“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
– Mercedes Lackey

You often hear people say they have no regrets. Je Ne Regrette Rien. I don’t buy it. I suspect it’s something that people say to avoid confronting the pain of regret.

Not me. I have lots of regrets.

I’m not saying that I lay awake at night howling in fetal position, while crying a pool of miserable tears and snot (much), but I do reflect back and think: if I could do that again, I would do it differently.

Here are mine (after sailing for two years in the South Pacific):

Deciding to give up an addiction

I tend to spend hours emailing every day. Sometimes I feel bound to my computer and unable to disconnect, stuck inside a technology loop. So before we took off sailing, I decided that the cleansing emptiness of the ocean would be a great time to break this addiction. Even though we had a chance to install a relatively cheap piece of equipment that would allow us to send and receive emails, I decided to sever the connection and go cold turkey.

Bad idea.

Missing people from home dominated my thoughts. I longed for the lifeline that email gives me when I’m traveling. Instead of surrendering myself to a beautiful location, I’d wallow in thoughts of missing friends and family.

Lesson: don’t use your travels as an excuse to give up an addiction. You’re vulnerable and displaced and you don’t need to take on more challenges. And addictions aren’t always bad – if they sooth, stimulate and make you happy, they’re worth it.

Letting fear dominate

I had this idea that, once we got our boat out onto the depths of the ocean, I’d snap into a state of fearlessness and be face-to-the-spray with my chest puffed as I dove from the boat and caught sharks with my bare hands.

It didn’t happen. Not even close.

Though I did find confidence with being at sea, fear still prevented me from giving myself completely to the experience. There were many times when I numbed myself to block fear, but in doing that, I also numbed my pleasure senses. I spent the 26 days of our longest ocean passage stuck inside a numb void that I wouldn’t call depression, fear, or anxiety, but just an emotionless emptiness.

Lesson: If you submit to fear, she will dominate with a leash and whip and you will be her bitch. Fend it off with therapy, meditation, and relaxation techniques. Practice accepting your own mortality (you’re going to die anyway) so that you can give yourself fully to life’s experiences.

Buying the wrong equipment

“Hey, let’s make a documentary of our voyage!” was an idea I’d proposed in the excited months before we departed. Not only do I have zero film-making experience, I also despise being in front of a video camera (and being behind a camera doesn’t excite me either). After two years of traveling, I shot about 45 minutes of random, mostly unusable footage that is still trapped inside the $1,000 video camera.

As a graphic designer and illustrator, still images are my playground.  I should’ve invested the $1,000 into a quality DSLR that would’ve captured the voyage in vivid detail.

Lesson: be realistic about the gear you’ll use. Travel isn’t an opportunity to develop new talents unless you’re passionate and willing to fully commit yourself to learning.

Being ignorant

Before we set sail, I didn’t actually know how to sail. This wasn’t entirely my fault. We were on a tight schedule thanks to Ivan and his burning itch to escape to sea. My attempts at learning to sail had ended with either me vomiting, or my lecherous instructor trying to hit on me. But if I did it again, I’d hone my sailing skills and practice to become confident. I’d learn to fix a diesel engine, and know how to stop a boat from leaking water (with a method other than patching the holes with duct tape).

Lesson: don’t assume you’ll learn on the go. Travel is stressful, you’re out of your comfort zone, and it’s difficult to learn. If possible, learn the skills you’ll need before you go.

Not doing the right research

I did a lot of research before we departed – I Googled, I read, I studied. But the one thing I didn’t do was connect with other well-traveled lifestyle sailors for their advice. If I did, they would’ve told me that having shade in the cockpit is essential and we would’ve got an awning installed instead of baking like crispy pork bellies under the hot sun. They would’ve told me ‘Having email is essential!’ They could’ve told us how to install an energy-efficient fridge before we left, which would’ve meant we could store fresh fruit, veggies and best of all, cold beer.

Lesson: take your research beyond books and the internet. Speak with people who have lived the experience. Ask them what they regret. Learn from them.

And never – ever – underestimate the power of a cold beer.

Do you have any regrets?

Author’s bio: Torre DeRoche faced her fear of the ocean by island hopping across the Pacific for two years aboard a humble boat with a man she met in a bar. She has written a book titled Swept – Love With A Chance Of Drowning. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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45 Response Comments

    • Torre DeRoche  April 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      Wow, Denali really is majestic. And you saw grizzlies — scarycool.

  • Pia - 2girls1journey  April 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Every time I go home from a trip, there’s always going to be something to regret. Like not taking good enough photos, or not having to eat a particular delicacy, etc.

    But then, as they say, we learn from our mistakes and these will make us more prepared and ready for the next coming trips. 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  April 17, 2011 at 1:05 am

      Oh yes, food: that’s another one. Sometimes I get scared of trying street food and later wish I had, but then *if* I had, maybe I’d get some nasty intestinal bug and wish that I hadn’t? Sometimes you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, which could be one reason for Je Ne Regrette Rien.

  • Kim  April 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    I’ve got regrets, for sure… but like everything else I’ve learned from them. This is a good list! And something that I can clearly learn from before we set out into the big, bad world.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 17, 2011 at 1:07 am

      Yes, Kim: get an awning for your … er … backpack.

  • Ian [EagerExistence]  April 16, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Im only just starting out, so no regrets yet… but I get the feeling that “research” and “ignorance” will be on my list too.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 17, 2011 at 1:10 am

      This advice kind of conflicts with a previous post of mine in which I suggested you put down the guidebook and improvise a little (don’t over prepare). Knowing the right balance between being prepared and not over-preparing is a fine art (which I’m a long way from finessing, myself).

  • Monica  April 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I can’t believe this, I’ve just written virtually the same post! I’m glad I’m not the only one who has regrets, especially when travelling is such an amazing experience. Think I’ll wait a week or two before I publish it though!

    • Torre DeRoche  April 17, 2011 at 1:11 am

      I can’t wait to read all of your regrets. You’re in that fresh stage after just returning from traveling, in which you look back with a burning, nostalgic regret.

  • Raymond  April 18, 2011 at 5:38 am

    Regrets? I’ve had a few. No. Make that many. Too many really…lol…

    One of the biggest is of course not traveling earlier in life. I was 25 when I first left Canada, and I still remember some Danish cow telling me my best years were behind me. I don’t regret calling her a stupid b*tch though. 🙂

      • Raymond  April 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

        Thanks for the shameless plug!

        • Torre DeRoche  April 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm

          I don’t think it’s a ‘shameless’ plug when it’s plugging someone else? I just really like the flames, I need them installed on my bike. I could’ve used the flames the other day when I was riding around Melbourne city and a Commodore drove past with some Aussie Rules football genius in the back seat yelling abuse at the top of his lungs: “Get of the f*ing road you f*ing idiot before you split your f*ing head open!!” In my fantasy, I flamed that guy. But I just gave him only a gentle toasting … just enough to melt the nylon Carlton footie club scarf to his flesh.

          • Raymond  April 19, 2011 at 12:23 am

            You’re right. It’s not shameless, but thanks for the plug all the same!

            It’s people like that genius who are flame-worthy. Just a gentle flaming though — you want him to bear witness. 😉

            The flames have worked their way into my day too. But because we’ve had so much late-season snow here, it’s mostly just to get me out of my driveway.

  • Theodora  April 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

    I think the things I regret are the things I didn’t get around to seeing and doing, the things you always think you have time to do and somehow don’t. I regret not making Timbuktu when in Mali. I regret not riding the Stratosphere in Vegas. It doesn’t sound like you have a lot to regret, though, honestly. I think you tried new things, and you learnt a lot.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 18, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Theodora. It’s easy to regret all the places you don’t get to see. There are just too many places in the world to experience in one lifetime!

  • Alep  April 18, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    love this

  • Jane DeRoche  April 18, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    EVERY time I travel, I regret overpacking, whether I’m going to London for three weeks or Catalina for two days. I hate, hate, hate schlepping my bag(s) around. I remember dumping a load of dirty laundry in the trash bin at the Tower of London–something kind of poetic about that, huh? I swear, next time I travel, I’m bringing no more than what I carry in my purse on a daily basis. I’ll buy cheap clothes at my destination point, then donate them to the op shop when I’m done.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm

      This is a good regret — I feel the same. I love the idea of bringing just a purse and buying clothes on arrival (except maybe pants — foreigners always laugh when I go into their stores and browse at their selection of pants: “Ha ha! No, this no fit YOU. Ha Ha Ha.”)

      I’m downgrading my purse to a mans wallet, because even the bulky, receipt-stuffed purse is starting to become cumbersome these days.

  • Cam @ Traveling Canucks  April 19, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I would agree with all of these points, particularily letting fear dominate. There have been countless times that we’ve wasted time and energy trying “not to get ripped off”, only to work ourselves up to a point were its not fun anymore. Same applies with skipping countries based on poor media representation, I’m referring specifically to the Middle East. It’s not a big bad scary place!

    • Torre DeRoche  April 19, 2011 at 1:35 am

      You’ve been to the middle east?

      Very true about avoiding getting ripped off. I sometimes avoid buying things, going places and bartering just because I’m scared to get ripped off. But the fear isn’t proportionate to the worst-case scenario, which is losing a grand total of a few bucks. I guess it’s the fear of being made a fool?

  • Emily  April 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I think everyone has at least one travel regret! Interesting that you regret giving up technology. I’ve always daydreamed up giving up email and technology while traveling, though it’s interesting to hear that you did it and instead of being relaxed, you felt disconnected and anxious. I think I would feel the same way.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 21, 2011 at 12:33 am

      It’s nice to disconnect a little, but going cold turkey is no good. I’m too dependent on Google to itch all my curiosity scratches.

  • jade  April 21, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Ah, I have many too. I researched- but almost to exhaustation. I would have liked some of the things we did to be a little more random and just happen upon things or people or places. I wouldn’t give up the things we did end up seeing, so it’s a tough call.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 30, 2011 at 7:19 am

      That’s not regret, that’s you needing to go back again! ha

  • Krista  April 23, 2011 at 5:20 am

    These are such good tips. I especially connect with the first one – keeping the things that keep you grounded until you find your footing. Will take that with me as I make a big move this year. 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  April 30, 2011 at 7:20 am

      Thanks, Krista. Good luck on your big move!

  • Amy  April 24, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Last week, I was going through my packing list from my last trip. I brought so much stuff that I never used and eventually gave away in the first month. I thought I would change my habits, but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t start wearing more dresses, I didn’t keep a journal and I didn’t wash my underwear every night by hand! 😛 You can only change so much. You still need to hold onto your old self in some way. Changing everything would be like someone trying to quit smoking, drinking and swearing- all at once!!! Cold turkey is NOT the way to go! You’ll change enough without trying while you’re traveling, you don’t need to force it! 🙂

    • Torre DeRoche  April 30, 2011 at 7:24 am

      “Start wearing more dresses.” Ha ha! I’m guilty of this one too when I go away. I pack several dresses, which I just don’t wear. I think we tend to fantasize that in exotic locations, we’ll somehow be exotic too, but unfortunately we’re just our same ol’ selves in a new location (surprise, surprise!)

      • Amy  April 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

        🙂 I have bought two dresses in the last four months… so far. 🙂 One is casual dressy and the other is more fancy. I don’t even have an excuse to wear them since I live in the Pacific Northwest and we wear raincoats and socks with sandals more often than we wear formal clothes! 😛 They were each less than US$15, so I felt like I HAD to buy them since they looked cute and were a great deal… in case I ever needed a nice dress… maybe I’ll start getting in the habit this time around…. 😛 hehehehe 🙂

  • The Dropout  April 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    I try to live life without regrets so I was a bit concerned by your title. However, you’ve provided a fabulous list of recommendations. If we ever set off on a sailing trip, we’ll follow your very wise advice.
    I’m thrilled to have found your blog, by the way. LOTS of reading pleasure ahead of me this evening.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 30, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Thanks! I think there’s no point in dwelling too much in mistakes, but a little bit of regrouping never hurt anyone.

  • Julia  April 25, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! It’s true, too many people PRETEND they don’t regret things. Let’s see… I regret not speaking more languages, because I would have loved to be able to read newspaper headlines, at least, as I travel. I also regret the number of times I didn’t engage in conversation with locals. I never like small talk with strangers, but now I see how many conversations I’ve missed out on.

    • Torre DeRoche  April 30, 2011 at 7:34 am

      Good point: speaking the language is so important for having a full experience. I’m planning for South America next, so I’ve got some serious studying to do!

      • Chloe  February 11, 2012 at 3:33 am

        Don’t make the mistake I did… learn more than just “no entiendo” and “donde esta el baño?”

  • Emily  May 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    New to your site. I love this article! You’re right, so many people come away from a trip and only talk about how incredible it was, but you learn so much from the parts that went wrong!

    I regret not being more vigilant about checking visa laws while I was studying in Ecuador. It would have been nice to know they changed the law before I headed to the airport all excited to go home and eat Subway. It would have saved me from rescheduling my flight ($275 – and I was lucky I got that price) and paying a fine to the city of Quito ($250). Whoops!

    • Torre DeRoche  May 8, 2011 at 12:51 am

      Hi Emily, thanks for your comment. There’s nothing worse than getting to the airport all excited, only to discover a technical hitch with visa laws. Actually, yes there is: “The Glove.” (This hasn’t happened to me, thankfully, but it would be cause for *much* regret.) 🙂

  • Saadia S. Shamsie  June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Excellent post! I too don’t buy the “no regrets” thing but I do use the phrase myself, I just refer to it differently. I always come back from travels thinking that if I did it again, there would always be something I would do differently. Having said that, I never regret the travel. Even the worst experiences are valuable experience.

    I wrote a post about *recent* travel regrets, but slightly different. It was about the locations I had been to and things I hadn’t seen/done that I really wanted to!

  • Davis  September 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I think being willing to give up e-mail and social media may be in large part an age thing. I grew up and did most of my travel before e-mail and adapted to the solitude of traveling by myself and communicating by post. Of picking up my mail at the Poste Restante or at American Express in Rome. It is a wonderful pleasure to come back to town from a few weeks tramping about the countryside to find a letter or two waiting for you at the post office and take them out into the square and sit with coffee and open the letters and read the familiar handwriting. I still have them all.

    I realize you couldn’t reliably post a letter from the high seas, but just writing the letters was enough for me. I could post them when I got to a town.

  • Greg  September 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I just finished your book. Congratulations. It’s great. I am an East Coast (of the U.S.) sailor and for some reason, I am interested in where the Amazing Grace is now. I know where the other two components of your adventure are, but am curious about the boat. Don’t want your answer to ruin the ending of the book, so maybe you could e-mail the answer.
    Greg C.

  • Chloe  February 11, 2012 at 3:31 am

    Research and learning before I went. Especially, if I had a better grasp of the language. Not necessarily fluent, but showing up in a new place I didn’t know much about (I couldn’t find and still can’t find on google maps), and know that if things didn’t go precisely as planned then I could find a hostel.

    But mostly: getting stressed/PMS-y when I didn’t need to be. I was traveling with someone I met and we were going the same way, and at one point neither of us knew what we wanted to do and we had a full day in a rather boring town. Any other mistakes make for stories and learning experience, but this town didn’t make it into my photo album because any pictures reminds me of grumpitty-grump-grump-ing.

  • Meredith@GreenGlobalTravel  May 28, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Perhaps cutting down on an “addiction” like technology would be more effective. I definitely didn’t want to be tied to my iphone when I was traveling around the world, but having the option to check facebook every once and a while was helpful.


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