In the past two years of travel, we have learned 12 valuable travel lessons. After all, when moving around the globe full-time, things don’t always work out perfectly. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to consider it a negative experience. We always try to take whatever happens in a positive way, by learning from it rather than simply complaining about it. Our motto is: always find a new lesson from what may seem like a bad experience!
We want to share them with you as an extra tip for your future travels!
1. Always check the stamps when you go through immigration!!!
At our arrival in Nepal, we had to go through the process of getting the Visa on arrival. At the time our kids were 3, 9, and 10 years old. It wasn’t clear if they had to pay, due to their age. In the end, the machine printed the visa and the total to pay for them was zero. Once we stopped to get our visa stamped, a big discussion started with the officer. He insisted that Cosimo had to pay like an adult since he was “almost 11”. Although the machine still considered him a child. This discussion went on for a while since there were differing opinions. In all this confusion, the immigration officer, who received from us all 5 passports, did not stamp Luca’s (he was free). We were so mad and frustrated at the moment that we didn’t check for the stamps.
A few days later as we were leaving Nepal (it was only as a stopover between countries), we were stopped at immigration. Luca’s stamp was missing. Guess what? They will not let you leave the country if you don’t pay! So although Luca would have been free, we ended up having to pay $10 just for two days in the country! Never trust the immigration officer, just trust yourself and check for the stamps before you leave the counter! It is in your interest.
2. When renting a car abroad, always get insurance
When traveling internationally and getting a rental car, ALWAYS put the max insurance on it! In Australia, we luckily did and it saved us from a bad outcome. We were tempted to skip it but the lady at the desk kept on insisting! This was the first stop of our world travels and we felt a bit too optimistic!
“Apparently” at the time of return, we had plenty of damages on our rental car, mainly due to bushes scratching the side. Something we would not have expected since the vegetation is different from where we come from. However, I’m saying “apparently” because when we dropped off the car there was no one to check it with us. They added a few issues to the damage, that were already present at our pick up, so I have a feeling they take advantage of the insurance you get, to redo as much as they can of the car! Anyway, without that insurance, it would have been over $ 2,000 for us to pay out-of-pocket. Instead, it was all covered! The rental companies always recommend full insurance when traveling thousands of miles between locations. Do trust them on that it is a great suggestion.
3. Don’t feel guilty to complain to Airbnb if your apartment is in very bad conditions
Sometimes Airbnb homeowners will write very misleading posts for their apartments. For our 5 days in Taipei, we decided to rent an apartment with Airbnb rather than stay in a hotel so we could cook on our own. Plus we needed a bit more space to be more comfortable since we were going to be very jetlagged and probably sleeping a lot!
This apartment was defined as “luxury” and the photos looked decent. Maybe in Taiwan growing your own mushrooms in the bathroom is considered a luxury!!! This was just one of the many issues of our “luxury” apartment. We also had to get in and out very secretly. In fact, in Taiwan, it is illegal to do Airbnb. Unfortunately, we had no idea at the time of booking. We were too exhausted at our arrival to look for a new place. We also always try to adapt to the situation. However, as the days went by the apartment didn’t feel right or healthy and neither did the price we paid for it. So once we left we contacted Airbnb and sent them all the necessary documentation (photos and videos) to show the situation. We were more than partially reimbursed for the stay.
Always document anything that doesn’t appear as advertised for your apartment. Airbnb will work with you and if the situation is really bad they will also find you alternative accommodation or send you an economical help. Don’t just accept a bad environment!
4. When booking a tour, make sure things are done as planned
For our trip around Rajasthan in India, we decided to go through an Indian travel agent recommended to us to organize a private tour. With 3 children we thought it would be easier especially in a country like India, where not even Indian’s drive if they can! Our trip was planned weeks before getting there. We made very clear from the start what we required: a car we could all fit in, a driver that spoke English, a bedroom together, and to not be taken shopping to stores that we didn’t ask to go to. Keep in mind that the organized tour did not come cheap also if in India!
The first few days were a real challenge. Since we flew to a few different cities, the drivers changed and only one actually spoke well. We didn’t complain, we were hopeful for the longer part of our trip. However, once we started the longer drive with the same person, things got worse. The driver barely spoke and he was more interested in doing what was convenient to him than to us. We tried to be ok with it for a few days. However, we thought that it wasn’t fair since this was our trip and at a pretty high cost! Mass had a very strong argument with the agent. She ended up changing our driver and giving us free tours at each location we visited.
If we had accepted the situation without saying anything we would have been miserable for the whole trip. In the end, we had a great driver who truly enjoyed our kids from the first moment and we also had free tours! We loved the rest of our time here although we had to fight for it!
5. Make sure the car insurance is applied to your rental
This was a tough and “almost” very expensive lesson for us to learn during our trip around France! We needed to rent a car to drive around the country for 2 weeks. The most convenient offer was with a different company from the one we usually use. I created an account and did the booking on their app. It asked if I wanted insurance and I had checked “yes”. When Mass went to the shop to pick it up and they asked about insurance he thought they were offering an extra one and declined. Instead, that was the actual insurance that for some reason my booking didn’t save! They were offering it again.
Once we packed everything in the car, we realized that it was smaller than expected. So we decided to go and change it. Of course, they were closed for a 2-hour lunch break! We parked in the mall garage (we figured it would be safer) and went to have some lunch too. Once we went to get it, someone had backed right into our door!!! They ruined it so much that at that point we had to change the car because the door didn’t really stay closed! You can be great at driving, but you cannot control how good others are at driving around you!
The real problems came over a month after when they finally told us the costs of the damage: over $5,000!!! The issue was that they added extra work in the price and no one was willing to explain to us in detail the reasons. They also decided to change a tire, although there had been no damage! Luckily we were able to use Visa’s insurance. They verified all our paperwork and information and with great difficulty tried also to communicate with the french rental company. In the end, they covered our expenses. Always double check if you added insurance to your rental! We were lucky this time but would not want to go through this again especially while traveling full time!
6. Don’t accept strange situations
For our stay in Phuket, we rented a house on Airbnb. We met the owner on arrival, he seemed nice until we asked him to provide a few items that were missing and that he had confirmed as available: toilet paper, working wifi and TV. We quickly realized that he could not care less about helping us with the issues in the house. After a couple of days of postponing providing what we asked, he told us we could leave. We are a family of 5 and this was supposed to be a relaxing time for us, but we were waisting it being frustrated. However, we didn’t want to simply leave, because it wasn’t so easy to find a house at the same conditions in that area. We just wanted things to be resolved, it was in his interest as well!
Unfortunately on the third morning of our stay, he threatened us! This made it clear that there was no way we could stay here anymore. However, instead of simply running off like I guess he thought we would do without getting our money back, we called the embassy, went to make a statement at the Thai Tourist Police, and sent all our communication to Airbnb requesting our money back. The whole stay had been stressful and not what we had booked. The host was in trouble for what he did to us! We then moved to a new house that was Thai owned and the rest of our stay there was perfect.
What have we learned? Always stay safe, but DO NOT let anyone bully you out of a place that you have a right to be in. He wasn’t expecting us to take action, but we did, no violence just went to the right places and took care of the matter. We explained to our kids that people can be very dishonest, but we are also surrounded also have lots of good people. You can trust, you just have to pay attention to the signs and if you feel things aren’t right you do not have to stay in the situation but take action.
7. When you have an early morning or late night departure make sure all bags are close to the door
This almost could have been a pretty bad outcome! Our flight out of the Philippines was scheduled for 8 am. We had to be at the airport around 6 am. You can imagine how challenging this may be with 3 kids that would gladly sleep till 9 am and all our stuff to carry around! Anyway, we got everyone ready and went down to the lobby with all our bags. We loaded everything in a grab car we had prebooked and got dropped off at the airport.
Once we got there, we realized that we were at the wrong terminal. It was domestic and we needed to get to international. We had to find two taxis willing to take us there without ripping us off. Once we finally got to the right place terminal, Mass realized that something was missing: his carry-on backpack!!!! This contained all our technology: computers, ipads, headphones and our passports!!!! He left it on the desk in the bedroom instead of putting it in the hallway where we would not have missed it so early in the morning!!!
How did we solve it? After a few challenges with our phone, we were able to call the hotel and ask them to send us someone in a taxi to drop it off for us. This was also possible because our flight was delayed for an hour! Otherwise, I’m not really sure how we were going to solve it! Best to avoid this happening by always getting all your stuff in the main room when you know you have an early flight!
8. Be conscious of the traditions of the country you are visiting
When you arrive in a new country you have to pay close attention to what their traditions and customs are. It is important to respect them in order to avoid being sent away or treated not the way you would want to.
For example, while in Dubai we went to a big world market. It is outside of the center. Here you can find traditional products sold in different countries all in the same mall. Plus they offer some entertainment as well! We arrived early when it wasn’t very busy, however after a few hours all we could see were people dressed black or white, in their traditional outfits. It is clearly a place where mostly locals go and we did feel a bit out of place. We were only a few people dressed in regular clothes. Anyway, the locals accepted us, because our clothing was appropriate (especially not too revealing for women) otherwise we would have been invited to leave.
Another example was on our arrival in Egypt. In order to enter the country, you need a visa, which we had applied for online 3 weeks in advance. The process is very easy and quick. However, for some reason, we all received our visas except Cosimo. I asked for assistance by phone, since our flight was imminent. They confirmed that his visa had been issued. We did not need to worry about it, just let the immigration know on arrival by showing our application.
Once we were at immigration I did as I was told and they invited me to go pay again! I got very frustrated because they didn’t want to listen to me but simply kept on telling me to pay. In the end, Mass intervened by explaining everything again and they let us in with no problem. Unfortunately, this is one of those countries where women and men aren’t treated equally, so if we wanted things done my husband had to be the one to speak!
9. Don’t leave stuff in storage if you can
When we decided to start this adventure our plan was to travel for 1 year. So although we did get rid of a lot of stuff we still kept plenty. Our plan was to move back and find a new place to live so why have to buy everything again?! We filled a storage space with “lots of stuff”! After a few months, my mind could not stop thinking of everything I could have donated instead of keeping it. By the time we came back for a short visit, we got rid of a lot more things.
We still have a storage unit to this day. It is a waste of money and we are trying to find a new way of placing the few things we really want to keep for sentimental reasons until we decide to settle somewhere. What we learned is that after this type of experience you are not the same person you were when you left. So much has changed that probably most of what you kept because you thought you “might need” will feel useless now. So why not save some money?!
10. Be aware when they are trying to sell you products you know you don’t want
This has been an issue in more than one country, especially when we were going around with a tour company. They would inevitably bring you to shops that sold all types of traditional products for tourists. The driver or the tour company had a deal with them so if we purchased anything they would get a commission. It isn’t entertaining for us to be forced into these types of environments. Most of the time we barely shop other than for basic needs like a new pair of socks, shoes or so on.
Our only souvenir from each country is a key chain, so we are not the best clients, plus it is such a waste of time!! We will often tell the tour company or driver in advance to avoid this type of stop, but most of the time they will do it anyway. Unfortunately, in one place our experience was a bit more complicated.
We went to Gyza for the day to explore the pyramids. In our case, it was the horse and camel rental company that actually invited us to stop into their essence shop. The shop owner put us in a very comfortable room, with couches and pillows everywhere, scents and essences in every part of the room. He offered us something to drink and closed the door. He asked us a few questions about what we were looking for health-wise. We told him we needed something to help with dry skin and Mass was interested in essences that could help with meditation. At that point, we were still “playing the part”. Once we made him happy and smelled a few we would be on our way.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. The kids fell asleep, Mass and I started feeling very relaxed and ended up ordering $900 of essences! It was a crazy feeling, we knew it didn’t make any sense but we could not say no. However, once we got back to the hotel our sanity was restored! Mass went straight to the front desk and threatened to call the tourist police if we didn’t get our money back! We did! We overcame the embarrassment of being tricked in this situation and solved the issue immediately!
11. Be aware of natural disasters, your plans might have to change or not!
Luckily throughout our travels, we haven’t encountered many natural disasters. We did feel some earthquakes and we were in a typhoon, but our plans didn’t really get modified due to this.
The biggest natural disaster we witnessed with a plan change was hurricane Dorian, in Florida! We were there to take the Disney Cruise right when Hurricane Dorian was going to hit the Bahamas and Florida. Our cruise was not canceled simply because we were going in the opposite direction of the hurricane. However, we witnessed some of the consequences of its passage. For example, we had to make a change on our travel route by making a half-day stop in Nassau instead of Disney Castaway. The island had been hit pretty badly by the hurricane and the jetty wasn’t accessible. We did anyway stop close by to drop off some food for the staff on the island and for the very badly hit neighboring island of Abaco. The disaster caused more damage than expected in the Bahamas and especially on Abaco island.
It took weeks to evacuate the people from the island. While we were in Nassau we would daily see the plane going to the island. These people lost everything and it was a race against time to get them to a safe place.
12. Never leave your toddler alone in the bedroom with the key!!!
For this tip, the most valuable lesson can easily by taught by sharing the video! It is also the funniest way to end our 12 valuable lessons! Enjoy and remember to hide the keys from your toddler when you arrive in a new place!!!! Happy Travels friends!