Here’s what we’ve learned from 4 years of (relatively) frequent travelling
I teamed up with Hubs to write this one. By team up I mean I asked him questions, he answered and I wrote.
With the Russia World Cup right around the corner, we got to talking about the very first World Cup he attended: Brazil 2014. This trip to Brazil was our very first big trip: Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It was our first trip outside of North America and the Caribbean. This was uncharted territory for us. I recall how giddy we were—I still feel like this for every trip. I remember the amount of research we made and how organized we were. We had electronic files and kept printed documents in a binder. We saved for 2 years. It was that serious.
In hindsight, we spent a ridiculous amount of money. But it was worth every penny.
Since then, we’ve become more experienced and have been able to find a travel style that is suitable to our personalities and—most importantly—to our budget. And we have definitely learned from our mistakes.
We've listed said mistakes below, in no particular order, with a few of the lessons we learned and the solutions we found.
In 2014, we knew about Airbnb. We had heard about this cheaper alternative to hotels. But it all seemed too risky. We worried about reliability, fraud and security. We wanted to make sure that it would all go smoothly. We opted for a bed and breakfast in Buenos Aires and for a traditional hotel in Sao Paolo.
I’ve yet to meet an Airbnb host who’s as dope as our host in Buenos Aires. Every morning, I looked forward to breakfast, for the food and for his conversation. He’s the one who suggested a Milonga instead of a touristy tango show. He also told us about the day trip to Colonia and Buenos Aires Market. Did we pay a few dollars more per night? Yes. Was it money well spent? Absolutely. Besides, we’d definitely book a couple of nights with him during our next visit.
As we became more confident travellers, we’ve gotten into the habit to include Airbnb, and the likes, in our searches. Given that cost isn’t the only consideration we make when booking a room (a central location and a safe neighbourhood are paramount), we sometimes use more traditional options.
In Sao Paolo, we made a mistake specific to the World Cup: we booked a bit too close to the date of the event—2 to 3 months prior. By that time, we only had access to a very limited number of options. At the time, we had no clue that people booked so far in advance. For this year's event, the boys (I’m not going) have booked their rooms farther in advance—last December, the event is in June.
Under evaluated costs during World Cup season
The cost of living in Sao Paolo is high. We knew this when researching for the trip. What we failed to realize was that prices would be higher by the time the tourists for the World Cup arrived. We spent more than planned for food. To be noted, we purchased breakfast food in order to prepare our own meals in the morning. Hubs, who also went to Cuiaba, noted that the overall cost of living was high too, there (lower than Sao Paolo, but still higher than expected).
On a regular trip, we budget for our meals by looking at the average cost of food in the city. Then, we increase that amount by 10% to cover for unexpected expenses. During a World Cup, we’ve learned to budget for more than that. We haven’t determined a percentage yet. Upon his return from Russia, Hubs will be in a better position to propose one.
We didn’t actively look for free activities
And that’s a shame. Free activities help save on travel costs and are often a good way to mingle with locals and get a good sense of their way of life. Once we were on location, we found plenty of free activities in Buenos Aires (the feria, the market, Buenos Aires Ciudad Emergente). While we didn’t partake in any free activities in Sao Paolo, we attended a kermesse. The entrance fee was minimal. (Our friends who lived in town took us. This is not the type of event listed on a tourism site.)
Not enough research
I will forever be thankful to our host in Buenos Aires for telling us about the day trip to Uruguay. How we managed not to know about this going in is still a mystery to me. We clearly hadn’t done our research properly. Yet, we had spent a great deal of time looking up activities.
What we’ve learned from this is to always listen to what locals suggest. Of course, we quickly research the suggestion to make sure that the activity is of interest and that we’re not walking into a tourist trap. But, so far, we haven’t been disappointed.
We’ve also gotten into the habit of looking at nearby country, especially countries with a shared border, to determine whether or not a short trip is doable. (This is how I landed in Lebanon last year. It was way cheaper to fly to Spain then to Lebanon than it would be to fly straight to Lebanon.)
Failure to adapt to local dinner times
In Buenos Aires, Hubs and I were often the only patrons in the restaurant at dinner time. We ate way earlier than the locals! We'd arrive around 6:30-7, and the restaurants were empty. A few times, I think they served us out of pity. The restaurants were open, but they clearly weren't expecting to serve. As a result, we didn't really make new friends while dining.
We learned our lesson quickly.
In Sao Paolo, just a few days later, we would show up at ‘our’ bar—we went there every day—early to watch games and would only leave after a late dinner. Still, we were never the last ones to leave.
What rookie mistakes have you made while travelling? What have you learned from those mistakes?