Most of these lessons I learnt the hard way by making lots of mistakes…
Do your homework BEFORE you go
I learnt this lesson the hard way a few times on my trip. The first was when we decided to fly to Russia from Norway. We couldn’t get a direct flight however, so we had to go via Copenhagen. (Our flight would be: Oslo – Copenhagen – Moscow)
The flight from Oslo to Copenhagen went fine, but as soon as we were about to board our 2nd flight to Moscow we were asked a question:
Flight attendant: “Do you have your Russian visas?”
Me: “Um, no? Do we need them? Can’t we just get a visa on arrival like we do in every other country?”
Flight attendant: “NO! OK you guys are not going!”
And that was that. We couldn’t go to Russia.
Apart from the fact that we had already paid for our flights and booked our non-refundable hotel room in Moscow, we had one other major problem: Our bags were still on the plane and it was about to leave!
Me: “What about my bags? My bags are still on board with all of my clothes, laptop and belongings and the plane is about to leave in the next 20 minutes!”
Flight Attendant: “Relax!” “Your baggage will be removed from the plane”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Flight Attendant: “Don’t worry they’re not going to take off with your bags!” “They can’t fly your baggage without you!”
Me: “OK, I’m just a little worried because everything I own is in that bag. It’s got my laptop, jeans, shirts, underwear, socks, shoes, toiletries etc.”
Flight Attendant: “Don’t worry your bags will definitely not be going to Russia without you. We’ll remove your bags from the plane shortly and they’ll be available on platform number 7 within the next 30 minutes.”
So I went to platform 7 and waited… and waited… and waited… and after waiting anxiously for over 4 hours and repeatedly checking in with the staff to find out if they knew where my bag was no one knew anything. Another problem I had is that I didn’t have a place to stay in Copenhagen. I was told by the airport to book a hotel for the night and that they would alert me in the morning when my bag had been located. So I left the airport and booked a hotel room for the night and waited anxiously for the airport to alert me when my baggage had been located.
But the next day there was still no sign of it.
Nor the next day.
Nor the day after that.
72 hours later and my baggage still had not been located and I was getting frustrated because every time I spoke to the airline to find out what was happening no one seemed to know anything. I was told that I should simply keep checking the airlines website because I would be able to track and monitor my bag online and someone would update the website and alert me when it was found.
But this wasn’t the case. Every day I looked at the website the progress was ‘still tracking’ and my stay in Copenhagen was getting more and more expensive by the day and was costing me a lot of money in hotel and other expenses such as clothes, food and toiletries.
After 4 days I decided to go back to the airport to speak to someone in case they’d heard anything and I got the shock of a lifetime when I encountered some of the worst ‘customer service’ I’ve ever had, in any country I’ve been to, in any environment I’ve been in, in any industry I’ve seen – EVER! And that’s saying a LOT!
After waiting in line for over an hour to be served, I finally got to explain the situation to a 60 year old ‘customer service’ representative and was told in an extremely condescending and direct manner: “Your bag is in Russia. What would you like me to do about it?”
Firstly, I was just incredibly happy and relieved to know where my bag was. I then asked the ‘customer service’ rep when they could get my bag back to Copenhagen and was shocked when she immediately began talking down to me in an extremely condescending manner telling me that it was my own fault and that I should have had the Russian visa’s sorted out before I left (which I agree with, it was my fault and I should have done my homework). When I asked her again how long it would take to get my bags back she got even more aggressive: “It’ll happen when it does! It could take a month or more! Maybe longer! This happens all the time! Do you think you’re the only one?!”
When I tried to ask her ANY follow up questions to get ANY kind of clarity as to how or when I might get my bag back, I was immediately interrupted, talked over and yelled at! I was literally unable to speak, ask a question or get a word in.
I asked to speak to this woman’s manager but she refused and told me that I’d received all the help I needed and that she’d done her job. But I persisted because I wasn’t able to speak for more than 5 seconds without being interrupted and she had no intention of listening or helping.
Finally, she got her manager who stormed out and yelled at me (as his very first words) “I’M NOT LISTENING TO YOU! I’M TOO BUSY. IT’S YOUR FAULT!”
Me: “Can you just listen to me for one moment?”
Manager: “No I’m not listening to you! I’m too busy! Goodbye!”
Me: “If you know you’re right why can’t you just hear me out for 30 seconds?”
Manager: “No I’m not listening to you! I’m not going to listen to you!”
This was with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) by the way. Home of the worst customer service in the world.
Me: “Fine. I’ll call your CEO to get resolution of this problem.” (Not that I knew who that was)
It was only at that moment that the manager start talking to me like a human being.
Manager: “Look you should get your bag back within 48 hours, and you can file an expense claim with the airline. I’m sorry for the inconvenience!” (Smiling, friendly expression, warm tonality)
The funny thing was that as he made this sudden transformation from Hyde to Jekyll some other people in a similar position approached us not knowing what we were talking about and tried to ask a question about their lost baggage and he immediately turned around and yelled in their faces “NOT NOW!”
I finally got my bag back from Moscow after 7 days but it had cost me over $1200 USD in the process. This experience was a HUGE lesson for me to always do my homework because all it takes is just one small mistake to ruin your plans. If my friend and I had just done our homework for Russia and got our visas sorted none of this would have ever happened.
Take my advice: Do as much research as you can about a new place before going. You don’t just want to turn up and wing it, hope for the best and see how it all works out. The more homework you do, the less likely it is that you’ll be caught off guard with some unpleasant surprises like I was. You want to know where to go, where to stay, what to do, what visas, vaccinations and medicines you might need, what scams you need to watch out for etc.
Once you’ve done your homework and know where/when you want to go: Book ASAP.
The earlier you book, the greater your chances of being able to get the exact flights/accommodation/attractions you want, and often the bigger the discount you will receive. Forget about websites that promise ‘last minute’ deals. The longer you wait and the later you leave it, the greater the chances that what you want will either be booked out or sold out and you will miss out. Also, flights and accommodation the generally more expensive if you book at the last minute.
I learnt this lesson the hard way when I went to Vegas in 2010 for a week for my 30th birthday. (I know now that a week in Vegas is far too long but I didn’t know it at the time). I wanted to take a helicopter over the Grand Canyon in my first few days there, but my best friend who was with me convinced me that we should wait until the very last day of the trip so as to end the trip on a high.
It turned out that was terrible advice because when we tried to book the flight on the last day we were told that they were fully booked and that we needed to book a couple of days in advance! It was heartbreaking! No Grand Canyon! It really ended the trip on a downer and I was not only disappointed and sad that I had missed out, but angry and frustrated that I had listened to my friend instead of to my gut feeling which was to do it ASAP.
I learnt an unforgettable lesson that day: If something is important to you: Do it ASAP. Don’t leave it until the last moment or you may not be able to go. This applies to anything that may be in high demand such as famous landmarks, tourist attractions, concerts, plays, restaurants, sporting events etc. You often have to book these things well in advance. You can’t just turn up on the day and expect to get tickets.
Don’t judge a place by the pictures
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover, you shouldn’t judge a place by the pictures!
Because pictures can be deceiving.
Just because something looks good, that doesn’t mean that it is – and vice versa.
Some places are super photogenic and just look good. But that doesn’t mean that they’re that great to be in.
When you’re choosing a holiday destination don’t just go by the photos. Photos and videos can’t give you a real feel for the place any more than they can capture the smell or taste of a meal. What makes a place good is the people, the energy and the atmosphere, and that’s something you can’t really get a feel for through a photo or video. It’s not until you actually go somewhere that you can tell what it’s really like.
PS: Don’t be jealous about someone else’s great holiday photos either because a great photo doesn’t necessarily represent a great time. All that it represents is someone’s ability to pose for a photo. I’ve seen tons of people posing for photos as if they were having the time of their lives but then just 2 seconds after the photo was taken their expressions often go from happy and joyful to tired and bored. It can be hilarious to watch! Everyone just loves lying about how much fun they’re having and trying to make other people jealous with how great their fake lifestyle is.
Some places are good for a short time, others are good for a long time
Timing is everything when travelling. You not only want to know when and where to go, but also how long to go for, because some places are good for a short time, others are good for a long time.
Get some good podcasts on your phone
Do yourself a favor and spend a few hours getting some good audiobooks, podcasts and music on your phone to listen to later. It’s a great way to pass the time when you’re stuck waiting for hours at the airport, on a bus or train, in a traffic jam, or just in some long line that isn’t going anywhere. Remember: Not all places have WIFI.
Some of my favorite podcasts include: JRE (Joe Rogan Experience), London Real and the Tim Ferris Show.
Before travelling to any 3rd world country see your doctor beforehand and get immunized for your own safety.
I got shots for:
- Yellow Fever
- Chicken Pox
Buy medicine BEFORE you need it
I strongly advise buying medicine BEFORE you need it:
- Headache pills
- Asthma inhalers
- Anti-diarrhoea pills
- Anything else you might need
Until I had been on this trip I had never had food poisoning before. But I travelling through South America and India I had it several times. Believe me: You don’t want to have to leave the house to go and buy anti-diarrhoea pills if you get food poisoning and need them, and you don’t want to have to go for a walk to buy headache pills if you need them. So get these things before you leave or as soon as you arrive in a new country and always have them on hand with you.
Travelling alone vs travelling with a friend
Should you travel alone or go with a friend?
I’ve travelled alone and with friends, and in my opinion most people should travel with a friend, lover or family member.
95% of my trip around the world was with my best friend, except for the last 12 months when he went back to New Zealand for his sister’s wedding and I went alone to India.
Travelling alone and with friends both have advantages and disadvantages however.
Travelling with a friend:
- Gives you someone to talk to and share experiences with
- You always have someone to watch your back, look out for you, and take photos of you
- You can reduce your costs for accommodation, meals, etc.
- You can split the work load: On my trip I was in charge of activities and my friend was in charge of booking flights and accommodation
- You never feel lonely
- You can do what you want when you want, without feeling obliged or pressured into doing something with your friend that doesn’t interest you
- It forces you out of your comfort zone and makes you more likely to start conversations with strangers and to talk to people you wouldn’t ordinarily which makes it more likely that you will make new friends
Many people are used to travelling alone and prefer it.
Ultimately whether you travel alone or with someone else all comes down to who you are planning to travel with. Some people make great travel companions – others not so much!
Book one way or return?
After my horror trip to Cambodia my new rule of travel became: “One way for as long as it’s good for”.
Generally speaking, if you have the time to spend, one way is definitely what I recommend because the truth is that you don’t know how much you’re going to like a place before you go. You might love it or hate it. It might be exciting and fun or boring or dangerous.
Many people cancel their return tickets and booking an earlier flight home when they don’t end up liking the town or city they went to. Most of the time they can’t get a refund on their return ticket so it’s just money wasted.
I’ve stayed in every kind of different accommodation imaginable: Ashrams, apartments, hostels, houses, 5 star hotels etc. It all depended on where I was, what was available and what was most convenient.
My biggest recommendation about getting good accommodation is to simply do your homework. Look for good deals and don’t be lazy. Don’t just stay ‘anywhere’ unless you have to because where you stay affects your experience a lot more than what you might think. When you stay somewhere nice, you wake up and go to bed feeling good, and it affects you physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically for the better.
Do your laundry 2 days before you leave
If you’re going from country to country or city to city, I recommend spending your 2nd to last day doing all your laundry before you go so that you can pack up with all nice clean clothes without needing to look around to find somewhere to do laundry as soon as you arrive.
Don’t do your laundry at the hotel because they will rip you off! Hotels around the world often charge by the item which means that if you have a full load of washing, it can easily cost $100+ USD!
Do stuff you wouldn’t normally do back home
Going on holiday is a perfect time to do stuff you wouldn’t normally do back home.
What would you normally NOT do?
Where would you normally NOT go?
What would make for a great fun holiday memory?
Ask the locals
The best places and things aren’t always advertised.
Some are. Most aren’t.
The best thing I did on my trip was drinking Ayahuasca and that definitely wasn’t advertised.
The top 10 things to see and do in any city definitely isn’t what Google or Trip Advisor calls the top 10 attractions.
In fact, Google should rename “Top 10 attractions” to “Top 10 tourist traps for suckers”.
Do you really think that the number one best place in Paris is the Eiffel Tower?
The best places and things to do are often off the beaten path, not easy to find and only known to locals such as a particular coffee shop, restaurant, theater, beach or park.
This is part 7 of a 9 part series: Life Lessons from Traveling the World
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 1: Don’t believe the hype
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 2: Wherever you go, there you are
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 3: Things that surprised me
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 4: Highlights of the trip
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 5: My favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 6: My least favorite travel destinations
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 8: Travel tips – Part 2
Life Lessons from Traveling the World – Part 9: Why you should travel the world
If you would like to read some of my other articles: Life Lessons All Articles