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Travel Lessons I’ve Learnt The Hard Way

Travel Lessons I’ve Learnt The Hard Way

Have you seen the Ricky Gervais show An Idiot Abroad? It’s not about me, but it could be. In my travel career I have made decisions that have caused me to miss flights, ruin holidays and lose both money and dignity. Some of them happened when I was too young to know better, others went down literally about two months ago. These are the travel lessons I’ve learned the hard way.


Don’t drink on planes

Listen, I know. Wine on planes is free. It is really hard to say no to free wine. But I am here to tell you to say no to the free glass of wine on the plane.

As a cautionary tale, let me take you back to the time I flew 14 hours to Los Angeles just after getting over a cold. The trip was a really big deal so to celebrate, I accepted the flight attendant’s offer of a glass of champagne after take off. Then I accepted the offer of a refill. Then I went to sleep for many hours and woke up feeling sicker than I had in my entire life — my cold was back with a vengeance.

Turns out all that science about how dehydrating planes are is true. In an average ten hour flight, men lose two litres of water and women lose 1.6, not to mention the fact that humidity on board is only around 10 to 15 percent — a whopping three times drier than the Sahara Desert. Dehydration weakens your immune system and makes you feel crappy, which is why so many people complain about sore throats or feeling sick when they get off flights. I had dehydrated myself back into the throes of illness.


I was so sick the entire week I was on my trip that I could barely get out of bed. Now not only do I stay sober on flights, I also drink so much water that I have to get up to pee every half an hour. (Bonus tip: do not sit next to me on a flight).

Don’t hitchhike. Just don’t

I did this once at age 15 (oh my god) in Europe and somehow (???) lived to tell the tale but really, it could have gone the other way. Don’t do it.

Lock your luggage

Just because your things are in your hotel room does not mean they are secure.

This is a lesson I learned when I left a stash of cash in the “secret compartment” of my backpack in a hotel in Pushkar, went out for the day, came home and found it all gone. It’s a lesson I probably should have learned the time I left my handbag unattended for a few minutes in a hostel in Amsterdam and someone surreptitiously lifted a €50 note from my wallet. It’s a lesson I maybe should have even learned when someone stole my grotty Supré skirt (why?) from a resort in Botswana.


Nowadays I bring a combination padlock with me from home and lock all my valuables in my bag every day before I go out (unless there’s an in-room safe to leave them in, which is even better). I do it even if I’m only leaving for a few minutes, even if I’m staying somewhere really nice, even if I don’t think I have much with me that thieves would bother to take.

Because I figure spending that extra five seconds applying a padlock is worth the money.

Double your budget

Speaking of money, you’re going to need a lot more of it than you think.

Those websites that’ll tell you it’s possible to backpack Mexico on $30 a day? Maybe that is true for some people, but I am not one of them. Because whenever I’m overseas, I treat myself to that extra cocktail because I’m on holiday. I buy the nice expensive thing because I’m on holiday. I stop looking at my bank balance because it’s stressful and I don’t want to be stressed out because I’m on holiday. Then I come home, log onto NetBank and realise I’ve spent roughly twice as much money as I was counting on.

See Also

There’s an old travel proverb that says you should take twice as much money and half as much clothing as you think you’ll need. I object to the clothes part, but definitely double your budget.

Check in early

Once upon a time, I had to attend a very important event in a small, regional town. Only one flight went there each day, so it was crucial I was on it. I knew this, but then I ran into some friends at the airport, got caught in conversation, and did not go to the counter to check in until it was almost boarding time. I was not let on the flight, I did not attend the very important event and instead, I spent the whole day crying in Sydney airport. It was very, very bad.


So I implore you: check in online the day before your flight if you can. Get to the airport early if you can’t. Do not do what I did.

And lastly…

Never trust a fart in India

I lost a good pair of undies this way.

(Lead image: Bridesmaids / Universal Pictures)

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