Life is a journey filled with lessons, so they say. On a less philosophical note, traveling can be a journey filled with costly mistakes and painful lessons. But there is a painless (and no-cost) way to learn—through others’ mistakes.
A recent trip to Scandinavia taught me many lessons, the first of which came early when my Canadian e-pal arrived in gray and blustery Oslo without any type of autumn wear. Assuming that early Nordic spring was nothing to one used to sub-zero Canadian winter, she obviously didn’t bargain for the icy front blowing down from the Arctic. Therefore, Lesson #1: Never assume anything. Lesson #2: Expect the unexpected, and be prepared for sudden weather changes and the wind chill factor.
Warmed by my muffler and fleece jacket, my e-pal then spent hours enthusing about her new toy: a super-duper digital camera. The problem was she purchased it just before leaving Vancouver. So while I was enjoying jaw-dropping views of the glaciers, she was busy flipping through the instruction booklet. She also had a new daypack and spent many agonizing moments digging for her ferry, train, or museum tickets. Lesson #3: Familiarize yourself with any new gear before setting out.
Also tucked inside that daypack was a transparent Ziploc bag with a stash of bank notes and credit cards. She would pull it out and start rummaging through it—for all in the queue to see—to pay for her purchases, big or small. “No bulky wallet for me, thank you. Now I can easily see what I have and take out what I need,” she said. And this brings us to Lesson #4: Don’t put all your cash and cards in one basket. Lesson #5: Easy access shouldn’t be at the expense of exposing yourself to pickpockets.
Four days into our Denmark visit, my god-mom’s tote bag was pinched inside a tourist information center where she, her sister, and my e-pal were browsing. “We sat facing different directions on this little 3×3 ottoman, with our tote bags and daypack behind us. We couldn’t believe one of the bags was gone in a place with so many eyes looking at us and everyone else,” she said after losing hundreds of dollars and euros, credit cards, and her driving license. Lesson #6: Petty thefts can, and do, happen anywhere.
By the way, did I mention that the tote bag was a Prada original and my god-mom (and sister) was pretty expensively adorned? Hence, Lesson #7: Don’t flash bling-bling or branded goods around. Dress down when traveling.
Back at the hotel after lodging a police report, we soon learned that my e-pal didn’t book her Copenhagen–Stockholm flight. With every available seat booked for the long holiday weekend, her only option was a ten-hour train ride. Lesson #8: Don’t bank on last-minute reservations to get cheap tickets. As a rule, regional flights are often cheaper if you book from your country of origin.
Despite the unhappy incident, we had a great time enjoying the sights, sounds, and herring (raw, smoked, marinated, whichever). That brings us to Lesson #9: Don’t dwell on the mistakes and let them ruin your vacation. Move on. Most importantly, Lesson #10: Don’t repeat those mistakes!