Each week I usually write a story from one of my travels or dispense handy travel advice learned from my wanderings. This week I thought I would tell you about the beginning. About how a much younger and naive version of me decided that, despite having never left Australia and knowing next to nothing about travel, hiking in the Himalayas was a great place to start for your first trip overseas. Sure I had done some travel in Australia previously but when you speak the language and know the currency it’s not the same.
It all started back in Nepal in 2004. Before it was popular to go there and before all the devastating avalanches and earthquakes that killed locals and tourists alike. I’m sure much has changed in the 12 years since I was there especially given how popular visiting the country has become but with the recent disasters maybe not…. Here is a bit about that adventure and some of the things I did wrong –
I booked flights with too short a layover
There is nothing wrong with booking your own flights – I do it all the time but I learnt to give myself some time between flights after this trip. From Australia I connected through Bangkok to Nepal and when we landed in Thailand there was only an hour before my next flight. The plane I was on parked in the back paddocks of the airport and we sat on the tarmac waiting for our transfer buses to arrive. Clock watching and getting nervous I shifted from foot to foot, kept wiping my sweaty palms and tried not to get frustrated at the lack of movement.
Finally the buses arrived and we were given the scenic tour of the outside of the terminal before being let off and released into the air-conditioned comfort. I scanned the screens for my connecting flight then took off running full speed to cover the 77 gate distance that was between me and my connecting flight leaving right now. Luckily I made my flight but lesson learned about allowing more than an hours connection time.
I picked up strays
As soon as I landed in Kathmandu and had dumped my bag at the hotel I went exploring. This is something I do in every new location but this first time I picked up a stray. Deepesh had enough English to call himself my “little brother” and followed me from the hotel and everywhere I went. Eventually he got brave enough to walk beside me instead of behind and before I knew it I was following him down back alleys and through laneways until I was so disorientated that I had no choice but to follow him or stay lost in Kathmandu forever. He became my tour guide for the afternoon and showed me all the best temples and sights of the city out of the kindness of his heart and to practice his English. Or so I thought until he hit me up for money at the end of the day.
The next day I was feeling much wiser so tried to go exploring again. Before I knew it some guy on a motorbike had convinced me that he would show me the city and some of the less touristy places. He didn’t disappoint and I had a great time both exploring the city and seeing some of the countryside when we went riding up into the hills that afternoon. I remember trying rice beer for the first time and eating a whole egg cooked in the fire during one of our stops and him showing me the single room studio apartment he lived in with his entire family – that sobered me up pretty quick. Sure enough as the day was winding to a close the last stop was at his ‘cousins’ shop where he asked me to buy him a pair of shoes and some household items for his family. How can you say no to that?
Thinking about it now I cringe at how naive I was to go with either of these guys or believe their stories. Drinking rice beer then getting on a motorbike in the Kathmandu traffic was even worse and while it was stupid to follow these guys I definitely saw parts of Kathmandu that I never would have seen on my own. I now know not to pick up strays or allow them to continue following me no matter how persistent they become. I now know that just because I feel good about buying a poor guy a pair of shoes doesn’t mean he is poor, or even has those shoes after he returns to his cousins shop to get the money so the cousin can resell the shoes.
I made eye contact
It doesn’t seem like much of a mistake but when you have shop owners and hawkers chasing you down the street you soon realise making eye contact can create problems. In some cultures not making eye contact is a sign of respect however as I learnt in Nepal it became a skill of survival. As soon as you looked at them or their items for sale they took that as a purchase and chased you for their money. I’ve since learned this is the same in market places the world over so wearing sunglasses became a necessity when shopping.
I paid too much
Having never been outside of Australia before I had never come across bartering. I knew it existed after reading it in a guide book on the plane before landing but reading about something and putting it into practice are two very different things. When I was told the cost of something I paid it only realising I had been duped as I walked away. When I saw a painting I wanted I wasn’t confident enough to dispute the price and in front of my entire tour group paid almost double the amount.
I still have and love that painting and never think about the cost when I look at it however I have since learnt to never show when you actually want something and always halve whatever price they tell you for a more representative value of whatever it is you’re buying.
I packed too much
There is nothing like carrying your own backpack up a Himalayan mountain to make you realise you packed too much. Even with leaving several items stored in the hotel back at Pokara I was carrying unnecessary weight with me while hiking the Annapurna circuit and it was a valuable lesson in what to pack. I now go by the “if you can’t carry it, don’t pack it” motto.
I stayed too long
This might be a personal preference more than a mistake but once the tour was over I still had another 4 days in Kathmandu before flying out. This was the longest and hardest 4 days of the trip because I didn’t want to be there. The people from my tour had all left, I’d seen most things I wanted in my first few days before going hiking and mostly because my head just wasn’t in it. It felt like wasted time and I have since come to realise that flying in early to do and see everything with that “newness’ and awe is much better than hanging around after a group tour and trying to do it at the end.
Obviously I lived to tell the tale of all these ‘mistakes’ and I’m glad I made them. They helped shape me as the traveler I am today and if there is one thing that 12 years of international travel has taught me – you will always make mistakes. Sure I know what to look for and ways to protect myself now, but every now and then you will misread a situation or forget yourself and make a mistake. And often it’s those mistakes that make for the best stories from your travels. It’s all part of the adventure!
What travel mistakes have you made? Let me know in the comments below.