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Traveling, especially solo, can be scary and riddled with anxiety. And if something goes wrong? It can just about ruin a trip. The best way to guarantee a seamless travel experience is… well there isn’t a way to guarantee a seamless travel experience! The truth is that no matter how good of a traveler you are and how many countries you’ve been to, you’re bound to have something go wrong now and again. And the best way to deal with mistakes is by learning from them and laughing them off.
Here are my many mistakes made throughout my travels, but more importantly the travel lessons I’ve learned, and how I’ve managed to move on and continue to travel solo. I hope you laugh a little, learn a lot, and push your fear aside in order to book that next solo trip!
8 Mistakes I’ve Made and Lessons I’ve Learned from Years of Solo Travel
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Mistake 1: Not Reading the Directions When Operating Foreign Machinery
I booked a flight to Paris and arrived at the city of lights at night time. I got off the airplane, breathed in the French air for the first time, and hailed a taxi cab. On my way to my Airbnb, I felt giddy as I passed the Eiffel Tower all lit up and sparkling, among other famous landmarks. Still high on joy from arrival, when I arrived at my Airbnb I eagerly popped my already dirty clothes into the washing machine and headed to bed.
The next day I learned that European washing machines don’t operate like they do in the US. I had somehow managed to get the door jammed shut in such a way that it wouldn’t open. I had to contact my host and she had to send a man to repair the washing machine – two days later! I still laugh about the fact that I gallivanted around Paris with the same clothes on while my other clothes sat wet in the washing machine for two days. I filed this one under “things you learn from traveling abroad”.
Travel Lesson: You don’t need an abundance of clothes to have a memorable time. Oh, and make sure to read the directions of foreign machinery before using it!
Mistake 2: Arriving in a Foreign City at 5 am With Nowhere to Sleep or Store Luggage
After hopping on a red-eye flight from the US to Dublin, I had no worries as I slept through the flight to wake up in Ireland at 5 am. When the plane landed in Ireland, I groggily hailed a taxi and headed to my hostel ready to hop in bed. What I didn’t realize was that not only could I not check in until 3 pm but I also had no place to store my luggage until then. I sat in the hostel from 5 am until 3 pm babysitting my luggage and trying not to fall asleep while sitting up.
Travel Lesson: If you plan to arrive in a city in the early morning, book your accommodation for the night before. Or call ahead and ask if there is somewhere to put your luggage so you can get out and explore. Now if I know I am arriving early I always book a hotel, even if it’s more expensive. Hotels can typically hold luggage for you and often times there is the ability for early check-in.
Mistake 3: Being too Cheap
I traveled through Ireland staying in different hostels throughout the country. I didn’t have an issue until I reached my fourth city – Galway. I had accidentally booked a hostel that also served as a dormitory… because it was the cheapest option. This meant that college kids were up drunk and screaming obscenities throughout the night. With no sleep, I canceled the hostel and moved into a private Airbnb.
Travel Lesson: Always do your research! Sometimes the cheapest places are cheap for a reason – because nobody else wants to stay there. Look into reviews, read blogs, and realize that sometimes quality sleep is worth a little bit more money.
Mistake 4: Losing My Luggage in Prague
The first time I ever lost my luggage, I was a novice traveler. It was my first time in Europe and I was heading to Prague to visit my sister who was studying abroad. I made the mistake of packing every single thing into my luggage and checking it at the airport. When I arrived in Prague the next day, my luggage did not arrive with me. I spent three days wearing the same clothes (down to my underwear) around the city.
Travel Lesson: Pack extra items in your carry on luggage! Even if I’m only taking a purse on the plane, at the very least I pack an extra pair of underwear. If I have space I usually pack an entire outfit!
Mistake 5: Getting Lost in a Foreign Country With 3% Cell Phone Battery
I traveled the world solo for 17-weeks, and I only felt unsafe one time. Out of 17-weeks of traveling through foreign countries, catching planes, trains, and busses alone, and I only felt scared in one of the most developed and safest cities in the world – Vienna.
When I was traveling solo through Vienna, I decided early one evening that instead of taking a cab back to my Airbnb, I would make the 3-mile walk from downtown Vienna to my Airbnb. I turned on my Google maps and somehow managed to walk 4-miles in the wrong direction. While initially, I was in a park passing loads of people, the sun quickly set and I suddenly found myself in a dark and deserted park. There were no street lights. No buildings. And no people around. It wasn’t until I came upon an abandoned railroad track that I began to panic. With only 3% battery left on my phone and no extra battery pack with me, I began to cry. Luckily a random couple on the street (the first people I had seen since the sun set) overheard me and ordered an Uber for me. It turns out that while I put the correct address in Google maps… I had the zip code wrong.
Travel Lesson: Never leave without your cell phone fully charged and an extra battery pack in tow.
Mistake 6: Not Having an International Drivers License When Renting a Car Abroad
I visited Romania, solo, and had planned an epic 3-week road trip through the country. I had made sure to book an automatic car, and eagerly waited for my Romanian road trip to begin. When I showed up to pick up my rental car, I wasn’t allowed to rent because I didn’t have an international driver’s license. (Although when I rented the car it was never stated that I needed one). This resulted in me having to cancel one-week of my road trip and rent a car from a much shadier, more expensive car stand.
Lesson: You can never be too prepared. If you plan to drive abroad, get an international driver’s license. And when worst comes to worst, be flexible with your travel plans!
Mistake 7: Not Confirming Your Rental Car
I planned a solo road trip through the UK, starting in England and ending in Scotland. I had plans to drive the countryside stopping at any quaint town that I could along the way. From the Cotswolds to Oban, my UK dreams were about to become a reality.
When I went to pick up my rental car in Bath, I ran into a major problem. Although I had booked an automatic car online, there were no automatic cars available for the next week. And to top it off, the man working at the rental station told me, “90% of people drive manuals around here” – literally not caring that the company screwed up my reservation.
Being from the US, I had absolutely no clue how to operate a manual. So instead of trying it out, I opted to spend the next four hours waiting for a large, 7-seat automatic truck to be delivered to the rental station. I drove that big truck (on the opposite side of the road) through the smallest roads I’d ever seen. In fact, it was so difficult for me to maneuver through the Scottish highlands that I canceled part of my trip so that I could return the car early.
Travel Lesson: Always call to confirm that you will be getting the car that you reserved.
Mistake 8: Not Being Spontaneous
I’ve lost out of hundreds of dollars by simply not being spontaneous about where I’m traveling to. I now prefer to book my trips based on cheap flights (find a cheap flight – go to destination); versus picking a destination then finding an accompanying flight.
The way I do this by utilizing the Going premium membership. While I used the free version for a while, I upgraded to the premium version which got me significantly more flight details. Plus, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on flights making the annual fee more than worth it. (But seriously, if it wasn’t for Going I wouldn’t have traveled to Portugal or Albania).
Travel Lesson: Sign up for Going premium membership (or elite if that’s how you roll).
While I know that my travels will continue to be riddled with mistakes, I only hope I can continue to laugh it off. I have many lessons from traveling that have only made me a better traveler, more experienced, and more adventurous. But that doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t continue to happen.
Besides laughing it off, I also make sure to always follow my gut instinct. For tips on how to stay safe as a solo female traveler, make sure to check out this post.