Learning from Our Travel Mistakes

(Over the next couple of weeks I’m recounting ways that travel has helped me to learn about myself. For reference check out my first article: How Travel makes us Smarter, Wiser and All-Around More Awesome and Learning to Love Being Alone)

Once, I took a trip that wasn’t very fun.

It was one of my very first excursions into grown-up travel (as in not with my family). I was studying abroad in London and decided to take a Reading Week trip to Budapest and Prague with three girls I knew from school. I wasn’t so sure of myself back then, so I shyly stepped back and let the more assertive girls make the decisions.

Mistake. While Budapest and Prague are both lovely cities, the trip was a weeklong exercise in miserable. We had no clue what we were doing, we fought endlessly and to top it off it rained non-stop. At the time it was pretty exhausting, but in hindsight it was a great lesson for me.

Budapest is pretty even in the rain

Here are just some of the travel lessons learned:

  • Choose your travel companions carefully– my companions and I had met only a month prior to committing to this trip and, in the rush of excitement, we forgot to check whether we could actually stand each other. While I liked each of them individually, the four of us together flat out sucked.  Two girls didn’t get along at ALL and bickered painfully for hours on end before things finally hardened into an icy silence around day five.

To make matters worse we had two totally conflicting travel styles. Two girls were very by the book: see the top sites, eat in touristy areas and be back at the hostel before dark (because Prague is dangerous, don’t you know?). Two of us wanted to wander the city, explore and delve deeper into the culture (you can guess which camp I was in, right?). The daily tug of war over what to do and where to eat got old real fast.

  • Travel agents aren’t necessary– Okay for some things they are, but a weeklong trip to Central Europe isn’t one of them. We sat down in the STA travel on Goodge Street and let the cute agent, Shane, pick our transportation and hostels for us. And even with his professional help we ended up in the shadiest train station hostel I’ve encountered to date. It was more expensive and we had less choice, but we were so nervous about the process we were happy to give up control instead of being proactive in our travel choices.
  • Do your research– some people like to roll up in a new city with no information and wing it. I discovered I am not one of those people. Without a clue as to what to see and do in Prague I found myself being shuffled from one tourist attraction to another without any opinions or insight. I wised up to this fact pretty fast actually and purchased a Budapest guidebook on arrival which made the second city much more enjoyable.
  • Weather Can Make a Difference– there are some good things about Europe in late fall- less crowds and lower prices for starters. None of that matters though if you are so wet and miserable you can’t enjoy anything. On this trip I learned how much bad weather can taint my view of a city- I still think I need to go back to Prague to give it a fair shake.
Cold, rainy and blurry Prague

It was a crappy trip; almost enough to put some people off travel completely. Ever the optimist though, I look back on it as a valuable lesson. It gave me a better understanding of my own travel style and needs, and the fact that I need to be a proactive participant in my own travel happiness.

Just a month later I planned a second trip: a week in Italy. This time around I picked low-key travel companions I knew I’d get along with. I bought a big thick Lonely Planet Italy and read it with the same fervor as my Victorian novels. I skipped the agent and did all the bookings myself. It was a busy week- and cold! But it was fantastic.

Whether you are traveling solo or in a group it is important to be a voice in the planning of your trip. It’s not always easy (and part of the reason why solo travel is so appealing to me), but knowing your needs and limitations beforehand can prevent a lot of bumps along the way. You are your best advocate in making sure you enjoy yourself.

get it? like SELF reflection? GET IT?
Reflecting in Budapest (like self reflection, GET IT?)

What are some lessons you’ve learned from bad trips?

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43 thoughts on “Learning from Our Travel Mistakes”

  1. True! Some of my friends are really luxurious and they rarely dont find initiative to lower their prices because as they say we would only experience less of what we want if we get cheap accomodation and not get tour guide. But i say the true experience of traveling lies on how much i have known the country which most of the times are hidden by ‘scripted’ tour packages and luxurious hotels. I now choose the people i go with.

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