by Niall Doherty

In a little thatch-roof cottage in the center of Kathmandu, I sat at my laptop and pressed submit.

And it was done.

I’d just sent $1,200 to a specialist travel agent to book passage aboard a freighter from Sri Lanka to Malaysia.

I sat back and smiled.

Almost a year into my trip around the world without flying, the next big leg of the journey was now arranged and paid for.

The payment was non-refundable, but I was confident everything would go according to plan. All I had to do was make my way down through India, cross the ten miles of sea to Sri Lanka, and be in Colombo on October 9th, ready to board that big beautiful boat to South East Asia.

I sat there all self-satisfied, daydreaming of upcoming adventures.

I pictured myself riding trains all the way south to Chennai, sticking my head out of open doors and basking in the breeze like a dog riding shotgun with the window down. I looked ahead to crossing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, perhaps catching a glimpse of an untouched island or the occasional whale shark. And I imagined stepping off the freighter in Malaysia and making my way north to the promised land of Siam, where friends and lovers awaited.

And then a thought entered my mind that gave me pause. I sat up and quickly and began googling:

  • ferry from india to sri lanka
  • boat from india to sri lanka
  • india to sri lanka by sea
  • india to sri lanka without flying
  • why the fuck is there no ferry between india and sri lanka???

I wasn’t overly concerned at first. It was ten miles of sea. Surely I’d find some way to cross it without flying.

But alas, no.

The next four weeks saw me try my luck with cruise lines, cargo ship companies, fishing vessels, sailboats, even the Sri Lankan coastguard… but I found no way to cross that stubborn strait without wings. There had been no ferry in operation for thirty years. There were no suitable dates for a cruise. It was illegal to pay a fisherman to taxi me across. The sailing season was months away. And the Sri Lankan coastguard warned that they would open fire on unidentified vessels.

October 9th came and went. My big beautiful boat disembarked from Colombo, Sri Lanka, en route to Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia.

I was still stuck in India. And $1,200 poorer.

Eventually I would escape India without flying — I tell the whole story in my book, The Cargo Ship Diaries — but losing those dozen benjamins ate away at me for quite a while. All it would have taken to avoid that loss was a little extra rigor in my research, devoting just a few more minutes to investigate and confirm every part of the route.

Of course, as I’ve often said, you can’t have an adventure if everything goes to plan. But some adventures are more expensive than others. Whenever you’re about to spend a significant sum on travel — or anything else, for that matter — first ask yourself if you’ve done your due diligence.

What’s the worst travel mistake you’ve ever made?

I’m putting together a short guide on costly travel mistakes and how to avoid them. I’d love if you could share your biggest travel mistake in the comments below. If your mistake is appropriately cringe-inducing, I’ll include it in the guide. Be sure to drop a link to your blog/website in the comments if you’d like some google juice.

(Alternatively, if you haven’t traveled much before, let me know in the comments what travel mistake you’re most worried you’ll make when you do hit the road!)

How to work online and travel the world

Lastly, two weeks from now I’ll be releasing an in-depth guide teaching you how to work online and travel the world (like I’ve been doing for the past five years).

If you’ve always wanted to live a travel lifestyle and earn money from your laptop, but aren’t sure where to start, this guide is for you.

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