CHARLOTTE, N.C. The first half of a familiar adage goes:”To err is human…” But when it comes to travel, the second half of that adage makes little difference, because “forgiveness” is generally overruled by some guy named Murphy. All too often, novice travelers in particular fail to do their homework when they plan a trip. But eventually, common mistakes like this one one come back to haunt them.
Defective tires, less than adequate accommodations, and worst of all, wasted money on your once-in-lifetime adventure are just three among many potential vacation terminators. Experienced travelers know they can’t avoid every potential disaster. But they also know that careful, yet flexible travel planning helps cut down on those negative possibilities.
And so, on this Labor Day holiday weekend, here are some of the most common mistakes made by novice travelers. And how to avoid them.
Common mistakes: Overly ambitious planning
What sounds and looks good on paper frequently doesn’t work in reality. Many people, especially newbie travelers, want to see everything there is to see at their destination in one fell swoop. Guess what? It ain’t gonna happen.
No matter how often you visit a place, things change. There is no way to see everything that a popular a destination has to offer, either in a single visit or ten.
So the best thing novice travelers can do is make a list of the most important sights they want to see before they go.
When you arrive at your destination, first take a three-hour city tour. These tours are usually conducted via hop on/hop off style luxury coaches or double-decker buses. They are a great help for travelers because they provide a quick overview of major sites and donations while helping out-of-towners get oriented in an unfamiliar destination. They also give you at least some idea as to where things sites and services are actually located.
Hopefully, this quick but thorough tour will prevent you from going back and forth across the city to find things that might be just around the corner from your hotel. Plus, such a quick orientation tour, particularly in a large city, will help you plan a realistic itinerary with more precision.
Common Mistakes: Don’t forget to allow for some downtime
If you are doing more than one city or country, use the same basic plan for each. And follow this simple rule: Schedule some time to rest and relax. That’s because you are NOT going to see everything there is to see. If you try, you won’t remember half of what you actually did see.
When European travel from America really kicked in following World War II, the big idea at the time was to do a single “Grand Tour” and get everything done. Such tours became known as “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” tours. Tours like these still exist today, of course. But they tend to prove less than satisfying, even for travel neophytes. That’s because tours like these actually offer limited “cookie cutter” itineraries. Ultimately, such grab bag tours don’t work very well regardless of whether you book a tour or travel independently.
Common Mistakes: Traveling on the “cheap” isn’t always cheaper
This one can be tricky for novice travelers. Certainly everyone wants to save money, but cutting costs so close to the bone that you fail to see what you reasonably set out to see is foolish. After all, you scrimped and saved to take that trip. Now, if you deny yourself the best part of it by scrimping on the few extra, unbudgeted dollars you need to see it, you’ve wasted the experience. And when you’re flying back home, you’ll likely regret this.
Common Mistakes: Slavishly following your guidebooks and ignoring spontaneous discoveries
Guidebooks are great for suggestions on places to eat and sightseeing. Up to a point. Sure, you can find some neat little spots for dinner that have been recommended by someone else. But part of the fun of travel is to discover things on your own.
Most restaurants and cafes post menus outside so that you can get an idea of what they offer just by walking past. Some of the best places are those you just happen upon. If the atmosphere appeals to you and the menu looks good, just pop in and try it. Chances are, if there are lots of locals inside, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
Many restaurants also offer tourist menus. Novice travelers should eye those with caution. Make sure you are getting exactly what you want. All too often those tourist menus are “Americanized” to suit American tastes. Thus, they do not at all reflect traditional local cuisine. And local cuisine is what you’ll want to try while you’re on holiday.
Yes, sometimes you can, and will, make a common mistake. But when you do find that treasure or that romantic, out-of-the way surprise, you’ll forget all about your previous bad choice. Besides, surprises and discoveries of all kinds are half the fun of travel.
Common Mistakes: Why novice travelers often pick the wrong hotel
Why pay less for a hotel two miles outside of town if you have to take a taxi or some other form of transportation to get back and forth? Often, even if you do spend more on a decent in-town hotel, the money you save by being within walking distance of your planned itinerary could more than make up for the mistake of getting cheaper accommodations and then spending a load of money on taxi fare.
Here’s another common mistake made by budget-minded novice travelers. Youth hostels typically offer incredibly cheap rates for rooms or dorm-style beds. But if you have to pay for towels, soap and other standard amenities, it might dawn on you that it is less expensive to stay in a tourist-style two-star hotel that includes all of the above in the price of the room.
Also, don’t overburden yourself with luggage. The best rule-of-thumb is to “pack half of what you need and twice as much money.”
But again, be reasonable in your frugality. Don’t worry if you spend a couple hundred more dollars than you budgeted. After you get home, that extra money will be long forgotten if the trip turns out a success.
In other words, be frugal. But don’t be afraid to splurge now and then to see something special you really don’t want to miss.
Don’t be afraid of language barriers
For many novice travelers, the fear of non-English speaking locations can be traumatic. One easy thing newbie travelers can do is schedule their first international trip to England, Scotland, Ireland or some other place in the Anglosphere where “English” is spoken as a first language.
Just remember, what you hear won’t be American English. Even though they are speaking “our” language, you may not understand the surprisingly diverse accents, dialects and/or idioms you encounter. This may prove a real cultural eye-opener. But starting out by experiencing “variations on a familiar theme” will usually cure the language barrier disease immediately when you next head off to Poland or Brazil.
In most large destinations throughout the world, keep in mind that English has actually evolved into a universal language, at least in major cities. So you can always duck into a quality hotel and find someone with whom you can communicate.
But having at least a grasp of common terms and phrases in a foreign language is still a great idea. A great tip: learn how to say “Please,” “Thank you,” “Good morning” or “Good evening” in the native language of your destination. And DON’T forget to smile! Be patient. Most people are willing to help you. But if they are rude, just let it go.
One final tip: Trains, planes and motorways
Another suggestion is to make use of the city’s or the town’s the main train station. In the U.S. we are so addicted to our cars, we forget, or don’t realize, that most of the rest of the world travels by train.
Railway stations in other countries are “Yellow Pages for the soul” because you can get everything right there. That includes English-language tourist information, food choices, change in the local currency, and occasional kiosks offering to make hotel reservations. Other amenities include a selection of gifts, generally impeccable restrooms, lockers for temporarily storing your stuff, local ground transportation and a wide selection of newspapers and magazines. Best of all, foreign railway stations, particularly in Europe, are usually centrally located. That makes it difficult the novice traveler to get lost.
And above all, have a positive attitude
As for making common mistakes, so what? That’s part of the adventure. Novice travelers in particular should remember that travel is a learning experience. Nobody is going to do everything right the first time out. Just go with the flow and try to minimize those errors as much as possible.
Logistics isn’t the most exciting thing to think about when planning your trip of a lifetime. But prior planning is a guarantee that if you do your homework, you will save time, money and most of all, energy.
Those are the simple things that will make all the difference when your depart and after you return.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com). His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News
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