8 Hard-Learned Travel Lessons

In travel, as in life, there are many lessons we can only learn the hard way. So that you might avoid making these same mistakes, here are eight bits of painfully-gained wisdom; some of which you probably know, most of which came at a high cost to me or my friends.
Lesson 1: Don’t carry pepper spray in the E.U.
Scene of the crime: Amsterdam, Netherlands
As a lone female traveler, I had carried a small pocket pepper spray with me for a month in Europe—one which I never needed. At the airport, the trash bins were full, so I turned it over to a police office so it wouldn’t get into the wrong hands. The good deed meant I was threatened with jail time, the entire plane was held and I paid a ticket totaling $350 Euros. Ouch.
Lesson 2: Remain ever alert.
Scene of the crime: Rome, Italy
A friend was approached by a small group of people frantically talking to him in Italian. A man in the group kept bumping my friend with a newspaper—meanwhile reaching his hand into my friend’s pocket, cleaning him out of $300 Euros. Distraction is a common technique among thieves; don’t fall for it.
One friend wisely puts a fake wallet in his pocket when he travels. It’s been taken by pickpocketers several times!
Metered taxi fares don’t have to be negotiated–just make sure the driver restarts the meter when you get in. But if there’s no meter, or the driver won’t start it, settle on a price before getting in the cab. 
Photo by Charish Badzinski. 
Lesson 3: Negotiate price before getting into a taxi.
Site of lesson learned: Nice, France
My hotel was only 1km away, which I knew. But it was night, I was in an unfamiliar city, and I didn’t really know my way. So I got into the taxi. It cost me $15 Euros for that brief ride, and to this day it just tans my hide. Always, always settle on a price before you enter a taxi.
Pack light! You’ll never be sorry. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Lesson 4: Pack light. Then, take only half of it with you.
Where wisdom was gained: Cambodia
Once you lug your rollerbag over dirt roads or cobblestone streets, you learn this one pretty quickly. Do you really need all that stuff? No. Leave it at home, ship it home, or give it away as it accumulates, and if you truly need to supplement your supplies, buy them in the country you’re visiting. You will never be sorry when you pack light. Even if you have to do laundry a few times.
Much like the people in this photo of the bean at Millennium Park in Chicago, 
travel distorts relationships. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Lesson 5: Travel distorts relationships.
Who busted my chops: various
Relationships are challenging enough. Within the pressure cooker of travel, they can either grow fast as fungus or explode in a mushroom cloud. If you’re traveling with strangers, be prepared to feel like intimate friends within an accelerated time period. If you’re traveling with friends, be prepared to navigate some tension.
Lesson 6: There are few problems credit cards can’t solve.
Where card was swiped: various
Remember the pepper spray incident in Amsterdam? Thank you, Visa! Don’t sweat the small stuff—from lodging issues, to getting lost, to being sick, hungry or cold, your credit cards can get you out of any number of binds. Just be sure to call your financial institution to make sure you can use them on your journey—and be sure you’re aware of charges for overseas use.
Yes, Tucson is beautiful. But hang on to your purse. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Lesson 7: Don’t carry everything in your purse, and keep your hands on your valuables.
Scene of the crime: Tucson, Az
Friends and I had left our bags in a car so that we could be unencumbered at a dance club. Stupid. Several cars were broken into that night, including ours. My losses included my passport, license, credit cards, cell phone, camera and journal. I’ve also heard of friends having their bag stolen while sitting at a cafe or on a train. Be aware of where your belongings are, and if possible, secure them so no one can snatch them easily.
Whether you’re bargaining with vendors for the catch of the day or handmade treasures, remember the dignity in all people. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Lesson 8: Remember who you’re bargaining with.
Site where I was schooled: Nogales, Mexico
I was a young girl when I visited the border town of Nogales with my family. I prided myself in driving a hard bargain for everything, and I got some good prices on a few souvenirs. Once back in the States, my father wisely pointed out that the people with whom I was bargaining didn’t make much money. It dramatically changed my point of view on bargaining. Now, I look at the goods and services provided in terms of what I am willing to pay for it, not what I think I can bargain vendors down to. It makes me a terrible bargain hunter when I travel, and I take pride in that.

What lessons has travel taught you?

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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, foodie and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations. 

Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
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Creative Commons License
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at rollerbaggoddess.blogspot.com.
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