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All The Stupid Ways I’ve Wasted Money Overseas

I like to think of myself as pretty good at budgeting my trips overseas. I make spreadsheets, I try to find good deals on hotel rooms, I take the bus when I’d rather fly. And yet, over the years, I have frittered away some truly staggering sums in very stupid ways while on holiday. Here’s a few of my worst travel money mistakes so you don’t have to make them, too.

The time I paid $16 for a glass of water in Singapore

Everyone tells you that alcohol in Singapore is expensive –number one among travel money mistakes, right? So when I took myself out for a meal on a recent trip to the city-state, I decided to do the responsible thing and limit myself to just one glass of wine.

This would have been a great plan if it wasn’t for the fact that after I sat down, a waiter poured me a glass of water. I didn’t even drink it. It just sat there, forgotten, until the bill arrived and I realised with a sinking horror it was from a fancy bottle and cost sixteen Australian dollars. I guess the moral of the story is stick to wine?

All the shot glasses I bought in Europe

At 18, buying a different shot glass from every country I went to in Europe seemed like a brilliant investment. At 28, I can tell you that a pile of shot glasses is a terrible thing to carry around in your backpack (they’re fragile, FFS) and that it has been many, many years since I saw any of them. Vale to those fallen Euros.

Every time I charged things to my hotel room

I love fancy hotels. I love getting room service, I love ordering drinks by the pool, I love getting massages in their bougie wellness centres. But the problem with fancy hotels is that instead of paying for your indulgences up front like you would elsewhere, you end up charging everything to your room — one quick signature and it’s like that round of margaritas you just bought never happened.

Without fail, every time I stay at a fancy hotel I’m met with a horrific bill at check-out time. Talk about travel money mistakes. Because not only are things sold on the premises of upmarket hotels already quite expensive, but all ability to stick to budget goes out the window when you aren’t keeping track of what you’re spending on. A couple of meals, a few drinks, some dry cleaning and a coffee here and there can add up real fast. Case in point? At a hotel in Palm Springs I racked up a $900 bill in two days and I really, truly could not tell you how.

The night in Miami I bought three different dinners

South Beach in Miami is like Circular Quay in Sydney — one of those places so famous that every restaurant or café with a spot there gets away with being absolutely terrible.

I know because on my first night on the strip, I paid for three different disgusting dinners. First, I went to a sushi restaurant that sold imitation crab (“krab”) so stomach-turning I only ate a couple of bites. I decided to right the wrong by going to an Italian joint where I ordered lasagne, which I thought would be failsafe but turned out to more resemble a meatloaf floating in ketchup with a few bits of overcooked pasta around the sides.

Still not deterred, I made one final stop at a 24-hour diner which — surprise! — also turned out to be trash. It was like Goldilocks and the Three Bears except the third meal was not just right, it was even worse than the two that came before it.

I spent US$80 (AU$108) on this tour of Miami’s worst restaurants which, yes, would have bought me a real meal somewhere nice if only I’d bothered to get a cab downtown.

The $500 I spent on bad tailoring in Vietnam

Hoi An is known as the tailoring capital of the world, a place where travellers can pick up brilliant custom-made suits and jackets at a price far cheaper than what they’d pay at home. Many people leave with a bag full of stylish, custom-made pieces they’ll keep forever. I am not one of those people.

Getting quality clothes made in Vietnam depends on finding a tailor who is actually good, a critical first step I failed at (hot tip: don’t get yours made at the market). Instead, I walked away with dresses whose cheap dyes stained my skin various shades of purple, a bunch of tops that came apart at the seams after one wear and a pair of shoes with the straps affixed the wrong way round. This bag of rags cost me $500.

The lessons? I can think of two: first, be careful what you splash your cash on. A bit of forethought goes a long way. Second, don’t sweat the small stuff – you’ll make mistakes on your travels, but at least you’ll have a story to tell (one which will help other travellers avoid these money traps).

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(All images: Unsplash. Lead image: Niclas J Leclercq / Unsplash)