The Good Life With IQ

Don’t make these 10 travel mistakes that we did

Some of these mistakes that we made during our travels around the world could have been much, much worse.

We’ve been travelling around India and the world for 10 years now, and we’ve made our share of mistakes—and learned from them. Most of them haven’t been all that bad, but some of them, if it hadn’t been for blind luck, could have been much worse. So here, in no particular order, are 10 travel mistakes we made that you shouldn’t.

Also read: 20 things you need to know when you visit India

Collage of pictures from across India

1. Don’t trust your GPS too much

On one of our early visits to Hampi—the ruins of the capital city of Vijayanagara, an ancient and powerful South Indian kingdom—we drove the 400-odd kilometres down from Hyderabad. Not only did we want to see evocative ancient palaces and temples built from solid granite, but also the incredible rocky ridges around Hampi from which the stone was sourced (like the ones in Hyderabad, but on steroids). We weren’t very familiar with the route, but trusted that our GPS would get us there with no problem. Ha.

Everything went fine for most of the eight-hour trip, and the GPS led us faithfully through the South Indian countryside. It was evening when we got to Anegundi, a little village just across the Tunghabhadra river from Hampi. We were relieved that we would soon be there, because the trip had been quite tiring. There was only one problem: there was no bridge. The GPS had pointed us straight at the river and was urging us to drive across a bridge that wasn’t there!

We finally had to backtrack and find another way across the river from Gangavati, a detour that cost us an extra hour of driving. It could have been worse, though. If there hadn’t been a bridge at Gangavati, we would have to drive down to Hospet and then back up the other side of the river to Hampi—at two hour detour.

(Something similar happened to us during a recent trip to Coorg too, to our irritation.)

Travel lesson learned

When driving long-distance using GPS navigation, carry a road atlas along too and consult it every once in a while. If not, at least zoom into your route and check if there’s a better way.

Closeup of Ugra Narasimha statue in Hampi, Karnataka, India
A close-up of the intimidating statue of Ugra Narasimha in Hampi

Also read: Millennia back in time: The magnificent temples of Madurai and Tanjore in South India

2. Don’t try to find your railway compartment from outside the train in Germany

A few years ago, we had planned ourselves a long three-week road trip through Germany. After a nine-hour flight during which the lights and entertainment systems for our seats were on the blink, we thought nothing else could go wrong. That was not the case.

Frankfurt airport has a railway station underneath, with platforms for both short- and long-distance trains. We were to catch the train to Wuppertal, and spend a few days there exploring the city and nearby Cologne. We got to the platform in good time after we bought our tickets for the last train to Wuppertal, and settled down to wait. About 20 minutes later our train arrived, and we ambled over to the closest compartment, where we met a conductor. This person told us that only the last compartment would make it all the way to Wuppertal, so we started down the platform towards the back of the train. Suddenly, the train whistled and, to our shock, the automatic doors hissed shut! Before we could figure out what was going on, the train pulled smoothly out of the station, leaving us behind. If only we had known that the train doors had a button to open them, we would have been able to get on!

As we were trying to come to terms with having to spend a night in Frankfurt and catch the morning train the next day, we suddenly caught sight of a train on the next platform with the word ‘Wuppertal’ on it. Without hesitation, we bundled in. It turned out to be the train that was scheduled before ours, but which was running late! If it hadn’t been late, we would have wasted lots of time and money overnighting in Frankfurt, and thrown all our plans out of whack as well.

Travel lesson learned

In Germany, get on the train before trying to find your compartment, and use the button to open the automatic doors if you must.

Evening picture of Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
Cologne cathedral, taken from the far end of the square. And it still doesn’t fit in the frame!

Also read: 20 spectacular travel pictures we’ve taken so far

3. Don’t get too ambitious during a road trip

One of our most epic road trips so far has been a 2,000-kilometer motorcycle tour from Hyderabad up India’s east coast to Kolkata, passing through Visakhapatnam and Bhubaneswar on the way. We thought we would spend three days riding through the plains to Kolkata, and then another two riding into the Himalayan foothills from there, to Kalimpong. Life had other plans.

We were a group of four bikes, and on the second day, one of them started getting a little cranky. The third day went in the owner trying to get it fixed in Bhubaneshwar, while the rest of us took a look at nearby Puri and Konark. By the time we got to Kolkata, it was clear that the bike wouldn’t make it into the mountains and back.

In a way, we were a little relieved, because it was much colder than expected in Kolkata, and Kalimpong would have been freezing—something we hadn’t counted on. Luckily, we hadn’t made any hotel bookings in Kalimpong, or we might have lost some money there. So we rode down to Mandarmoni instead, and spent a few days at the beach!

Travel lesson learned

On a road trip, build some buffer time into your schedule in case things don’t go completely according to plan.

Bike on the beach at sunset in Mandarmoni, West Bengal, India
Contemplating life at sunset on Mandarmani beach

Also read: How we lived the island life for a few days in the Andamans

4. Don’t arrive at your hotel without independently confirming your booking

After driving through Germany for three weeks a few years ago, the last leg of our trip was a week-long visit to London and Cambridge. At some point during our time in Germany, we had used travel website Expedia to book ourselves a hotel in London. Just off Bayswater road next to Hyde Park, it was a great location and perfect for us to both explore the city and meet friends who lived nearby. And after three weeks of driving, we looked forward to some rest and relaxation. Ah, well.

Once we found our way out of Heathrow airport, we were picked up by a smart-looking cab driver who then proceeded to stretch our nerves to the breaking point by messaging on his phone all the way to the hotel. I didn’t want to give him a tip at the end, but was too tired to argue. The hotel looked nice enough, though, and we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep. But when we wanted to check in, they didn’t have any reservation in our names. Worse still, they were fully booked!

After much fretting and fuming, they managed to give us one windowless room in the basement and—there were three of us—negotiated a room for us in one of the many other hotels on the same road. Happily, we were put into better rooms next to each other the next day. We then proceeded to spend a few happy days recuperating in London before heading off to Cambridge.

Travel lesson learned

When booking a hotel through a travel website, always contact the hotel later to confirm that they have your booking—even if your booking receipt says it isn’t necessary.

View of Tower Bridge from inside the Tower of London
A view of Tower Bridge from inside the Tower of London

Also read: Eight great things to experience while visiting Bhutan

5. Don’t assume that places will be open when you get there

We had recently planned a trip through southern Tamil Nadu to Madurai, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Valparai, and the most convenient way for us to get there was to fly to Madurai and then take a taxi to Thanjavur. And we thought that, since we would be landing there anyway, we could spend a few hours thoroughly exploring Madurai’s legendary Meenakshi temple. Not.

We boarded our flight from Hyderabad in good time, and spent it watching the alternating green and brown landscape unfolding below us. It was only just before we landed, and while reading through our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook on South India, that we realized that the temple is closed from 12:30 to 3:30 PM—and that we were arriving at exactly the wrong time!

The taxi driver who picked us up from the airport confirmed our fears: the temple would be closed when we got there. If we had known, we would have flown in a day earlier. But we resolved to make the best of the situation, and asked him to take us there anyway—and we were happy that we did. Even from outside, the towering gopurams—the gateway towers—of the temple are awe-inspiring, and the intricately carved pillars of the Pudumandapam pilgrim hall are a sight to behold! Having seen the outside, we can’t wait to see the rest of it soon.

Travel lesson learned

Check the times during which sights you want to see are open for visitors, and plan your schedule around them.

Carved yali (Tiger, horse and elephant) at the Pudumandapa, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
An incredibly intricate yali statue stands in the Pudumandapa near the Meenakshi temple in Madurai

Also read: Eight great reasons why you should visit ‘the land of kings’

6. Don’t look for good local food without asking the locals

When we planned a long weekend stay in Agonda in Goa just over a year ago, we had great expectations. On one of our previous visits to Goa, we had gone a little off the beaten track by staying in a homestay far away from the coast. This time, we were looking forward to some quiet beach time, brilliant sunsets and great Goan food. Two out of three.

We got to our little beach camp in Agonda courtesy a friendly local taxi driver, and were immediately charmed by the quiet and peaceful atmosphere. The beach itself was great, there were lots of little eateries everywhere, and there was plenty to do around Agonda as well. But, for the life of us, we couldn’t find any decent local food. Every restaurant seemed to serve European and Middle-Eastern food, with a few standard ‘Indian’ (read Punjabi) dishes on the menu. And even if they did serve Goan food, we could tell it was a bit watered down.

It was only when we were leaving that our taxi driver—the same one—told us that the best local food in Agonda is to be had in the modest little bars that sit on the small interior roads away from the beach. We were kicking ourselves all the way back home.

Travel lesson learned

If you want to sample authentic local cuisine, ask a local to point you in the right direction instead of experimenting on your own.

Cold beer in steel mugs on Talpona beach near Agonda in Goa, India
A couple of cold ones on Talpona beach

Also read: Turning vegetarian? Here are 10 tips from someone who’s done it

7. Don’t forget to check your mobile plan before crossing a border

We were staying in the little town of Ainring in Bavaria during our three-week road trip through Germany, and we decided to do a day trip to Salzburg. This famous Austrian city was just across the border, and our visas allowed us entry into the country, so we hopped into the car and drove off. We had most of the day, and even though we were told to expect some delay at the border on the way back, we were expecting to have a great time. The reality was a little different.

We got a rude surprise as soon as we crossed the border: the mobile data on our phones disappeared, and with it all but the most basic information on our mobile GPS. We had gotten so used to the idea of crossing borders without a problem that we never even thought about whether our German mobile plans would do the same! We initially didn’t let it bother us too much because we were using the car’s inbuilt ‘navi’ to get around, but we felt the loss keenly once we started trying to explore the city on foot. Though we had a basic guidebook with us, it didn’t really tell us how to get from place to place, and that was really what we needed.

We did manage to find our way up to the famous Hohensalzburg castle that sits on a hill in the old town, but when it came to finding a place to eat that had a nice view (the castle restaurant was full) no amount of trial an error seemed to work. We finally ended up not having lunch, and the border crossing back into Germany was much faster than we thought, so we grabbed a bite to eat back in Ainring—grumpy that we couldn’t make the most of our trip to Salzburg.

Travel lesson learned

If you depend on your mobile GPS to find your way around places, make sure that your data plan works in all the places you’re going.

View of the old town in Salzburg, Austria showing Salzburg Cathedral
View of the old town, with the Salzburg Cathedral taking centerstage

Also read: 5 awesome mountain holiday destinations in India

8. Don’t ignore the advice of more experienced voices when booking transport

On our recent trip through southern Tamil Nadu covering Madurai, Thanjavur (Tanjore) and Valparai, we decided to book a car and driver for the whole trip of five days, beginning in Madurai and ending at Coimbatore airport. Though it was a little expensive, we thought that—since we were meeting family in Thanjavur and then driving to Valparai, and we couldn’t all fit into their car—this arrangement made sense. Not so much.

We were initially told that we should book a car from Madurai through Thanjavur and to Valparai only. We could then drive around Valparai in the family car for the two days we were there, and then take a local taxi to Coimbatore airport. But because the overall costs were similar, we decided to book the car for the whole trip instead.

What we didn’t count on was plenty of miscommunication between us, the driver, the taxi company and the company that owned the car. At the end we had to pay significantly more than what we had initially agreed on, despite not really using the car in Valparai!

Travel lesson learned

When people with more local experience give you advice on how to plan your transportation, take it.

Tea plantation road at sunset in Valparai, Anamalai Hills, Tamil Nadu, India
The plantation road past the guesthouse and basecamp

Also read: A perfect long weekend among the hills and tea plantations of Coonoor

9. Don’t assume wait-listed train tickets in India will be confirmed, however likely it seems

A few years ago, we visited Rajasthan and saw Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur. Because we had been looking forward to it so much, and because we didn’t have too much time to spend there, we began planning everything months in advance. When we finally boarded the flight to Jaipur, we were sure everything would go according to plan. We were wrong.

We had quite a good time in Jaipur, seeing the Hawa Mahal and partying on the ramparts of Jaigarh Fort, but when the time came to catch the train to Jodhpur, we were stumped. We had booked our tickets months ago, and were wait-listed in the low single digits. Experience had told us that our tickets would be confirmed well before our travel date, so we didn’t think about it anymore. When we finally checked the status of our tickets the evening we were to leave, we were shocked to see that one ticket had been confirmed but the other was still wait-listed!

We finally had to cancel our tickets and hire a taxi to drive us all the way to Jodhpur. Not only did we end up losing an entire day on our already tight schedule, we had to throw our budget out of the window to pay for the taxi (we also had to drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur because our flight was cancelled, but that wasn’t our fault).

Travel lesson learned

When travelling in India, make sure your train tickets are confirmed before you start out on your travels.

Silhouette of a camel against the sunset in the desert near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Silhouette of a camel against the sunset in the desert near Jaisalmer

Also read: This magnificent forgotten necropolis is a must-see in Hyderabad

10. Don’t just go by the guidebook, but a do little more research

Our recent trip to Coorg in Karnataka was something we had wanted to do for a long time. We had heard about the lovely green hills and the weather (I had even been there a really long time ago), so we were really looking forward to experiencing its pristine waterfalls and quiet panoramas. No such luck.

On the recommendation of a friend, we had booked a room in a homestay in the middle of a coffee plantation close to the main town of Madikeri, and it turned out to be every bit as nice as promised. With that as a base, we hired a motorcycle and started exploring the surroundings. For starters, Coorg turned out to be really hot during the day, and quite chilly at night—a dangerous combination for people like me who are prone to catching cold. We also found that all the sights and experiences recommended by the guidebooks and websites were overflowing with raucous tourists, which made it no fun at all! And lastly, we read some depressing reviews about the famous camp for retired forestry elephants in Dubare, and decided we didn’t want to find out if they were true.

So instead of doing all the usual recommended touristy things, we ended up just riding through the back roads of the Coorg hills without any real plan, and found that a much more rewarding experience than seeing the sights.

Travel lesson learned

Even if you’ve heard good things about a place, it pays to do some proper research on what things there are really like before you visit.

Bridge across the river at Abbey falls near Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka, India
The fenced-off bridge across the river at Abbey Falls near Madikeri

Also read: 20 things you need to know when you visit India

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4 thoughts on “Don’t make these 10 travel mistakes that we did”

    1. Glad you found it helpful! Of course, these are just mistakes we’ve made so far. There will be more to make and learn from in future, too 😃

  1. I agree with tip 5 LOL
    We landed up in Simla on a Monday just to realise all the tourist places are closed on that day and don’t allow entry. So just spent the day driving around town.
    Also one more tip is to be prepared for unexpected weather changes. Same day in Simla during summer while we were in our T shirts it suddenly started raining and temperature dropped suddenly to a freezing low.. Spent half a day in buying jackets and sweaters that were atrociously expensive and not that great …best to have a jacket as a backup where ever you go and whatever the weather !!

What do you think? Let me know.

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