Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it? Everything is so abundantly clear and simple when you have the opportunity to reflect on something with the benefit of experience. It's obvious what you did well but it's also equally obvious what you did poorly. With its unique set of challenges, the reality of travel is that the learning curve can sometimes be painfully steep.
So knowing what I do now what would I do differently if I was starting to travel again? The truth is that there are many things and I think any experienced traveller would be less than honest if they didn't give such as answer! But if I could summarise it into a single word it would have to be 'preparation'. While I didn't have major catastrophes, better travel preparation would have made my earlier trips even more successful than they were.
Everyone has their own travel style and there is no definitive right or wrong. Some trips can be done with minimal preparation but others require more. For any aspiring traveller the process is firstly about learning how to prepare. After all, you need to know what to do before you can actually do it. I love to see people embracing their travel dreams with confidence and excitement. The mistake many new travellers make is to let these emotions take precedence over their need for knowledge.
Learning from the mistakes of others is much easier than making them yourself. This is especially true if you are travelling in a foreign land far from the comfort and security of home. For a new or relatively inexperienced traveller, preparation should be more than just collecting together your passport, money and clothing in a backpack. It should also be getting an idea of what daily life on the road will be like. Learning about things like travel health and safety is not only useful, it is potentially life-saving.
I understand that you don't want to be spending hours researching information that may or may not be useful to you. You may not see a need for it. Fifteen years ago I didn't either. I thought if I knew where and when to go, the how to go would just fall into place. The result of this naivety was making avoidable errors that at various times compromised my health, travel safety and an optimum experience.
And that captures what I'd do differently if I was in the same position again. I'd want to know what other successful travellers had done in the past. I'd learn the most effective ways to save myself time, money, inconvenience and potentially heartache. I'd replace immature assumptions with recognised facts and my black hole of ignorance with relevant knowledge. With the benefit of hindsight there are some lessons that I could have learned in a much easier way.