I have no been on the road for more than a year and think I have learned a fair bit about travel and backpacking.
The topic is avoidable mistakes that we’ve all made on the road. Learn from our mistakes. I hate top “10” (or whatever number) lists — so fellow bloggers, post up as many mistakes you’ve made as you like. I think I’ll go with three.
(1) Don’t drive a car after dark in a rural Australia. This recent one is simple and was the impetus for me wanting to start this tag-along blog. I recently rented a car in Brisbane for the 3,000 kilometer drive to Alice Springs, to see Uluru and some of the Outback. I was told that kangaroos are a threat on the road, but was not told that they appear to swarm at night. You can certainly hit them in the daytime, but at night. . . it seems like a certainty you are going to hit one. Related tip on this topic — car rental insurance is a scam, but get it here if you rent a car. Hitting the ‘Roo in the Land Down Under. The necessity for good travel insurance was never more apparent to me than on that day. Without a good bit of insurance, I’d have been in a serious plight indeed.
(2) I don’t make many travel plans or do much research before I get to a place — I like to wing it a bit — but I have learned my lesson about visas. Check and double check. Do not trust guidebooks. If you have any doubts, go to or call the country’s embassy you are trying to get into. Check the Thorn Three forum on lonelyplanet.com and see what recent travelers have to say about the current requirements.
I learned this hard lesson when I took a three day overland trip from Nairobi to the Kenya/Ethiopia border. Two of those days were hitchhiking on top of a cargo truck. Literally, on top. The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi incorrectly told me I could get a visa at the border. The Lonely Planet guidebook (circa 2005) said the same thing. Stupidly, I did not check with the Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi. Turns out that you can’t get a visa at arrival at any of the overland borders into Ethiopia, only the Addis Ababa airport. It was an incredible, incredible hassle.
After getting stranded at the border, I tried to beg my way across and also tried to bribe the border agent. Neither worked and I eventually got lucky and hitched my wagon to a Brit in the same situation, with one difference — he was very well connected. His friends got us across. Kenya/Ethiopia
(3) Carry U.S. dollars with you at all times. Guard them. Do not change them, if you can use an ATM and get cash that way. The Dollar is still the King out there — though the current exchange rate is absolutely horrid. When in a crunch, everyone that will do something for you is going to want dollars to do it — or at least they will take dollars. No one turns down the greenback.
My particular problem was that I didn’t know that until I had already run out in Ethiopia. After running out, I simply couldn’t get more — no one would change the local currency to dollars. In fact, the Ethiopian government wouldn’t even take their own money for the visa fee; they only accepted dollars. Yes, they wouldn’t take their own money. Luckily, I found a great cabbie that was able to buy some dollars for me on the black market, or I still might be trapped there. The Almighty Dollar