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I Made Mistakes Travelling So You Don’t Have To

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Vic chapter.

Warren Buffet once said; “It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

That being said, I am going to provide you some travel advice I learned the hard way so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Avoid Airbnb.

I decided to try out Airbnb for the first time when I was travelling solo around England. I decided to stay in Milton Keynes to attend a concert in the area. Because of the concert it was hard to find affordable accommodation, but I found an Airbnb that was a twenty-minute walk away from the venue that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. But it was too good to be true. Since it was my first time booking an Airbnb, I didn’t know that the host was supposed to contact you a few days before your stay. The night before, I started reaching out to the host and on my bus ride there to get the check-in information. But I never received any response. I contacted the Airbnb customer service who reached out to the host on my behalf and didn’t hear back either. I had been ghosted.  All they could do was refund my money. They suggested booking another Airbnb in the area, but of course there were none available due to the high demand from the concert. So, at the last minute, I was looking up accommodations in nearby cities. I ended up booking the closest hotel I could manage because I wanted the security of a hotel rather than risking another unreliable Airbnb experience. The hotel was 24 km away from Milton Keynes. I went to the concert, using the bag check for my luggage as anything other than purses were prohibited in the venue. Bag check was inconvenient after the show when I had to wait around an hour in line to retrieve my belongings. Adding to my stress was the poor phone service in the area that greatly limited my problem solving at the moment. This meant running to the train station in the dark, alone and alongside highways because of the poor infrastructure for pedestrians. I managed to catch the last train for Northampton for the night. But in the end, even with the stress and unexpectedly expensive trip, the concert itself was incredible and the nice staff at the hotel went above and beyond for me by giving me food from the kitchen when I mentioned I barely got the chance to eat that day.  

Do not book through Expedia or similar websites.

Hotels and hostels are much more reliable than Airbnb, but third-party booking websites are not as secure as they seem. My mother and I once took a trip to the State to see a concert. When we got to our hotel, it turned out they didn’t have a room for us due to a miscommunication between the hotel and Expedia. The hotel went ahead and booked us at another motel which was a poorer quality that we had paid for without asking us. When we reached out to Expedia for assistance, we were met with silence. When we tried to provide an accurate review of our experience with them, which they asked for in an email, we found that the website would only accept reviews with a high rating. The two lessons from this experience is that booking through a third party is a risk of whether you get what you pay for and that you cannot trust their online reviews. Instead, I recommend looking at websites like Expedia only for their deals and if they are offering a cheaper price, call the hotel or motel directly and ask if they can offer you the Expedia deal. Hotels are inclined to give the reduced rate as they lose money through websites such as Expedia and will gain a greater profit from you booking directly even with the reduced rate.

Always carry cash.

This piece of advice comes from an issue I ran into when travelling in Rome. I had brought a good amount of Euros for my trip, but had run through almost most of it by the end of my trip. I had wanted to use cash because I had paid for the conversion and could not use the currency when I returned. But this was a mistake when my credit card was frozen for suspected theft. I had tried to rent a rideshare scooter for a quick ride, which set off the alerts at my credit card company. Apparently it’s a common purchase after a card is stolen. But this wouldn’t have been an issue if I was able to contact my credit card company. That was the challenge with using a European sim card, which was connected to my credit card then expired at this untimely moment, leaving me without money and cell service. I was fortunate that I already paid for my hostel stay and my flight back home. I barely had the cash to commute to the airport. Luckily, my hostel roommates took me under their wing, kept me fed and showed me the city, because otherwise my last two days in Rome would have been me being hungry and waiting to leave.

As a solo traveller opt for staying in a hostel instead of a hotel.

Europe has some incredible hostels, and after staying in both hostels and hotel rooms I can say that the hostels tend to be nicer. Even in the lower quality hostels I stayed at, I never felt unsafe at any time. For female solo travellers, I recommend booking in female-only rooms. But I have had good experiences in co-ed rooms when none were available. Hostels come with the strength of meeting other travellers who are in the same situation as you, hotels are lonely. The typical hostel stayers are young people from all over the world travelling on a budget. Open-minded to new experiences and people – often excursions are open invite experiences. Not every hostel I stayed at was friendly, but choosing to stay at hostels opened the possibility of meeting and connecting with people which happened more often than not.

If you have to solve an issue and it seems difficult, take a break and have something to eat first.

Travelling can be exhausting and sometimes our needs go unmet. This can make some challenges turn from molehills into mountains. Everything will seem so much easier to deal with once you have a full stomach. I recommend always carrying snacks in case you end up somewhere where all the shops are closed. After you solve an issue, even if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted, make sure you acknowledge and thank yourself for getting through it. This is what got me through a flight cancellation in Switzerland!

 Take safety measures.

Know the emergency number of the country you are in. When I was in Ireland with two friends we were locked out of our accommodation – which is a whole other story – but we were approached by a man who started making small talk with us. We stayed polite, but were indicating that we weren’t interested in having a conversation. But our attempt to placate him did not work as he became more persistent and demanding. He wanted to know what we were doing that early in the morning. After hearing our nondescript answer of ‘went to see the sunrise’ he started demanding for us to send him the photos – clearly trying to get our numbers. At this point, one of my friends put her foot down, stating clearly that he has crossed a boundary, that we were done talking to him and that he needs to move on. She spoke in a firm calm voice. He accused her of shouting at him and said if she did it again he would slap her across the face. We were on a quiet street with an increasingly aggressive man. My friend decided to call Ireland’s emergency line before things could escalate. This is a reminder that it is good to have a general idea of where you are at all times can be important. While the call was not enough for the man to leave us alone as he demanded my friend to hand over the phone so he could tell the operator that we were liars, what did work was my other friend calling out to a group of men walking across the street to come help us. While the men were taken off guard, not quite sure what we were asking of them, their presence immediately deescalated the situation and the man decided to walk away with the group. Your everyday strategies of dealing with harassment will help you abroad.

When it comes to safety, your best bet is being prepared. Knowing your plan from where you need to be, when you need to be there and how you are going to get there is important. Travelling can be exhausting so make life easier on yourself by figuring your route beforehand. This makes it easier to just go through the motions and gives you bandwidth to pay attention to your surroundings. I always used public transportation to save money while travelling which may have been one of the greatest stresses as every transportation system is different and often you are navigating it in another language. Researching beforehand about your route and how to pay for transit can be a huge help because an important component of looking less vulnerable as a traveller is looking like you know where you are going. Knowing your route with minimal struggle on the way means you can walk confidently and are less likely to be interrupted or targeted. I got so good at it that I was approached by French citizens in Nice asking me for directions.

Listen to your gut instincts and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. My friends and I took a solo traveller we were sharing a hostel room with us to dinner because she asked us our opinion on whether it was safe for her to go out after dark. Lean on your community when you can, most women travellers are willing to help each other out.

Always keep in touch with friends and family, even if they are back home. Always let someone know your plans and have check ins. WhatsApp is great for sending your live location which can be reassuring at certain times.

Careful for pickpockets and scams.

Losing your passport, phone or credit card can quickly make your travels much more difficult. Carry your valuables close to you at all times and don’t use bags or purses that don’t have a zip. Bring a lock for hostel lockers. Although I never encountered anyone who had had something stolen from a hostel as everyone who stays there has to provide ID and generally everyone is in the same situation which creates a level of trust.

Knowing some basic scams and how to avoid them is a good way to prepare yourself. Because it gives you the confidence in the moment that the conflict you’re in was purposefully created so it’s not your fault and you do not have to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt. Common scams can involve people selling prints by laying them on the ground in busy areas so when someone inevitably steps on one the scammer will try and get them to pay for the damage. If there are police or security in the area, it may be worth walking over because the scammer will not risk getting into trouble. But you are fully within your rights to walk away and not pay. Do not accept any ‘gifts’ like friendship bracelets as often once they are secured on your wrist, the scammer will demand a hefty payment. A scam I encountered on a family trip was when we were swarmed and surrounded by women pretending to be deaf trying to get us to sign some papers. We booked it before we became too disorientated by the group of circling women.

Don’t miss opportunities to save money when travelling.

It is possible to travel on a budget. If you are a student you can take advantage of discounted flights on StudentUniverse.com. Getting to your destination will usually be the most expensive part. Hostels and using public transportation instead of cabs will save a lot of money, too. Eating out at restaurants is a huge part of experiencing culture, but you don’t have to go out for every meal. I recommend being strategic for when and where you go out to eat to get the best bang for your buck. For casual meals, popping by a grocery store is always a good idea. Travelling light not only makes it easier to carry your belongings, but also saves you on paying for checked baggage. Many places have laundry available which you can look up ahead of time. It’s also good to save up for more than you expect to for emergencies or surprises. Travel insurance is always a good idea. And keep perspective, if an attraction you wanted to see has a higher price of admission than you anticipated, keep in mind that getting there in the first place was the expensive part. Your budget needs flexibility for unexpected fees.

Mistakes happen, but we learn from them. That being said, may your travels go smoother than mine.

Lynn Sagar

U Vic '23

Lynn is a double major in anthropology and Indigenous studies at the University of Victoria. In her free time she enjoys travelling, playing guitar and photography.