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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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