I like to think of myself as a reasonably seasoned traveler. I’ve been to 19 countries, which is far ahead of the average as an American. How many is the average, you might ask? A measly three. Our British counterparts across the pond, on the other hand, have visited an average of 10. But when you’re able to head to Paris for a day trip, it’s a whole lot easier to visit numerous countries.
Over the years I’ve developed some good travel habits. I can pack for an international trip in less than 15 minutes, even less if I’m only going for a long weekend. I never really stressed about packing, but I almost always stressed about forgetting something. That hasn’t happened in a while.
Some other habits I’ve picked up along the way include saving offline Google Maps data for my destinations (a recent decision), printing off hard copy maps of some cities and marking locations, and learning to be flexible with plans when the day goes sideways (actually, I’m not a detailed planner, so this is an easy one).
Yet I certainly have some bad habits. Here are my five worst travel habits in need of correction:
Carrying Barely Any Cash
This is a bad habit I know I’ve developed over time, simply because it hasn’t come back and bitten me in the butt. Yet. I’m sure there will be a day when having a little more cash in the wallet will be the solution to a critical problem. Still, I basically travel without any, especially domestically. Withdrawing some greenbacks doesn’t even cross my mind when I leave town.
Internationally, I’ve gotten in the habit of withdrawing as much local currency as I can soon after we arrive. I still don’t travel with any USD with me that I plan to exchange, as using an ATM is easiest.
I do have an awesome travel debit card with SoFi Money. The account provides instant ATM fee refunds, and I can withdraw cash anywhere at the current exchange rate without paying any extra for it. This is an awesome perk. But it might make me even more prone to not carry any cash in my wallet when I leave the house. What it does, though, is alleviate the frustration of paying a few dollars every time I need to withdraw some more.
Not Learning Enough of the Language
I’ve not traveled a whole lot outside the English and Spanish-speaking world. The bulk of the places I’ve visited use one of these two languages, and I can manage just fine in either. Even among places where English isn’t widely spoken, I’m lured into a false sense of security that things will work out just fine. Places like Finland, France and Italy are easy enough to navigate even if you barely know any Finnish, French or Italian. This is a privilege of the English-speaking traveler that I wrote about.
But not learning much local language is a bad habit to get into. My son and I had a difficult day in Xiamen, China during a stopover due to the language barrier. My command of Chinese is nonexistent. I can say hello and spout off a few numbers. That’s it. Definitely not useful.
I’m planning on rectifying this in the future, as there are huge upsides to learning even a little of the language of the country your visiting. I have so little time to study, but I plan to at least learn the basics in order to ask simple questions and understand the responses. I may still be lazy in countries where I can afford to be (e.g. The Netherlands and Denmark, where English is *so* widely spoken). But I don’t want this to be the norm.
Being Too Cheap
This might not seem like a bad habit at first, but I’ve found it’s one of my worst travel habits. It took me a while to realize that being too cheap when traveling was resulting in unnecessary frustration and detracting from the overall experience. Things like taking public transportation when a cab would have been way more convenient. Or trying to save $20 per night by staying a few subway stops away from where you really want to be. Or skipping an enjoyable experience that might have been the highlight of the trip.
I get that everyone has their price point over what they’re willing to do to save some money, and I’m all about traveling cheaply. But at some point being cheap isn’t worth it. You’re there to enjoy the place and experience, not save money. You can save money at home. Putting yourself through extra effort to save a few dollars while traveling shouldn’t be on your radar. Make transit convenient. Don’t scrimp on the things you want to do most. Enjoy the glass of wine.
Case in point: taking a taxi versus the bus in Montevideo. When my daughter and I visited in spring of 2019, I realized that Google wasn’t going to be a lot of help planning out transit in Montevideo. We used buses when they were convenient (i.e. hotel to central city plaza). But if I had no idea which one to take? Taxi. We only had two days to explore Montevideo, and I didn’t want to waste our time trying to find WiFi and then looking up bus routes on my phone.
If the whole trip is a stretch of the budget, avoid booking it. Choose somewhere else, or wait a little longer until you can afford the experience you want. Putting it off for a little while is likely better than going now and not having the money you want to enjoy things to the fullest.
Traveling Too Fast
I like to travel quickly when I’m solo. It’s something I have to tone down when I’m with my wife and kids. From walking miles through Sydney, Australia (and Helsinki, Finland), hiking up the Mutianyu Great Wall, and stuffing a ton into three days in Taipei with my son. I’m definitely an active traveler. Put me on a beach for more than a day and I’ll go stir crazy.
But this has its downsides, and it is a bad habit to get into. Giving yourself only a few days to experience a new city isn’t always the best way to go (although I am the one who argues that a long weekend in Europe is a legitimate idea). Traveling too fast invariably leads to two things: missing things you wish you could have done and not really getting to sit back and enjoy the feel of a place. When it might be nice to sit and take in a view for a half hour from a hilltop park, I instead anxious about getting to the next sight. This isn’t how I always want to travel.
I’ll likely go on a couple solo blitz trips per year, but when traveling with the kids, I’m learning to slow down and just let us enjoy the time together, even if we don’t quite cover everything on the list I put together. It’s the better choice.
What Are Your Worst Travel Habits?
I know there are other bad travel habits out there. Some I’ve broken, like booking a terrible itinerary just because it’s the cheapest. I’m not afraid of connecting, but there better be a lounge and the ability to work. Then it’s a non-issue.
But these are my worst travel habits that remain. What are some of yours?