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The Worst Travel Mistakes I’ve Made. Ever.

Last week, some hours before Central Italy was struck by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that killed almost 300 people and injured many more, I was struck by a sinking feeling in my stomach. It was not a premonition of the swaying I would feel in the Rome hotel room we were staying in on the night of that disaster, but a knowing that I had made, perhaps, the worst mistake of my travel life. Ever.

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When you travel, there are bound to be problems, mishaps and catastrophes. Missed or delayed flights, thefts, getting lost, awful accommodation, food poisoning – these are all things that any world wanderer has to deal with at one time or another.

In the end though, all of these travel mishaps amount to battle stories to be shared with other travel warriors you might meet along the way. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re welcomed, but they are certainly expected and maybe even enjoyed a little bit (after the fact). After all, these “bad” experiences link travellers as much as the shared experience of visiting different places do.

I count myself incredibly lucky. Despite traveling pretty constantly for the last 10 years, and visiting 57 different countries, I’ve never been robbed, gotten seriously sick or missed a flight. Mind you, there have been plenty of close calls – a mad dash through Barcelona’s airport to catch a flight to Venice, stomach troubles in Cusco right before our 4 day trek to Machu Picchu, and money stolen out of our room in Thailand, which was luckily reimbursed by the hotel owner.

Really, when does that ever happen? Like I said. Close calls.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the travel mistakes that seem so beyond the realm of possibility, it’s a wonder that we continue traveling at all. And boy, have I made some big ones.

In order, from bad, to worse, to can’t believe this actually happened – our worst travel mistakes. Ever.

BAD: Misreading the departure time of our long-distance bus from Cafayate to Iguazu Falls.

I got so comfortable in the sunny, little town of Cafayate, Argentina that I kinda forgot days are divided into AM and PM. Despite knowing that the bus ride from Cafayate to Iguazu was a dizzying 24 hours, I still managed to decide that our bus could depart Cafayate and arrive in Iguazu Falls on the same day.

Yup. Big mistake. One that cost us a day in Iguazu Falls, double the already, very expensive bus fare, and a stolen iTouch. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

WORSE: Landing in Malaysia for the first time on a national holiday, and realizing that I’ve somehow left all our bank cards behind, and we have no cash.

So when you travel, you usually need some money. Something I know, but seemed to forget right before our 3 week trip through Malaysia and Borneo. Because when we landed in Kuala Lumpur for the first time, and went to withdraw some money from the ATM at the airport, we couldn’t.

I’d somehow left all our bank cards behind in Seoul.

We spent our first Friday night in Kuala Lumpur hiding in our hotel room, trying to think of a way out of our mess. Banks were closed because of the holiday, and we only had a little cash with us. By some sort of grace, we found a single credit card hiding in the bottom of our bag. Now all we had to do was find a bank open somewhere in the city. And we did. In Little India. Thank the travel gods!

Sure, we might’ve had a lot of cash advance fees to pay on that trip, but at least we were able to eat! ๐Ÿ™‚

CAN’T BELIEVE THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED: Sending our passports back to Korea from Italy, and realizing it 3 days before a flight to Greece.

I blame this one on mommy brain, and the fact that I’ve scarcely gotten more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep in a row for months. But that doesnโ€™t make me feel any better about it. When my sister-in-law, Bora came to Rome, we figured itโ€™d be a great idea to give her one of our suitcases to take back to Korea for us. Something about a baby and having lots of luggage.

What seemed like a stroke of genius, turned into our worst travel mistake ever, when I realized 3 days before our flight to Naxos, that Iโ€™d inadvertently sent our passports back to Korea in the luggage.

Frantic messages to Bora in Seoul to search for our passports proved my fears true. Our only option? To hope and pray that DHL would get them to us on time for our flight.

Only it got worse.

She could only find 2 passports. Agriโ€™s passport was just…missing. Not in Korea. Not in Rome. And not in our rental car. Frantic visits to the Canadian Embassy in Rome, phone calls to our friend Louis in Seoul to find Agri’s citizenship card, and miraculously, a temporary passport was completed in just 1 day.

And then we found Agriโ€™s โ€œlostโ€ passport stuck to a wallet in our backpack in Rome.

On the morning of our flight, Agri amazingly had 2 passports, and Naia and I had none. And when did they actually arrive? At almost the exact time we were supposed to take off for our flight to Greece. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

C’mon. Make me feel better. Tell us all about your worst travel mistakes in the comments below.

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30 Comments Post a comment
  1. Really well-written post! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I can think of a few mistakes to share:

    1. Going to Bosnia and Herzegovina on a road trip. None of us withdrew cash, none of us bothered to check the currency, or learn a single word of Bosnian. Roads are rarely marked, so we ended up following the wrong instructions given by are horrible GPS and turning into a 1-way street in the wrong direction (again, there were no signs). We got stopped by cops who didn’t speak a word of English. They wanted a bribe, but we didn’t understand. Their word for “fine” sounded like “pen,” so we handed the cop over a pen. The officer probably said the name of their currency, but we had no idea. He was so exasperated after a few minutes, so he gave up and let us go. However, our hearts were racing the whole time.

    2. Buying an interrail pass on short notice and while travelling. They have a bit of an archaic booking and delivery system. Almost didn’t get my pass and tickets on time because of it…A kind woman working for the company secretly sent things express after I burst into tears.

    September 1, 2016
    • Hahaha, while that exchange in Bosnia must’ve been stressful at the time, it sure is funny after the fact. That cop must’ve been so confused when you handed him a pen, instead of some cash. Lol.

      September 3, 2016
      • Yes! Nowadays, it’s a funny story and I can’t tell it without laughing.

        September 5, 2016
  2. Oh no this all sounds so horrible ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
    I can’t really think of any bad mistakes we have done…but then it is “we” and not just “I”.
    Back in 2009 I was taking the ship from Finland to Germany as so many times before and afterwards. It is a 26 hour journey and veeery boring. I didn’t take any water or food with me as I thought that I could just buy something there without trouble. Oh dear, it was a desaster as I had as so many Finnish people only my EC card with me (barely any cash in Scandinavia these days, just cards) and the whole damn ship only accepted cash!!!!!
    Needles to say I was very very hungry in the end of the journey plus thirsty as the water from the tap was not recommended to drink ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    September 1, 2016
    • Ohhh, you are so lucky that you haven’t had too many bad mistakes during your travels! Though 26 hours without food or anything to do seems quite painful indeed. Lol…I’m always amazed that there are still places that only accept cash these days, especially in such a developed place as Scandinavia!!

      September 4, 2016
  3. Kirstie #

    Great read, I feel your pain! We are sat in Hanoi stuck here for 10 days because the manager in the Chinese embassy is on holiday so they won’t let us submit our visa application until Monday. Not really anything we could have done about it, but it has stressed us out a bit!

    I once accidentally booked a night bus from Belgium to the UK for the day before I was travelling, because I somehow forgot that half past midnight on Tuesday is early on Tuesday morning, not early on Wednesday morning. I got on the bus all excited, and the driver just looked at me like ‘what are you trying to pull?’. Fortunately he took pity on me and let me ride anyway when somebody else didn’t turn up.

    This sort of thing so often happens when you think you’re having a travel disaster though – people can be so nice! Recently I’ve got much better at not stressing out (read: occasionally I don’t even burst in to tears…) when something seemingly terrible happens, because it almost always miraculously turns out OK in the end.

    Hope your upcoming journeys go more smoothly!

    September 1, 2016
    • Are you traveling long-term? Vietnam is not such a bad place to get “stuck,” though obviously if you have to be back for work or something, it’d be super stressful. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But agree that people can be so nice when bad things happen. When we visited the Canadian Embassy here in Rome, there were all kinds of people who had been robbed on the train coming from the airport (talk about bad first impressions), and the staff there were handling everything so calmly.

      We’ve got 3 days left on our trip, so the odds of something going wrong now are slim. At least I hope so!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      September 4, 2016
      • Very true, worse places to be stuck! I could spend days just drinking the coffee (we pretty much are). Yep we are 11 months on the road now, but scheduled to get on a cargo ship from hong kong to australia in 10 days, then on to new zealand to settle down for a while. Fingers crossed we make the boat. ๐Ÿ™‚

        September 5, 2016
        • YES! Vietnamese iced coffee is the best!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Wow! Fantastic journey you guys are on. Look forward to reading all about that cargo ship. Sounds like a real adventure. ๐Ÿ™‚

          September 5, 2016
          • Looking forward to writing about it too! We are now waiting in Hong Kong for the boat, and we passed the cargo docks today and got all excited. The ship is in Shanghai – we can look its position up online. (I’ll stop geeking out now!)

            September 11, 2016
  4. Oh no! The passport issue sounded the worst! Luckily all of you got passports in the end and I am assuming it all went very good The partying in the club one as per the photo sounded like one of the more fun experiences – not so much travel horror stories as you said but probably due to a risky decision that could be avoided ๐Ÿ˜€

    I really don’t have that many bad travel stories. I try to be a perfectionist and always plan everything beforehand. But last week when I traveled to a town outside of the city, I found myself lacking some money. Somehow I had withdrawn the maximum amount from my bank that day, and I don’t have a credit card. All the way back I hoped that my train card would have enough money to last me the journey back. It did – ticket inspector checked my card on board and didn’t have an issue with it. But later that night I was still so poor and could only afford a small, semi-cold pizza slice for dinner ๐Ÿ˜€

    September 1, 2016
    • Lol…yeah the club was kinda crazy. We stayed up all night, partying, stopped into our hotel to grab our luggage, then had to run through the airport to catch our flight. Made it though! ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, we did all get our passports, but a little late, so we had to rebook our flight to Greece. Fortunately, it didn’t cost us too much – just 100 euro for the 3 of us, so it all ended up ok, and I still got my time on a Greek beach.

      Not having enough money, or even access to money is soooo frustrating. But lucky you had enough to get back home safely and to eat something, even if it was just a small piece of pizza!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      September 5, 2016
  5. My worst mistakes have been not learning enough functional words in the local language.. that not only created trouble in places but also hampered my full experience of the place..

    September 1, 2016
    • I’m totally guilty of that too – and you’re right that knowing some of the language gives you a fuller experience of a destination. I’ve only traveled through Italy with my husband (who speaks perfect Italian), and I know that my experience of the country is very different than what most people who visit, experience…

      September 5, 2016
  6. My partner forgot there was a time change on a flight from Jamaica to Miami, ended up missing the connection home… The last one of the day! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    September 2, 2016
    • Yikes! That’s the worst feeling ever, isn’t it? What did you guys end up doing? I hope you didn’t have to be at work or something the next day!!

      September 5, 2016
      • No, we had an overnight with my parents before our flight home to the U.K. But it was a mad rush!

        September 14, 2016
  7. Oh, Shelley, these are great – AFTER the fact! I have *almost* done all of these, or I’ve done less harmful versions of them. I have sent stuff home that I needed (but not passports), I have forgotten to check luggage through when we had to change planes (and one of those times it was 5 big suitcases that we had to claim and then re-check with about 30 minutes between flights in a jammed airport – barely made it and screamed at my whole family multiple times to hurry up), and I have misread AM and PM on those just-after-midnight tickets a few times. Probably my biggest “mistake” was making my son fly from South Africa-London-Chicago with me even though he was throwing up … I paid for that one for about 24 straight hours … ugh! Glad things sort of worked out for you although it wasn’t clear to me if you actually did make the flight to Greece as scheduled?

    September 2, 2016
    • Woah, 30 minutes to re-check bags is super tight. No wonder you were yelling at everyone to hurry up! ๐Ÿ™‚ I shall remember to never make Naia fly with me when she’s throwing up. She threw up on the catamaran between Naxos and Mykonos (fortunately all over daddy hahaha), but baby throw-up can’t even really be classified as throw-up, can it?

      And no, we didn’t make our scheduled flight? We had to let that one go and rebook one for later in the evening at 5pm. Fortunately, our original flights were only about 100 euro for all 3 of us, so it wasn’t too bad in terms of cost!

      September 5, 2016
  8. i was staying with a family in the republic of georgia. I left my passport in the pocket of my trousers. Host mum went into my room took some clothes to help me out by doing some washing. replacing that one was not easy – no australian consulate in georgia!

    September 6, 2016
    • Oh no! That’s even worse than accidentally laundering cash! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ For some reason though, I thought passports were indestructible, even through washing. Lol, I guess not. Must remember that for future reference. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      September 8, 2016
  9. Oh my goodness, Im sorry but I laughed. I think all travelers have horror stories, and I always find mine hilarious after the fact (of course)… I think my worst was in Athens, I wrote about it… http://andthreetogo.com/travel-days-better-left-forgotten/

    September 8, 2016
    • Oh wait… and this one http://andthreetogo.com/wednesday-write-sometimes-embarrass-horribly/

      My father-in-law read this post and still asks me how my time in the airport was, each and every time I take a flight :0

      September 8, 2016
      • This one is beyond beyond what can possibly be imagined. But seriously, they need to remove that torture device from the kids play area. I see lawsuit about to happen… :p

        September 11, 2016
        • When I contacted the airport, they said they would check it out… But pretty much made me
          Feel like a complete idiot about it… Oh well..
          Lesson learned haha

          September 11, 2016
  10. Omg the passport issue sounds really bad and stressful! Did you manage to take the flight to Greece though?
    I cannot think of any big travel mistakes that I’ve made but there must be some. Something that comes to mind is that we stayed about 1 hour away from Rome city center (airbnb) and ended up losing a lot of time traveling back and forth. Besides, the trains were delayed often, the buses were not in time and we were in Rome just for the weekend! Never again. I have learned that it’s much better idea to pay more but stay in central location in big cities especially if you won’t be there for long.
    Others are not bringing enough warm clothes when traveling in colder places, good walking shoes etc. It happened in Lithuania some years ago – we were in Vilnius for three days in October and the temperatures dropped to -8 degrees!! I ended up layering ALL clothes that I had to cope with the cold. Lesson learnt: always check the weather and bring appropriate gear. I am getting better at it though ๐Ÿ™‚

    September 19, 2016
    • Lol…yeah, the passport issue left me with a big pit in my stomach that’s for sure! We actually had to rebook our flights to Greece, cuz the passports arrived just a few hours too late. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It was not too bad cost-wise though, at least!

      Totally agree with you about paying a bit more and staying in a central location. We made that mistake in Buenos Aires, and I really think it coloured our impression of the city. Especially since the public transport there was so slow and crowded all the time!

      September 22, 2016
  11. Uhm ,,, I don’t know … Yours are really, really bad! And it seems like you’ve had awfully lot. I had a similar mistake of misreading a flight date, but I was one day early and luckily not one day late. ๐Ÿ™‚ Most of my travel woes are on the destinations itself and not exactly from traveling. I think my worst was only a car break down when I traveled from NorCal to SoCal. It was two days before leaving to Greece. Awful that I couldn’t ship my car because of it.
    Oh well, you got stories to tell. Mine is pretty boring. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Crossing my fingers for our safe travels. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    September 25, 2016
    • They are, right? I seriously COULD NOT believe I sent our passports back home. Yikes! Thank god I realized before our flight back to Seoul. Can you imagine? Haha, you read one day early, instead of late? I’d say that’s a pretty nice travel mistake to make. But it seems like you don’t need to cross your fingers for OUR safe travels, just mine. :p And please do… ๐Ÿ˜€

      September 26, 2016

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