Everyone who knows me can confirm that I am a very messy person. I was given the Messy Jessy nickname because this is just the way I was, still am and will always be. I can proudly say however, that over the years I have succesfully managed to control big parts of this personality challenge. I can now officially proclaim that I am better at being less messy which in other words means that I still am, I am just less, much less…I hope!
Now you can imagine how this unfortunate trait can/has/will affect my travels and how with much restraint and commitment, I have become a better traveller. After all, aren’t most life inspirational mottos all about becoming a better version of yourself?
This ultimate project of becoming a better wanderer however was not an easy one: I’ve had to make a lot of missteps along this pathway. Some were small, others were very painful. Here is a sample of those mistakes I have committed while travelling, mistakes I learned not to repeat. I only can hope you can learn from them as well.
1- Applying for visas a little too late: I hold two passports: Lebanese and Chilean. While the Lebanese gave me visa-free or visa on arrival access to 39 countries and territories, ranking the Lebanese passport 96th in the world according to the Visa Restrictions Index, the Chilean one on the other hand came as a blessing: Chilean citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 155 countries and territories, ranking the Chilean passport 19th in the world (and first in Latin America) according to the Visa Restrictions Index. However, I only got my Chilean Passport in late 2007. Then, I had only travelled to Turkey in 2004. Thank God Turkey was visa-free for Lebanese Passports and still is. My second trip was initially scheduled in July 2007 to Mexico, with Cancun as a bucket list destination. I booked the tickets just three weeks before departure date- (the smell of mistake number one: late bookings aka more expensive ticket) and I submitted my passport for a visa just 10 days before departure date.
Big mistake: My visa didn’t come through on time and on top of it it was rejected. I had to pay for cancelling the ticket (almost 150 $) and wait for the refunded ticket money before making any other travel plan. I ended up going to Thailand: the visa process went smoothly this time. The Lesson was well learned.
The good news: I no longer need visas to go to neither Thailand or Mexico with my Chilean passport. Thank you Mom!
Advice: a–Check before your travel if you need a visa or not. I personally refer to the wikipedia site for informations about visas. I find the website very useful. All you need to do is google “*your country of nationality* passport visa free countries”, then choose the wikipedia page and last go to the visa requirements segment. Piece of cake!
b–Apply for your visas at least 6 weeks before travelling or making any final bookings.
2– Taking the ESTA regulations very lightly: As of May 1st 2014, Chile became a part of the Visa Waiver Program which enables citizens of Chile to travel to the United States without a visa. I was so excited when I learned that: I was finally ready to plan my trip to the US. That same year I met Erwin, and we decided to elope to Florida and wed by the beach on June 12th 2015. We both applied for the ESTA a week before travelling. We did all the ceremony, dinner, hotels, car rental, flights and cruise bookings. Our flight from Amsterdam to Miami was scheduled on the 8th of June. While checking in our luggage at the Schiphol Airport, the KLM desk hostess swiped my passport and asked me if I did the ESTA***How dare she???*** I took my phone and went through my ESTA account to show it to the hostess and prove to her that I am not an idiot. To my shock it said DENIED.
Big mistake: Those 6 letters were enough to ruin our perfectly planned wedding. I still remember holding my wedding dress in total shock: I didn’t even know that ESTA can be rejected. I honestly thought it was just a simple formality made to inform the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of my arrival. I knew ESTA was not a visa and I knew as well that it does not guarantee entry into the United States, but what I didn’t know at all is that it can be denied pre-flight and that it would be denied to me.***Why me??*** I was misinformed and my mistake was that I didn’t dig deeper. I counted only on the informations I thought were right. They weren’t! Because of it we didn’t get married on the 12th of June.
The good news: Thanks to the most horrible misstep of my travel history, I got to know my husband a lot better: most people show their true colours in time of crises. His were colours which suits mine perfectly. My decision to get married with Erwin was since unquestionable.
Advice: a-Please do read the ESTA instruction before travelling to the US. You will find them down below. (1)
b-Don’t be fooled by the timeline for applying for ESTA. It does mention at least 72 hours before travelling, I recommend applying before booking anything period.
3– Packing too much: I am still guilty of that… sometimes: I pack 10 and wear only 5. I can assure you I have improved a lot in the art of packing: It is nowadays more categorized and organized and I have got my OCD hubby to thank for more structure. My Achilles heel though was and will always be the shoes: I can’t seem to shoes enough.
Big mistakes: I went to Mexico with two checked in luggage for a 14 days trip. One of the checked in luggage was for shoes only. I wore tops 2! *** Women***
I faced the same problem when I did my european trip in 2013. I had to buy an extra luggage from the UK because of a lot of shopping. I had to pay extra luggage with EasyJet quite a few times and I had to leave behind some items on my way back home.
The good news: My proudest accomplishment was a trip to Krakow on our four days honeymoon. I was able to go with only hand luggage **Surprise surprise!***
Advice : Travel more, pack less.
4–Spending too much onboard of a cruise: To buy the journey ticket is not the expensive part of a cruise. The most expensive part is actually what you pay on board. You know the saying “the house always wins”, well it applies to cruise ships as well!
Mistakes: From soft to alcoholic drinks, to those darn cheesy “professional” pictures that for some reasons you are so compelled to buy, to the internet packages, the restaurants, the excursions, the casinos…. Everything on board of a cruise screams “buy me”. They even make it seem like it a great deal, but no matter how great the bargain is be aware that you are still being ripped off. And yes, we were guilty of making most of those.
The good news: We were guilty of a lot of the vices mentioned above except for the casino one. We didn’t let that house win!
Advice: Big NO to casinos, skip the sodas, say no to photos, plan your own excursions… Now that got me inspired to write an article about cruises. Expect that very soon, I promise to be more detailed there.
5–Not signing up to rewards programs: Most frequent flyer experts recommend trying to stick with one alliance (OneWorld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam) and flying with the partner airlines of that chosen alliance.
Mistakes: Unfortunately, I have taken this recommendation very slightly and because of it I have missed not only so many miles, but I have missed the advantages of being a Frequent Flyer such as priority check in, priority boarding, using the lounge. I just missed on being spoiled!
The good news: I have caught up on it now: I am an Elite member of Skyteam. My obvious selection for Skyteam was our national airlines MEA. I didn’t have to change to another Alliance when I moved to the Netherlands with KLM/Air France being Skyteam members as well. I highly recommend this Alliance for Europe, America and Far East travels.
Advice: Please do sign up for any Alliance!
****To be continued****
(1) ESTA (U.S. Travel Authorization) is not a visa. It is a pre-authorization to board a U.S.-bound ship or airplane.
*The purpose of ESTA is to let the U.S. government pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travelers before they leave their respective countries.
*Citizens of one the Visa Waiver Countries entering the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program should apply.
*It is recommended to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours prior to departure.
*If your ESTA Application is denied, you will be required to apply for a B-1 Visitor Visa or B-2 Tourist Visa.
*An approved ESTA Travel Authorization does not guarantee entry into the United States.
*A machine readable passport / ePassport is required.