Do you have any travel regrets? Any decisions you'd like to do-over?
It’s not very often I think of travel in terms of regret – in fact, it’s one of the things that I associate the least with regret! While there’s always things I try to learn from on each trip, even when things go badly I still think of the trip with fondness. But there are a few lingering, lasting regrets from past trips that, if I could change with the flip a switch, I would be a happier girl!
1.) Leaving Africa too quickly and not going on to Spain. My first week in Africa was a roller coaster of emotion – it was so intense and such an overwhelming learning curve. I do admit there were days in my first week when I would passionately dream of landing at Heathrow, checking into a Hilton, and ordering chocolate ice cream from room service!
The experience, while it had some rocky moments, continued to improve for me but there were many times when I really needed to focus on the trip home to get through the day. As a result, I didn't extend my trip (an option as my internship provided me a trip home at the date of my choosing). My confidence was shaken and I didn't feel like my usual, shy yet spunky independent travelling self. I think part of the reason was that I was staying with a few other interns and it was easy, on a bad day, to use them as a crutch and avoid confronting a sticky problem or a bad situation. I didn't solve as many problems on my own and never really got my independent African travelling “legs”.
Subsequently, I also turned down an opportunity to spend some time volunteering in Spain at the end of my African trip. I was accepted to a 2 week English conversation group which would see me leading a group of Spaniards looking to improve their language skills. Ultimately, with my confidence a bit shaky, I convinced myself to head back home to do practical things: find a job, finish academics, save a bit of money. The time in Spain would have eaten up all of my savings from my African internship and I wasn't feeling bold enough to put it all on the line. Now I kinda wish I had.
I feel like I traded in some incredible travel experiences for the security of $1000 in savings.
2.) Ignoring my instincts while spending time in Paris with friends. Sounds amazing, right? I love Paris, and I like to think of it as "my" city. After an absence of a few years, I returned with two very good friends to participate in the Paris marathon. It sounds amazing, doesn't it?
But several aspects of the trip leave me with regrets. I am normally an obsessive travel planner and this time I went without real lists and goals, determined to be a fun, spontaneous gal with the gang. But who are we kidding? That’s so not me!
It’s hard to go to the city you love with people you've never traveled with before and who are visiting for the first time. We were just on different levels for what we wanted to see. One girl spent considerable time at Notre Dame (which I had seen before many times) and the surrounding tourist-oriented souvenir shops. She didn't seemed interested in visiting my beloved Shakespeare and Co and my ideas were shot down.
It was hard to decide where to eat, as no one wanted to push too hard for a preference. I brought back a bag of treats from my favourite bakery, which was ignored. (Did I mention we were there to run a marathon? Who could resist the carbs?)
Mme "Notre Dame" brushed off my idea of buying a phone card, assuring me that it would be fine to call long distance using my credit card from the hotel. I had serious reservations about this and it was for good reason. I was charged hundreds and hundreds of dollars on my credit card for less than 30 minutes of total talking time. I had read about these kinds of situations, and against my much better judgement, I was talked out of a 10 minute trip to a corner store for a phone card. (Incidentally, she managed to successfully dispute her own credit card charges. I was turned down flat. Not sure what she said to Visa that I didn't....)
While I'm still close with one of my travel companion, the other friendship has drifted away for a number of reasons. The experience made me very wary about travelling with others, about undertaking big trips with people you've never traveled with before, and, overall, ignoring my instincts.
3.) Not buying something I loved. In Zambia, not far from the Malawi border, is a place called Tribal Textiles. They are an amazing artists’ cooperative and their gorgeous hand painted textiles are just incredible – so much so that I've listed them as one of my top travel splurges.
In front of Tribal Textiles were a few artists who had set up shop independently. One was selling homemade Christmas ornaments made with bits of wire, wood, metal, and bead. These humble materials made delightful ornaments and I stocked up. I still have my giraffe, star, zebra, and spiral ornaments today.
What I really lusted after, however, was a stylized "tree" that was used to display these ornaments. I looked like it was a wooden or metal form that was covered with a kind of papyrus or raffia, with spoke-y arms sticking out to be the branches of the tree. I just loved it. I had no idea how to get it back to Canada. It was large and awkward. And I was out of money. I paid for my Tribal Textile items with credit card, but it was cash only for the artists out front, of course. It took all my available cash just to buy the ornaments! I had been looking forward to Tribal Textile, and I knew they took credit cards, but no one had told me about the other artists and I was caught a bit unaware.
Even now I have no idea how I would have bought this tree or brought it home. The best I can imagine is that I should have been brave and bold and asked the Tribal Textiles' staff if they could somehow ring the purchase price on my credit card and then given the money to the artisans on my behalf. Probably not likely. And I still have no idea how I would get the tree home. But I loved it, so much that I took a picture.
The only lesson I can take from all of this is always have a small stash of emergency cash on you. Sometimes the emergency will be a taxi ride. Sometimes it will be a phone call. And sometimes it will be a faux, funky Christmas tree.
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