Travel fails are an inevitable part of travel. Sometimes, the fails are small and inconsequential. Other times, the travel fails are massive. While I may be a “Prepared Girl” today, that doesn’t mean I’ve always been that way.
In fact, I’ve had some pretty epic travel fails over the years. Through these experiences I’ve grown quite the collection of lessons learned from traveling.
This is volume two of my biggest travel fails, including my lessons learned from each. If you haven’t read it yet, check out volume 1 of my worst travel fails including the time I was almost kidnapped as well as nearly strangling myself while bungee jumping.
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1| Being attacked by a kangaroo.
Is there anything more stereotypically Australian than seeing a kangaroo in the wild? When I was studying in Sydney, I knew I just had to experience this. Fortunately, my Australian roommate offered to take me to see them. I was elated!
As we pulled into the car park, she told me to leave all of my food in the car. Kangaroos have quite a sense of smell and can get aggressive when they catch a scent of food. I’m known to carry snacks with me *at all times* so I dutifully emptied them out.
We took a short walk down a boardwalk and through a forest before the path opened up into a beach without another soul to be seen. Even without kangaroos it was breathtaking. But, then I saw them hopping along as cute as can be.
It was absolutely magical. I wanted to give them space so watched from a safe distance, snapping photos happily. One of the kangaroos seemed curious about me. I thought we were having a special moment as it hopped toward me.
And then, it sat back on its hind legs, front legs up and started honking loudly at me. That’s the only way I know to describe the sound. Shocked, I paused trying to digest what was happening. It hopped towards me, still honking, and I hear my roommate giggling off to the side snapping photos. I yell “what do I do?!” She says “are you sure you got all the snacks out of your bag?”
Running out of options as this beast approached, eyes locked on me, I took my bag, opened it and threw it. The kangaroo immediately hopped towards it’s prize. Apparently, there was a granola bar I’d missed in the bottom of the bag.
Lesson Learned: Be cautious about carrying food near wildlife and use bear containers or other methods to minimize scent.
2 | Experiencing muscle spasms while on a business trip in Switzerland.
This trip to Switzerland was a big deal. After years of asking for an expat assignment, I finally got the call. I’d be moving to England for three years and this conference in Switzerland would be my chance to meet the new team.
The conference would include go-karting, outdoor activities, cave hikes and more all in a beautiful chalet with wintry views of the surrounding Swiss Alps. Unsure how to pack for this variety of activities, I *may* have overpacked a bit. I mean, it was winter, I needed all the layers, right?
As I soaked in the business class experience on my flight from Los Angeles, I smugly thought how well-rested I’d be when I arrived. I was ready to impress. When I arrived by train in the small mountain town of Villars, I exited the train station and checked my notes to see where the hotel was located. That’s when I saw it, the hill. The very steep cobblestone hill.
Some time later, I summited the hill, sweaty and out of breath from lugging my two ton suitcase. The hotel staff quickly checked me into my room, where I immediately crashed.
When my alarm sounded in the morning, I tried to sit up. Immediately, I realized that there would be no sitting of any kind as sharp pain shot up and down my back and neck. I couldn’t roll over or sit up. And the bloody telephone was on the far side of the room (this was pre-cell phone).
Tears falling, panic setting in, I weighed my options. I bit down on the pillow and flopped myself on the floor, writhing in pain. As I army-crawled across the floor to the phone I realized I didn’t know who to call and didn’t speak French. Through clenched teeth I explained my situation to the front desk. They were able to locate my soon-to-be manager’s room and contact him.
About an hour later, a hotel worker let a doctor into my room to find me laying half naked on the floor biting on a pillow next to the phone crying. Thankfully, they respectfully lifted me into bed and gave me a shot of painkillers and muscle relaxers to make me more comfortable.
I missed nearly the entire conference because I was in bed unable to move.
Lesson Learned: Travel with carry-on only whenever possible.
3 | Getting destroyed on a surf lesson in Costa Rica.
Go surfing in Costa Rica, they said. It will be fun, they said. Cut to me with my bare behind hanging out of my bathing suit, as I was washed onto the shore clutching my surfboard.
My itinerary in Costa Rica was planned perfectly so that the last couple of days could be spent at the beach near Jaco. I couldn’t wait to take a surf lesson and lounge in the sun. At least, that was the plan.
When I arrived, the forecast was bleak – gray skies and rain for the entire time I’d be there. The waves were, um, quite large (red flag #1). But, my heart was set on surfing. The beach was nearly empty (red flag #2) aside from one man with a bunch of surfboards. He called himself the Rasta Surf School. It was obviously meant to be, or so I thought.
Looking back, I’m not even sure he was an instructor. He might’ve just been an enthusiastic surfer looking to make some extra cash. Without any instruction, we paddled out into the monster waves. Did I stand up? Err, kind of. Just before I was absolutely owned by the waves over and over again.
Lesson Learned: Be prepared to adjust your plans if Mother Nature or other factors aren’t cooperating.
4 | Booking a return flight out of Tanzania on the wrong day.
It was going to be a trip of a lifetime! I would be spending five days and four nights on a budget camping safari in Tanzania. As a Delta Skymiles fangirl, I went out of my way to craft the perfect itinerary that would maximize my Skymiles points flying on Delta partners all the way from Minneapolis to Tanzania and back. I booked a 4pm flight out of Arusha airport. It would be tight, but should give me plenty of time after the safari to take a quick shower in a friend’s hotel room and make it to the airport.
Everything was going great until our safari guide asked to confirm all of our return flights or accommodations. It was in that moment that I learned there were two airports in Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Arusha, and that they are located about 1-½ hours apart. The safari guide had assumed I was flying out of Kilimanjaro and suddenly our last half day of the tour was in jeopardy and there would be no time for a shower.
This miscommunication about the safari schedule and my flights was an honest mistake. A mistake that resulted in us cutting our last day a little short and racing down the dirt road to Arusha Airport just in time for my flight back to the US fresh off of four days of not showering. Fortunately, my travel mates were supportive of ending the trip a little early though I felt awful for the mistake.
Lesson Learned: Don’t book flights too close to the end of a tour without checking the detailed itinerary with the tour company beforehand. Also, in a pinch, use airline miles to upgrade to business class, if possible, to gain access to showers at the Business Class lounge during a layover.
5 | Being trapped in the Eiffel Tower.
Alright, I’m going to say it – I’m not a fan of Paris. I’ve been multiple times, I’ve tried to like it and it’s just not for me. But, when I was traveling with cousins throughout Europe, we agreed to tick it off of their bucket list and make a stop there.
On the day we planned to go to the Eiffel Tower I was lukewarm on joining them. I intended to walk there and hang out in the grass underneath until they were done. But, once I was there I figured I may as well go up again and give it another try.
One cousin and I noticed that the line was very short so we decided to take the elevator. My other cousins opted for the stairs to the lower level. As the line slowly snaked its way to the elevator, we watched them climbing the never-ending stairs.
Once you get up one elevator on the Eiffel Tower, you emerge to another queue which takes you to another elevator. We were stuck. The queue wasn’t moving and we were blocked in by barricades guiding us in one direction. There was nowhere we could go.
Hours later, we emerged at the top to begrudgingly enjoy the view of Paris from above. We had no idea where our other cousins were or how to reach them. To make the best of the situation, we splurged on a glass of champagne before making our way back down.
Lesson Learned: Don’t feel pressured to do things you don’t want to do when traveling. And, when things don’t go as planned, make the most of it.
6 | Forgetting my crampons when winter hiking in Norway.
Hiking in winter was not something I’ve always enjoyed. In fact, my trip to Norway in winter would be my first serious foray into winter hiking. I was nervous about being cold and miserable, but my desire to chase the Northern Lights won out.
I had researched all the tips to stay warm and safe while outdoors in winter, purchasing crampons, wool socks and layers to bring along. So, when I arrived at the trailhead in the Lofoten Islands in winter and noticed my crampons were not in my suitcase, my heart sank. I could picture them sitting on the floor in my bedroom, forgotten and left behind.
But, we were at the trailhead and there wasn’t a store for miles. I accepted that I would just do my best to navigate the trail and turn around if I couldn’t make it. That’s when I noticed a dark object out of the corner of my eye, resting in the packed snow at the trailhead parking area. A single microspike laid there, clearly left behind by another hiker by accident.
Like Cinderella, I tried the microspike on and it fit! I couldn’t believe it! That single microspike was on my right foot for the entire five days in the Lofoten Islands.
7 | Burning off my bangs in Fiji.
Women with bangs (or fringe) understand the struggle when it comes to tropical weather. On top of that, my hair is known to become the size of the universe in humid conditions. It’s all around not a good look.
So, when I planned my return trip to Fiji, there was no doubt that my travel hair straightener would be coming with me. I wasn’t going to let my unruly hair ruin my beachy look on this trip!
After over a day traveling to Nadi, Fiji, and then a bus and ferry to my destination in the Yasawa Islands, I was exhausted. I woke up from a restful night of sleep, walked into the bathroom and noticed the mess of bangs above my eyebrows.
In a jetlagged haze, I decided to straighten my bangs quickly, pull back the rest of my hair and walk to get some coffee. I plugged my straightener into a converter and then into a plug on the wall. Like I do nearly every day, I grabbed a few chunks of my bangs and quickly ran the hot straightener over them. In my haze, I didn’t recognize the burning smell until it was too late. The straightener had overheated and, while it didn’t burn off my bangs, it destroyed them.
And so goes the story of how my return trip to Fiji resulted in photos of me with my bangs pinned back in an awkward attempt to hide the evidence. It took nearly a year to grow them out so I could wear them normally again.
Lesson Learned: Make sure you know the voltage ratings of the country you are traveling to and each of your electrical devices.
8 | Spraying bidet water all over a toilet in Japan.
When I was nine years old, by a strange sequence of events, I found myself at a homestay in a small town in Japan with my best friend. It was part of an exchange program with my hometown in Indiana. After months of studying Japanese language and culture, we were able to navigate basic conversations but had limited ability to read Japanese.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into the bathroom to find an electronic keypad with unknown Japanese symbols on it attached to the toilet. We had just arrived at the family home and I really had to go to the bathroom. I did my business and, feeling relieved, turned to look at the buttons. After a quick assessment, I chose a button and pushed it.
Immediately, a spray of water erupted from what I now know is a bidet. I started screaming and panicking as the host family came rushing to the bathroom to see what happened. There I was soaked in toilet water and standing in a puddle in their bathroom, the family burst into laughter.
Lesson Learned: Ask for help and definitely close the toilet lid before pushing any buttons.
9 | Leaving my suitcase at home.
As a child, my family would sometimes drive from Indiana to places like Gulf Shores, Alabama or Clearwater, Florida for a beach getaway. We’d pile into the Silver Bullet, our family minivan, and hit the open road. For a kid that grew up far from the ocean, these trips were magical!
At age seven, this particular trip was the first time I packed my own suitcase. It was a little fake leather suitcase with a plastic handle. Inside it I had lovingly placed my swimsuit and summer faves, including my heart-shaped red sunglasses. When it was packed, I took it outside and set it next to the van. My dad was using his Tetris skills to make everything fit just right.
I hopped in the middle row of the van, hit play on my Walkman and zoned out. Fourteen hours later, when we arrived I waited by the back of the van as my dad unloaded each bag. As he closed the trunk, we looked at each realizing in the same moment that I was suitcase-less. My suitcase was likely sitting right where I’d placed it in the driveway, never having been loaded in the trusty Silver Bullet.
With no swimsuit or change of clothes, I was devastated. How would I play in the ocean and soak up the sun? After a quick detour to K-Mart’s clearance section, I had the essentials covered. And, yes, a week later when we returned to our home in Indiana, my little suitcase was right where we left it in the driveway.
Lesson Learned: Always watch your suitcase being tagged and loaded, whether it be in your family vehicle or on the airline luggage conveyor.
Hilarious Travel Fails Make Memorable Moments
Fortunately, aside from my ego, I wasn’t seriously injured in any of these travel fails. So, I choose to look back, laugh at myself and learn to be better the next time. After all, travel fails are all part of the adventure, right?
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