In the craziness of getting ready for the international portion of our around-the-world trip of 14 months, our concern was to not make really BIG mistakes – the kind of mistakes that cost a lot of money, time, or threatened our being able to go on. Now that we’re back, we can take a deep breath in relief and admit that, while we made mistakes along the way, none were disastrous.
All of our mistakes could have been avoided, and maybe you can learn from us how not to make the same mistakes yourself:
Lesson 1: IF FRIENDS OR FAMILY VISIT – INCREASE YOUR BUDGET. When friends or family join us, we paid more admission fees, and we ate at better restaurants. We loved their visits, but, with those visits, we’ll know next time to add in a little extra to our daily budget.
Lesson 2: CHECK INTO WHETHER YOUR MEDICAL INSURANCE COVERS YOU ON THE TRIP. We had a policy that said in large print that it covered travel abroad. Somewhere in the long document – in very small print – it said it covered us, but only for a 2-month trip. We had to scramble in the last months before our departure to find coverage for the additional year. The cost? Several thousand dollars over our budget.
Lesson 3: GET IMMUNIZATION INFORMATION EARLY. We thought we started in plenty of time to get our immunizations. We needed the Japanese encephalitis immunizations: 2 shots each, spaced 1-month apart. We forgot to count on the travel clinic being closed on weekends and holidays. In the end – we’d run out of time. No immunization for Japanese encephalitis for us. We took other precautions while walking through the rice paddies in China and were lucky not to contract the dread disease.
Lesson 4: BE PREPARED FOR A PROBLEM TAKING A TAXI IN SHANGHAI. We took 2 taxis in Shanghai and had 2 problems. After that experience we checked to see how reputable taxis were in other cities along the way and, when in doubt about taxi service, we spent a little more to have a pre-arranged driver pick us up at the airport and take us to where we were staying. That was a big stress-reducer.
Lesson 4: PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME FOR MULTIPLE PAYMENTS IN (POSSIBLY MULTIPLE) FOREIGN CURRENCIES. Our last day in China, we had just the right amount of money left for several tips, guide fees, and a snack in the airport. The morning was rushed, we were both coming down with colds, and it wasn’t surprising that we made a mistake. At the airport we discovered our money was gone. We had accidentally double-paid our driver! Lesson learned. In Africa, some payments were in dollars or euros and others in the local currency. Thanks to our earlier mistake we were prepared for that.
Lesson 5: IF SUITCASES ARE TOO FULL, IT PUTS A DAMPER ON SHOPPING. We travel light: one roll-on and one shoulder bag each. That’s not a mistake. However, those bags carry all we need for the two-year trip, and we can’t squeeze anything more into them. Every time we see something in shops that we love (and there’s been a lot to love along the way), we start the mental calculation of costs to ship it home. That often puts an end to making a purchase. Now, this could be a mistake or a good thing. You decide.
Lesson 6: BE READY WITH VISA AND CURRENCY INFORMATION BEFORE YOU LAND. When you’re prepared, it’s a lot easier to get the visa first and then stand in the 45-minute customs line than to do the reverse. Also, check the exchange rate before you get to the new country and know how much you want to withdraw upon arrival. Someone asked us the rate after he’d paid fees to withdraw the equivalent of $20 US from the airport ATM. He didn’t know the exchange rate and had guessed. He paid a full fee to exchange a trifling amount of money. By the way, we almost never use a money exchange. Rather, we find a real bank ATM and use our no-fee bankcard that gives a good exchange rate.
Mistakes will be made, but mistakes don’t just happen; we make them. With each new country, we learned a little more what mistakes we had made and how to not make them again. How many countries will we have to visit to really get it down to a mistake-free trip?