Mistakes I did during the America trip

While my 34 day US, Canada, South and Central America trip went very well within budget and as per plan [expense report here], below are some of the mistakes I did or things I could have done better.

1. Not returning Empty Cans
Many supermarkets return a few penny back if you return used cans like one shown below. The amount is not much- just 5 cents per can (INR 2.5) but it is still money. Sometimes the time and effort involved (to go to the store, wait in line, collect refund) is just not worth it so most people simply throw them away. But then, if it is not too difficult, why not return it and take the money? It allows them to recycle the bottles more effectively and we can be richer by a few pennies. Over my 30 day trip, I would have purchased about 10-15 litres worth packaged tender coconut water in various cities- Only when in Canada I realized I could return the tin cans and claim a refund. Got 10 cent back for returning two cans-could have made a few dollars more if I had done this earlier. If the return-refund information was shown more prominently on the bottle or during billing I would have probably returned more bottles.
2. Buying excess food in Bahamas.
Food is expensive in Bahamas as everything is imported from US or other countries. (Packaged tender coconut water bottles are imported into Jamaica from Thailand and then exported to Bahamas, increasing cost each step, there're not much factories in Bahamas). To give an example, while a gallon of petrol used to cost 2.72 USD in Baltimore, USA, it was 4.2 USD or so in Nassau. A banana costs almost a dollar while you can get about 2 for a dollar in US. I should have bought just enough food there- ended up buying few apples and bananas extra which I carried back to US- would have been cheaper to buy in US after reaching Miami.

3. Currency conversion at Vancouver airport
In Vancouver airport, I needed local currency for the train. I avoid currency conversion at airport at all costs but made an exception here- I had some New Zealand dollars left from last year's NZ trip so thought it is better to convert it instead of withdrawing cash from ATM and incurring lots of fee bank would charge.

For 100 NZD I gave, I got about 67 CAD. Next day at a currency exchange store in downtown Vancouver, I could get 88 CAD for 100 NZD. Effectively I paid over 20 CAD (INR 1000) more at the airport, which is a total rip-off. I should have converted a smaller amount just enough for immediate use. Big mistake.

At Bogota's El Dorado International airport I got reasonable rate- like 2850 COP for a dollar. (Got 2900 in city). In Bahamas it was 1:1, in Costa Rica I could pay with USD for the bus, but got a slightly unfavorable rate as they gave change in local currency, but it wasn't big amount so I didn't mind. Panama accepts USD just fine.

Read: Detailed post on ATM Withdrawal vs Forex conversion vs Forex card & other options

4. Not flying direct to Austin from San Jose, Costa Rica
Big mistake- from San Jose, Costa Rica, my next destination was Austin, Texas. But when I searched for direct/one stop flights, I got only very expensive option with full service airlines like Delta for about INR 19000 or more. I felt this is expensive option and I can save more if I go to Fort Lauderdale and then fly from FLL to AUS. But I didn't save much on this. I paid about 150 USD for Southwest flight from SJO to FLL and some 106 USD for Spirit flight from FLL to AUS, costing me a total of about INR 17500. Plus I had to spend about 3200 INR for the overnight stay at Fort Lauderdale- total cost exceeding 20000.

At least I was hoping to spend half a day at Miami on that evening, but my South West flight got delayed by about 6 hours, so lost all the time  was hoping to spend in Miami- reached FLL only by midnight as against 6PM and had to rush to airport by 5 AM for next flight.

SouthWest indeed had a one stop flight to Austin via Houston which would have cost me less and saved me time and hotel money- but because Southwest itinerary are not available on Skyscanner and I failed to check on SouthWest website, I didn't realize this option earlier enough. Once I had booked San Jose-FLL ticket I had to spend more on stay and next flight. Lesson learnt: Some more research always helps. One respite, got some 100 USD coupon from Southwest for the flight delay- if I can use it within next 1 year- which is doubtful, I could save a bit.

5. Buying flavored yogurt
Unable to find plain Yogurt, I ended up buying flavored yogurt on couple of instances- didn't like its taste and almost always most of it went waste. Should have searched better for plain Yogurt.
6. Monseratte Funicular
Did some mistakes while buying Monserattte Funicular in Bogota, Colombia. Due to language problem and confusing displays, I ended up buying a 12000 COP one way ticket instead of a 21000 COP return ticket. I thought it is a return ticket but I was made to buy another 12000 COP one way ticket to come down. Also didn't realize I could have walked down for free. A few dollars lost in this process.
Further, Monsaratte fanicular fares are cheaper by almost 50% on Sundays- could have saved more if I had gone on Sunday- but with a church on top, Sunday is also bound to be most crowded day, taking more time in queue. So no regrets on this front though.

7. Pointless "close to airport" homestay booking in Bogota
I had an early morning flight from Bogota, so not wanting to spend lots of dollars on taxi, I booked the last night at a homestay closer to El Dorado airport. This room was 2.5x more expensive than my hostel where I had stayed previous 4 nights. (INR 750 per night compared to around 300 INR)

My intention was to sleep well and walk to airport at around 3 AM, about 3kms distance from the room, in time for my flight. But when I asked my host if it is safe to walk alone at 3 AM, he vehemently said NO. Bogota is known for its safety issues. Nomadic Matt was stabbed recently for his phone, a girl in our walking tour had her phone stolen in broad day light. I had thought areas around Airport should be safe enough, but when my homestay owner wasn't confident, I didn't have any reasons to risk it. My next option was to rent a taxi, at about 17000 to 20000 COP. That is just 5 to 7 USD but I didn't feel like wasting it for a small distance of 3 kms. Thus eventually I ended up taking last bus to airport, reaching there at about 11 PM or so and sleeping in airport till it was time for my flight. Did spend about 2 dollars on coffee as well. If this was the case, I could have stayed at my cheaper hostel near downtown and save all the trouble.

8. Carrying a Selfie stick and laptop
Didn't use the selfie stick at all, except for a few minutes during the speed boat ride video. Would have been wise to leave it back home. Also couldn't blog much during the trip, as I walked a lot, got tired and slept after reaching hostel. Leaving laptop behind would have made me 2 kgs lighter, helped clear security check faster.

I did write a few blogs during the trip though and having laptop meant airline staff couldn't force me to check-in the bag citing flight is full. So no major regrets but wouldn't have missed a lot if I had left laptop behind.

9. Not booking downtown hostels
I booked cheapest hostels in Bogota, Nassau, Las Vegas, Vancouver- they were cheapest and saved me a few dollars compared to next best option, but then they were far from downtown area where most of the places of interest were. I ended up spending some money travelling to downtown in bus or spent lots of time walking. If I had booked a stay in downtown area, even if it was a few dollars more per night, I think overall I would have fared better in terms of time, money and comfort. Need to be careful about this aspect in future.

10. Not cross checking kitchen access at hostels/AirBnB
AirBnB I booked in Las Vegas and Bahamas didn't get me kitchen access. So I had to spend more on food. If I had carefully chosen one that had kitchen access, even if it was 5-10 dollars more per night, I would have saved a lot of money otherwise spent on food and meals.

Not sure if I can call travel insurance a mistake. Paid INR 1700 for it but had no need to avail any claims. So it is all gift to Ambani's company. Insurance is purchased often for psychological reasons- for the fear that "What will happen if things go wrong". May be it is worth having one, may be it is better we own the risk and reap the rewards (savings on premium) as probability of major disasters during a trip are usually low if you've planned well and taking standard precautions.

Also have loaded a few dollars more than I could use in many of the metro cards I purchased. But this was hard to predict- load too less and I could be stranded, load too much and it will go waste once I leave the city. Anyways I am keeping them as souvenirs and hopefully will get to visit those cities again and make use of the balance.

Similar: How I managed Australia trip in extreme budget

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