Learn From These Mistakes

Show me someone who’s had a flawless gap year and I’ll show you a liar. Or at least an irritatingly dedicated optimist. Making mistakes while on the road is all part of the travelling experience and those little deviations from the plan can often result in the best stories.

It doesn’t matter how carefully you organise, how much research you do or how much common sense you possess: something always goes wrong. The silver lining is that while it’s usually too late to learn from our own mistakes, we can learn from other people’s.

One of my more recent failings happened over Christmas in Italy on a skiing trip. Confidently ignoring the colour-coded map, I ascended straight to the top of a red run, having never skied before. It was a disaster. Peering over what seemed to be a 45 degree angle of ice and snow with nothing but a couple of planks strapped to my feet, the literal heights of my stupidity became dazzlingly apparent. By some miracle I got to the bottom with all bones intact, alas my pride was smashed and ruined and I fear it may never recover.

Travel mistakes

A dicky tummy

A similarly humiliating experience occurred in Vietnam, when I ignored all the major warning signs of a bad stomach and boarded a bus for a day tour. Within an hour my bowels were in a frenzy. I staggered to the front, both hands clamped on my butt cheeks, and attempted through a series of wild gestures to explain to the driver why I needed to disembark at that precise moment. As luck would have it he pulled up outside a restaurant, whose toilet I darted into quicker than the impending crisis that departed my rear end. The complete lack of toilet paper seemed a small price to pay, which goes some way towards illustrating just how desperate my situation was.

And then there was the three day trek in the foothills of the Himalayas – you know, that massive mountain range that kills people on a regular basis – which my girlfriend and I signed up to on the spur of the moment when waiting for a visa. We are not mountain people. We’re not even hill people. We hail from South London. Our idea of strenuous exercise is climbing the steps on a double decker bus. After two days we were so wrecked we opted to cut the trek short and take a bus back through the mountains to Kathmandu. Anyone who has seen the local busses in Nepal will understand the gravity of our dilemma.

Half way through day 1

Disappointment and disguises

Later on in that trip we found ourselves in Agra, and were there for one reason only: the Taj Mahal, reputedly the most beautiful building in the world. Due to time constraints and a general lack of organisation, we only had one day to see it – Friday – which is the only day the Taj is closed to non-worshippers. Needless to say we weren’t made aware of that fact until it was too late. We discussed dressing up as Muslims to sneak a peek – there was a tipsy moment the night before when that seemed dangerously plausible – but in the end we just sulked and said rude words.

Pigs in India

But enough about me. I also asked the gapyear.com community what their most epic travel fails were, the mistakes they would not be making in 2014. The response was mainly hilarious, not to mention educational. Have a browse and chime in using the comments if you’d like to share some mistakes you won’t be making in 2014...

Never mix airports and artillery

Check the details. And again. And once more.

Pack the essentials.

And leave the non-essentials.

Have a financial backup plan.

Be wary of the tide. And Germans.