I’ve done some dumb things travelling. No, seriously. Really stupid things. But since travel, at its core, is experiential learning, it’s always cleansing to say you learned something from your foibles. Let me transfer some knowledge to you with the five dumbest things I’ve done travelling.
Always alert your bank before you leave the country
We were in Phuket, on a one-day visit during our cruise. Before the cruise, we arranged for a speed boat charter to dreamlike nearby Phi Phi island. The deposit was prepaid via Pay Pal, but we needed cash to pay the rest. Our charter captain told us there was an ATM across the street, so we headed that way. Our ATM card was in a system on this terminal, but it wasn’t going to work. No problem. There is another across the street. Didn’t work there, either. Fortunately, the captain said we could pay him again via Pay Pal when we got back to the ship. But he didn’t have to do that.
What I learned was that not only should you tell your credit card companies you are traveling, also tell your checking account bank. When I got back online, I found they had a dedicated page to list countries you will visit. By listing projected visit dates, your card is activated and deactivated in those coutntries for those dates. If your bank doesn’t offer such an online service, your peace of mind is worth a pre-departure call. Don’t find out as I did, after the fact.
Take your travel medications as prescribed
Off to enchanting Bangkok, one of my favorite cities on the planet. As we have already discussed, Westerners risk not taking health risk seriously when we travel. I was well prepared with my gargantuan bottle containing thirty days’ worth of doxycycline, an anti-malarial prophylaxis. My problem was, I forgot to start two days before departure, nor did I take it during my one transit day. So, thinking I was three days behind, I decided to catch up in one fell swoop. Put those three 100 mg capsules in my mouth, and washed them down with the bottle of water in the bath. I’m an educated traveler, and I’m smart enough to not drink the Bangkok tap water. But the searing feeling of burning a hole in my stomach that soon arrived, told me I wasn’t quite as smart as I thought.
Travel medications are a serious matter. The savvy traveler researches the recommendations for each country to be visited, and plans accordingly. Fortunately, today mefloquine has supplanted doxycycline as the preferred anti-malarial drug. Its once a week dosage is much less onerous than the daily doxycycline. But it is important to get to a travel clinic well before your trip, as some medications have a schedule that requires dosing before departure. Then stick to your schedule. Your stomach doesn’t need another exit hole.
Don’t travel internationally with only checked baggage
It was a wonderful flight from the US to London. Nice layover at Heathrow, where the charming British lady in the Admirals Club made me the best pot of tea I’ve had, before or since. Needed it, to recover from previous seven hour flight. I now get to do it all over again. So we land in Bahrain, and I find out it won’t end well. The gate agent steps on the aircraft and gets on the PA system. She says “Would passenger so-and-so, and so-and-so, so-and-so and MacLeod, please see the agent inside the jet bridge”. Turns out, they left our bags at Heathrow and the bags won’t arrive until tomorrow’s single flight to here. Here’s 25 dinars (roughly $75) for your necessities. If you’ve travelled, you’ve experienced how disgusting it is to spend another day in the clothes you’ve lived in for 24 hours.
That one event cured me of not travelling without two days of clean clothes in a roll aboard. Don’t do it, ever. What a relief to not worry about tight connections, wondering if your bags will make it. Always have pajamas to sleep in, and my workout gear, essential in my anti-jet lag routine. I know that I will have my razor, my pre-shave, my deodorant, my hair goop. And best of all? Clean underwear. All worth the slight extra hassle of dragging a roll aboard behind you.
Don’t over pack
“Hi, my name is Scott, and I’m a compulsive over packer.” “Hi, Scott.” Is there a twelve-step group for my addiction? I’m will not give you an anecdote about my biggest over packing mistake, because there isn’t just one. I’m still in recovery, not sure I will ever stop. In just the last year, I bought the biggest bag airlines allow. So no, I’m not close to cured.
For me, the biggest cause of over packing is taking too many shoes. So I am laser focused on getting that right. Even if I’m going for three weeks, I try to limit myself to four pairs, and wear one. After those bulky items are done, the rest is a piece of cake. I’ve done the poly pro underwear, “wash one, dry one wear one” routine, and I won’t go gently back into that night. The rest is easy, and it starts with pre-trip planning. I think about what the average day looks like, and build three changes around that. I think about the one off days, and minimally plan for those. Then I take the critical step of building a list of everything I need. That step avoids over packing, and also ensures everything is packed.
The final step is the post trip analysis. After I’m back, I sit down with my list and examine each item. How often did I use it? Was there something else that could have taken its place? Did I really need it? That informed reflection is the best tactic in my road to recovery.
Take enough storage for your pictures
I took off for three weeks in Thailand and Bali in the early days of high quality digital photography. We all were convinced then that our 8-megapixel cameras were high quality. Right? Knowing I’d be gone that long, and not having a way to store them, I bought three enormous (at the time) 8 gigabyte storage cards. Should be plenty, correct? Not even close. I was soon reduced to the smallest size photo so I could keep shooting. The result is, today, I have a fantastic, gorgeous collection of tiny .3 MB pictures that approach uselessness.
So what do I do today, with my 24-megapixel camera? First, I have three 64 gig storage cards, more than enough for one day’s shooting. At night, I transfer them, via my computer, to a 500 MB external hard drive. But you don’t have to carry a computer to free space on your cards. If you travel with a tablet, like an iPad, there are external dongles that will allow you to dump your SD photo cards to your tablet. Once transferred, you can then move them to an online storage service such as Apple Photos, Flickr or Amazon Photos. So take your pictures in as big a format as your camera allows. You will never regret it.
Those are my confessions. What are yours? Would love to learn from your travel mistakes. Because what is travel besides learning?