Travel tips: Nine travel experiences you'll only do once

"I'm not getting back on the camel."

There's a scene in the first season of Ricky Gervais's travel show, An Idiot Abroad, when his seemingly idiotic protagonist Karl Pilkington is in Jordan, and he's expected to get around by camel. There comes a point in the episode when Karl realises what most of us will eventually come to realise as well: that camel-riding sucks.

It's just not fun. It's far more exciting in theory. It's one of those many travel activities that you've always wanted to do, and that sound great in the planning stages, but just turns out to be the opposite. You could file it under "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

Here are some travel experiences that fall under the same banner.


There's a certain romance attached to the idea of climbing a mountain, of conquering nature while appreciating its beauty. But then the reality kicks in. It's hard work. It's often cold, and you can't be bothered taking in the beauty of the scenery because you're too busy just trying to survive. Because let's face it, you're no mountaineer. You're a traveller who just wants a nice view without having to slog it out on a muddy trail for eight hours. Don't climb mountains.

Overnight bus travel

The great thing about this, you tell yourself, is that not only are you making it from one place to another, but you're also saving on a night's accommodation. It's win-win. Only, it's not, because overnight bus travel is a nightmare on wheels. It's uncomfortable. You barely get any sleep, to the point where the first thing you have to do when you get to your next accommodation is have an afternoon sleep and waste the day anyway. Trouble is you invariably arrive in your destination early in the morning, meaning you've got about eight hours to kill wandering around in a sleep-deprived stupor before you're even allowed to check in. Fun. 

Helping local students practice their English

As a novice traveller it seems like a reasonable request – here's a local who's spotted that fact that you're an English speaker, and he just wants a chance to practice what he's been learning. So you let him tag along with you for the day, and before you know it you're on a motorbike taxi and you've been dragged out to some weird restaurant on the outskirts of Hanoi and tricked into ordering snake spring rolls and then presented with a bill for more than $US100 ($A126). Or is that just me?

See also: Ten classic travel scams

Riding a camel

Ah, the ships of the desert. When you go to a country like Morocco or Egypt or even Rajasthan in India, it seems like the right thing to do. There's something beautiful about the idea of riding a camel through the desert, as people have done for thousands of years before you. But those people had no other option. Because here's the thing: camels spit and moan. They really don't want a person on top of them. Fair enough, too. It's not fun for either party.


Sleeping in cars

This is another one of those frugal things that travellers do in the name of prolonging the holiday. Why bother shelling out for a dorm bed when you can just find a quiet parking spot and recline the seats in your hire car? It'll just be for a night or two, after all. And that bit is true: it will be just for a night or two. Because that's how long it will take you to figure out that sleeping in a car is about the most uncomfortable thing you can do, and is nowhere near worth saving 10 or 20 bucks for a proper bed.

Hiring a scooter

You're travelling somewhere like Thailand or Indonesia, and all the locals are on scooters. They're taking their entire families on scooters. So that's obviously the thing to do. Doesn't matter that you've never ridden one of these things before. It's like riding a bike! Cut to two weeks later, when you're back home nursing, at best, a burnt lower leg from brushing against an exhaust pipe, or something worse, like a few broken bones, and scooters don't seem like such a good idea anymore.

Drinking through the night

You're only in town for one night. Maybe it's for a sporting event, or a concert, or you have to fly out of there the next day. You know you're going to be going out that night anyway, and you won't make it back to the hostel till about four or five… So why bother even getting a room? Chuck your bags in a locker, party all night and save on accommodation! This is a terrible plan. Trust me, it'll get to about 3am and you'll be dying for a kebab and a warm place to sleep. The fact that you have nowhere to go but an airport or a train station that's probably closed anyway will break your drunken heart.

Fruit picking

For the frugal traveller, this seems like a great way to extend your holiday. You do a bit of work out in the sunshine, you get paid cash under the table, and you go on your merry way for another few months of boss-free enjoyment. And then you actually start, and realise the hell you've signed yourself up for. Fruit picking is sometimes backbreaking, sometimes mind-numbing. And the pay is so bad that you wind up spending most of your daily earnings on post-picking booze each night. About the best thing that will happen is that you'll meet lots of other people who made the same mistake.  

Getting a tattoo

What better way to mark your big overseas experience than with a tattoo administered by some bloke in a tiny shop in the country of your choice? Um… What better way? How about a tacky souvenir that you can chuck out in a few weeks' time? At least it doesn't have to be lasered off. If you're really set on that commemorative ink work, at least wait until you get home and can find an artist you trust.

What travel experiences would you do only once? And if you've done any of the above, would you do them again?