3 Biggest Mistakes Experienced Travellers Still Make

3 Big Mistakes Experienced Travellers Still Make

I didn’t know much when I was 21, but one thing I did know was when you’re in Turkey you must visit a Turkish bath.

Turkey was a side trip added on after the Naked in Greece incident so I was already going by the name of Tripper when we stayed near the picturesque coastal village of Ölüdeniz.

The Turkish bath was in the nearby town of Fetiye and our cultural experience didn’t start off well.

First me and my university friend Daisy decided to hitch-hike to Fetiye to save money. No sooner had we stuck out our white thumbs than we were picked up by two transvestites and an older woman.

But it took us a while to realise they were transvestites. At first we thought they were just a regular mother and her grown up daughters out for a drive.

It’s a story about three big mistakes I made during that trip that experienced travellers still make.

1. Play it safe

As soon as our bags were in the boot and we were squashed into the back-seat with one of the girls-who-turned-out-to-be-men the mother-figure, who was driving, and the transvestite in the front seat started looking around at us and laughing. A lot.

So it didn’t take us long to realise the two “daughters” were actually men dressed as women. Soon the gay trio were gabbling away in Turkish cracking each other up while the one in the back peered closely at us and prodded us as if we were goats being taken off to the market.

He seemed to be fielding questions fired by the other two and finding out the answers to queries like: Did we have our own teeth? Were our ears pierced? Since our feet were so big maybe we were we men dressed as chicks too?

Since they didn’t speak any english, nor we turkish, Daisy and I soon became paranoid. Obviously they were laughing at us not with us which was awkward. Then Daisy became convinced that they planned to murder us, dump us in the middle of nowhere and drive off with our bags.

Suffice to say the journey to the Turkish bath was confusing and stressful.

At first we pretended to laugh along with them although we didn’t get the joke. Then we sat rooted to our seats shooting each other worried glances and covertly whispering escape plans.  Finally we gripped the door handle and each other in silent fear, praying that, even if they took our bags, we’d escape with our lives.

But they turned out to be your average happy, harmless Turkish transvestites.

Eventually we swerved to a stop right outside the Turkish baths where they handed us our bags before careering off in a cloud of dust and cacophony of laughter.

We thought hanging out with locals made us superior to travellers who insulate themselves from local life by avoiding dangerous areas and stay in western hotels where they’re sealed off from true cultural exchanges. But reading guidebooks and hearing other people’s travel disaster stories had left us constantly suspicious, always expecting the worst of other people.

2. Believe guidebooks when your instincts are a better guide

At the Turkish baths we met our two travel friends and were swiftly denuded of all our Turkish lira then ushered into a tiny changing room.

The windowless box had stunning floral mosaic tiles, a urinal-like low basin that ran all along one wall (which may actually have been a urinal) and cockroaches swarming all over the floor.

There was no doubt that this was not some tourist trap, a Turkish bath created and used only by tourists. This was the Old Turkish Bath, the real deal, so we were equally thrilled and repulsed by what we saw.

Despite the warning bells we took off all our clothes as instructed and wrapped ourselves in the towels provided which seemed clean enough.

Following a maze of corridors we found our way to an enormous hexagonal room with a raised platform in the centre. Every surfaced was covered in in white tiles and the room was bare apart from a raised tap that sat high against one wall.

We perched together on the platform clutching our towels tightly. Just as we were all about to run away a small lithe Turkish man, clad in an even smaller white hand, minced into the room.

We spent three hours in the Turkish bath taking it in turns to lie on the platform, remove the towel and take a pummeling from the masseuse. This wasn’t a relaxing rub down. It was an intense ordeal which reduced two girls to tears. Not me with my stiff British upper lip though.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience but I could tell he was working out some of the tension after our stressful journey. And anyway, enduring a rough massage was nothing compared to being robbed and beaten up by transvestites which was how I thought my afternoon would pan out.

I even enjoyed the final hair wash. It seemed as if the Turkish bath man was satisfied that he’d given us a good enough beating and contented himself with a gentle scalp massage to finish things off.

No one spoke English at the Turkish bath and we barely spoke to each other we were all so traumatized, either by the pummeling of the near death experience on the way there.

So it wasn’t until we got back to our guest house and told people about our Turkish bath experiences that we heard that a man should never ever see a woman naked at the Turkish bath and that the two sexes are normally strictly segregated.

A little fact which none of our guidebooks had mentioned.

3. Try to impress other travellers

It all felt so wrong getting naked there in the Turkish bath but we called those guidebooks our bible, every traveller did, and we relied on them fully.

Still, looking back I can see there were plenty of reasons for pulling out and times when we could have: after we escaped from the transvestites, when we saw the cockroaches, when we had to get naked and when the masseuse hurt us.

But we carried on anyway because no one wanted to be the first to admit that they just weren’t enjoying themselves,  that things didn’t feel right and they’d prefer to hang out on the beach reading a book.

So we got taken for two rides that afternoon in Turkey.

Still, we decided to extend our trip with a jaunt to the Oktober Festival in Munich. It’s as if I was trying to get in the Guinness Book of Records for stupidest backpacker ever and the follow-up story  Hitch-hiking, Camping and Kitchen Towels is evidence that’s a title I deserved.

I didn’t make any little mistakes traveling in Turkey like losing my passport, getting pick-pocketed or the Turkish trots. I thought I was an experienced traveller, pushed myself out of my comfort zone and then made far greater errors.

Two decades later I’m still at it. Still pushing myself out of my comfort zone to avoid living an average life and still making mammoth mistakes.

Often I feel like a failure for doing that because we’re think when we’re forty our lives will be sorted and we’ll be infallible.

But it turns out no matter how much wisdom you amass or how old you get you’ll still stuff up constantly if you overcome your fears and keep pushing your boundaries.

It’s either that or stagnate and I’m choosing to carry on making more mistakes.

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  1. A story after my own heart ;) I suppose it’s okay to laugh now that it’s in the past and you survived the adventures of that day. As for me, I’ve made a few mistakes as well and survived them. One was inside the Old City of Jerusalem, where a man said he’d be happy to show me where the old wall was (I asked for directions) and he took me up some stairs and up on the wall itself and we walked around on top and there wasn’t a soul there. You can imagine this was not the safest place to be with a stranger. However, the worst thing he did was ask me for money once we were back in the busy souk and I gave him some, and that was that.

    • Annabel Candy February 26, 2013 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Hi Miss F,

      Oh I want you to laugh – it’s all so silly. Love your story, another encounter you might have avoided because others thought it unsafe but you did it, had a real travel experience and maybe felt a little bit ripped off but hey, great news that he was only after your money and not a sly grope :)

  2. George February 26, 2013 at 9:41 am - Reply

    I think you need to make the mistakes in order to learn and do better, it’s all part of the experience.

    • Annabel Candy February 26, 2013 at 9:52 am - Reply

      Hi George,

      Great to see you here and you’re right. They are still painful though but less so when you acknowledge that :)

  3. Catherine White February 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Too funny Annabel.

    My funny travel story was going out for a late night massage in Midtown Manhattan. Unable to sleep, I found an all night massage joint.

    All appeared legitimate on the phone call when I booked my massage, as well as the entrance.

    However, upon arrival I was surprised to see so many men walking around spa naked. As well, when I returned to my cubicle after undressing, I scolded a man waiting for me, and told the receptionist I wanted a massage.

    Only when I was getting my massage, did I realise where I was, and what I was in fact paying for, was not a massage.

    Travel is fun, you get into all sorts of mix ups. The key is a sense of humour, and keeping one’s running shoes handy.

    • Annabel Candy February 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm - Reply

      Hi Catherine,

      That’s so funny – you scolded him – lol. I hope it was a good massage. I know NY is like a second home to you so love that we can still make mistakes even in places we know well. It makes me feel less silly :)

  4. Alyson March 1, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Your hitch hiking story reminded me of this one! I was 19 maybe 20 and on a university field trip to Scotland, looking at plants ‘n stuff, I think they call it Botany. We all went to a pub one night, on foot, and found ourselves in a lock in with a bunch of locals. Everyone else went home except me and the other Welsh girl, after much whisky, we accepted a lift from a couple of sheep shearers. They put us in the back of their van and drove us, not to our hostel, but to a deserted house. This was when we quickly sobered up and legged it, hiding in hedges and ditches as they searched for us, driving the van up and down lanes, for what seemed like hours. We found our way back to the hostel eventually, but I’d never, ever hitch hike. I wouldn’t go to a Turkish bath either, you’re braver than me!

    • Annabel Candy March 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm - Reply

      Hi Alyson,

      Woah, that sounds really dodgy :( Glad you survived. I’m hoping my kids never do anything like this.

  5. Tom Miller March 1, 2013 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    It’s a huge relief that you were all safe after those incidents. My heart was racing while I continue reading your post. Still, every mistake has its lessons learned and that’s the most important part. The thing is, life offers a lot of traps for mistakes. We can either remain safe while learning nothing or risk it, learn something and enjoy life as it is.

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