europe travel

What NOT to Do When Traveling: My Biggest Travel Mistakes

Writing about my biggest travel mistakes has been on my list for months, and I’m just now getting around to it. Honestly, it’s because all of these situations involve me looking like a big idiot. But, travel isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, it isn’t fun. Others, it is way too costly, or leaves you disappointed.

There are even times that you’ll make travel mistakes, just like I have, and I want you to be prepared for that. In the spirit of sharing and being transparent, I compiled a list of my biggest travel mistakes, aside from Hotwire, so that you won’t make them!

1 // fined on the Paris metro

This one, the first of my many travel mistakes, still boils my blood. On my very short weekend in Paris, a friend and I decided we wanted to see Versailles. On some metro systems, a ticket will not work at all if you cannot use it for the route on which you are trying to travel.

We assumed that, if our ticket wouldn’t work to get us to Versailles on the extended city service, which is a little bit outside of Paris, then the tickets just wouldn’t let us into the station. In which case, we would buy extras at the ticket kiosks.

We were wrong.

We arrived at a station that is a common departure point for Versailles, and our regular Paris metro tickets let us into the station. Because of this, we thought we could use them to get to Versailles. Nope.

interacting with the transport conductors

Instead, after the train arrived, some conductors boarded and wanted to see tickets. We showed them ours, and one of them started speaking to us in very passionately frustrated French. Our blank stares must have shown him that we didn’t understand, so he said, “English?”

He then explained, very rudely compared to his colleagues, might I add, that we had the wrong tickets and had to pay a fine. I explained that these tickets let us into the station, there was not a soul working so that we could ask, and we didn’t know. It’s not like we were intentionally getting on the train without paying at all.

When I asked him how much the fine was, he said 35. I heard 45, and got visibly upset/borderline angry. After he said 35 again, I followed up with, “35, because we didn’t know and there was no one there to tell us?” He said, and I quote verbatim, “Well, that’s a pity for you. We are waiting for you.”

Basically, he wanted us to hurry up and pay the fine. I realize now, looking back, he didn’t actually cite an infraction or the policy we were breaking with proof. He probably should have, since he expected us to pay a fine. Minor oversight on his part.

This is when I got pissed.

It’s one thing to explain that someone has to pay a fine. It’s another to be a jerk about it. His colleague, on the other hand, took the time to explain that the bundle of tickets on the Paris metro don’t cover Versailles, unless you manually add that zone. He knew it was confusing, so he clarified it for us.

moving forward

I didn’t even expect someone to explain the system to me, but rather to tell me I was being fined without treating me like a sub-human. It’s really not a lot to ask to be spoken to with respect. Much of the frustration with this experience could have been pacified without his pompous attitude.

Bottom line: you cannot assume that a ticket is valid for your journey just because it allows you into the station! Always read up on the transport system of your next destination, so that a trip on the metro doesn’t turn into one of your own travel mistakes.

I find the Japanese system much more efficient, because it charges you at the end of a journey instead of the beginning. You cannot leave the station turnstiles until you go to the kiosk and add money to your transport card, if necessary. It’s genius, really. Also, on Japanese intercity trains, you can pay the conductor on board for your ticket. None of that fine nonsense for purchasing on board.

These are great examples of how much transport can differ between two large cities. After I’ve had more travel experiences, it seems like this whole system I had to deal with in Paris is more about trapping people than being fair, but I’ll move on.

two girls in front of fountain and garden background in Versailles
We still had a great day in Versailles, though!

2 // waiting in the wrong line at the Louvre–for 2 hours

As you can see, Paris was quite the adventure! It makes me laugh now, but some of these moments-turned-travel-mistakes were horrible the day-of. On our first day in Paris, we decided to do the free walking tour, see the Louvre, walk down the Champs-Élysées, and go up the Eiffel Tower at night.

The middle of our afternoon ended up being a major letdown, though. Why? Because we were two young, inexperienced college girls that had no idea how to actually get inside the Louvre museum.

Of course, Paris is one of those places that has different events and pop-ups going on every single day. On this Saturday, one of those pop-ups that attracted a huge crowd was right near the Louvre. Spitting distance, really. We even asked around to see if that was the right line, but people either didn’t understand us, or were also in the wrong line.

Oops.

we got there…eventually

And, to top it all off, we waited in said line for a couple of hours, at least. You haven’t seen a line until you’ve visited some of the top attractions in Western Europe. This is why we were sure we were in the right line.

I also did not read travel blogs at the time, so I didn’t rely on the online community to help a sis out. Most of my travel mistakes could have been avoided altogether had I known about travel blogs years ago!

It wasn’t until one of the staff members handed us a pamphlet about the exhibit we were about to enter that we realized the entrance to the Louvre was close, but no horseshoe. Mind you, we were still not even at the front of this line! Imagine if we had waited in it much longer…

My friend was really upset. I was pretty upset, too, because the Louvre was at the top of my list. It was reaching their closing time, but we still made it in to see quite a few things before close. I see this as even more reason to visit Paris again–so that I can spend a whole day at the Louvre!

two girls standing in front of the Louvre museum in Paris
Us in front of the actual Louvre on our free walking tour earlier that day

3 // $368 luggage fee on Lufthansa

This experience is one of the reasons I harp so much on carry-on traveling. I almost refuse to check a bag at this point, because of horror stories about lost or stolen luggage I’ve heard about from other travelers, and because of hefty baggage fees.

When I joined the Peace Corps, they allotted me two free checked bags. Each had to be under 50 pounds, but one of mine weighed more, and the other weighed less. Together, they weighed less than 100 pounds, which was my total allotment. Of course, since airlines aren’t rich enough, they charge overweight fees for the one bag that is “too heavy.” I managed to get by without doing so on my way to Ukraine, once some of the airline workers heard I was joining the Peace Corps.

On my flight home because of my medevac, I was shattered. I wasn’t ready to go back to America, and especially not like this. But, I was recommended for one, and I knew I needed therapy. So, off I went.

Usually, people leave one of their bags behind, since Peace Corps only pays for one checked bag on medevac. However, one of my symptoms was a severe lack of trust due to high anxiety. Yeah, there was no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks I was leaving half of my belongings behind. Not in that mental state.

Here I come to the Lufthansa check-in desk with two bags–one overweight, and one way underweight. Of course, they charged me for the heavy bag. But, the way Lufthansa calculates their fees is even more ridiculous than anything I’ve encountered, if that’s possible.

why they charged so much

Basically, they charge you to have an extra bag (okay–that’s normal) and then they charge you for the bag being overweight, and then the bag is classified as a different type of extra luggage, which makes you pay more for having a second bag in the first place.

I know. It makes no sense. It is, quite possibly, the most convoluted way of charging customers I’ve ever experienced. It’s wild.

I waited for at least 30 minutes on the bag check desk even with no line, because in Kyiv Boryspil airport, they send you off to a special desk shared amongst multiple airlines, and then they send you back to the normal check-in desk once you’ve paid.

The first price I was quoted was in the $200 range. I was okay with that, since my whole life was inside that suitcase. Then, it went up to $368 after she got on the phone with a mystery person, who told her the fee is actually that high.

At that point, I was so done with everything, and so exhausted–this was all going down at 3:30am–that I just paid it and told the lady I would dispute it later if I found out she was wrong. I found it odd she quoted two insanely different prices, and then showed me the pricing on a faded, wrinkled piece of paper with hand-written numbers on it. Hand-written numbers.

Yeah, because that’s completely legit and professional, especially from an airline that charges as much as Lufthansa.

what i learned from this whole ordeal

I love the Lufthansa in-flight experience and will continue to fly with them, but they won’t be my first choice anymore after this questionable experience.

Oh, and no more checked bags for me. Travel mistakes galore can occur when they are involved. Carry-ons only, over here. I’m never, ever paying overweight fees again. I’m sick of airlines charging passengers for every little thing, so I’m traveling lighter. It’s good for the soul. And the wallet.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

4 // trying to receive a package through Meest

This one’s relatively recent along with catastrophe #3, and it’s arguably the worst. Please keep in mind that this is not a representation of the entirety of Ukraine, but rather an isolated incident. In fact, I know of many volunteers in Peace Corps Ukraine that have never had an issue with Meest, a shipping company that operates in the U.S. and Ukraine.

I am not one of those (former) volunteers. Clearly, since this story made it onto my infamous travel mistakes post.

Here we go.

My mom and grandma wanted my first Christmas and birthday away from home (since they’re a week apart) to be as happy as possible. We had recently lost my grandfather to dementia and Parkinson’s with Lewy bodies, so his diagnosis, illness, and death hung like a storm cloud over our family for years. He passed right before Thanksgiving, and the holiday season just wasn’t the same without either of us there.

So, what did Mom and Grandma do? Why, what they do best. They went shopping. A LOT.

Now, when I asked for a care package, I meant to maybe include peanut butter, my favorite Luna bars, a couple of books from my collection. You know. Simple stuff.

my very own nightmare before Christmas…

They sent clothes, socks, coats, food, tea, and a ton of other things. I thought they were so sweet to do so, too. However, this is where our very own nightmare before Christmas began. It didn’t end until March. MARCH.

I cannot imagine a more incompetent group of people in a business than what I encountered with Meest. Granted, some of the people we chatted with in our, I don’t know, 30-something calls were friendly. Just as many weren’t.

Once the package wasn’t coded correctly by Meest, even after we gave them all the information they requested, including pricing, receipts, you-name-it, it was held up at customs in Lviv. This meant I had to try to call them day in, and day out, in order to find out why it was detained. We declared everything we were required to, and gave all the information we had.

In return, I was quoted a ginormous, not even remotely accurate price to receive the package. Granted, I asked some of the Ukrainians I knew how much people pay to receive their packages. They all told me it shouldn’t be over the equivalent of $40, and that’s only if there’s an iPhone X in there or some other type of technology. My package didn’t have that.

…which i didn’t really have until March

Customs wanted $300 from me.

Well, joke’s on them, because little ole Peace Corps me didn’t have $300 to her name to give.

After going back and forth to get them to recalculate it, they wanted about $180. I still wasn’t willing to pay that, because the Ukrainians I know and love told me it was still too much.

Finally, we had Meest just send the package back to my home address. This was all going down after I reported my assaults to Peace Corps, and was pretty much guaranteed to be on a plane back to the States. Once we found out that’s exactly what would happen, we gave Meest my home address in Nashville, and they sent it back.

This whole “shipping” fiasco was at least $200–probably more. We were never reimbursed for the portion of the trip my package didn’t make, which was the Lviv-Kyiv trek. Mind you, that’s quite a distance; Ukraine is a big country.

Hundreds of dollars, gone. I didn’t lay eyes on my 2018 Christmas gifts until the following March. Hot mess is an understatement.

In order to prevent more travel mistakes in the future, I’ll just refrain from having anything–literally, anything–shipped to me when outside my home nation. After all, there’s only so much headache medicine one can take.

Christmas gifts wrapped in red, brown, and white papers
Santa Claus ain’t coming to town if Meest is in charge of getting him there.
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

5 // losing hard-earned cash through EasyPay

Just like the time I was pickpocketed in Kyiv, losing what little, hard-earned money I had was a major blow as a Peace Corps volunteer. Like #4, I want to remind you that this is not a representation of the entirety of Ukraine. Rather, it is another isolated event that does not reflect my entire service.

In Kyiv, and, I imagine, other cities in Ukraine, there are these do-it-all kiosks. They’re owned by EasyPay, a sketchy company, and often cheat people. There was even one in my village, where I paid my phone bill with a large amount of cash, and was not given change. These machines make a significant commission, which you’re also expected to pay. Yuck.

Of course, I had never encountered a machine like this before, so I used it to put cash into my bank account. Bad idea. Very bad.

i deposited money into my bank account, which never arrived

The machine ate my money, gave me a confirmation, and I thought we were all good. As it turns out, I get a text from my bank showing my exact same prior balance, and a deposit that didn’t go through. This is on my last day in Kyiv before I’m due to head out of the country at 6am the next morning.

I frantically call my bank and ask them what happened. The representative explained that they don’t accept cash deposits from these machines, so they blocked it. I would have to call the company in charge of these machines using the number on my receipt, and get them to refund me.

I’m sure you’re wondering how in the world I was supposed to do that, considering I was about to go 5,000 miles away.

Yeah, I was wondering the same thing.

Anyway, I call the number on my EasyPay receipt. I ask to speak to the English-speaking representative, and am told in English, “I do not speak English. Our English-speaking representative will call you back.”

Click.

Yeah, I already knew I couldn’t wait around. I called back about 30 minutes later, and managed to catch the English-speaking representative. He explained I would have to fill out a form in Ukrainian and get it back to them in order for my refund to be processed.

trying to get my money from 5,000 miles away

Once I was back in the States, I did everything it asked. Multiple times. As I’m sure you can guess, my claim was bounced around. And around. And around. I had always “done something wrong,” or they “needed more information.” I knew they were putting me through the wringer in order to get my money back. To this day, I still never got that refund.

Sounds like I’ll be paying them a visit with that receipt, which I still have, on a return trip to Ukraine. To be continued…

25 kupiks coin of Ukrainian money
This is an example of what coins look like in Ukrainian currency. I definitely had more than this at stake with this horrible transaction, which made it so much harder to deal with!
Photo by Pavel Churiumov on Unsplash

the silver lining

Whew! This was a long one. I didn’t realize just how far I’ve come until I sat down to write out all my travel mistakes in this post. This is what can happen when you either don’t know, or forget, that other countries can handle things so differently than your home.

Public transport varies from city to city, banking works in another way, shipping can be a nightmare, and long lines can lead to places you never wanted to go.

Part of the adventure is the mess! Along with my highs, I’m thankful for my lows. Each one of these travel mistakes has made me a better, more informed person, and has helped me learn more about the world.

Hopefully, I won’t have more mistakes on this level to share. But, I know that the bad times make the good ones that much better. And, when you really love travel, the horrible days still don’t keep you from buying another plane ticket.

white church with blue sky in Pisa, Italy
gorgeous church in Pisa, Italy

Cover photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash. Thanks, Leio!

// Thanks for reading! Let’s connect on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and Twitter. If you would like to know when I’ve written a new post, you can follow me on Bloglovin’ or subscribe to my email list. I also have an Etsy shop for all my fellow design lovers out there. See you next time! 

"5 stupid mistakes to avoid when traveling" written on photo with globe in background

You may also like...

Leave a Reply