6 Basic Travel Mistakes We Made that You Can Easily Avoid

6 Basic Travel Mistakes We Made that You Can Easily Avoid

As hard as it may be to believe, we are not perfect.

Zab and I have made our fair share of travel related mistakes over the last few months, some of them pretty basic and obvious in hindsight. Here, we share our top six silliest travel mistakes to avoid, along with helpful tips on how!

1. Failing to research how much your destination will realistically cost

Before we flew out to Buenos Aires from London, I had made a basic attempt at a budget: £25 (US$38) per person, per day. This turned out to be based on…well, not a lot apparently. Wishful thinking, perhaps? In actuality, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay were all more expensive than we had expected, and this lead us to wonder if we'd in fact made a mistake in coming to this part of the world at all. If we had been better prepared for the actual expense of the region, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have bitched about it so much.

How to avoid this

Do proper research. Look in to how much actual hotels, hostels, bus journeys, activities will cost you. In countries with very high inflation (I'm looking at you, Argentina), don't trust guidebooks to have accurate prices. In fact, don't trust guidebooks to have accurate prices anyway, because they're out of date in this area even as soon as they're printed.

a yellow tower against blue sky...why not?

a yellow tower against blue sky…why not?

2. Leaving with one of you having no idea where you're going

Between me and Zab, I had done about 95% of the trip planning alone before we left. The only thing we decided wholly together was the date of our outbound flight. This was because Zab was super busy in the last few months before leaving, getting his family business in to a shape in which he could leave it and closing down an actual shop, so he simply didn't have time for finding hostels, bus timetables and reading about things to do in various places in order to determine a vague route. Most of the time, I picked out stuff I thought we'd enjoy doing or places that were to our mutual level of acceptability to sleep in, showed them to him briefly (and usually out of context so that he had little idea of where they were in the country I was talking about), then made a decision.

How to avoid this

This could have been avoided if I had been less lazy and had bothered to make the time to properly explain to Zab what I was planning. Make a time once a week (or however often is necessary depending on the level of planning you require to feel comfortable) before leaving on your trip to sit down together and go over what your current plan looks like, where there are gaps in it and look together at options for filling those gaps.

3. Not bothering to book in advance during peak times

Not fully realising that southern Chile in February is a teeming with tourists and that demand exceeds supply for transport and accommodation was our own fault. We didn't research this properly either. It meant that we were stranded in the beautiful, but ever so tiny town of Puyuhuapi over my birthday, unable to get a bus out until two or three days later than we would have liked.

How to avoid this

Again, research is key. Read up not only in guidebooks, but in forums like Lonely Planet's Thorntree, and ask specific questions about where you're going. Read other travel blogs and ask your traveller friends.

an art gallery in an old warehouse in Valdivia...why not?

an art gallery in an old warehouse in Valdivia…why not?

4. Letting other travellers you've just met change your plans for you, especially based on differing interests

When we arrived in Los Antiguos, a small, boring village in Santa Cruz, Argentina on the boarder with Chile, we were planning to head east over to Argentina's Atlantic coast at Comodoro Rivadavia and then up to the Valdés peninsula, known for its wildlife, notably sea lions, penguins and whales. However, it turned out that we were sharing a dorm room with an Austrian guy who I'd previously met in January 2009 in a bar on Khao San Road in Bangkok, but who was too drunk to remember it until we found a mutual friend's facebook pictures proving that we had in fact been in that same space-time. He and his girlfriend then proceeded to wax lyrical about the Carretera Austral, telling us what an amazing trip is was and (despite the fact that they hadn't been to Argentina's Atlantic coast) that it was a much better route than the one we were planning to take.

How to avoid this

Ask questions. Why does this person recommend what they are recommending? What are their interests? Are they similar to yours? Do they have a similar idea to you of what is expensive and what's good value? Do they have an ulterior motive for their recommendation? In our case, we didn't regret travelling on the Carretera Austral, though it was a challenge. It turned out that our Austrian roommates were heavily in to fishing, and that this route is great for doing trips to the many lakes and rivers for just that reason. If you are keen on fishing, visit tailoredtackle.com to learn how to become an improved angler. We, however, have no interest in dragging fish out of the water, almost killing them and then throwing them back.

5. Choosing accommodation because it's cheap

In southern Chile, we became quite frustrated by the high prices we were paying in some places for not a very high standard. This lead us to start choosing places to stay because they were the cheapest, and on almost no other criteria. This mistake reached its apex in Uruguay when we chose a place in La Paloma because they'd made a mistake with their booking website and we got a private room for the prices being charged for a dorm bed elsewhere in town. It was probably the worst place we've stayed so far. They lied, telling us their wifi “wasn't working at the moment” (it was clear that they never had wifi in the first place), the bed was uncomfortable, the bathroom dirty and it was so far out of town that we had to ask the owners for a lift every time we wanted to go out or come home.

How to avoid this

Read reviews, and cross reference them between sites. When searching for accommodation, keep in mind that the cheapest option probably has more downsides than the ones the next step up. If negative reviews constantly come up with the same points, there's probably a good reason for that.

somewhat disappointing and expensive food in Uruguay

decent, but somewhat disappointing and expensive food in Uruguay

6. Travelling to a destination (town, region, country) simply because it's nearby

For us, this was Uruguay. We knew almost nothing about it (again, planning fail) other than that it was one of the wealthiest countries in South America and that it had beaches. Oh, and of course, that it's very close to Buenos Aires; just a hop, skip and a jump across the Río Plata, and you're there. It turned out to be kinda boring, and super expensive. This was surely in no small part because it we visited in the off season, and so the weather was occasionally unpleasant and beaches were empty.

How to avoid this

Yet again, research is the answer. If you're on a quest to visit all the countries in the world, then sure, go for it. If you want to be drawn to something in particular about a place, then please do some research about what it's actually like so that you can set your expectations appropriately.