8 Things I Wish I Had Done Before Traveling

Now that we’ve been on the road for about 8 months, I’ve had ample time to reflect on a few things I wish we had done differently BEFORE setting off. Some of these can still be done now but many of them are very difficult to try to do while traveling, forcing us to bite the bullet and pay extra or miss out.

Learned To Drive A Manual


Growing up in America, you forget that most of the world still drives a manual car. Now that Vicky and I are heading to Europe and are looking into car rentals, we are remembering how much more expensive it is to rent an automatic car. If you have access to a manual car, spend a few days learning how to drive it – it will potentially save you hundreds of dollars.

Learned More Card Games/Tricks

Playing Cards

Cards are a very popular way to pass the time abroad. Vicky and I have played cards for countless hours but we generally rotate between the same 3-4 games, depending on how many people there are. Knowing a few of these as well as some fun card tricks is a great way to break the ice with new acquaintances. It can even used to cross communication boundaries – we’ve played cards with locals we met on trains despite not being able to speak the same language.

Learned To Drive A Motorbike

dave on motorbike

Similarly to learning to drive a manual is learning to drive a motorbike. It’s extremely common to rent a motorbike abroad, you can usually do it for about $5. It’s also not THAT hard to learn, though it does take a bit of getting used to. Still, I think Vicky and I passed on a few opportunities because we weren’t 100% comfortable renting a motorbike. Moreover, some trips have more difficult roads and require more powerful motorbikes, which we still aren’t comfortable on. Given how much tours can cost, simply for transportation and a know-nothing guide, you can save yourself time and money by learning to drive a motorbike.

Practiced My Second Language (French)


French would not have come in handy for communicating with any locals in Asia but it would have been quite handy to communicate with a few more backpackers. The number of French people we’ve interacted with is countless, and while in general they speak English fairly well, I still find that more than other nationalities they tend to keep to themselves. I feel that knowing French is a great way to break into the inner circle. I’ve been brushing up the last few months but I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, especially with our upcoming trip to France looming overhead.

Bought A Nice MP3 Player and Downloaded Some Audio Books

Mp3 player

Vicky and I spend countless hours on buses and trains. We try to make the most of these occasions by either catching up on some sleep or even some writing (like I am doing now on a bus to Siem Reap). Still, both of us have trouble reading on buses on account of motion sickness. I would love to have a nice MP3 player that holds a lot of memory so we could upload a bunch of audio books or even French lessons per the previous point. There are plenty of sites which convert Youtube videos to MP3s such as this one, and many other sites to find audio books, especially of the classic novels whose copyright has expired.

Invested My Money In The Stock Market

crispy dollar bills

For quite awhile I had nearly 100% of my savings in a bank account. Firstly, I didn’t know much about investing and didn’t devote the time to learning about it, especially while we were busy planning. Secondly, I had this idea that we were basically going to spend all our savings on our trip so it wasn’t worth it anyways. Lastly, I just didn’t want to lose it before we even got a chance to set off. Now I realize that there are many investment options available where I can put my money and it’s essentially just as liquid as it was in my savings account, for example, no load mutual funds. Even though I was planning on spending a lot more of our savings than we currently are, that was still forecasted to be over a two-year period, which meant there was plenty of time to store it away. Now we are taking a much more active role in our finances and while I still keep a small emergency fund in our bank account enough for two months of travel, I’ve put the remainder in Fidelity and am seeing great returns, and, because this is a long term strategy it isn’t taking much time at all to manage – mostly just an afternoon of research.

Read More History On The Places We Were Going

First They Killed My father

Traveling is a great learning experience BUT I find that it does a relatively poor job teaching you about the nation’s history. In that case, you’re much better off getting a book or reading online. Wikipedia does a fantastic job providing you the facts about specific events, so does Lonely Planet. Still, I feel like Vicky, in having read specific books and personal accounts of North Korean defectors or the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields, for example, has a much better understanding of what transpired. A new site by Gillian from One-Giant-Step called TheGlobalBookShelf is helping to address this.

If you’re interested some of the travel themed books Vicky read before our trip were:

North Korea: Nothing to Envy

Vietnam: The Girl in the Picture 

Cambodia: First They Killed My Father

Burma: The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma and Burmese Days

China: China Road  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress 

France: Lunch in Paris, and  A Year in Provence 

Antarctica: Endurance 

India: The White Tiger

Travel through multiple countries: The Great Railway Bazaar 

Started More Websites/Read More On Online Monetization Strategies

Page Views - act apr

Had Vicky and I known more about the monetization mechanisms for travel blogs we would have started several more before we left, built them up, and paid a few writers to keep them going. This would have drastically increased our income. Moreover, the newest website we are working on, has taken months of programming and the idea isn’t nearly as fresh as it was in August 2012 when we were first thinking about it. Managing websites is a lot easier and less time intensive than starting them up, in my opinion, so it’s better to get them off the ground before you leave.

What do you wish you had done before setting off?

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51 Responses to 8 Things I Wish I Had Done Before Traveling

  1. Great post! I definitely agree that it’s easier to start a site before a trip. I’d only had my blog for 6 weeks before we started travelling and it was too much work to manage on the road at that stage. I think driving a manual car is super important… hope I could remember how if the occasion arose.

    Bethaney - Flashpacker Family May 14, 2013 at 7:21 AM Reply
    • Yeah, we started a few months before our trip thinking it would be enough, but I wish we had started a full year before. It’s really never too early!

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 7:25 AM Reply
  2. I, too, wish I had learned more about investing and online monetization before leaving. There were times when I had a healthy amount of money just sitting there in a low-interest account. Would’ve been nice to have it grow more rapidly.

    And the monetization thing is huge. My blog was older than 1-1/2 yrs when I finally started really getting serious. As you’ve said, I wish I had started some other things in the prep stages so they would’ve already been growing.

    Talon May 14, 2013 at 7:30 AM Reply
    • Better late than never though right! You’re still in the top 99% of all bloggers

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 7:33 AM Reply
  3. I learned to drive a manual last year. I highly recommend it, not just for cost purposes, it is also much more fun! 🙂

    Lauren Bassart May 14, 2013 at 7:35 AM Reply
  4. The scooter/motorcycle tip is awesome. We often will look up where the local day tours go to, hire a motorbike, and go on our own instead! If we want a guide at a particular site we can usually find one there. This way we are on our own time and can pick our own route. Win!

    What card games do you know that you can play through the language barrier? I’ve don’t a few super simple card tricks with small kids…too much fun!!

    And…shameless plug…my new site https://TheGlobalBookshelf.com is all about connecting you to books and stories before your trip. History, culture, novels, and travelogues all have a place in learning about a place and being inspired to go there.

    You can drive a manual car Dave…it’s not that hard. Just hire a car in a quiet area and learn!

    Gillian @GlobalBookshelf May 14, 2013 at 7:39 AM Reply
    • Nice, we’ll link to the website in the post!

      Vicky and I play a russian card game that is difficult but more visual in how you would learn it. Sometimes we play Yanniv too, but that one requires explanation. Asshole is very common among all travelers.

      Maybe when we head home in August I’ll see if I can get my hands on a manual!

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 7:43 AM Reply
  5. These are all fantastic tips and I agree completely. When I went on my first 5 month trip I didn’t do most any of these items and very much regretted it. I learned the motorbike in Thailand but was still very hesitant on a few of the places although I’m alright now. Still never learned manual and we’re heading off on our next RTW trip in a few weeks. Eek!

    Good idea on the books, I wish I would have thought about it earlier when I had the time to actually read. May only have the time to sneak in a few now before we go.

    Perhaps on another angle, is there anything you wish you had done at home that you cant do now that you’re on the road?

    Jeremy May 14, 2013 at 8:00 AM Reply
    • jeremy, I wish I had gotten in better shape and gained more weight in anticipation of the weight loss! Also many of these things, which can be done on the road, would have been SO much easier at home, so I wish I did them then instead of struggling to do now.

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 3:47 PM Reply
  6. This is a great list! We have a manual right now, but I can’t even drive it. I need to learn!

    Michelle May 14, 2013 at 8:20 AM Reply
  7. Totally agree with your list. One I would add is how to wash clothes by hand like a pro. I am always not sure if I am doing it right. lol There have been a few times when I have had to wash clothes by hand and get totally confused by the jeans or long sleeve shirts.

    Great post!

    Paz May 14, 2013 at 9:52 AM Reply
    • It’s ridiculous how much it costs to wash clothes abroad, $2 a kilo!

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 3:45 PM Reply
  8. Great points! But, hey, regret is a waste of time and you can just pick this stuff up on the road. Sometimes I think it’s more fun to go in unprepared and with no expectations.

    Andrea May 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM Reply
    • It’s true that regret is a waste but it’s important to make moves while you still can and correct for past mistakes!

      Dave and Vicky May 14, 2013 at 3:45 PM Reply
  9. Interesting post. tweeting it
    I have been looking into and starting to study to get my motorcycle license, and the reason for that is that I want to rent a scooter in places we travel. dont think will be getting my own bike anytime soon 🙂
    i am definitely pushing fwd with that to cross it off the list

    Dmitry May 14, 2013 at 10:36 AM Reply
  10. This is life…you can never know for 100% what you will need in your future.
    For you there’s a saying in Russian: “Знал бы прикуп, жил бы в Сочи”. 🙂
    Free translation to English:”If I always knew the cards, I would live in Las Vegas”.

    Gadi and Tun May 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM Reply
  11. The stick shift driving was funny to see… I learned to drive in a 4-wheel drive pick up truck, stick shift. I think it’s a great skill to have. My husband learned to drive in a stick shift as well and we made sure our son learned too.

    Patti May 14, 2013 at 9:00 PM Reply
  12. I am really glad that Tony & I both have substantial motorcycling experience (him more than me, for sure!) as I think that has really had a dramatic effect on our time in Asia. You guys know we wound up riding a motorcycle through Vietnam, which definitely set us off on a completely different path than the one we would have taken if we had had to stick to tourist buses. It’s incredible how cheap motorcycle rentals are in this part of the world, but anything other than sleepy Thai islands tends to have crazy traffic so I can never figure out why people with no riding experience show up in Asia and suddenly think they can/should ride a motorcycle. So much safer/better to take some proper lessons back home before leaving so that you can ride with a little more confidence (though I’d still avoid riding in Vietnam if you don’t have years of prior experience!).

    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 15, 2013 at 12:10 AM Reply
    • Where did you learn to ride a motorcycle?

      Dave and Vicky May 15, 2013 at 1:27 AM Reply
      • Tony & I both had scooters when we lived in Nashville… prior to us getting our first one, we both signed up for a weekend “learn to ride” course (Tony already knew how, but went along to humor me), which had the added benefit of giving both of us our motorcycle endorsement at the end of the course so we didn’t have to go do a riding test at the DMV. While riding a motorcycle isn’t really that difficult (the only prerequisite for the LtR course was that you could ride a bicycle), but it is dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m glad that I took the time to learn the fundamentals and then had another year or so whipping around the streets of Nashville to build my confidence before we hit Asia!

        Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 21, 2013 at 7:10 AM Reply
  13. This is going to sound a bit fashion obsessed, but I wish I thought a little harder about the clothes I brought. I basically thought I was going to the gym everyday before this trip and I packed a bunch of yoga pants/shorts and dry fit shirts. I wish I had clothes I feel more like me in, rather than going for the “I’m going hiking everyday” look.

    Casi @HeyNoobz May 15, 2013 at 6:26 AM Reply
    • Nothing wrong with that, I know vicky has some fashion regrets as well

      Dave and Vicky May 15, 2013 at 6:30 AM Reply
  14. People really tend to think “I wish I had done this or that before”… But what matters is we enjoyed our travels and we have learned a lot from it… Good luck to your future adventures!

    Jemma May 16, 2013 at 8:13 AM Reply
    • I have to admit, I still like to make sure I’m always thinking about opportunities. Better late than never for me!

      Dave and Vicky May 16, 2013 at 9:59 AM Reply
  15. Hey, great tips! I felt pretty good as I read them, thinking ‘gee, I’ve already got that under control’ but there’s still more that I think I could work on.

    It’s not exactly ‘what I wish I would have done’ but my advice to people is ‘don’t try out something new on a huge trip.’ For example, if you’ve never used hiking boots before but think they *might* be a good idea, probably a 6-month trip is NOT the time to try them, out.

    Heather May 16, 2013 at 10:20 AM Reply
    • But how do you try out bungee jumping 🙂 ?

      Dave and Vicky May 16, 2013 at 10:22 AM Reply
      • Heh heh, good one! I think for things like *that* you can make exceptions. 🙂

        Heather May 16, 2013 at 3:49 PM Reply
  16. Great list! Although I know how to drive a manual, I still don’t know how to drive a motorbike, despite numerous months in SE Asia. My husband finally learned in the last few months, as we are temporarily living in Bali. I tried it once, and could make it down the road and back, but traffic is another story. I wished I had learned back in the US. Here I have to learn how to drive the bike and how to drive on the wrong side of the road, all in one shot. For now, I leave the driving up to the husband!

    Amber May 16, 2013 at 11:24 PM Reply
    • That’s how Vicky and I do it right now too!

      Dave and Vicky May 16, 2013 at 11:26 PM Reply
      • Yeah, it kind of kills me. When we met in college he did not know how to drive stick, and I taught him. Now, I can’t even drive myself to yoga. But, all things come in time…

        Amber May 16, 2013 at 11:33 PM Reply
  17. I think that learning to ride a motorbike is easy. Some people told me that if you can ride a bicycle then you can definitely ride a motorbike. Motorbikes are handy in short travels learning to drive one can definitely make your life easier. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    James Shaw May 18, 2013 at 4:01 AM Reply
    • In my experience it is very doable but maybe a bit harder than I expected to control

      Dave and Vicky May 18, 2013 at 6:22 AM Reply
  18. All great tips. We got rid of a lot of stuff before we left and put the rest in storage. When we came back we wondered why we had paid to store what was essentially crap and ended up giving it all way.

    Michael @ Changes in Longitude May 25, 2013 at 9:28 AM Reply
    • We took a different route and gave all that crap to our parents

      Dave and Vicky May 25, 2013 at 3:42 PM Reply
  19. Great post. Especially the last part about Monetizing your Travel Blogs. Congrats for being one of the top travel blog earners. Well-deserved.

    Andy Santos July 5, 2013 at 3:07 PM Reply
  20. Before setting off, I wish I had learned how to drive. I remember when my husband and I decided to go on a one-week roadtrip, he was the only one driving the car. I had seen how tired he was although the whole family was enjoying our trip. If only I knew how to drive, I might be of great help to give him few hours to relax during the trip. 🙂

    Ria Dancel July 7, 2013 at 9:54 AM Reply
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  22. Great list! So good that I linked to it in my newest blog post! Yay!
    I’ll definitely have to update my list after I start traveling, like you guys did.


    Rebecca Chant September 28, 2013 at 11:20 PM Reply
    • Yeah hindsight is a killer, you’ll see a few months in – enjoy your upcoming trip!

      Dave and Vicky September 29, 2013 at 7:17 AM Reply
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  24. Really great post and oh so true on so many of them. The manual one is on my list too…. there have been so many times we’ve missed out because neither of us are comfortable driving a manual. Cheers!

    Lina @ Divergent Travelers September 16, 2014 at 5:49 PM Reply
    • Definitely were reallly wishing we knew how to drive a manual when we rented a car in Iceland in July – those prices are absurd to begin with and with an automatic car it was even worse : ///

      Vicky October 1, 2014 at 12:55 AM Reply

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