Emily King, assistant to Traveler‘s editor in chief, recently returned from a week abroad with a confession to make:
I thought I was a smart traveler. As a staff member at a well-regarded travel magazine, I figured I’d absorbed the savvy sense I read and write about daily. But no. I was sent into the field—Germany, to be exact—and I floundered. Here are three mistakes I made, and the lessons I learned from them:
Mistake 1: Subscribing to a faulty international calling service—
The thought was there. Instead of paying my hotel $4.50 a minute for calls home, I would dial a toll-free number and get charged a reduced rate. I chose Accuglobe—for 17 cents a minute. I printed the instructions for outgoing calls from Germany and slipped them into my wallet. The instructions were incorrect, but after several tries I figured out the correct recipe (dial 1 before the area code, even though the instructions tell you not to). My first call went through—I let my parents know I’d arrived. On my second attempt (only hours later), I tried the same formula and received a busy signal. I tried again—for the remaining six days of my trip—and heard the same annoying ‘line-is-busy’ sound.
Lesson 1: Buy phone cards once you get there—Extremely frustrated by day three, I noticed an Internet café around the corner from the hotel advertising a variety of phone cards. I purchased a MOX card for five euros. The card promised 660 minutes of call time, but after connecting deductions and other indecipherable costs, I ended up getting six connected calls, totaling about 150 minutes of phone time. It was still well worth the cost of the card.
Mistake 2: Losing my roommate’s camera—I’d neglected to buy my own digital camera before leaving, so the day before my departure I asked my roommate if I could borrow hers. I took the fancy (read: expensive) thing with me and shot 150 photos in the first 24 hours. After taking shot 151—a close-up of Yves Klein‘s "Blue" in the Museum Ludwig—I set the camera in my purse, not low enough to hide it from view. Twenty minutes later, I reached for the thing and there was nothing there.
Lesson 2: Even in safe-seeming cities like Cologne, pockets get picked—Be aware of this and hide your personal items accordingly. Having to tell a friend that you’ve lost a borrowed item is painful. Even worse? Paying the bill to replace it.
Mistake 3: Ruining my $120, ceramic straightening iron—I knew I’d need an adapter for my hair appliance, but I didn’t own one. I figured the luxury hotels I’d be staying in would have them on hand, and they did. I even knew about surge protectors—that the voltage was different in Europe and some appliances couldn’t handle the increased jolt. But the adapter I borrowed from the front desk read 120 V just like my straightening iron. The numbers lined up, so I figured I wouldn’t need a surge protector after all. I stupidly gave it a test-drive. Within minutes, I began to smell a sweet-burning aroma. I’d successfully ruined the second-most expensive item I had packed.
Lesson 3: Surge protectors, not just adapters, are necessary for use on most American appliances. While some products in the UK are equipped for both voltages (the case of my previous hair straightener), most aren’t. To be safe, assume they aren’t. Either take a surge protector with you or chill out: no one really cares if your hair is frizzy in Deutschland.