It's easy in today's world of Instagram sunset pics and Snapchats from the beach to get so caught up in the wonderfully told (and sometimes excessively documented) adventures that you feel that you need to drop everything and book the next flight to ___________ (insert destination here). Just put it on the credit card. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity; it'll definitely be worth it.
Until it isn't.
And that's the part I wanted to write about today. But instead of asking you to take my word for it, I've enlisted the help of some of my favorite travel writers to pitch in with their own stories of when traveling isn't the magical experience it's so often viewed as.
Things go wrong all the time with traveling. And if you're not prepared for this fact, you're in for a big disappointment. Don't get me wrong, I love traveling, and all the people below who are going to tell you their stories love traveling too.
But before you buy that flight, remember, you've been warned.
- Sleeping In Airports -
Matt from A Different Hunger:
While I was studying abroad in Australia, I decided to spend my mid-semester break in Thailand. Because of scheduling, my friends from my study abroad program who were traveling with me and I ended up with a 24-hour layover at one of the world's most amazing airports: Changi Airport in Singapore. We were stoked to check out the iconic Marina Bay Sands' infinity pool and, not wanting to waste a minute of this opportunity, see what Singapore's nightlife was all about.
After landing, we went in search for a hotel room that we could jam-pack all six of us into. We ended up finding a place that, while light on review stars, was much more in line with a study abroad budget, which was all we really cared about. We booked a room through the airport "travel agent" that for 2 people, thinking that was the same as 6 drunk, study-abroad Americans. 30 minutes later, we were at our hotel.
"No sir, you cannot have 6 people stay in this room."
"Actually, I don't see your reservation in our system."
After a good deal of arguing, we eventually decided that it wasn't all that bad as we could just head back to the airport and spend time in the world-renowned Changi Airport.
Nope. The airport was closed now and we wouldn't be able to get in until two hours before our flight. The only area that would be open to us was the transit area. So, how did we end up spending our layover?
We slept on the floor of the airport transit area, far from Singapore's bustling nightlife, and far from the world-class amenities of Changi's airport.
At least I got a pretty epic photo-bomb out of the experience....
- Getting Arrested In Prague -
Tiana from Power Couple Life:
Being responsible 20-somethings everything told us BRING YOUR PASSPORT to Prague. We were in Dresden, Germany, staying with family and they told us, "Don't worry, its part of the EU (European Union), you don't need them". In fact, they stressed that it was dangerous to bring them! They said we would get robbed for passports and money and it was safer to leave them, since we were only going to Prague for the day on the train.
Fast forward to Prague, we are 2 stops from getting off the DB and police come tapping at our train door. Passports! What? Why? Nope. Uh Oh.
Handcuffs come out. We are handcuffed for the rest of the ride, then walked through the Prague train station where we are held for 3 hours until they rifle through our bags, fined us $50 Euro each, and give us day passes.
- One Of Those Days When Everything Goes Wrong -
Alyssa from My Life's A Movie:
I tend to get myself into a bit of trouble when I travel. And by "sometimes", I really mean, "a lot of the times". Considering I've been to 31 countries and 6 continents, you can image how long my list of worst travel experiences might be, here's the one that really takes the cake:
Last year I got my debit and credit card stolen in Thailand on two separate occasions, with the second time being the last day I was there. That wouldn't have been so awful had I not still needed to pay for a cab to get to the airport, to fly on Malaysia Airlines (two weeks after the second plane went down), and continue on to Sydney for a few days. I had just enough cash for a cheap ride to the airport, but couldn't eat for about 16 hours since the only food they offered on the flight was meat (I'm a veggie). I ended up wiring myself money in Sydney, so everything was fine and dandy, until later that evening when I somehow managed to get myself locked in the Sydney Aquarium for about half an hour.
Only having cash also sucked a lot, and limited a lot of the things I did (and ate), but I managed to budget exactly enough to get me to the airport on the final day. Oh, but then I had a triple-layover, 23 hour-total flight home, where I had no money to take a taxi, no friends awake at 6am to get me, and a canceled credit card on file for Uber. Luckily, an hour later, I was able to get ahold of my mom to give me her card to use for Uber. I slept for about 3 days after that.
- Queazy Travelers And A Bumpy Flight -
Joel from Married Explorers:
I was headed to Florida with my wife, her mom, and her brother to visit her relatives. Now, her mom and brother are world-renowned for having sensitive stomachs. The last thing I wanted to do was get on a plane with them, but I sure as hell wasn't going to drive all that distance with them either.
So we got on the plane and headed for the runway, prepped and ready to take off. All of a sudden, the captain came on the loud-speaker and told us we had to return to the gate due to the computer system going down. When we got back to the gate, we were allowed to get off of the plane and hit the restrooms or get some food. We decided to get some breakfast, which included two gigantic burritos for my wife's brother and myself, and two bagels for the ladies. In hindsight, feeding a 3-foot long burrito to a queasy traveler may not have been the best idea, but I was starving and my judgment was a bit cloudy.
Fast forward a bit and we're back on the plane, a few hours into the flight and nothing remarkable to write about. When the captain's voice came over the speakers to announce that we were to prepare for landing, I knew the real show was about to begin. I looked over at my wife's brother and he's hunched over his vomit bag like Golem hoarding his precious ring, puking back up that gigantic burrito into that not-so-gigantic bag. I looked on in horror and amazement as I surely knew that this was only going to get worse. As if on command, the bag falls over into the lap of the poor bastard sitting next to him and explodes like a Jackson Pollack painting all over his jeans. At this point, I did the only thing I could do...I laughed. I laughed hard and I laughed hysterically. It was only after a few sharp icepick elbow jabs to my ribs that I realized my wife didn't think it was so funny.
Nowadays, I don't feed queasy travelers anymore.
- $%&!*@#$ -
Candice from Candice Does The World:
While in Honolulu once a few years ago I had my brand new camera stolen from my purse. I didn't even realize it until I was on my way to the airport to catch my flight my flight to Big Island.
I didn't stress out too much as I had another camera in my back at my hotel. Once I got to Big Island however, I came to the delightful realization that that camera was also stolen. After this I knew that a whole $%&*!@#$ of bad luck was coming. Fast forward to missing buses on the Big Island, crazy turbulent flights, and when I got back to Canada, I discovered my credit card info had been compromised. I think the Hawaiian gods were telling me something.
- Being Mistaken For Terrorists -
Steve from Stevie On The Move:
While traveling across Tajikistan I was very excited about getting into Afghanistan. And after bribing ourselves into the country, my travel mate Ben and I were even more excited about the adventure we were on.
Our plan was to go to Faizabad and then further to Kabul to meet some friends. Well, we made it half the way to Faizabad. At a checkpoint our car got stopped, we got interrogated for hours, and then they just put us in handcuffs not telling us anything about what was going on. I was scared to death. A military convoy with several armored jeeps, machine guns, and rocket launchers on top were racing like maniacs through the villages taking us to a high security prison for terrorists.
When we arrived at the prison I expected the worst. Luckily it was just more interrogations and then they took us to a small cell with our driver, a tour guide, and nothing else but a Quran in the room. The worst thing was not knowing what was going on. When I asked them how long we would have to stay, they just kept saying "tomorrow, tomorrow".
After five days playing starring contests with the wall I found out why we were in jail. When dodging the Taliban in the Northern mountains of the Hindu Kush, our disguise made us look like we were Taliban! It took a week for them to figure out that we weren't terrorists and let us go.
I was never so happy to leave a country as I was that day.
- Traveling With A Dog -
Sonja from Montecristo Travels:
When travelling with a small dog the biggest challenge is not the flight, nor finding accommodations. It isn't even finding countries that don't have quarantine laws. No, the greatest challenge is the paperwork. Every country has it's own forms, with its own requirements that range from simple (proof of rabies vaccination) to far more complex and time sensitive requirements (such as an additional titer test that has to be at an acceptable level at least 30 days prior to entering the country from an internationally accepted laboratory).
So imagine for a moment that you are all ready to go. You are at the airport and you find out that your flight is cancelled due to severe storms. You hear these words: "We have to re-route you". Heart. Stopping.
Why is this such a hugely stressful incident?
Because you can't just get new forms in a flash. They require your vet and your local food inspection agency (ex: USDA in the US or CFIA in Canada) to coordinate - it takes about a week at the quickest. And you don't necessarily happen to have the right form laying about! You can just see the money you will lose as reservations have to be cancelled... and then there is the fact that most airline staff (although hey should) have no idea what flights are pet friendly, nor do they know the airports that will not allow a pet to land in cabin (ex: Heathrow).
Luckily our travel agent puts herself on standby on days she knows we are traveling. And she, on speaker phone, will work with the agents to figure it all out. We lost a day going to Greece this way almost missing out on our ferry connection to meet up with a sailing trip departure! In the end, our flight took an extra 4 hours but we made it. The stress did however, set-off a terrible anxiety attack that took nearly three days for me to get over. Was it worth it in the end? Absolutely.
- Once In A Lifetime Trips Can Be Costly -
Dan from Traveling With Dan:
In January of 2011, I decided it was time to fulfill a lifelong dream and see the Northern Lights (Aurora Burials). I traveled north to Swedish Lapland in the Arctic Circle and it was amazing! It all went well until I started my way back south, home.
My plan was to take the train, which leaves in the morning from Norway southeast to Lulea, and from there to fly to Stockholm and then my international flight (I already had all train and flight tickets purchased).
There was a snow storm that morning, and in some point I realized that the train wasn't going to leave Norway. I contacted the train company which informed me that they would be able to take me to Lulea if I made it to the next town (Kiruna), but when I did make it (hitchhiking in a snow storm), they told me they could only offer me a night train to Stockholm. I tried to explain that they could send a taxi and I would make it to my domestic flight, but they refused.
In the end, I made it to Stockholm, but too late, and since I missed my international flight. I had to but a new flight for 1000$ when my original flight was only 660$. But I did get to see the Northern Lights!
- A Spur Of The Moment Trip.... Kind Of -
Anna from Becoming Anna:
One time I went on a spur of the moment trip from Oklahoma to Wisconsin just for fun. I had never been to Canada, so once I got to Wisconsin I decided to drive up the highway that wrapped all the way around Lake Superior. It went through Canada and back to the U.S. But when I tried to go, I got stopped by Canadian border patrol.
They didn't believe my story that it was a spur of the moment trip, so they took me to a tiny, dimly lit room, and screamed in my face for 5 hours to tell them the real reason I was there. They tried saying they had proof I was an escaped mental patient. They said that I was there to kill myself. They called me a drug smuggling terrorist. They even said my passport was fake and I was gonna be arrested for it.
After 5 hours they had no proof of why I was there, so they denied my entrance and said to come back when I had a hotel reservation. I didn't go back!
- Accident Prone -
Jenn from Who Needs Maps:
I can be quite accident prone. Lucky for Jack, my traveling partner, I end up with all of the so much bad luck that it stops anything bad from happening to him.
In 3 months backpacking around Southeast Asia, I found myself in the hospital 3 times. First time around, I had to get stitches in between my eyes because an air panel fell on my face while I was in bed in Vietnam. Nothing adventurous, just getting ready for bed.
About a week later, we were in Cambodia and awoke to Jack yelling, “Oh my God, you have to go to the hospital!”. I didn’t really understand what was happening until I realized I could not open my left eye. We went to the hospital and I was told it was either a bacterial infection or a bug bite, but regardless, it was the size of a golf ball. I had a bandaid in between my eyes from the stitches and a black and swollen eye from the bug bite. It looks like I was beaten so I couldn’t walk close to Jack without being asked if he hit me.
Have to go to the hospital is a hassle and takes a lot away from your travels. But I've learned that these things happen. You just have to take it with a grain of salt.
Now, go out and create your own adventures. Buy those flights. Cross things off your bucket list. And when things go horribly, inexplicably wrong, just remember, it's part of the journey, and we've all been there before. See you on the road.