Even professional travelers sometimes get things wrong. Sometimes, those things end up going well anyway; sometimes they go down in flames. I have teamed up with twelve of my favorite travel bloggers to share our amazing and embarrassing moments when travel has gone wrong. Why thirteen of us? Unlucky seems to be a common theme here!
I am a planner when it comes to my travel. I like to know what I am doing, when I am doing it, how I am getting there, and such. On my recent trip to Madrid, I had an incredible day trip to El Escorial planned. I would take the train (an hour and a half), walk up the hill to the monastery (a half hour in bitter cold), and spend the morning exploring one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen.
The first part of the trip went perfectly. The train was on time, and I didn’t get lost walking up the hill. The monastery was indeed gorgeous, and I spent about 30 minutes taking pictures from every angle before making my way to the entrance… only to find out it was closed on Mondays. So I turned around, walked back down the hill, and sat on a long train ride back to Madrid. About four hours of travel for a sight that I didn’t get to see makes this a pretty frustrating story, but at least the outside pictures came out well!
Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi
After grabbing my shoulder from behind, I figured the current situation could escalate when the policeman started repeating ‘terrorist’ and ‘passport’ in among a whole lot of Turkish. My lack of Turkish made this Antalya encounter pretty nerve wracking. When he realized I didn’t have my passport on me, his other English word happened to be ‘deport’. Not the two words you want to hear in a foreign country (though a part of me wanted to know if I got to choose the country I’d be deported to). After a few minutes, the policeman was quite animated, until perhaps in a silly move I pretended to film the encounter, which wound him up even more. Eventually I convinced him I was not a terrorist and said I’d return to my hostel (not that he knew what I was saying… the one time Google Translate would be most helpful). Afterwards a local came up to me and we had a good laugh about the scene. I didn’t ask him why he didn’t come over to help translate, rather than just watching. Pro tip: take a photo of your passport, so if you don’t carry yours everywhere you can still show a photo which was acceptable for later police checks.
Tom from Travel Tom Tom
I have traveled around Thailand 17 times now, but I will never forget my first time and the most stupid travel mistake I made back then while renewing my Thailand visa. Arriving at Bangkok Airport will get you a 30 day visa for Thailand but more than 10 years ago I wanted to travel around for about 6 weeks so at some point I had to do a visa run. I still had 16 days left on my visa but as I was traveling fairly close to the Myanmar border I decided to do my visa run. The new 30 days would be exactly enough to complete my Thailand itinerary. It took me more than a day to get to Ranong and finally Myanmar and the trip cost me about $40. As soon as the immigration guy stamped my passport I was like: no sir you must be making a mistake! My visa was valid until May 20, I just did a visa run and now you stamp my passport with a new visa ending May 18. Sorry, new rules: when you travel overland into Thailand you only get 15 days on your visa!
Shandos from Travelnuity
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to travel around Europe is by train. However, despite seeming so easy, there are a few catches that you need to be aware of. The trickiest of all are trains that split in half, mid-journey. After reading about this in a blog post while in Belgium, I congratulated myself on picking this up a few days later on the train to Bruges. But fast-forward a few months later, and it was my turn to experience a travel fail while traveling to the historic town of Quedlinburg in the center of Germany.
I’d already been in Germany for a few weeks, catching trains nearly every day, and had not been aware that trains in Germany also split in half. So, when puzzled about the display of two route numbers and destinations on the station display board, I simple figured the train must change route number part way through the journey, after my destination, and boarded the train. However, after the train stopped at one station for an inordinately long period of time, when it finally departed, I had a funny feeling. Looking at Google Maps on my phone, I realized we were heading in the opposite direction, and used my limited German to confirm that indeed our train had split and I was on the wrong half!
There was nothing I could do except wait until we arrived at the next station 10 minutes later, then catch the next train back, and an hour later get on the correct half of the train to Quedlinburg. Unfortunately, we only had the afternoon to explore the beautiful old town full of half-timbered houses, and the hours of daylight are quite limited in late November. But the upside was that I was still out exploring when the sun set in beautiful fashion, washing the sky with every shade of purple and pink.
Michele from Legging It
When it came time for us to leave Spain in 2014, we had a couple of options. The deciding factor for our route was that I had read about Jeff Coon’s amazing Flower Puppy and became determined to see it. We were on a motorcycle so I plotted our journey to include Bilbao. Ignoring the fact that it added an extra 200 km to our trip and a more expensive ferry to the UK, I was undeterred. We arrived in town and found our way to the Guggenheim Museum, and parked the bike around the corner. My excitement faded to being stunned as I was confronted with a huge mass of scaffolding and plastic. It turns out they replant the puppy a couple of times a year with seasonal flowers and our visit coincided with this. The closest I was going to get to seeing it was an image, the same as all of the hundreds on the internet. I hope to return one day to see it but now living back in Australia it seems a dream.
Keri from Our Globetrotters
When my in-laws decided to take their first big overseas trip to see their first grandchild in London, we really wanted to spoil them. We were showing off how easy we could take a break to another country, so planned a long weekend in Paris. Securing a great last minute hotel and Eurostar package to Paris, we were off! We completely wowed them with the city’s famous sights, our amazing location next to Champs Elysees and quality family time – I was winning top daughter-in-law points here!
The final day we split forces to kill a few hours. I told them the train left at five something but neglected to actually check the tickets and left them in my suitcase at the hotel. Desperately trying to fill a final few rain soaked hours we met back at our hotel at 3pm… only to discover our train left in 20 minutes – 15.20. It has a 5 in it….
Of course, Eurostar tickets bought in a package are non-refundable, non-transferable. It was a busy Sunday evening. They had a plane to catch back to Australia the following day. Four new business premier class standby tickets later that cost significantly more than the entire weekend, we made it.
We have taken literally hundreds of planes, trains, and ferries in our lives. I worked in finance, and am meticulous with numbers, schedules, and meetings. But you can be sure that one costly, tiny little mistake 7 years ago has not been forgotten.
Margherita from The Crowded Planet
The kids had been begging us to take them to Paris. We eventually got around to buying tickets on the Eurostar and booking time off work to take them for a long weekend. Everyone was super excited.
I’m generally in charge of organizing our timetable when we travel, partly because I wear a watch while my husband doesn’t, and well, partly because I’m just more organized than he is. Except this time I wasn’t.
I checked the Eurostar tickets the night before, just to be sure I knew what we were doing. I set my alarm to ensure we were all up in time. I knew exactly what was going to happen: tube to King’s Cross, leisurely breakfast there, buy our train sushi (because we always have sushi on the Eurostar) and then head to security and customs.
Everything went according to plan. We got to the station and did all our stuff. As we walked towards check-in I felt my heart sink. Something felt wrong. Why would I ever have booked a 10.30am train? Feeling slightly sick, I checked the tickets. Yup. We were meant to be on a train that arrived at 10.30am, not one leaving then. Damn.
I sheepishly told my husband what I’d done. Luckily he was far nicer than I’d have been had the situation been reversed and just suggested I go and ask what our options were. One long queue later and it transpired that we couldn’t just swap for new tickets even though the member of staff thought I was hilariously stupid, but because she thought I was such an idiot she kindly let us just pay the difference in ticket price for new tickets. So an extra £300 later we were on our way.
We had a brilliant time but my husband and kids have never let me forget my error.
James from Worldwide Shopping Guide
One of our dreams in life has been to walk through blooming, endless lavender fields in the south of France. So, when we were going to be in Paris in the beginning of June, I obsessively tracked bloom reports and chatted with lavender farmers in the area to see if they were shaping up for an early bloom – and they were! So we booked train tickets to Avignon, and a rental car to pick up from the train station. We spent the whole ride to Avignon peeking out windows, looking for signs of lavender.
When we arrived, we headed to the car rental kiosks – and were promptly asked for our passports so we could pick up our rental car. It was then that I could clearly see our passports… sitting on top of the dresser in our hotel room in Paris. Humiliated (me) and heartbroken (Luke), we sat outside the train station with ALL of our gear, eating pain au chocolat to drown the disappointment.
At this point, Luke said, “Hey, they’ve got Uber! Let’s go into Avignon.” So, we spent the day on foot, trekking around downtown Avignon and all its beautiful museums and historical spots… with all of our camera gear. And hey, by the end of the day, we even found a little patch of lavender in bloom!
It wasn’t the day trip we wanted, but it ended up being pretty perfect… even though I think we both still have a neck ache from carrying all that gear!
Peter from Last Kodiak
I was headed to Samoa in 2008 and somehow my passport got left in American Samoa and I did not realize it was there until I arrived in the country. I sat in the airport for three days because I could not enter the country without it, and they would not let me fly back to the United States, either.