Traveling has been my best educator. I’ve learned so much about myself and from the people I met along the way. There aren’t many regrets I have in life that I want to redo over. But, there are few mistakes I have made during my travels that I’d never, EVER, want to make again.
Here are 6 mistakes to avoid for the novice traveler. Seriously, just don’t do it.
1. Riding an elephant in Thailand.
In my senior year of college, I studied abroad in Hong Kong. A group of my friends and I visited Thailand for the first time. I was new to traveling so I sat back and let other people take charge. When we were in Chiang Mai, we signed up for a jungle tour and got a chance to ride on the elephants.
I love elephants! Elephants are my favorite animals because they are kind giants who are self-aware and smart. So, I was really excited to see them.
On this tour, my friend and I felt uncomfortable riding on the elephant while going through a narrow trail under the beaming heat. Instead of enjoying the ride, I felt sad because I was supporting an industry that treated them as entertainment and not animals.
I wish I did more research on this topic and be more proactive about my actions. If I could redo this, I would dig deeper to find a sanctuary that treats the elephants humanely.
2. “Volunteering” in Africa.
I was an overly-eager 19 years old student who wanted to contribute my part in the society. I couldn’t be more excited to sign up for a volunteer program that helped students in Tanzania. I even got scholarships that funded for my expensive ticket there.
At the program, I helped clear out sheds that would be set up as chicken coops. Then, I helped set up a garden and spent hours removing rocks and weed. Needless to say, I had no idea what I was doing because I grew up in a city.
We visited a Maasai village. In the village, there was a school set up by a foreign charity. Except, they didn’t have teachers or supplies. I saw first-hand of the charities that claimed to do good by building a school. But no one stopped to ask about hiring teachers or supplying books for the long run.
This act was lazy, selfish, and does more harm than good. Development is not easy and takes more than my two-month stay. I learned about the reality of volunteering in a “third world” country and the danger of the white savior complex.
It takes understanding, useful skills, and commitment to undo decades of colonialism, corruption, and inequality.
3. Undermining Mother Nature.
Oh, Mother Nature! You are so beautiful that I forget how mighty and crazy you could be sometimes. I won’t go too much into details because I wrote a whole post here.
Seriously, don’t be silly. Check the weather and dress accordingly. Bring that camping pad if you will sleep on the mountains. Layer up. Drench yourself in SPF 50. And, drink water. Your body will thank you later.
Ok. Mom-rant. Done.
4. Traveling with a partner with different expectations.
On one spontaneous summer, I met up with a friend who I admired (not in a romantic way but more like you’re a cool dude I can kick it with way). After a few drinks, we agreed to go on a road trip together.
I don’t play with traveling and I will always say yes to trips. So, I said, “yes.”
Well, you know the story. We spend 2 weeks together in a car. And, let’s just say it didn’t end well. Don’t be a douche (And, I’m telling myself that). Let the other person know in the beginning what it is and what is not. It will avoid awkward moments later.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about another awkward expectation- money. I am an educator that will not and cannot drop hundreds on a hotel room. I don’t care if it gives me unlimited breakfast buffet. This is a reminder to stand my ground and say no. NO!
5. Not learning the language.
I lived in Santiago, Chile for a year and a half and I can say I am fluent in taxi and restaurant Spanish. I’m so ashamed.
I have many excuses why my Spanish is laughable.
Most of my friends spoke English. I spoke English at home. I taught English all day. Chileans always wanted to practice their English with me. Chilean Spanish is way too hard to learn. They speak so fast and have too many slangs. I never took Spanish… Blah, Blah, Blah.
I need to do better in my next country. Haisu, do better!
6. Signing up for a Chinese tour.
If you are Chinese and your mom wants you to sign you up for those super cheap tour deals that sound too good to be true, stand your ground and say “NO.” On paper, these deals sound catchy. All the transportation, food, accommodation, activities will be taken care of. But, it is all a front. Don’t do it. RUN!
Ok, let me chill out and back up.
Last summer, my younger sister, my 13-years old cousin, and I went to visit our hometown, Wenzhou. Before going home, we signed up for a group tour that will take us to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and a few other towns I can’t remember. It seemed like a good idea because I would be in charge of them and it might be too hectic to accommodate them.
We were in a group of forty Chinese-American tourists, ranging from teenagers to grandmas. Each day, our tour guide led us from one town to another. We were on a strict schedule and had only half an hour to spend at each site. In the afternoon, they took us to tea farms, jade museums, and silk stores.
The reason the tours were so cheap or even free because they make commission through sending tourists to the stores. I saw the salesperson lock a couple in a room while their son waited outside. They ended buying thousands of dollars of jewelry. One of our tour guides got mad at us because we didn’t buy enough.
When we were at the tea farm, they took us into a room to showcase their tea. One family ended up spending hundreds on tea. Tea! I love tea but I will not drop hundreds. I asked the grandma why she spent so much on it. Her answer was because she felt guilty if she didn’t buy anything (sigh… Chinese people and their “losing face” mentality).
Again, it’s a scam. Don’t do it.
The recurring theme is to follow your gut and say no when something just doesn’t feel right.
You can read more of Haisu’s stories at haisuqu.com.