My Top Travel Fails and What I’ve Learned From Them

Drive to Athens

Travel fails–those pesky times when everything seems to be going to hell. Your carefully planned ideal trip falls apart and you’re left trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes it’s totally your fault: not enough research, not enough resources, traveling with the wrong people. Other times it’s just bad luck or bad timing, or just fate throwing you a little something to test your strength and passion for travel. No matter the cause, there’s always a lesson to be learned from a travel fail. And they always, always turn into amusing stories later on!

Tetris was my crack

My first trip abroad happened when I was thirteen. My mom and step-dad loaded our stuff into the car and we drove through Europe. It was a nice tour of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. It was the absolute best thing to ever happen to me (by that point), and I’ve never forgotten the places I saw or the people I met on the way.  Well, mostly!

See, I wasn’t really used to such long drives. I got bored being stuck in the car for hours on end. Who cared about the scenery and the roads and whatever? I had my tetris game with me, and that kept me entertained during the long drives. My step-dad would always tell me to leave that silly game and keep an eye on the road. I didn’t listen and I thoroughly regretted it later on. When I grew up, that is. I also learned that if you keep your eyes locked on a small screen for too long in a moving car, you get sick!

My first visit of Prague Castle – I remember nothing

On that same trip, we made our way to Prague. We arrived there in the evening, found our camping site, and turned in for the night. The next day, I couldn’t eat breakfast. My head was killing me, I felt nauseated, the heat was too much to bear. We made our way to Prague Castle and it was such an effort, I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t do that in public! All I remember of that trip is the many, many stairs going up to the castle. I felt so sick, that immediately after we went to the car and my parents just let me lie there on the back seat for a while. When I finally thought I could manage it, we tried to continue our tour of the city. I made it as far as the first garbage bin where I proceeded to throw up. Yup, in the middle of the day, with tourists everywhere! I would have felt embarrassed, but I was to sick to care.

Stairs to Prague Castle
Stairs leading to Prague Castle, over a decade later

Half an hour later we made it to the old city center with its lovely Astronomical Clock. Well, that throwing up session was the absolute cure. I felt like a million bucks (especially as the migraine had gone away shortly after). I enjoyed a lovely show with some people doing tricks with huge flags. I also had the best ice cream of my life at one of the many terraces near the clock. My lesson? No matter what ails you, it will pass. And a lovely new city makes it all better. 

Stairs to Prague Castle
Different angle of the stairs

Did I regret not really registering much of Prague Castle? Not really. The lovely afternoon and evening afterwards overshadowed everything. And I got to see Prague again as an adult and more than made up on my second attempt at visiting the castle.

Rome, Where Everything Breaks

Rome was my first trip on my own, without my parents. Well, not entirely on my own, as I had teachers and University professors watching over me, and another nine kids my age joining me. But I had just turned eighteen, I had my own individual passport, I had to take care of myself and manage my money. Also, I didn’t pay for the trip. The Ministry of Education paid for it as I was part at the country’s team for a Latin contest in Arpino.

Yeah, people, being a nerd sometimes pays off big time :D. So, we made it to Rome, our headquarters for this trip. We stayed at this lovely little hotel that was the most luxurious I’d seen (I’d only been camping before when abroad and Romanian hotels were still behind everything else ten years after the Revolution). And then everything I owned broke. A pair of shoes, my backpack and my spare shoulder bag, a top I loved… Yup, everything. I had spares for the shoes, my camera was still working, and I had some emergency funds.

While I was convinced Rome hated me, I was determined to enjoy everything. I was walking where Caesar had walked long before me! Nothing was going to stop me from enjoying this trip. Not even the five hour (no breaks) international Latin contest in Aprino! I had pizza, I had lasagna for the first time, I drank cappuccinos and even a glass of limoncello (on the house, from a restaurant that had just opened and treated all their guests to this delicious drink), and had a blast.

I did learn the importance of emergency cash, not letting bad stuff bring you down, and that nothing could make me stop enjoying my time spent travelling. I also have no pictures of my own of this trip. I mean.. I have them, in an album. Pre-digital age, people! Yup, I am old 😀

Caught in a Snow Storm in Bulgaria

We were driving back from Istanbul to Bucharest on January 1st. We left late cause I was lazy and did not wake up early enough. We entered Bulgaria and a couple of hours in, the snow storm struck. Did I mention Bulgaria is full of mountains? And that my car is a very light Peugeot 107? Yeah, it was hell. We had to take a detour, we drove through 20 centimeter thick snow in Sofia. Some idiot made a bad maneuver and I ended up on the side of the road to avoid him. I don’t know what lucky stars brought one of those platforms our way at 2 a.m. in the middle of a blizzard, but the driver pulled us out. And ripped us off. He asked for 20 euros for that two-meter pull. We had 15 euros in cash and another 50 euro bill. He took the 50… No change. Alas, we were out of the ditch and continued to drive through a blizzard for another 300 kilometers.

Bulgaria drive through
Same drive a year earlier, when it wasn’t snowing.

What I learned? That Bulgaria has some great spa hotels (stopped at one on our way back through that awful snow storm), and that my car is really not suited for snowy roads. I have winter tires and all, but still won’t drive through snow in my car. It’s just too small and light for such an endeavor.

The Missing Squirrels of Hyde Park

If you say Hyde Park, you think squirrels. I mean, it’s London, it’s a famous park, a lot of that fame coming from the squirrels… Can you imagine how excited I was about seeing them? Especially since I was visiting with my friend, Alexandra, who’d had numerous encounters with them, to the point where one of them came and pulled her hair. The little fellow must have liked her!

Hyde Park, London
Trees in Hyde Park

We get to Hyde Park on my one and only afternoon in London during that trip… And there are no squirrels. None, not even a short sighing of a departing tail as it ran away from us. There were plenty of ducks and geese though! The only lesson was that if something is famous for one thing, that’s not a guarantee you will get to enjoy it. Who knows, maybe all the squirrels were on holiday! I still enjoyed the park, even without the little buggers. 

Hyde Park, London
Squirrel replacements

Athens and the Lesson I Never Learned

I ended up in Athens on a whim. May 1st is Labor Day in Romania. Long weekend, trips and barbecues, and so on. When I was in high school, all my friends went to the seaside on May 1st. My mom never allowed me to go because there was always some sort of fight, property damage, and scandal. I tried to spend May 1st at the seaside as an adult and as I was trying to find accommodation for me and my friends, I realized it would be cheaper to go to Athens. Gas, hotel, food, and tourist attractions in off-season Athens were about 50% cheaper than spending that long weekend in Constanta.

The fail? I was the only driver of the group. I had to drive for about 800 kilometers, from Bucharest, all the way through Blugaria, and then through Greece. There were also roadworks in Greece. Fun! 20 hours to get there and then about 26 to get back (May 1st events had a not so good impact on Athens traffic as we made our way back home). The lesson should have been to add overnight stops on long drives. Yet I failed to do that repeatedly for a quite a few trips. A 1300 km almost non-stop drive to Oludeniz a year later. Another 20 hours or so spent driving from Germany to Sibiu in Romania. Twice!

Drive to Athens
Short stop on our drive to Athens. See how happy I look 😛

I am still working on this! So bear with me 😀

Hope you’ve enjoyed my fail stories. These aren’t the only ones, just the most vivid memories of total fails that I have. What are your travel fails? And what have you learned from them?

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My Top Travel Fails and What I've Learned From Them My Top Travel Fails and What I've Learned From Them

26 thoughts on “My Top Travel Fails and What I’ve Learned From Them

  1. Hilarious! I empathise with everything breaking! It is the worst timing as well, when you are in the middle of a foreign country and have no clue where to get anything!! We had a camera break in the middle of Japan! Was so frustrating!

    1. Oh, god, the camera breaking would suck big time! I was lucky back then, old film cameras. Sturdy and not heavily used (because the supplies cost a lot, do did getting the photos afterwards).

  2. This is such a great read – very real and personal. I went to Hyde Park recently, and I only saw one squirrel, from a distance, for a split second. The geese are pretty cool though! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. At least there was one 😛 Yeah, the ducks and geese were fun, so was the beautiful weather and the walk through the park.

  3. I’m sorry you got sick! Do you know what the root problem of it was? I remember being really car sick on one road trip and wasn’t able to enjoy it either. Totally sucks!

    1. Carmy, I do, but those were just a couple of days out of a three week tour around Europe 😀 I got over it, fast. Ice cream helped a lot 😛

  4. Getting sick, driving all the way, Storms! Damn long list of disappointments 🙁 I remember falling sick during some travels and I totally hated them. They still make me sad and angry now that I think of it. Totally empathize with you, but well it gives you a chance to go back to some places again right. 🙂

    1. I wasn’t sad or angry, and I didn’t hate my time there… I just missed out a chunk of it. I wouldn’t dismiss three weeks of fun because two days were really shitty health wise. I had to travel when I wasn’t feeling all that great, but I never let that cloud my experience.

  5. Interesting! For the travellers in us, even the fails and nightmares are memories, isn’t it? Experiences of life 🙂 The lone driver driving 20+26 hours is terrible. And the time in Rome sounds such a misfortune.

  6. You were 13 you were allowed to have tetris as your crack ☺I was 17 when I took my first trip abroad on a school tour to Italy, it was the pre-digital age and I was so excited to get my photos developed. Unfortunately I never put them into an album and I’ve moved a few times and can’t find them. On that same trip, I was wearing a puffy type jacket and I was queuing up to go through security but I was called out of the line before it was my turn and frisked in front of everyone. It was great that they were doing their job properly but I was mortified ☺

  7. These are very amusing! I am sad that you didn’t remember much about Prague castle! I loved it there. It sucks to be that ill as you don’t always know if you will be back to a destination. I am glad you are able to learn from all your experiences!

  8. Thank you for sharing us your honest travel fails. I remember I am so excited for my first HK trip years ago, and I thought I am fully geared up, until I realized I forgot my camera battery! Lol I ended up buying in HK.

  9. I can so relate to this post for the simple reason that I have made so many mistakes while planning trips! You have documented them so beautifully. There have been times that my mistakes have been expensive ones, but there was one time when I was going to a high altitude area and completely forgot to my medication advised for it. I got saved just in the nick of time by my travel mates, but still my body took ages to acclimatize.
    Thank you for the lovely read!

  10. I laughed reading how you got car sick because of the tetris game. I actually found out the hard day that I have car sickness while I was traveling in a bus, in a Vietnam, and tried to read a book. Never again! I guess we all have our travel fails, I know I have plenty, after 10 years of intensive travels. But I guess the best thing to do is to laugh and don’t get angry, as otherwise you ruin the entire trip. 🙂

  11. Having an emergency stash is so so important. Good to know you realized it early on! All the unpleasant experiences are all lessons to learn and make the happy moments seem even more happier. thanks for sharing yours 🙂

  12. I admire all your positivity towards those struggles you encountered. I for once experience being sick during travel. Instead of lying on the bed doing nothing, I decided to take a medicine to ease the pain and get out. The pain is still, there but I refuse to give into it and sacrifice the wonderful experience we plan for that day.

  13. I love that you share your stories of your ‘travel fails.’ It’s so easy to show and tell everyone about all the amazing things that happen to you when you travel, and not tell anyone about the fails. I love that you said that Tetris was your crack – I had the same experience too when I was younger. We were traveling in Kenya and Tanzania and I was ABSOLUTELY hooked to the Harry Potter books. Book 6 had just come out and I just could not put down the book. It was a bit sad because I was in this beautiful part of the world surrounded by incredible landscapes, and I was hooked to reading.

    1. The only reason I wasn’t hooked on books at the time was that even back then, I couldn’t spend a lot of time reading in the car. Tetris was still fine. Now I can’t even look into my phone for long before I get super sick 😀

  14. Love the realness of this post. Travel is not always glamorous. I have learnt to carry cash in smaller denominations. I can’t read in a moving car as I feel sick too.

    1. Thank you, Verushka! No, it’s not always glamorous, and I think we need to talk about it so we can enjoy it even when it’s not 😀

  15. ooh, thanks for this throwback. I think I too need to reflect back on a few…One failed one was a trip to Goa when I had just conceived. All I remember was being sick all through the trip. Does not leave a good taste in the mouth :D.
    Loved reading yours. Well narrated.

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