12 valuable travel lessons in the past two years, and I want to share them with you! After all, when moving around the globe full-time, things don’t always work out perfectly. However, this doesn’t mean you must consider it a negative experience.
We always try to take whatever happens positively 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!
Travel lesson #1: Always check the stamps when you go through immigration!!!
On our arrival in Nepal, we had to go through the process of getting the Visa on arrival. Our kids were 3, 9, and 10 years old at the time. It wasn’t clear if they had to pay due to their age. Ultimately, the machine printed the visa, and the total to pay for them was zero. Once we stopped to get our passports stamped, an extensive discussion started with the officer. He insisted 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 that we didn’t check for the stamps.
A few days later, as we were leaving Nepal (it was only 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 had to pay $10 just for two days in the country! Never trust the immigration officer; trust yourself and check for the stamps before you leave the counter! It is in your interest.
Travel lesson #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 insisted! 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, no one could check it with us.
They added a few issues to the damage 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 that it is an excellent suggestion.
Travel lesson #3: Don’t feel guilty about complaining to Airbnb if your apartment is in terrible 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 growing your mushrooms in the bathroom in Taiwan 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 economic help. Don’t just accept a lousy environment!
Travel lesson #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 who recommended that we organize a private tour. With 3 children, we thought it would be easier, especially in India, where not even Indians 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 not be taken shopping to stores that we didn’t ask to go to. Remember that organized tours don’t come cheap, also if you are 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, things got worse once we started the long drive with the same person. The driver barely spoke and was more interested in doing what was convenient for him than us. We tried to be ok with it for a few days.
However, we thought it wasn’t fair since this was our trip at a pretty high cost! Mass had a very strong argument with the agent. She changed our driver and gave us free tours at each location we visited.
We would have been miserable for the whole trip if we had accepted the situation without saying anything. Ultimately, 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!
Travel lesson #5: Make sure the car insurance is applied to your rental
This was a challenging and “almost” costly lesson for us to learn during our trip around France!
We needed to rent a car to drive around the country for two weeks. The most convenient offer was with a different company from the one we usually use. I created an account and made the booking on their app. It asked if I wanted insurance, and I 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.
We realized it was smaller than expected once we packed everything in the car. 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 backed right into our door!!! They ruined it so much that we had to change the car because the door didn’t stay closed! You can be great at driving, but you cannot control how good others are at driving around you!
The real problems came a month later when they finally told us the damage costs: over $5,000!!! The issue was that they added extra work to 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 insurance. They verified all our paperwork and information and, with great difficulty, tried 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!
Travel lesson #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 missing items that he had confirmed as available: toilet paper, working wifi, and a 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 wasting it being frustrated. However, we didn’t want to leave because it wasn’t easy to find a house in the same conditions in the area. We just wanted things resolved; it was also in his interest!
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 running off like he thought we would do without getting our money back, we called the embassy, made 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 you have a right to be. 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 could be very dishonest, but many good people surround us. You can trust; you 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.
Travel lesson #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 lousy outcome! Our flight out of the Philippines was scheduled for 8 a.m. We had to be at the airport around 6 a.m. You can imagine how challenging this may be with 3 kids who would gladly sleep till 9 a.m. and all our stuff to carry around! We got everyone ready and went down to the lobby with our bags. We loaded everything in a grab car we had pre-booked and got dropped off at the airport.
Once we arrived, we realized 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 terminal, Mass realized something was missing: his carry-on backpack!!!! This contained all our technology: computers, iPads, headphones, and 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 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 sure how we were going to solve it!
Avoid this by always getting all your stuff in the main room when you know you have an early flight!
Travel lesson #8: Be conscious of the traditions of the country you are visiting
When you arrive in a new country, you must closely observe their traditions and customs. It is important to respect them to avoid being sent away or treated not the way you would want to.
For example, 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 jam-packed; however, after a few hours, we could see people dressed in black or white in their traditional outfits. It is where primarily locals go, and we felt a bit out of place. There were only a few people dressed in regular clothes.
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 our arrival in Egypt. To enter the country, you need a visa, which we applied for online 3 weeks in advance. The process is straightforward 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; we just let the immigration know by showing our application on arrival.
Once we were at immigration, I did as I was told, and they invited me to pay again! I got very frustrated because they didn’t want to listen to me but 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!
Travel lesson #9: Don’t leave stuff in storage if you can
When we decided to start this adventure, we planned to travel for 1 year. So, although we did get rid of a lot of stuff, we still kept plenty. Our goal was to move back and find a new place to live, so why have to rebuy everything?! We filled a storage space with “lots of stuff”! After a few months, I could not stop thinking of everything I could have donated instead of keeping it. When we returned for a short visit, we got rid of many 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 want to keep for sentimental reasons until we decide to settle somewhere. We learned that after this experience, you are not the 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?!
UPDATE: in 2021, we returned to the US and finally got rid of our storage unit! They had doubled the monthly fee, and it was ridiculous. My mother let us put up a shed in her backyard and store some things in her garage. Thanks, Mom! However, we did a big garage sale to get rid of most of the things we still had! We are saving so much money now!
Travel lesson #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 tour company had a deal with them, so they would get a commission if we purchased anything. 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 they will usually 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, the horse and camel rental company invited us to stop at 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.” We would be on our way once we made him happy and smelled a few.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. The kids fell asleep, and Mass and I started feeling very relaxed and ordered $900 of essences! It was a crazy feeling; we knew it didn’t make sense but could not say no. However, our sanity was restored once we returned to the hotel! 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!
Travel lesson #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 get modified due to this.
Hurricane Dorian in Florida was the biggest natural disaster we witnessed with a plan change! 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 change our travel route by making a half-day stop in Nassau instead of Disney Castaway. The hurricane hit the island severely, and the jetty wasn’t accessible. We stopped close by to drop off some food for the staff on the island and the severely hit neighboring Abaco island. The disaster caused more damage than expected in the Bahamas, especially on Abaco Island.
It took weeks to evacuate the people from the island. While in Nassau, we would see the plane going to the island daily. These people lost everything, and it was a race against time to get them to a safe place.
Travel lesson #12: Never leave your toddler alone in the bedroom with the key!!!
For this tip, the most valuable lesson can easily be 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!
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