34 Travel Experiences: the good, bad and ugly
We travel bloggers have a wide range of travel experiences. From getting kicked out of countries to having passports stolen or simply not turning up for a scheduled flight. We have seen and experienced every travel nightmare imaginable. In other words, although our blogs and Facebook pages may make our lives seem glamorous and exciting we have learned many a travel lesson from our personal screw-ups and travel challenges. The one thing we have learned about these travel f**ck ups though is they provide much laughter in the re-telling.
The following are 34 of the funniest nightmare travel experiences and some of the lessons we have learned to avoid these travel tales of woe.
- 34 Travel Experiences: the good, bad and ugly
- 34 Travel Experiences: Fails
- Forgetting my Passport
- Always double check
- Layover and flights a lesson
- Disaster in Berlin
- Check the time difference
- Missed flights
- Check your time zones
- Hiking Fail
- An Unexpected Dash to the Airport in the Middle of the Night
- Making plans in India
- Lucky in Peru
- Visa fail Thailand
- Misjudging the Island
- Pancakes and missed flights
- The Great Thai/Cambodia Border Debacle
- Vietnamese Visa Scams
- Beer in Budapest
- Crying Works
- Running in the snow
- Wrong Taxi
- Denied Boarding
- Even the most experienced
- My Peruvian Adventure
- Car break downs
- Holiday Celebrations
- The Procrastinator
- The Most Important Rule on Russian Trains
- Wardrobe malfunction in Ho Chi Minh
- Do you have it? No, don’t you?
- Nightmare Car Rental
- A Siberian Saga
- Too relaxed?
- Beware the partying
- 34 Travel Experiences: Fails
34 Travel Experiences: Fails
Forgetting my Passport
Beginning of 2017, I was supposed to travel to Morocco to visit a friend there. Now, I’m someone super organized who uses checklists to make sure she’s packed everything, but for some reason, I didn’t think I needed my passport to fly from Belgium to Morocco. But I did. Oddly enough, they didn’t ask for it when I went to check my bag, nor did they ask for it when I had to pass passport control. They simply accepted my Belgian ID. It wasn’t until I had to board that ground staff stopped me from doing so, saying that they could leave me on, but that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to pass passport control once I got to Marrakech.
It was totally my own fault, of course, but if they’d at least stopped me at the Belgian passport control, I might have had enough time to drive back home and get my passport. It was a crappy experience, but luckily, I got to visit my friend in December of the same year and it had been well worth the wait 🙂 from Sofie at Wonderful Wanderings
Always double check
I travelled through India for almost one month and always thought about myself as an experienced traveller, ah well… On my second day in Delhi, I planned to take the train from Delhi to Accra to visit the Taj Mahal. I already had my train ticket, paid for it and just took a taxi to the station. When walking towards the entrance of the station, there was a guy who ran into me and told me that the train to Accra wasn’t going and that all connections to Accra were cancelled. I believed him and didn’t even check – stupid, I know.
He immediately came up with a solution and told me that I could follow him to a travel agency around the corner and that he would organise something for me. I followed him, we entered the agency and I still didn’t see anything weird in it – don’t ask me why. In the end, the guys told me that there wasn’t any bus or train going to Accra on that day and that I could simply take a cab. Awesome. Hopped on the cab, paid lots of money and had a beer to wash down the anger. Apparently, this is a well-known rip-off. From Anne at TravellersArchive.
Layover and flights a lesson
It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal at all but the thing is, when you’re going to China on the 72-hour visa option, you can’t have a layover within the country when you are exiting. A dumb rule? No doubt, but it’s a very real rule!
Long story short, we found out twelve seconds before boarding our flight while on a layover in Moscow and were denied boarding. I tried to get another flight on the fly and in my frantic clicking, accidentally booked ANOTHER flight with a layover in China. We saw our plane take off and now we were stuck.
Eventually, we bought a flight that was direct to Seoul, our goal destination after China, but it was a massive headache. I had to jump through hoops to cancel my messed up booking and to top it off, we were stuck in terminal F in the Moscow airport for about 20 hours as we didn’t have Russia visas since it was just a layover! Ridiculous… From Nina at Where in the World is Nina.
Disaster in Berlin
After partying all night in Prague, a few hostel mates and I decided to hop the train to Berlin to see what that was like. By mid-afternoon the next day (still no sleep) we had been up for over 30 hours straight and were hopped up on more coffee than I want to think about.
That coffee got its revenge, though, because shortly after leaving the Brandenburg Gate I felt a SIGNIFICANT bowel movement. Between the caffeine and the deliriousness of no sleep, I immediately developed a flop sweat and speed-walked, with clenched butt cheeks, to the nearest cafe I could find – which was over a kilometre away.
I was in bad shape when we got there, and after convincing the staff to let me through, I got into the stall and realized there was no toilet paper. I was such a mess that I just used my underpants to clean up and left. It was a disaster but it ended up being our most memorable night in Berlin 🙂 From Scott at International Hotdish
Check the time difference
My travel experiences had me travelling from Germany to New Zealand back in 2011. I already had a return flight to Australia from Germany from a previous trip, so all I had to do was buy a flight from Australia to New Zealand. Which I did, and then I forgot all about it.
It was only when I came to my online check-in for my flights, that, to my horror, I noticed I’d booked the flight from Australia to New Zealand on the day before my flight from Germany arrived in Australia.
Ultimately, I’d gotten confused about the time difference, and had used my departure day from Germany instead of my arrival day in Australia for the booking! I had no choice but to bite the bullet and buy another flight, which was much more expensive due to the last-minute nature of it. These days I tend to be a lot more careful about dates when buying tickets that cross multiple timezones! From Laurence at Finding the Universe
Over the years, I’ve made quite a few travel mistakes (like booking a hotel in the wrong country or booking a hotel for the wrong year), but my silliest mistake was missing a flight home.
People miss flights home all the time, but what was so stupid about this mistake was I was actually at the airport that day dropping my brother off for his flight. I was even at the airport at the exact time of my flight, with plenty of time to get through security and to the gate. I even had my passport on me. I had, however, forgotten that I was due to fly that day.
It wasn’t until a day or two later when I went to check in for my flight that I realised it had already flown. I had to purchase another ticket quickly – at considerable expense – to get back to work in time. James from Worldwide Shoppers Guide
Check your time zones
We were visiting my mom in Brazil and decided to take her on a trip. We had 2 lovely weeks in Salvador and they were so lovely that one day, we woke up and were getting ready for another day at the beach when my husband came rushing from the room saying that we needed to leave. We were wearing swimwear, everything else was scattered around the house we rented and the flight was 2 hours away. We packed up our stuff, tidied up the house, got the car and drove to the airport, missing the right exit a few times and then taking another half an hour to return the car to the rental company.
We arrived at the gate 15 minutes before the flight – luckily, it was a domestic one and Salvador airport is quite small. It happened because our phone calendars were all messed up due to time zones so everything appeared to be a day later than the correct date. We learned to use the calendar properly then and hopefully will avoid this travel horror story forever. Thais from World Trip Diaries
Sometimes you just need to take one wrong step to completely ruin your holiday. My friend Martina and I were having the time of our lives visiting Kyrgyzstan last summer – we were on the last day of a three-day hike in the Tien Shan mountains. We slept under the stars, summited mountain passes covered in flowers, and lunch by a pristine mountain lake. We just needed to hike out a valley and then we would be back in Karakol before starting new adventures around the country.
I was hopping on rocks to cross a river as I had done a thousand times before when I hopped on an unstable rock and ended up into the river – with my camera and phone on me. I screamed ‘my camera! my phone!’ so everyone thought I was ok, but when I tried to stand up… I couldn’t. My ankle had swollen to the size of a balloon, it was badly bruised, and I was unable to walk.
Luckily, our guide was able to find a horse for me but when I managed to get myself into a hospital, the doctor decided to put my foot in a cast. A normal person would have said goodbye to what was supposed to be a hiking holiday, right? Not me! I just swapped hiking for horse-riding, and had the time of my life in Kyrgyzstan! Margherita from The Crowded Planet
An Unexpected Dash to the Airport in the Middle of the Night
It was about midnight in Chiang Mai, Thailand, our two kids were in bed for the night, and I was about to go to sleep, too. But before I drifted off, my husband asked me if I could double-check the details of our upcoming flight that I thought would take place about 30 hours from now. (Since I was the one who made the booking, he wasn’t able to check himself.)
I logged into my email and to my complete horror, the flight confirmation email said our flight left six hours from right NOW! Since it was an international flight, we needed to be at the airport in three hours, at three in the morning! The next two-and-a-half hours were a blur of packing everything up in record time, and frantically trying to figure out how on earth we’d find someone to drive us to the airport at that hour. In our neighbourhood, there were no taxis, tuk-tuks, or songthaews around at that time of night.
Fortunately, the security guard at the condo complex we were staying in had a friend who could drive us. He was worried we’d think the price quoted was too high, but to be honest, we would have paid almost anything since we were so grateful he’d found someone to help us at such an ungodly hour – his friend deserved every single bhat we paid him! At 2:30 am, we woke up our bewildered kids and let them know we were leaving for the airport! Our travel day was exhausting since my husband and I hadn’t slept a wink, but fueled by coffee, we made it through the day without any other travel mishaps. Sheralyn from Paradise Found in Maui
Making plans in India
We were already in India and decided to go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal at the last minute. I booked a last-minute flight for the next day, planning to visit the Taj Mahal the morning of the day after then making our way to Jaipur in the afternoon. Sitting at the airport the next morning I had a thought and said to my hubby “Wait, what day is it?” (We always lose track) Of course, it’s Thursday! Oh no, the Taj Mahal doesn’t open on Fridays!
Land in Delhi and the baggage takes FOREVER, and even though we emailed them before we took off in Mumbai, our pre-booked car and driver was no longer waiting for us! We spent the next two hours getting the run-around, with the result – “you were a no-show, bad luck!”
There was still a chance to get to Agra before sunset, so we started trying to organise another car! The first price was so high hubby got up and we walked away in disgust! The next place was almost half the price, but was still more than our night in the Hilton at Agra! We were running out of time, so just did it!
We were about 20km away and we almost blew a tyre on the expressway! The outer layer shredded and was scattered all over the road and a large part of the back bumper was broken off. That was the end of the Taj Mahal. You would think it couldn’t get worse? Wrong. Next, the car wouldn’t start. There was a teeny bit of luck on our side, the car was a manual, and we were able to push start it!
We dawdle into Agra on a mostly flat spare, to arrive at the hotel at 7 pm in the dark. As a shining light for the day, the manager upgraded us to a nice room which, if the weather was good (it wasn’t!), would have a view of the Taj Mahal in the morning. So a very expensive detour from the south of India, just to see the Taj Mahal, and we didn’t see it! Josie from Josie Wanders
Lucky in Peru
Before heading to Machu Picchu, it became apparent that there were many teacher strikes occurring in Cusco. For days before our pre-booked train journey to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu’s train station), our time in Cusco was already pretty disturbed; fires were being burnt in the middle of the streets, people were chanting in the early hours of the morning and roads were entirely blocked for the duration of about 5 days.
The night before we were set to leave for the magnificent Machu Picchu, we received an email to tell us that protesters were blocking all trains from departing from the main centre of town. So instead, we were forced to get up at 4 am and drive 2 hours in a taxi to the next station possible. A major inconvenience to say the least, but there was no way that we were going to miss out on this trip!
Whilst waiting in the huge queue for the bus back down the mountain, one of the private tour guides standing behind us said: “Have you heard the news?” – “The protesters ripped up the train track and we’re stuck here! The only way to get out is to hike 2 hours to the nearest road and organise a car to pick you up”
Of course, this was not what we wanted to hear, especially because it would take 7 hours for a car to arrive, and we would be waiting in the middle of the Andes mountains with no appropriate clothing, cellular signal or adequate food – or safety for that matter – in the middle of the night. And to top it all off, we would then have to drive over 7 hours to get back to Cusco… All hotels in the town were booked out, and the only soluble option was to simply start hiking.
Unfortunately for many back at Cusco, the trains were going to be cancelled for the following few days, and those that had travelled from distant countries had no possible chance of visiting. Thankfully I had the opportunity to see this place, but I could feel the pain of many travellers whose time in Peru was going to fall short. No one wants to travel from countries like Australia to see such a sight just to have it fall to pieces. Kate from Travel For Difference
Visa fail Thailand
It is a really long time ago when Thailand was not yet too crowded with travellers. We are talking about 10 years ago when I visited Thailand the first time and wanted to stay for around 6 weeks. As we all know you only get 30 days on arrival so halfway through my trip I needed to do at least one visa run to renew my 30 days to complete my Thailand itinerary.
The easiest visa run opportunity is in Ranong where you catch a boat to Myanmar get your passport stamped a lot of times and return within one hour. I left Thailand with still about 17 days left on my visa but since I was in Phuket and Ranong was only 6 hours away I thought this was the perfect timing.
On my return, I would get another 30 days and that would exactly match my travel plan. When I got stamped into Thailand again and saw the date in my passport I told the guy from customs he made a mistake. No Sir, new rules! If you travel overland into Thailand you only get a 15-day visa. What are you kidding me? Two weeks later I had to do another visa run! Tom from Travel Tom Tom
Misjudging the Island
I was invited to a wedding on the island of Crete in Greece. The wedding took place in Chania, so I thought I could just book a flight and I can easily reach my hotel. I booked a ticket to Heraklion airport in the middle of the island. I didn’t realise that Crete was a huge island with multiple airports.
It turned out that I was supposed to book my flight to Chania instead of Heraklion. We landed at midnight and we were told that we were 3 hours away by taxi from the hotel we booked in Heraklion. It took us 120 € and three hours to get to the hotel. We arrived after 2 am in the morning. It was a mistake I will always remember. Barbara from Jet-Settera
Pancakes and missed flights
I had a 6:30 am flight from Bulgaria to Tunisia with a layover in Germany. I landed in Germany at 8:00 and booked it to my favourite breakfast spot in the airport. The Frankfurt airport has some seriously delicious pancakes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast, checked my email, chitchatted with the server, and killed time. My connecting flight wasn’t til 11:55, so I had plenty of time to sit and relax.
I decided to double-check my connecting gate on Tripit, and that’s when I realized I was supposed to be landing at 11:55, my flight was at 9:00, and I had completely missed it.
I ran to the Lufthansa counter to see what I could do to get on the next flight. Luckily, through a scheduling fluke, I qualified to be put on the next flight for free since I hadn’t had the full amount of connecting time to get to my next flight. I did not mention that I hadn’t even tried and instead had been enjoying some fluffy pancakes with maple syrup. Stephanie from History Fangirl
The Great Thai/Cambodia Border Debacle
We stood there, sweating profusely, but generally trying not to be too annoyed with the huge line stretching out in front of us. We were, after all, soon to return to our beloved Bangkok for some delicious street food and stunning mango smoothies.
Yes, it was only a matter of hours before we’d be enjoying the delights of the Siam Road in downtown Bangkok once more. We couldn’t wait!
That was the plan at least but things did go quite as smoothly as we’d anticipated in our lackadaisical travelling state.
Sometime during the previous 6 months of travel in Southeast Asia, we’d left behind any planning and research skills that we might have once possessed. We can’t pinpoint where exactly but we’d become complacent and started to think that we knew all there was to know about the art of backpacking.
Reality came rushing back to slap us firmly around the chops as we reached the front of the line and stepped forth to our respective border agents.A quick flick through my British passport was preceded by a firm stamp which granted me a sweet 30 days to enjoy the beauty of Thailand. Moving forward toward the exit stairs I turned around to see things weren’t going quite as well for my wife.
After a few nervous seconds of the border agent searching through bits of paper and trying to figure out if Lithuania is even a county, the supervisor was called. We were soon both standing beside her as she utter a phrase we could have done without at the end of a 2-hour wait… ‘You no enter Thailand’.
So, it transpired that we epically failed to check the requirements of crossing a land border from Cambodia to Thailand and were totally not prepared. Kristina needed to show proof of exit and cough up $30 for the privilege of a 15-day visa.
The next few hours were spent in the weird and dingy world that only truly exists between international territories. A bizarre no man’s land of smoky casinos, prostitutes and overpriced cafes.
Several hours and two $8 coffees later we headed back to the Thai border building which was now thankfully entirely deserted. Clutching a printed ‘booking request’ from Expedia we crossed our fingers behind our backs and handed it over. Not even bothering to glance in any detail at the aforementioned paper our cheery border guard stamped Kristina’s passport once we handed over the cash.
Hungry, tired and yet mightily relieved we made the short tuk-tuk journey to the bus station and found the last coach of the day bound for Bangkok. All the while both vowing to thoroughly check the rules before venturing near any international borders again! Charlie and Kristina from Map Trotting
Vietnamese Visa Scams
It was my first time travelling using my British passport after my naturalisation. My friend and I planned to go to Vietnam for a few days. We started off our journey in Manila where my family is based. When we checked in at the airline desk, the staff asked me for the Visa letter from the Vietnam embassy.
I had no clue what she was asking of me. As far as I’m aware, it was a visa-on-arrival for a British passport holder. Hence, you get the visa once you arrived at the Vietnam airport.
Unfortunately, the airline staff stated that I won’t be allowed on the flight without this approval letter! She gave me an email address of a Vietnam Visa Agency to request an expedited letter of visa. When the company emailed me back, they charged me for super expedited processing fees, Of course, once settled the US$68 and they emailed me my visa letter.
I managed to get thru the airline desk and security when I received another email from the visa company that they need to charge me another US$152. Apparently, the immigration or whoever sorting the Vietnam visa do not issue a visa on a weekend! How ridiculous! I had no choice but to pay the money, as they mentioned they won’t let me into Vietnam if I won’t settle the charge.
When I arrived at the Vietnam airport, I asked around with my fellow passengers if what happened to me was the standard procedure for getting into Vietnam. Unfortunately, this validates me that I was scammed! You can read more details about my Vietnam visa scam experience here. Ryazan from Everything Zany
Beer in Budapest
Like many travel disaster stories, this one started with a late-night out and a lot of beer. I got back to the hostel in Budapest very late and only had about 2 hours to sleep before catching my early bus to Slovenia to meet up with a friend. Not feeling strong, getting to the bus station that early in the morning was a mission. I fell asleep as soon as my bus left the city, happy with the thought that I could sleep the whole day. I woke up when the bus made an unexpected stop to go through a border crossing into Croatia.
When I bought the bus ticket there was a bit of a language barrier and I missed that the bus goes through Croatia which is not part of the Schengen zone. With shock I realized travelling with a South African passport I needed a visa for Croatia! All our passports were collected by a customs official and I was praying they would somehow miss mine! Luck was not on my side and I had to get off the bus. This was only the start of my nightmare.
Hungry and hung over I started hitchhiking around Croatia towards Slovenia. Sitting next to the highway for hours the sun destroyed me. What was supposed to be a few hours on the bus turned into two days standing next to the road doing some very frustrating hitchhiking. Very relieved and tired I did finally make it to the isolated Camp Koren in the mountains of Slovenia the next evening. Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads
So many f**k ups – I lost my wallet in a train in Switzerland- with all my money, ID, etc. I couldn’t get money via Western Union because I didn’t have my ID. I got kicked out more or less in the middle of nowhere… then I called the tourism board (whom I worked with before) and cried too loudly on the phone that he organized a train ticket back to my hotel… had to end my 5-week long road/train trip (was supposed to stay another few days) and borrowed money from an IG friend I had just met only a few days before… headed back to Germany and the next day my wallet was found and I could have picked it up from a train station in Zurich/Switzerland… since I was back in Germany they had to send it over (luckily, I still had 90€ in my wallet so they paid the 80€ fees to send it over from that money ??? Arzo from Arzo Travels
Running in the snow
I was killing time at a coffee shop in Kiruna in the very far north of Sweden before catching my train to Abisko. I asked them to order me a taxi only to find there were no taxis free in the whole city — and the train station was 2 km away down a very icy, narrow highway with about 25 minutes to spare. We then realized we had missed the bus as well and were about to give up and try to run/hitchhike to the station — missing the train would mean a $200 taxi or staying the night in Kiruna. We found a bus that would take us nearly all the way there, but we were running out of time.
We asked them to stop when we could see the train station within sight — the only problem was, it was across a giant snowdrift. We trudged through what must have been someone’s yard, first ankle deep then knee-deep in snow. Suddenly, the snow got even higher and I sank to just over my waist — with a 10 kg backpack on. I had to throw myself forward through the snow and crawl through it up and over a giant 2-meter-high snowdrift, drop onto the edge of a highway, cross the road, and run my butt off to the train. We arrived with 5 minutes to spare, soaking wet, fingers and legs tingling with cold, but laughing hysterically. Such a near miss! Alison from Eternal Arrival
Although my travel style has improved somewhat, I’ve never been the most organised of travellers – which is probably why Andrew balances me out so well these days.
Prime example? The day I woke up with a hangover in Sao Paulo, packed like a crazy person and dove into a taxi with what I assumed was plenty of time to catch my flight. An hour later and with a significantly lighter wallet, my friend and I set off through the doors of the airport in search of the check-in desk – a check-in desk that didn’t exist. We were at the wrong airport. Still haven’t lived that one down. Emily Gough from Along Dusty Roads blog
Entirely missed my flight due to traffic. Managed to get to the gate, but was denied boarding. Got stuck in Romania with 0 flights back as my airline couldn’t put me on a flight for another 4 days back to Amsterdam…and I had work the next day.
I ended up sleeping in an airport hotel, booking a cheap flight to London, having a day in a cute city near the Luton airport, and got a flight back to AMS. My travel companion’s hotel got cancelled…and she had to stay on my couch. A really expensive disaster. Karen from Wanderlustingsk
Even the most experienced
I’m a digital nomad and have been on the road for a little over three years. So I would call myself an experienced traveller. But it’s in the moments when we feel most secure that something happens, right? I wanted to book a flight from Saigon to Hanoi but the booking platform offered me a “nearby airport” that was cheaper.
I didn’t notice it and booked without checking the airport again (why should I?). When I realized what had happened, I tried to cancel but it was too late. I had to take a 6 hours bus ride to get to that place. But actually, it turned out to be a super beautiful tourist area with lots of waterfalls and lakes… In the end, it wasn’t bad at all and I’m actually happy that I could see this beautiful part of Vietnam! Barbara from Barbaralicious
My Peruvian Adventure
I was travelling around Peru for the second time. I was in Trujillo, and while checking out, the owner of the hostel where I was staying casually asked where I was headed next. I told him I’d be going to Lima, where I’d catch a flight to Cuzco and then start the Inca Trail. He thus mentioned a place, Marcahuasi, that I had never heard of and that seemed completely off the beaten path. He said it was around 100 km from Lima.
He described a place which was a mix of an archaeological site and a mysterious natural formation. I was intrigued and did some basic research. There wasn’t much about it online, and that got me even more interested. Once in Lima, I thought doing a day trip to Marcahuasi would be possible. After all, it was only 100 km away. I hadn’t factored in the fact that I was in Peru.
100 km in Peru aren’t like 100 km in Italy. It took me 5 hours to cover that distance, on a combination of buses going up a windy road. Once I got to San Pedro de Casta, the village that was the access point to Marcahuasi, I realized I was stuck with no buses until the following day. I found a bed in the only (very very basic) “hotel” in the village (think no hot water and no water at all after 8:00 pm, in a place at 3000 meters above sea level) and spent the night, decided to hike to Marcahuasi the following day.
I set up nice and early then, and made it back to San Pedro de Casta in time for the bus back to Chosica, where I’d get a connection to Lima. Except, for reasons I didn’t know, buses wouldn’t run and nobody in the village had a car to take me anywhere. With the help of a local woman who made it a mission to find me a ride, I practically bribed my way to the nearest bus stop: I’d have to make it back that day, or risk altogether missing my flight to Cuzco the following day. It all worked out in the end, but what an adventure! Claudia Tavani
Car break downs
Our plan was to travel (by car and ferry) from Berlin to the island of Møn in Denmark. When we picked up our rental car, we were pleasantly surprised that it was a BMW (nicer than we expected). It also had a keyless ignition system (which wasn’t as prevalent in 2011).
The drive to the ferry dock in Rostock was uneventful and fun. We arrived pretty early, so parked in the ferry line and turned off the car. When it came time to board, we attempted to restart the car, excited for some scenic drives and the white chalk Cliffs of Møn. Instead of the engine, we heard the terrible sound of silence and saw an error message on the dashboard screen. It wasn’t fuel, or a dead battery. It was the automotive equivalent of the blue screen of death. We tried everything, somewhat amused at the concept of rebooting a car, but to no avail. We weren’t going anywhere.
We also didn’t have working phones. Since we couldn’t leave the car by itself on the ferry dock, we had to split up. I stayed in the car while Justin went to get help. We’d been to Germany before and had spent time learning the language, but that really just made us experts at ordering food. This situation would require some different vocab. After walking a long way to the main office, Justin managed to communicate our situation to the people there and obtain access to a phone.
He then had to call many other German-speaking people including the police, the rental car company, and BMW. It worked! After several hours of waiting in the car reading Anna Karenina and every now and then explaining “Mein Auto ist kaput” to curious passersby, Justin finally returned with help. While we couldn’t go to Møn, we did get off that ferry dock. Sarah from Travel Breathe Repeat
While I was teaching English in Ecuador, a friend and I decided last minute to fly to Argentina for Christmas and New Year. We made the mistake of not making any reservations and arrived in Buenos Aires on Dec 23 discovering there was no place to stay and all the buses to the places we wanted to see in Argentina were sold out.
We managed to get a bus ticket to Punta del Este, Uruguay and another ticket to Punto del Diablo for the next day. We spent the next 24 hours at the beach and walking around Punta de Este and were heading back to the hostel to get our bags for the 4:00 pm bus when we saw a clock in the public square. It was 4:09 pm.
We hadn’t realized Uruguay was in a different time zone! Needless to say, we had already missed our bus so we had to hitchhike on Christmas Eve. If this wasn’t bad enough, I had a Spanish Paella in a dark restaurant for dinner and discovered after eating that it was still bloody inside so I spent the night in the bathroom due to food poisoning. I was surprised to feel relatively well on Christmas Day so I went to the beach, only to get one of the worst sunburns of my life – I was peeling until January. Lisa from The Hotflash Packer
I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of traveller, and that comes with certain pitfalls. Planning a trip is exhausting, so I usually just secure the first few days and then figure the rest out as I go along. I had been travelling around Scotland for a couple of weeks and found amazing airfare with a 2-day stopover in Reykjavik on the way back to the U.S.
Unfortunately, the last few days in Scotland were rich in experience and natural beauty, but not so much in wifi. “That’s okay,” I thought, “airports always have wifi.” I would just wait until I land in Reykjavik and take a few minutes to book a room from the airport.
The wifi was perfect and I found a room rather quickly, so I made my way to the desk to get a bus ticket into town. I was shown to the bus stop and waited in the freezing rain for a while every bus but mine came. I went inside to ask when the bus was expected and was told: “after the flight.” After the flight? What does that even mean?!
After some prodding, I found out that meant that I had to wait until the next flight got in and take the bus with those passengers 2 hours and 45 minutes later. That also means that the lady was going to let me wait for a bus in the cold and rain for 3 hours!
I tried to rent a car, but all were sold out. I settled into the one coffee shop in the airport and waited. Not ideal, but I figured it out, had lots of expensive coffee and finally made it to Reykjavik. That mix-up took a pretty big chunk out of my time in Iceland and wasn’t the best start. Turns out I was lucky to get a room. I’ve since heard stories of travellers ending up homeless due to a lack of hotel space in the city. I’d love to say I learned from this experience, but I’m still a huge procrastinator. Mags from Mags on the Move
The Most Important Rule on Russian Trains
I learned the most important rule about travelling on Russian trains in a place called Sludyanka, not far from Irkutsk near the glorious Lake Baikal. And the rule is that all Russian trains run on the Moscow time zone. Every clock you see at a train station in Russia is on Moscow time. It can get a little confusing.
This was part of our Trans-Mongolian experience. We had chosen to stop off at various cities, lakes and towns on our trip across Russia before crossing into Mongolia.
For this part of the trip, we were taking a break from the Trans Mongolian trains by taking a trip on the Circum Baikal train around the largest, deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal. I’d booked the ticket online and we were planning to catch a ferry that connected with the train.
Except, remember, all Russian trains run on Moscow time. We were on Irkutsk time. There’s a 5-hour difference. No train or ferry for us. Our pre-booked and paid-for accommodation wasn’t needed, a new booking in a new place was required. Sarah & Nigel from A Social Nomad
Wardrobe malfunction in Ho Chi Minh
We arrived in Saigon after an arduous bus journey involving two breakdowns, a defunct aircon and a kamikaze driver. The guest house was lovely, and we were especially grateful that we had access to a washing machine. As full-time travellers, such things take on great importance! With this luxury, we decided to wash as much as we could.
I threw our load of clothes into the big top-loading machine. Two bottles on the side, one of which was clearly fabric softener from the branding. The other had some pictures of clean shirts on the front, so that must be detergent, right? The machine had no drawer for detergent so I just threw a couple of glugs over the laundry. The second I did it, I realised it was not detergent but bleach! I screeched and grabbed out the clothes but it was already too late – more than half of them were damaged beyond repair.
Moral of the story – always check what is in the bottle before throwing it all over your clothes! My boyfriend actually kept a pair of bleach-damaged boxer shorts which he lovingly referred to as his “space pants”. Sarah From Trip Gourmets
Do you have it? No, don’t you?
Forgetting your possessions while travelling is a sort of rite of passage for the nomadic. Yet forgetting your most expensive and prized item on a bus in the middle of Cambodia is a whole other story.
My wife and I were on our way from Siem Reap to Ratanakiri in what is described as Cambodia’s Wild East. We took a minivan from our hotel to a drop-off area, where we piled into another dilapidated van for the rest of the 8-hour trip. There was the sweetest little baby on board and about 30 minutes into the ride I told my wife to get her Canon 5D Mark III to snap a shot.
A moment of silence, a look of utter shock and then the sentence “I thought you had the camera!” We went back and forth several times asking each other who had the camera and everyone in the van was getting uncomfortable. So we asked the driver to pull over in the middle of nowhere. He resumed throwing our bags out of the van saying that he couldn’t wait for us to sort out our dilemma. So there we were, on the road between historic Angkor Wat and jungle-laden Banlung.
Luckily we got hold of the bus company and a tuk-tuk driver came to pick us up. After an hour trip back, taking longer on the tuk-tuk, we called several people. It turns out that our camera was in the first van we took, under the back seat. Moment of relief. Finally, our camera arrived along with a very apologetic driver, even though it was totally our fault! So we had our beloved moment captured, but the worst was yet to come.
At this point, we took our chances. We gestured that they go on without us. Yet again, we were stuck for the second time in a place we didn’t know, surrounded by people who didn’t speak our language. Trying not to panic and overlooking the mighty Mekong, we tried to plan our next step.
A small crowd slowly gathered around us and suddenly a man we had befriended in Siem Reap popped out of nowhere and asked what we were doing there. After explaining our recent events he managed to organise one of his friends to take us to our hotel in Ratanakiri, for some cash money of course. But hey, we would have given anything at that moment for a safe ride, and this one had air-con! Callan Wienburg from Once in a Lifetime Journey
Nightmare Car Rental
Travelling to Ireland was a big deal for us, as our first trip to Europe. We were very excited! We decided to plan everything ourselves, so we could do exactly what we wanted.
With research, we routed and reserved a 12-day itinerary. We pre-paid for all of our entrance tickets since we manage credit carefully and keep charges minimal. Our lodging reservations were spread over 3 credit cards. Finally, the big day came. We arrived in Dublin at about 0630 and went to pick up our rental car. Ten minutes later, we were in panic mode!
Renting from an American company we used regularly, we didn’t consider the international differences. Big mistake! The price quoted on site did NOT include ANY of the required insurances and fees for Ireland. The actual price was 3 times the quoted price, and the credit hold was 4 times higher than in the US. With lodging on all 3 cards, we did not have a card with enough credit to cover the car!
Amidst the heated conversation, I gave options. Split the days into two contracts divided over two cards. Not acceptable. Debit the entire amount from my bank account immediately. Not acceptable. We pay the entire amount plus the deposit in cash, now. Not acceptable. Our electronics were dead. We had no options for research.
Near tears, I forced myself to walk away. I needed to think clearly. Once calm, I returned with a plan. Once we were in our hotel, with power and wifi, I made reservations and rerouted half our itinerary. In the end, our trip was amazing. We returned the car after 7 days, and rented a new one, from a different company, for the remainder. We lost Cork and Blarney, but we gained Kildare and National Stud. It was a decent trade-off. We also learned a huge lesson about American corporations and international regulations! Roxanna from Gypsy with a Day Job
A Siberian Saga
3 nights, over 3000 miles and several million trees. Finally, we’d arrived. We’d travelled to Irkutsk from Moscow, on the Trans-Siberian express, one of the world’s classic rail rides. A third of our way through a world backpacking trip and we were loving every second. My travelling companion and I soon set off for our pre-booked guided tour of spectacular Lake Baikal.
At this stage, everything was going smoothly……. A few hours later I was being carted off to hospital in a state of near collapse, having found myself unable to breathe properly during the tour. Several hours and 2 x-rays later, I got the diagnosis – pneumonia. My round-the-world trip was over.
I remember being wheeled to the ward through a series of underground corridors, no windows, no features of any kind – secret passages from the cold war era, someone translated. I was allocated a bed and attached to various drips. The hospital was being refurbished, but I was quite shocked at some of the conditions here – trays of urine samples in open jam jars, for example, and the occasional cockroach scuttling along. But I was too ill to care.
I was more concerned about outstaying my welcome because, in Russia, you can’t just extend your visa with a click of the fingers. Ours expired the next day, meaning my friend had to leave, and the poor girl felt she was ‘deserting’ me. ‘Just tell my family I’m in good hands and on the mend.’ I made her promise.
The next morning, an insurance rep visited. I was very weak, but grateful, especially as he promised to get me moved to better facilities and to return within 24hrs with a valid SIM card (I’d naively forgotten to check my phone/SIM for Russia).
Day 3 saw me transferred into a plush private room, equipped with TV, fridge and en-suite bathroom. It was much more comfortable, but I felt guilty that the locals had to endure far worse conditions than me, a passing visitor.
What didn’t happen was the rep’s return visit with a SIM card. Another day passed…and another. I was much better by then, and anxious to reassure my family – but with no way of doing so, as well as the language barrier to contend with. Eventually, in desperation, I walked into a doctor’s office, making a bit of a scene and pointing to his telephone. I was immediately ushered out and escorted back by a nurse, but what she did next is something I’ll never forget. She handed me her personal mobile phone and gestured for me to use it, discreetly leaving the room for 5 minutes.
I could hear my sister almost faint with relief as she heard my voice. Mysteriously, the insurance company had been telling my family that I had deteriorated and was asking for them to be flown to my bedside. It had been a horrible few days for them.
The final twist in the tale sees me at Moscow Domodedovo airport a week later, checking in for my connecting flight back to the UK. The insurance rep had eventually turned up, not with a SIM card, but with an exit visa & flight tickets. The 1st-class flight from Irkutsk to Moscow had followed, a distance taking 4 hours by air, but almost 4 days by rail!
Finally, a ray of hope…all I had to do was ‘pay’ US$ 25 to some high-up airport official and he’d ‘probably’ kindly authorise my departure! Done. I scraped onto the BA flight with just minutes to spare. Today, when I look back and think about the countries I missed, I console myself with one thing: I sure got myself a unique story in return. Sarah from Travel Continuum
Maybe we’d become too relaxed. Maybe the obliging nature of Thai hospitality had lulled us into a false sense of security. But when we walked into a train station in Chumphon and optimistically asked for two tickets for that night’s sleeper train to Butterworth, Malaysia, we hadn’t realised we were about to learn a valuable life lesson.
First of all, the smiling ticket office clerk tells us that tonight is impossible. There are no seats/beds available until next Thursday. A full week away. She turns her computer screen towards us to show rows of zeros next to the carriages of each train until then.
We’ll have two tickets for Thursday then, please. Two of your finest lower bunks (yes we’d done our research). No uncomfortable top bunks for us thank you! We hand her our passports and our tickets are duly printed.
Newly found time on our hands, we catch a train north to the seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan for a few days, returning refreshed and massaged to within an inch of our lives the following Thursday afternoon. All in good time to catch the 22:20 sleeper.
It’s then we realise today is Thursday 7th May. Our tickets read on 6th May. We return to the station clerk we’d met the previous week. Yes, she remembers us. Yes, she remembers us booking tickets for that evening. Thursday evening. But we should have got last night’s train and no, she wasn’t going to admit her mistake. We should have checked our tickets before leaving.
Not finished yet, Nicky marches in to speak to the station master. After some choice words, telephone calls and sheer stubbornness on the station master’s part, she admits defeat with a wry smile. And, having most definitely ruined said station master’s normally uneventful day, we retire to a bar lined with ice-cold bottles of Chang. A valuable lesson learned. Always check the tickets! Nicky from Above us Only Skies
Beware the partying
No surprise that our travel fail was the result of a night on the town. After three days in Bogota, we had passed the initiation process for Colombia – partying until who knows what time, checking out from accommodation in a rush then sleepily heading to the airport (in our case for sunny Santa Marta). Viva Colombia checked us in and instructed us to go to gate 15, the advisor even wrote it on the boarding pass.
People were waiting at our gate so we waited too, for an age. Turns out the gate was never 15, Viva Colombia are not just budget but also incompetent and hazy hangover heads had stopped us from investigating further. The airline refused to refund us but we managed to nab cheap walk-up flights still making to the north that night. Tranquilo! Gemma from Two Scots Abroad