You might be dusting off that suitcase finally after a year of lockdown and excited to take that first trip in a long while. We’re all feeling ready to travel, but might be a little rusty. We spoke to Travis King—an author and remote work consultant who has been traveling full-time for eight years now—about the mistakes he knows he’ll never make again, so you don’t have to. Read on for tips, along with some of his hilarious tales.
I stopped counting how many countries I’ve been to a while ago, but let’s just say I’ve seen enough corners of the world to have amazingly vivid memories that I can’t place on a map. Was that Morocco or Istanbul? Maybe it was Tanzania? I’ve traveled so much that I even wrote a book about it. Basically, I made most of these mistakes for the first time some 40 or 50 countries back, and in the end, years later, the calf burn healed, but the memories sting. I wish someone would have warned me about these hazards. I hope they might help you as you bumble about the world, feigning confidence.
1. Bringing Your Useless-Ass Hiking Boots
I was guilty of this on my first big trip. I took a pair of $100 hiking boots on my solo trip to South America. They dangled off of my backpack for over four months. I used them once, and even that day I could have easily hiked in tennis shoes. I went on to travel for nearly nine years after that first trip and never once thought, “Oh no! I wish I had my hiking boots!”
If you’re leaving to go hike the Appalachian trail, or to walk the Inca trail, or any other trip that has “trail” in the name—go ahead, take your boots. But for those leaving home to simply meet the world and have an adventure, leave the boots at home. You’d be surprised at the adventures you can have in simple tennis shoes or flip-flops. You’d also be surprised at how annoying two big bricks dangling off your backpack can be when walking down the narrow aisle of a local bus.
Pro-tip: Don’t convince yourself you need your hiking boots… because you don’t.
2. The Bali Tattoo
Scooters are everywhere in Southeast Asia as is the case in most places with developing economies because they are cheaper than cars and take far less gas to power. Odds are, you’ll find yourself learning how to drive one or at least jumping on the back of a scooter from time to time.
When this happens, and you begin exploring islands and rice fields, you’ll eventually have to get off the scooter. When you do, exit the scooter on the left, the same side where the kickstand normally lives. The bike is already leaning that way, but the primary reason is that there’s a red hot burning tube on the right side, and if you’re not careful, you just might get a permanent scar. This is known as “the Bali tattoo” in some circles. Whatever you call it, it hurts and takes weeks to fully heal. Do your best to avoid this painful travel muffler-memento.
Pro-tip: Notice the muffler. Feel how hot it is after you get off your scooter correctly on the left side. Maybe even touch it for a millisecond. Imagine what squishing your calf into it might feel like, and I’m guessing you won’t let your calf near it.
3. First the Plastic, Then the Money
If you’ve traveled more than a month straight, there’s a good chance something like this has happened to you: You’re out with some new friends, three beers in, and you discover the bar only takes cash. You walk to the closest ATM with one of your new buddies, you choose how many Pesos, Bhat or Soles you want, and continue chatting about the cute Dutch girl who just arrived at the bar. The colorful cash pokes its head through the rubber lips, you grab it, laugh at your friend’s witty remark, and keep it moving back to the bar.
Your card ejects itself 8 seconds later.
This has happened to most long-term travelers at least once. In part, this might happen because you’re used to ATMs giving your card back before the cash comes. In part, it might be due to sensation-overload as many ATMs are in the middle of busy tourist streets with countless people, food stalls, and the smell of durian wafting in the air. In part, it might be all the mezcal you drank. Whatever the reason (or likely, combination of reasons) waking up in the morning without your ATM card can easily happen during long-term travel. Don’t let it happen to you.
Pro-tip: Develop a little routine (or maybe a rhyme) with yourself for closing your wallet. Feel free to steal my rhyme: “First the plastic, then the money, if I lose my card, it won’t be funny.”
4. Two to Six Airports
In 2019, I spent a month in Turkey. One morning, my partner Maria and I were flying from Istanbul to Antalya, an ancient beach town with kitschy red and white umbrellas. As we got in the Uber at 5am, I checked with her that she was sure about the airport we punched into the Uber app–she said she was. An hour later while trying to find the check-in desk for our flight, we discovered that our airplane was flying out of Istanbul’s Asian airport, not their European one. We discovered—right as our brains were turning on with our first cup of coffee—that Istanbul has two airports. It does belong to two continents.
This isn’t all that uncommon for large cities. New Yorkers know this well. New York City has three major airports, London has six. It’s easy to just punch “Santo Domingo airport” into the Uber and assume you’re on your way to meet your plane. However, Santo Domingo—along with over 75 other cities around the world—has two airports. Double-check, do your due diligence, and take the stress out of travel days. Also, forgive your partner if they get it wrong—they’re not the first or last people to assume that the airport either Google or Uber chooses is the only airport around.
Pro-tip: Triple check your flight information. Screenshot it into your phone. Cross-check your Uber directions with a Google maps search.
5. Toothbrush Freak Out
In many countries around the world, tap water is not safe to drink. This part you’ll likely be very prepared for upon leaving home. It’s often abundantly clear that potable water is the water sold in bottles, bags, and garrafones—and your brain will easily adjust to “don’t drink water from the tap.”
However, most travelers have had the experience where they had a wonderful first day in a new city, drank all the bottled water they desired, and then that night, brushed their teeth in the sink like they have every day since their memory formed as a child. It was an honest mistake, they tell themselves. Oh man, I should have poured water on my toothbrush from the bottle, they worry. Their thoughts spiral, they swear they can feel their stomach turning. Sleep is fraught and the night is long and worrisome.
The next day at the free hostel breakfast they find that they’re tired and frazzled, but entirely fine. If you do ingest a tiny amount of tap water through your toothbrush or the shower, don’t panic. You’ll almost certainly be fine and your time abroad is limited, so don’t waste your energy on problems that don’t really exist.
Pro-tip: Purposefully brush your teeth with tap water the first night, and discover for yourself that it’s not a real worry.
Don’t be scared of messing up. Go enjoy your travels—just expect that things will go wrong. When they do, take it in stride. Getting overly upset is like getting pissed at the snow when you live in Alaska. (Read my book if you want more Alaska). Breathe. It’s not necessarily nice, but it’s to be expected. Maybe it’ll even make for a great story?