8 Travel Mistakes We Made in Southeast Asia

Our recent trip to Southeast Asia was by far our most epic trip yet! It also was the most complicated trip we have ever planned. It was our first time traveling abroad together and it was our first multi-country trip. Overall I am pleased with how we were able to pull it off. We navigated 7 airports, set foot on 5 different countries, we never missed a flight or ride and we somehow managed to come home with almost all of our belongings. And most importantly; we had the time of our lives!

Lantau Island cable car

On the Cable Car to Lantau Island, Hong Kong

However, there were multiple mistakes made. Some were from naivety, others from lack of researching and, unfortunately, some from poor decision making. I’m embarrassed about some of these, but we learned our lesson and have become better travelers because of it. These are 8 travel mistakes we made in Southeast Asia.

1. Not Keeping Track of Spending

I bought a little pocket sized notepad specifically for writing down what we spent. And I did an excellent job…the first two days. I tried to play catch up for a couple days and then eventually stopped keeping track all together. Only when we got home and I reviewed the sum of all our ATM withdraws did I realize how much we overspent. It is only a little inconvenience: take the time to write down what you buy and how much it cost WHEN YOU ARE BUYING IT. At the end of the day tally up how much you spent and decide if you need to make some adjustments to your spending the next day.


2. Using ATMs too Frequently

I have heard of some banks (specifically, Charles Schwab Bank) that will reimburse all your ATM fees…we don’t use any of those banks unfortunately. We didn’t think ahead and would only withdraw enough cash that-combined with our overspending-would last only 2 days.  Consequently, we ended up throwing away at least $6.50 USD each time we withdrew from ATMs. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but it adds up. Budgeting and planning ahead would have saved us the time that we spent tracking down ATMs and would have saved us close to $100.

3. Exchanging Money at the Airport

The kicker is, I knew that airports have the worse conversion rates. But when you don’t plan ahead and you have a couple thousand Thai Baht left and you’re in a new country and needing new currency, it’s the easiest option. We have a lot of coins from Thailand still because they couldn’t be exchanged, we should have budgeted better and spent them before we left. Using ATMs at the airport will also get you a worse exchange rate. Looking at our bank statements I see that we lost more than $30 USD withdrawing from an airport ATM instead of stopping at an ATM before we got to the airport.

Seattle Airport

4. Eating at Airports

It’s convenient, and when you have time to kill it helps it go by faster. Eating airport food, which often costs more than twice what it would outside the airport, is a huge budget killer. We spent a lot of money of water as well, when we should have just packed an empty water bottle and filled it when past security at water fountains (some airports have handy water bottle refill stations as well). Packing some snacks and an empty water bottle in your carry-on bag to enjoy while waiting to board will help keep you from throwing away money on overpriced airport food and bottled water. 

Valerie on Day #1

Should have put a few more things in that backpack…

5. Only Packing One Power Converter

We had packed two universal power adapters, knowing it would be handy for us to each have one to charge our phones and laptops. However, I failed to notice that only one of them was a voltage/power converter. We accidentally blew a fuse and caused a power outage in our hotel room in Thailand. The power was quickly restored, but we were too afraid to use that outlet the rest of the time. This left us with only one outlet in the room (and unable to watch TV since we had to use the outlet). I’m sure we could have prevented this by reading what voltages our electronics were, but save yourself the hassle and only bring power adapters that are voltage converters as well. Check out –> Conair Travel Smart All-In-One Adapter and Converter Combo Unit

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh

6. Drinking too much Alcohol

This is super embarrassing. I usually have pretty good restraint when it comes to drinking alcohol. On our Maya Bay Sleep Aboard Tour we had a fantastic day of snorkeling, playing on the empty beach, enjoying a delicious Thai dinner and our group ended the day with playing a fun drinking game. I felt like I was okay…until I wasn’t. I drank a normal amount of alcohol for me, but combined with the extreme heat and humidity that I’m not use to, I became dehydrated and the alcohol hit me hard.  I spent the entire next day throwing up. Watch the beautiful sunrise…throw up. Iconic jump shot photo on Maya Bay…then throw up. Boat ride back to Phi Phi Don…then, well you get the idea. I lost an entire day in paradise.

Jake had to hunt down our new hotel and hope they let us check in 3 hours early. So meanwhile I was at the tour company’s office making friends with the Thai-style toilet (lowest point of my life). Our hotel was on the other side of the island and I to make the 15 minute walk under the hot mid-day sun. I felt so dehydrated I honestly thought I may pass out. I was so sick, Jake was going to make me go to the hospital if I threw up one more time (nurses are the worst patients, it’s a fact!).

By around 7 PM that night I was finally able to hold down a little bit of liquids. All that to say, take it easy on the booze! If you’re not use to a tropical climate then try alternating every other alcoholic drink with a juice or water to stay hydrated. It may save yourself from dangerous situation, or at least a miserable wasted day. 

Koh Lanta Sunset

Koh Lanta Sunset

7. Lost a Debit Card

The ATMs that we’re use to using at home you put your card in and quickly pull it out then proceed to enter your information on the screen. In Southeast Asia the ATM machines would generally hold your card hostage until the transaction was complete.

This made it only too easy to walk away from the machine as soon as you received the money, leaving your debit card behind. The first time this happened on Koh Lanta, Thailand a kind German tourist was right behind us and quickly returned it to us. Lesson learned, right? Nope.

The second time it happened we didn’t even realize the debit card was missing until our bags were packed and we were waiting for our minivan to pick us up for the 2+ hour journey back to the mainland in Thailand. Jake quickly hopped on the motorbike he had rented and rushed to the 7-Eleven to see if someone had returned his card. They hadn’t. We didn’t have time to check at the police station or cancel our card before we got on the minivan. We were able to cancel it when we got back to Krabi Town and we used my debit card the rest of the trip. Always have a second source of money if your debit card goes missing or is stolen!

8. Leaving our Passports Behind

After spending the 2 hour ride from Koh Lanta to Krabi Town fretting about the missing debit card, the moment we entered town I got this sinking feeling in my gut. The day before we had stored our passports in the safety box at our bamboo bungalow on Koh Lanta because we were going to be out on the water all day.  Our passports were on a different island than us. Separated by 2 car ferries and a 2 hour, 1 way journey. Our flight to Kuala Lumpur was the next morning. It was now 1 PM. Panic was fully setting in now. 

We had stayed at BanTo Guesthouse in Krabi Town for 1 night before going to the Phi Phi Islands and we were back again for 1 more night. The owner fortunately remembered us from our previous stay. She told Jake to sit down and get a beer and then said she would arrange for someone to pick up our passports for us for 1/3 of the price it would have cost to have Jake take a taxi to and from Koh Lanta. She coordinated with our Koh Lanta hotel and our passports were returned to us by 5 PM. This was the service that we received while staying at a $19/night guesthouse. We were blown away by their kindness, and actually ended up tipping the taxi driver and the guesthouse and paid what we would have if Jake had taken a taxi to pick them up.

*There are affiliative links in this post, which means if you click on them and make a purchase we will make a small commission at no added cost to you***

What is your worst travel mishap? Any other tips for new travelers? 

26 thoughts on “8 Travel Mistakes We Made in Southeast Asia

  1. Living in Chiang Mai in Thailand, I can empathise with so much of this! The ATM fees here are a KILLER. I try to take out at least 20,000 baht each time I go to an ATM. And whilst I haven’t forgotten my card, it’s probably due to the fact that several of my western country friends have also forgotten their cards, as we’re so programmed to pull them out and put them back into our wallets quickly!
    jess O’Neill (Meddows) recently posted…Sprout Cafe DubboMy Profile

  2. Ha don’t worry I’m terrible with my passport too! We were tight on our Laos visa and ready to cross for China, the bus was waiting for us and we just had to cancel and leave the next day because I just couldn’t find it… Next day, with 1 day left on the visa, we were gone.
    You learn through your mistakes though so don’t worry too much about it!
    Marie-Carmen recently posted…Shanghai’s History: The Jewish Ghetto.My Profile

  3. I’ve done quite a few of these but there are some that I just can’t help myself with. I always eat at the airport especially in Hong Kong because they have a pizza express! And I definitely spend way too much money on holiday because i’m in happy holiday mode. Although my most unfortunate mishap was probably traveling to France on an out of date passport.

  4. I just had my first backpacking experience in Southeast Asia last summer, and I made couple of these mistakes too! Such as not keeping track of spending, exchanging money at the airport (yikes!), and more. However, after reading this post, I just realized that I made two traveling mistake: I didn’t bring my second debit card with me and didn’t pack more than one power converter. Oops. I’ll do that for the next trip. Thanks for the tips! I’ll keep these in mind. Oh! I’m glad that you met generous people to give you back the passport! (:

    1. Well it’s nice to hear that we aren’t the only ones who made these errors! Its so easy to get caught up in the excitement of being in a new place and forget about little things like, oh you know, money. 😉

  5. I’m glad to read that you had an unforgettable first trip abroad despite a few hiccups. That looks like a very impressive itinerary for your first time in Asia, so your planning and budgeting paid off. Your positive attitude means that even with these 8 important lessons learned, you still had an amazing experience. My first trip outside of the U.S. years ago (beyond Mexico, Canada, and also Puerto Rico too) was to London and Paris which is a popular first trip to Europe choice, especially if you live on the East Coast.

    You’ll be happy to learn that you most likely did nothing wrong with the power outlet and blowing the fuse (probably a hotel wiring issue but from what I read online it could be that you plugged it in backwards). If you are only charging laptops, tablets, and smart phones, they are already set up for multiple voltages (110-240V). So for those types of devices all you need is the adapter for the charger to change the plug (prongs) from one type to another. That’s it! Now if you plan to bring a hair dryer or a mechanic/heating device, that will require a voltage adapter too which is bulky and expensive (and perhaps risky).

    One more tip to share with your readers about using a U.S. ATM card overseas from my personal experience. Open a free online banking account with Capital One 360. They are one of the few banks that never charge a foreign currency exchange/withdrawal fee. You can use it in most ATMs, even at the airport as long as it is a bank ATM and not a foreign currency machine that LOOKS like an ATM. When withdrawing make sure to click the local currency option, not to convert from USD with a “guaranteed” rate, to avoid these ridiculous fees.

    Hopefully Europe is next on your list as there are so many beautiful, historic, and unique places to visit and (the best part) the U.S. dollar is strong and the EUR is weak. So for once Europe is more of a budget destination other than the flights, though never as cheap as SE Asia of course 🙂 Cheers…

    -Scott, VacationCounts – How to Take More Vacation Time Off
    Scott @ VacationCounts recently posted…Top 10 Reasons Why Every American Should Visit Europe NowMy Profile

  6. Oh, it doesn’t get any easier when you’re a veteran traveler. 😛 Although, my husband *did* do the “drinking all night right before an all-day snorkel excusion” mistake our first time in Thailand. That was years ago, and last November I totally left my bank card in the machine in Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. I didn’t notice until a week later! Yeah, it was good that he had *his* bank card.

    Great advice, glad you guys learned a lot, and there’s plenty more ways to embarrass yourself. 😉 Have fun!
    Heather Sinclair recently posted…Vacation with Nature in Mind – Your Body will Thank YouMy Profile

    1. LOL I guess some lessons have to be learned once the hard way 🙂 That would be so scary to not realize for a week that your bank card was missing! I’m guessing everything worked out okay though. That’s good you guys had your husbands card still- one of the perks of traveling with a partner!

      1. What size backpack is that in the picture? Trying to get an idea before driving 2 hours out to shop for one! Thanks!

        1. It is a Osprey Aura 65 AG pack, so 65 liter. I probably would have been just fine with a 50 liter backpack though, my back gets pretty sore after carrying this around for a while.

  7. The first time I went to Thailand, I lost my passport somewhere between the Cambodian border and Koh Samet and didn’t even know it until a few days before I was supposed to catch a plane back to the US. To this day I’ve still no clue how it happened. I think I left it in our room on Samet (we called them, they insisted I had not). But at the same time, my minivan from the border to Trat went through like 15 military checkpoints, so in the middle of the night, after being on a bus all day from Phnom Pehn, I kept having to hand over my passport. I could’ve forgotten to rezip a pocket on my bag or something OR…I could’ve left it on the desk at the taxi boat office.
    These things happen to everyone from time to time. Getting an emergency passport was really easy though, so that was a positive.

  8. Planning my first trip to Thailand right now! Thank you for this post, very hepful tips – And your picture from Maya Bay is gorgeous…def adding to the list

    Thanks =]

  9. So glad the passport issue worked out! For the power converter problem, I read a tip to bring a power strip. I don’t know if you have to worry about the voltage for those either but if not it comes in handy!

  10. Ah no! Leaving you passports must have been so stressful! you guys were so lucky you found a relatively cheap way to fix this! The money thing happens to everyone sometimes I guess I even hear long term travellers making these mistakes after years of traveling, but it’s good to put up a post like this to inform others to be aware of these mistakes for sure!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge