Our rookie travel departure mistakes… and how you can avoid them!
We began our first long-term family travelling adventure three weeks ago. And we made a lot of mistakes preparing for our departure!
Anthony and I have travelled before, but it has been about 20 years since we each went overseas. And we have travelled with our kids within Australia, but have never embarked on such a big trip that required packing up our house to rent it out. I have also been working hard on getting this blog established before we left, and put a lot of time into learning about blogging that could have been spent on travel organisation (like reading more guides like this which outline how to plan a first overseas trip with kids).
I guess that’s why so many things went wrong as we set off! But enough of the excuses, this all has happened now and we got through it. We have learned a great deal already and we’re making fewer mistakes now!
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I broke my toe 2 weeks before we left.
This was an absolute pain the butt! And even more painful for my little toe. I was running around with a cluttered mind and stuff everywhere in our house, and my toe caught on the leg of a desk chair. I have done that before, but not to this extent. My little toe went black and was sore until quite recently. There is nothing that can be done for a broken toe and I couldn’t exactly sit down and rest it all day in the lead up to leaving, so I had to hobble about while packing and organising our trip. I don’t recommend it!
AVOID THIS BY: trying not to get so caught up in busy-ness that you get careless about your extremities. (Or any body part!)
Some travel items we ordered online didn’t arrive before we left.
We ordered bamboo travel pillows, backpack locks, first aid gear, computer accessories, universal charging stations and all the paraphernalia that we thought we’d need for this trip. Some of it arrived in time! Most of it did actually, just a couple of things didn’t that luckily for us, were not critical items.
We were stressing about our new credit cards the most, as we arranged for cards that can be used internationally only 3 weeks before we were due to leave. They arrived just in the nick of time! We would have had very serious problems if they didn’t. I’m not sure why we left organising them so late, and I definitely warn you to make your banking requirements the top of your priority list several months before you leave. You guys probably would, it’s common sense really!
AVOID THIS BY: ordering everything you need online in plenty of time! Order at least one month before for very important items.
My primary email account was compromised, so I created a new one.
DON’T DO THIS A FEW WEEKS BEFORE YOU LEAVE IF YOU CAN HELP IT! It was very time-consuming and created a host of extra difficulties. I had wanted to create a new Gmail address for some time, and when it looked like I may have been hacked it was the extra push I needed to do it. But I had procrastinated for a reason: as my old one was over 6 years old and was linked to everything in my life, it was no small feat to switch to a new one. Every online account I had created had to be updated. Every password had to be remembered or retrieved (please don’t tell me if you remember all your passwords!)
I could have saved some heartache by keeping the old account open longer, so I could retrieve password information and then update account details. But I thought I had everything sorted and wanted to close it down before we left. Now, I am still finding accounts linked to my old address, and I have to email or call them and explain that the address is no longer with us, and could they please update my account with this email address? Yes I’ll spell it out…
This is usually a straightforward process, though time-consuming. But one time it was a horribly crooked path to nowhere, when I tried to access an airline’s member area to see our itinerary. One phone operator put me on to another customer service area, and they couldn’t help either, and then we did an online chat and found out I needed to call back the first area, who still definitely couldn’t help. Then I tried again another day and somehow did it myself online! But the happiness I felt from this superhuman achievement was still outweighed by all the lost time and stress I caused myself.
AVOID THIS BY: Keeping your old email account active for several
months years after you stop using it.
Or, perhaps, change your passwords regularly!
We underestimated how much time we needed to get everything done.
As you can probably tell from this article so far, we were not very organised before we left. We weren’t just bumming around watching tv instead of getting things done though, we were very busy! I guess we just left ourselves too much to do. Leaving for a 6-month trip means many farewell catch-ups, but we still didn’t get to see everyone. It means fixing up parts of your house that you’ve neglected so that someone else can live there. And it means packing up and removing all of your things and storing them, and moving into mum’s house before you leave. This all took more time than we expected.
We were very lucky to have wonderful family and friends help us pack up the house. I had made a start on the packing but it really wasn’t much. I was a bit confused about when would be the ideal time to do it, as we were still living in our house up until 3 nights before we flew out. And in hindsight, I was overly optimistic about how long it would actually take to do.
As well as needing lots of help to finish everything in time, this mistake caused some extra mishaps:
4.1 We hired cleaners to finalise our house for leasing, who couldn’t get the job done in time.
When we realised moving out was going to take up most of that last week, we found a cleaning service who was available at the last minute. They agreed to the job and were set to begin on Friday evening and work on it over the weekend. This was perfect for us as we planned to be staying at mum’s by then. We explained that it had to be cleaned by Monday so it could be photographed before handover to the tenants, who were due to move in on Tuesday.
But, on Thursday night, the cleaners called to say they couldn’t start the job until Sunday evening. Grrr! They wouldn’t be able to complete it in one night! They hoped to get access to it on the Monday too but we thought that wouldn’t be possible, and we had scheduled the power disconnection anyway. So you can guess what that meant: we had to clean it ourselves over those last few days. Oh, that was not fun. We were very fortunate to have our family help a great deal with it. And this led to another difficulty:
4.2 We didn’t have enough time to pack for the trip properly.
I had practiced packing my backpack many weeks before all this. I had also packed up the kids’ summer clothes into their cases and organised our first aid kit and the homeopathic remedies we’d need (see, I did do stuff). But, this was not enough. With all the mayhem packing up the house, some of the things I wanted to bring got boxed up. I had so much to keep track of and decide on that I couldn’t manage it all. I stress that this was my fault, not that fault of any helpers. I should have kept aside everything I was even thinking about taking with us.
Anthony hadn’t practiced packing his backpack at all, and wanted to get it done in those final few days before we left. I wanted to weigh and finalise the rest of the packing then too, but those days got taken up by cleaning instead. This all meant we were rushing to complete our baggage a few hours before we flew out which was extremely stressful. It also led to the last disaster of this series:
4.3 The baggage saga.
It’s a long one but I promise it’s funny! And useful!
Ok, background: we planned to go carry-on only for this trip. But Ant foresaw that we may have a bit more than the strict 7kg limit each on our first international flight, so we pre-purchased checked baggage on one ticket, just in case.
Rushing to complete our packing and make it to the airport in time, we weren’t able to keep repacking and weighing our stuff. We knew at least one backpack and one of the kids’ cases were over, so we took out what we could and used our day-pack to carry water bottles and snacks. We planned to load up one of the backpacks with the heavier stuff and check it in when we got to Melbourne, for the international flight. It was a good plan, but…
After our regional flight to Melbourne was a little late, we were extra frazzled when we arrived. We still had time to make it for the big flight but wanted to ensure we checked in and got some dinner with time to spare. We took what felt like 5 hours to make our way from the little plane’s tarmac to the international departure lounge, and we were a bit disoriented. Finally finding the right entry point, we sailed on in and lined up at customs. Notice anything wrong yet?
Well if you’re not accustomed to overseas jet-setting (like us) I’ll tell you what the problem was: we totally bypassed the check-in area. And unbeknownst to us, once you have cleared customs, you must leave the country! You can’t get back in!
So now we have too much on-board baggage for our very strict international airline. I had done a web check-in before we left so we had our tickets, which is why they let us through customs. We thought we could drop off our backpack after that; I think they way we entered sort of obscured the check-in desks and we didn’t notice them. Or something.
Imagine how stressed we’re feeling now! Tired, rushed and now looking at paying a lot of extra money to get on the plane. What can we do? I thought the best thing would be to be honest with the flight crew and explain what happened as soon as they arrived at the boarding gate. I also bought a box of chocolates to give them in appreciation, if they were helpful.
We anxiously waited at our departure lounge for someone to arrive. There was an attendant there when we arrived but luckily she was finishing up from the previous flight, as she was very unhappy and not sympathetic at all. Finally a man arrived from our airline. I approached with our tickets and explained our situation. At first he said something like “you completely missed the check-in area?” with some scepticism, but as I kept explaining he realised I was telling the truth. And he was awesome!
He called the check-in desk and asked them to send up a baggage ticket for us. As we’d already paid for checked baggage and the desk was still open it wasn’t too much hassle. He told me just to bring my backpack to him when I was ready and he’d handle it all for me. And he refused the chocolates initially, but I insisted after he was so helpful.
And to complete this saga, that began way back in our home-town when we underestimated how long it would take to actually get to this point, was a realisation. We relaxed, relieved our stuff-up could be fixed and we could board the plane. We even smiled as we knew all the dramas were over and we were flying out of the country shortly, after all of this work! And then we realised that the airline staff don’t actually weigh baggage as you board the plane: it’s done at the check-in desk. So we (probably) could have just boarded with it all and they wouldn’t have even known!
It worked out anyway, and I’m glad we were honest about it and not worrying for the rest of the time we waited to board though. I’m sure they could weigh bags there if they suspected anything. And I would definitely NOT recommend this course of action to try to board a plane with luggage that exceeds the weight restriction. It was extremely stressful and could have cost us a lot of money, or even our tickets if it went very wrong.
So how can you avoid a scenario like this? Try to:
a) if you’re moving out of home, aim to be out at least a week before leaving.
B) practice packing several times, and keep all items you may wish to take aside if you’re packing up your house.
And if you do make a mistake somewhere along the way, being honest and appreciative of anyone who listens and helps goes a very long way.
I booked an apartment for our first arrival that was impossible to find when you are jet-lagged and have two children and 7 bags.
We flew all night, directly from Melbourne so save the hassle of stop-overs with kids. We cleared immigration in the early morning, all tired and hungry. We exchanged some money and found the train to the city, arrived in the CBD and got some breakfast. We realised we needed internet access to figure out how to get to our room, so we connected at Starbucks and looked it up.
I was rushing to book those first 2 nights, as we changed our minds about where to go when that last week at home got so crazy. I thought I booked somewhere close to the train station, but it ended up being a 25 minute cab ride away. And it was in a new complex that was so new, no-one could find it! Everyone we asked gave a different answer. I ended up taking a seat as Allegra fell asleep on me, and Dante and I waited with the bags while Ant kept searching for the place.
He didn’t actually find it that morning, and we were all so cranky and exhausted that we decided just to get a room for one night at a nearby hotel. They had some available for immediate check-in, and we needed immediate rest. Once we had slept we went searching again and found it, and enjoyed it the following night.
Avoid this by: very carefully considering where your first night’s accommodation will be, and how to get there, before you leave home.
We thought the tenants that had secured our house had signed a contract and would be moving in.
We were wrong. A few days into our trip, we found out that our perfect tenants, who wanted to rent our house for the exact 6 months we plan to be away, didn’t move in. So we didn’t need to clean the whole house ourselves! Didn’t need to rush about madly and set that whole lot of events in motion!
They had a legitimate reason and it has made life difficult for them too. They were moving to Mildura for a job, but the job fell through at the last minute. We just assumed they had signed a contract and everything was finalised. It never occurred to us this could happen, and it probably didn’t to them either.
So now we are three weeks into our trip and our house is still vacant. It’s a pain but it’s all in good hands, and the right people will show up sometime soon. When they do, at least it’s all ready for them to move in!
Avoid this by: having plenty of time to finalise your house arrangements before you leave.
Our best tip to help you leave for long-term travel without making huge mistakes
So that’s the long story of our major mishaps as we embarked on our first big adventure. We’ve also forgotten things and had to learn fast how to get internet and phone access when we arrived. Also my laptop stopped working a few days in to the trip, but awesome Anthony fixed it as soon as he could find the right tools. And I’m sure we’ll make many more mistakes along the way!
I think the best way to avoid some of the things we got wrong is to allow for double the amount of time you think it will take to prepare for your trip. I’m serious! It would be so much better to have time up your sleeve and enjoy some relaxing farewells than to rush about madly like we did. And it’s not that easy to correctly estimate the time it will take to complete such a huge project, especially if you haven’t done it before.
Some people say “fail to prepare and you prepare to fail”. Well, I don’t like the word fail. We certainly didn’t prepare optimally, but we got here in one piece! We didn’t forget our passports or a child! We made a huge life event happen despite our stuff-ups, and we honestly haven’t looked back. We are lucky to be travelling, exploring new horizons together and having amazing adventures. And we are learning every step of the way.
Hopefully, this helps you not to make some of the mistakes we did if you’re setting off on your own big adventure!
One thing we did do well was to prepare our kids for the travel experience. I spent time role-playing situations with them, and we sought great resources about some of the destinations and travel in general. At least we got something right!
If you’re preparing to travel for work reasons, this amazing list of 147 Business Travel Tips will ensure you don’t make any mistakes too!
And if you’re flying economy like we do, this great post has 10 Tips to Survive Long Haul Flights (and maximise your comfort and enjoyment!)
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