of planning, just let the road take you where it wants.
Went Too Fast
Even travelling by bicycle, we weren’t able to avoid the trap of going too far, too fast. There were countless days when we pushed ourselves to exhaustion, for no particular reason, just so we could get up and do it again the next day.
I wish we’d stopped for more pictures, taken more mysterious side roads, and spent more time lingering in small towns with seemingly nothing to offer.
To avoid this mistake: Let go of the idea that you’re going somewhere. You’re travelling to travel, not to get to a specific destination.
(Don’t miss: 15 Reasons to Travel Slowly + How to Do It) →
Were Too Self-Reliant
This one sounds counterintuitive, right? We almost always had a plan for eating and sleeping, even if that plan only stretched to the next twelve hours of our lives. On one hand this was good, as it let us relax and enjoy our day, without worrying about what the evening would bring. On another hand, we would have invited much more adventure into our lives (and met many more local people) if we set out at the beginning of the day genuinely not having a clue where they would stop at the end of the night.
To avoid this mistake: If you’re OK with sleeping in a ditch every once in a while, don’t use your guide book or the internet to explore the road ahead of you. Just get out there and find whatever you find.
Spent Too Much Money at the Start
In most of Europe, we treated ourselves just as well as we would have on any standard vacation. Beer and wine flowed freely, meals were always in nice places, and we kept our standards for accommodation high.
As we discovered once we got to Asia, we can take (and enjoy) a lot more roughing it than we thought. In Europe, we could have camped more in iffy weather, said no to a few fancy meals, and spent less on alcohol and still been perfectly happy.
For us, this wasn’t a huge mistake, because we had a decent amount of money saved, and cycle touring is already inexpensive compared to other forms of travel. But for people on a tight budget, it might be a mistake that will end your trip early.
To avoid this mistake: Start your trip by being as frugal as possible, then start adding in little luxuries when you need them, instead of making them a habit from the outset.
Flew Too Many Times
We took a total of four flights on our trip. LA to Rome, Berlin to Beijing, Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, and Bali to home. That’s not terrible for a 22-country journey, but still, we’d have like to have flown less. Not only is flying horrendously destructive to the environment, it is the enemy of responsible local travel.
To avoid this travel mistake: Understand that your trip is not “once in a lifetime” so you don’t need to see the entire world this year. Pick a smaller area to visit, go overland and really discover the place you’re in.
(Don’t miss: 11 Tips on How to Be a Green Tourist) →
Let Ourselves Be Miserable
Not even two weeks after arriving in China, we knew that China was going to be hard going, and not necessarily a great place for cycling. And yet, we stuck it out. Not for a couple of more weeks, but for four months!
I was miserable for long stretches of our time in China, yet, when I look back, it was also the most amazing experience of my life. So was it a mistake to spend so long in China? I’m still not sure.
To avoid this travel mistake: If you’re not happy where you are, go somewhere else. Just don’t mistake “comfortable” for “happy”. Some of the most uncomfortable experiences can be the most life-changing.
Didn’t Couchsurf Enough
While dealing with all the special difficulties that go along with cycle touring, it’s much easier just to check into a hotel or a campground than it is to plan to couch surf. If we’d gone a bit more slowly, we would have had more time to use Couchsurfing and Warm Showers to find places to stay with actual people. We spent more money and missed out on dozens of potential friendships by not making the effort.
To avoid this travel mistake: Get on Couchsurfing now and make some connections with people in places you might go. Then, when you get there, you’ll already have somewhere lined up.
Didn’t Take Enough Pictures Of People
Though I love photography and am always working to make my pictures better, I have always been very shy with the camera. Especially at the beginning of our trip, I was reluctant to stick my camera into people’s faces because:
- I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself
- I didn’t want to look like an annoying tourist
- I didn’t wan’t to bug people
In Asia it was so much easier to photograph people because there was no way to avoid 1 and 2. Number 3 didn’t seem to be a problem either, since almost everyone was jumping in front of our camera asking for their pictures to be taken.
Now, when I look at our photos, I realize almost all of the best ones are pictures of people, and I wish I had more.
How to avoid this travel mistake: Practice before you leave home. Pretend to be a tourist and get comfortable with asking people if you can take their picture.
We Came Home
Last August, when we came home, we really (really!) needed to be at home.
We were exhausted by Asia’s unrelenting press of people, our bodies were spent from our battle with dengue and the constant physical activity of a bike trip. Our brains needed time to digest all that we’d seen. I also felt a deep need to reconnect with family and to be part of a community again.
With all that in mind, I can’t really label coming home as a mistake.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if instead of flying back to Canada, we had rented a shack in a remote part of Bali and become part of a different kind of community altogether.
How to avoid this travel mistake: Find a way to earn money while you’re on the road and never look back! ♥