Solo Traveler: Big Mistakes
When I look back on the last five years of traveling I find that I now make fewer mistakes. It’s helpful to think about what the worst mistakes were and what I started doing differently as a result.
The Biggest Mistake of All – Too Much Stuff
On a three-month trip to Europe I took summer clothes, plenty of warmer clothes for fall, and a heavy winter jacket because I would be in Turkey and Italy in December. I packed hiking boots, shoes, sandals, a pair of dressy shoes and a nice dinner dress. I had enough underwear for two weeks and a small backpack with all the stuff needed for hiking.
I purchased a giant designer suitcase on sale at TJ Max. The brightly painted scene of Venice on the smooth hard plastic made it the easiest piece of luggage to spot at the baggage pickup. Fully loaded it weighed just under the maximum 50 pounds. With four sturdy wheels it rolled effortlessly with the slightest push. However, that enormous suitcase turned into a huge burden in Europe where stairs are far more common than ramps.
On the way home, with an antique Turkish rug inside, it weighed 70 pounds and I paid handsomely to get it home.
Too much stuff is just too much! To pack for various seasons, I should have taken one or two lightweight and one medium weight outfit plus a sweater and a jacket to layer over it.
When we travel we see different people all the time. None of them are going to notice we’re wearing the same clothes we had on two days ago, so there’s no need to take more than three or four pants and shirts. Washing machines and laundry services are available the world over. That amount of clothing is about one machine load. Underwear can be washed by hand and even in the most humid climates will be fairly dry by the next day.
As for footwear, a good pair of walking shoes, with socks for colder weather, and a pair of hiking sandals should be sufficient for most seasons. And for dressier occasions - a pair of dark pants, my nicest shirt, and a colorful scarf to dress it up was all I ever really needed.
Another Big Mistake – Not Allowing Enough Time
In the old days, prior to the Internet, we bought international tickets from ticket agents who had specialized knowledge. When I went to India in 1985, the agent gave me wonderful tips about changing planes in London, how to order (way in advance) the Indian Visa, and she wisely scheduled plenty of time between flights so I wouldn’t miss one.
Now, we make our own reservations online, must find out for ourselves how to get Visas, and acquire our own specialized knowledge, sometimes through expensive trial and error.
I learned the hard way that many American International Airports have staffing problems in Immigration and Customs. In the Dallas/Fort Worth airport I once stood in line with more than 1,000 people for two hours just to get back into the country. Then I waited with the same 1,000 people for Customs to paw through my luggage. Needless to say, I missed my connecting flight and had to spend the night in a hotel.
So how much time is enough? It’s probably best to talk with other people who fly through particular airports and see what their experiences have been. There is a lot of information online via travel blogs, too.
I try to schedule a minimum of an hour between domestic flights and up to three hours between international connections. Most airlines have their gates grouped together, but if you take a connecting flight on a different airline, their gates could be a long distance from where you get off the plane. The best approach is to ask a lot of questions, maybe print out the plan of the airport if that might help, and check the signs and boards carefully.
Most importantly, don’t panic and don’t beat yourself up! These travel problems can happen to anybody, anytime. It might not be fun or in the budget, but it’s not a fatal mistake to miss a plane and have to stay overnight in a hotel or the airport.
Editor's note: Sherry Hardage lives in Rio Rancho and has been traveling solo in the Americas, Europe, and Asia since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website www.mexadventures.com. Follow the continuing adventures on the travel blog: http://sherryhardagetravel.blogspot.com/. Hardage welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.