Choosing the most common countries
Countless travel pictures are popping up on your newsfeed everyday. They show your friends chilling on beautiful beaches, climbing skyhigh mountains and posing with exotic animals. If I had a penny for every time one of my Facebook friends uploaded a picture of themselves at a full moon party in Thailand or posing with a Kangaroo in Australia, I would be able to buy both countries.
These pictures look like a lot of fun, but remember that a place you’ve already seen a lot of will be crowded and explored to death. And after building up expectations from those beautiful photos, your chances of being disappointed are way higher (nobody ever gets the crowds of Angkor Wat in their vacation photos, but it’s a wonder they don’t get knocked into the frame). I was only frustrated after traveling to Thailand. There are tourists everywhere and it’s really challenging to find uncrowded spots. And in contrast to some islands of the Philippines and Indonesia, the locals in Thailand are so used to tourists that nearly everybody is trying to sell you something. It’s a paradise for noisy two-week-party tourists with their pink neon tank tops, old sex tourists and fresh graduates who are enjoying their “freedom” by getting shitfaced drunk for $10 each night.
Of course there are beautiful places in this country, but if you are looking for real experiences and varied adventures, there are better options than Thailand. You will take more valuable experiences away from the countries where locals are still excited about visitors and where Lonely Planet didn´t prepare you a to-do list to check off nonchalantly. Be your own travel guide. Make it your own personal trip. Maybe on the next one, anyway.
Booking too much in advance
I booked my flight to Bangkok from Hanoi weeks ahead of time, and it was one of my greatest mistakes. I enjoyed the south of Vietnam far too much, and suddenly I had to hurry to get north and missed the entire middle of the country. And because I bought my own motorcycle just weeks before, I spent most of my time on it’s hot leather seat, getting sunburned to point of lobsterfication. When I finally arrived, I met an amazing girl just two nights before departure. And because my budget was so tight, having spent it all on booking things already, I couldn’t afford to cancel the flight or change the date to spend more time there. Of course, I could make money selling my motorcycle, but that’s easier said than done on a two day time frame, and I had to take a much reduced offer than I wanted. I could only watch Hanoi fade out the window, kicking myself for booking a flight when I still had five days on my visa the whole time.
So if you really want to start an adventure, don’t plan your trip step by step weeks ahead. Be spontaneous. Having an idea about which countries you want to explore helps you a lot with packing, but don´t pin yourself down. Traveling means freedom, especially when you’re alone and don´t have to argue about your next steps. The best experiences start spontaneously. Set yourself free next time.
Booking too little in advance
When I arrived in Ohrid, in the southeast of Macedonia, the taxi drivers told me it would take around 15 minutes by car to get to the city centre. It was already getting dark, so I got in the best looking car (which was still even older than I was) and the driver switched on the meter–what a nice guy, right? Looking to help me. After around 20 minutes, he dropped me off at the central square, which was longer than I was expecting it to take, but hey, I knew nothing about traffic or what to expect from this town. But when I looked at the city map in my hostel, I realized the bus station was just about 500 meters away. The driver was driving circles around the city before dropping me off. Learn from my mistakes. Learn from your own mistakes. Figure out some simple local facts before you get there. Nothing ruins a sunny morning like waking up on the actual departure day and realizing that the right bus already left.
Only staying in hostels
Hostels are an awesome place to meet great travelers from all over the world. But you’re sure as hell not going to meet a local, unless they’re the standard creepy old man looking to seduce a drunk foreigner on her gap year. If you really want to explore and understand a foreign culture, then you have to burst that tourist bubble from time to time. There are couchsurfer hosts, homestays, farmstays, anything to get out of your comfort zone, if only for a night. Hell, if it´s warm outside, you can just grab your sleeping bag and fall asleep counting the stars. Even some monasteries offer beds for the night. Sure, you may spend ten days in absolute silence, wondering if you’re allowed to break to ask where the bathroom is, but it’ll be the most rewarding ten days of your life.
Only following the guidebook
Lonely Planet has become the Bible of the modern traveler. Everybody carries one of these thick-ass books in his backpack. And sure, roughly half of the choices in there are great, but the other half are the only places the writer had time to visit. Talk to locals. Follow your instincts and get lost for once. Don’t try to finish someone else’s to-do list. Your trip shouldn’t be about taking the same pictures you saw on the cover of your book, but about getting real impressions of the countries and cultures you´re exploring. Rely on yourself, not on a book. Rent a bicycle, a motorcycle or a car and go your own way. I bought my own motorcycle in Asia, and always wrote down the name of the place I visited. And if somebody needed to find another place to visit, I had just the spot to tell them.
Only talking to tourists
If I spent my entire trip talking to the drunken tourists in the hostel, my best stories would involve waking up under a table in the hostel bar and that time another guy in my room brought home a local girl who screamed through the whole night. But I didn’t. I spoke to locals and found new friends all around. And so I ended up at an Indonesian wedding, fishing in the middle of the Borneo jungle, and dancing through the night with Croatian street musicians. Enjoy the freedom you have.
Packing too much
Standing in front of your stuffed wardrobe and having just 60 liters of space for all your belongings forces you to make some big decisions. If you even have that much – you’re also gonna go way overboard at the outfitter store on your first solo trip and spend half your budget on shit you won’t even bring. Too much luggage slows you down, and lifting that thing each and every day is gonna make your biceps and calves look great but feel terrible. Go back to basics. Nobody cares what you look like anyway. Some plain shirts, a rain jacket, a pair of jeans, a comfy sweater, swimming pants, underwear for a week (or, let’s be honest, less) and you are good to go. Bringing your fancy clothes will just leave you pissed off when they get destroyed by the weeks you go without doing laundry.