Many years ago I was picking out pastries in a bakery in Paris with my older daughter Stephanie. When the clerk pointed to a pastry I confidently replied “por favor”. My daughter quietly said “Mom, that’s Spanish”.
Mistakes like this are the makings of cute stories and fond memories. As Steve and I prepared to travel full-time we knew that mistakes would be made, and some of them would be more serious than using the wrong words.
Stay on the bus
We started our journey on a Transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona. Being new to cruising we opted for a cruise company sponsored hop-on-hop-off tour in Funchal, Portugal even though it was more expensive than doing it on our own.
One of the things we wanted to do was ride the wicker toboggans. We hopped on the bus and two stops later saw the sign for the gondola to take us to the toboggans. The gondola ride up the mountain was breathtaking, and the fast ride back down was exhilarating. The rest of the walk down the very steep hill as we looked for a hop-on-hop-off stop was not so enjoyable. We ended up spending about $80 to go two stops on the bus.
By the second month of our travels we thought we had SIM cards all figured out. After getting off the plane in Paris we headed straight to a kiosk to buy a SIM card. The clerk wasn’t the least bit helpful, so we left. We headed to the post office, which was also in the airport, and spent 40 Euros (about $45 US dollars ) for 2 SIM cards. The man who helped us did not speak English, and as I demonstrated above, I do not speak French. Even so, we managed to get our SIM cards installed.
We quickly discovered that they were only good for making calls and didn’t include data. They were quickly replaced with less expensive cards that included everything we needed. We never used them, but carried them around for several months until we finally threw them out.
Slow Down and Read the Email
In order to receive our mail while out of the U.S. we subscribe to a virtual mailbox service. When the service receives our mail they post a picture of the envelope in our account and we direct them to forward it, destroy it, or open and scan it.
One of the first items we received was an insurance contract. I opted to have them open and scan it. They sent an email letting me know it was very thick and would be costly to scan, but I did not read that email. Instead I verified that I wanted it scanned.
I was not happy to find out that this cost us $35 since scanning it put us well over our monthly scan limit.
Also Read the Train Ticket
The most costly mistake in our first year of travel
involved the Eurostar train from Paris to London. We were heading to London with our daughter Laura and her friend Ashley and I had arranged for all of us to get there via the Chunnel.
Our experience with train travel was limited to two short journeys within France. In both cases we showed up at the station about fifteen minutes before our train was scheduled to depart. There were no security checks and no one asked to see our tickets. These two experiences made us lackadaisical about the train trip to London.
Armed with our Chunnel tickets the four of us traveled from Strasbourg to Paris without any problem. We arrived at the Paris station with an hour and a half to spare before our train to London would leave so we went out for a delicious breakfast. We arrived back at the train station to find that we had missed the check in for our journey and we would have to book a later one. The cost was $230 US.
This was totally my fault as I had neglected to read the fine print on the tickets that clearly stated the check-in cutoff time. As one lady nicely pointed out the train was entering a different country so the requirements were similar to airline travel.
Actually the difference was that we were leaving the Schengen Area, which encompasses 28 countries who have joined the Schengen Agreement. This agreement allows for movement among these countries without border checks. The United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area.
Luckily the trains from Paris to London run every hour so it didn’t set us back too much timewise, but our wallet sure wasn’t happy. In addition to reading the ticket (Linda), in the future we will check in as soon as possible, then eat once we have done that.
Close Call in the Schengen Area
Occasionally things work out in spite of our ignorance and tendency to procrastinate. We only had three months to go before we set out for our travels when we first heard of the Schengen Agreement and the Schengen Area. We discovered that we would only be allowed to spend 90 days in this group of 28 countries and would then have to leave the Schengen Area for 90 days.
Cue the cold sweats. We had already booked three months’ worth of nonrefundable stays in Barcelona and Paris. I quickly broke out the calendar and started counting the days. Then I let out a huge sigh of relief. We had booked a total of 89 days!
The fact that we had procrastinated in deciding on the destination after Paris saved us. We had been thinking about Prague. If we had booked a monthlong stay there or anywhere else in the Schengen Area through Airbnb we would have lost that money.
All’s Well That Ends Well
As you can see from this map of the Schengen Area we were left with very few choices for the next three months since we wanted to stay close to Europe so we could re-enter the Schengen Area after 90 days. Our choice was between the United Kingdom and Ireland and some countries in Central and Eastern Europe. We chose Central and Eastern Europe because of the much lower cost. We ended up loving our time in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
Some of you would probably be very uncomfortable with having things so open-ended, but it fits in with our travel philosophy that you shouldn’t plan too much because some of the best experiences happen by chance.
Near miss with Booking.com
We were able to avoid a very costly mistake thanks to the goodwill of Booking.com. We had booked an Airbnb for a one month stay in Strasbourg, France. The host canceled the reservation only eleven days before we were due to arrive.
It was the height of the tourist season, and we were not having any luck finding a place to stay for a whole month. We were able to piece together three hotels through Booking.com that would provide housing for a month. Then we found a great Airbnb that was available for the month. We canceled two of the hotel reservations in time, but missed the third by one day. This would have been our most costly mistake at $934.
We requested that they waive the fee, saying we had overbooked. We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning to find that Booking.com had waived the penalty.
Warnings Are Warnings For a Reason
When you repeatedly hear that you are in the pickpocket capital of the world, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!
It happened to Steve while we were boarding a crowded Metro car in Barcelona. First one woman bumped into him on one side, then another woman bumped him on the other side. They both jumped off the car as the doors were closing. That’s when Steve realized that they had taken his passport holder from his front pocket. They got away with his passport, several bank cards, and 40 Euro (about $45 US).
This mistake was more costly in time and frustration than in money. It involved treks to three police stations and a trip to the U.S. Consulate.
Imagine our relief when we were told that Steve’s passport had been found, which saved us the $145 replacement fee. Our bank cards were replaced within a few days, and our credit card company denied the $900 shoe purchase the thieves attempted.
After this Steve carried a camera bag which he insisted on referring to as his purse.
The Rules Are Going to Get You
Our daughter Laura and her friend Ashley visited us in Strasbourg and then traveled with us to London. From there they spent another week in Dublin and Paris. During their trip to the Paris airport to fly home they learned that if you travel enough, something will trip you up.
They chose to take the Metro from their hostel to the airport. The Metro Police stopped them and told them they did not have the proper tickets for the zone they were in. The cost for this innocent mistake was $80 each.
A word of warning for Paris travelers: the Paris Metro Police are vigilant. Be sure you keep your ticket on you for the entire journey and understand the zones and related fares.
It’s All Worth It
Let’s face it, mistakes happen. That’s life. Why would travel life be any different? Given the fact that we spent eight months traveling to fifteen cities in 2018, I think we did a pretty good job. We made all our flights, only missed one train reservation, always had a place to stay in advance, and never went hungry. We also had luck on our side.
And what doesn’t kill you makes a darn good story.