Travel is not always a smooth journey with pretty photos and perfect weather. Sometimes things go wrong when traveling. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to avoid at least some sort of travel blunder, whether it’s as minor as plans going wrong or as detrimental as being in the midst of violent situations.
Yet, there is always a lesson to be learned and sometimes there is even a silver lining to what might seem like the end of the world in the moment. These real life stories from experienced travelers will tell you all about when travel went wrong for them, and how they made the most of it anyway.
Stranded in Kenya
Aaron of Amble Unbound
Had I been paying attention, I would have bought a different ticket, for a time much later than 4am. But as it was, I found myself walking to the bus station in the middle of the night, shivering at the chill in the air. I boarded that tin bucket on wheels, flimsy as an empty beer can and prayed I’d make it one piece. I was leaving Mombasa, Kenya and bound for Tanzania and a ride I’ll never forget.
Soon after departing, we reached a small river and a ferry crossing, and were instructed to deboard, hop the ferry behind the bus and climb back on again, once we touched land on the other side. Easy enough. Upon reaching the south shore however, I lost sight of my bus as it pulled off the ferry and disappeared behind the mass of crowds and old buildings. And I ran after it.
30 minutes of searching however yielded no bus to be found and the sudden realization that it left without me. “Oh no! My passport, phone, clothes, IPod and credit cards were all securely stored away in the overhead compartment… without ME!” My skin crawled with sweat and turned clammy and grey. Terror and nausea griped my stomach because I was clueless as to how to proceed. I was stranded alone in Kenya with no passport or suitcase! I started walking down the road, convinced any movement at all was better than doing nothing.
But suddenly, I took a deep breathe, relaxed my shoulders and smirked a little. I decided this wasn’t the end of the world. I was still alive and remembered that a positive attitude can make or break me. I chose to feel empowered rather than helpless, and determined over feeling abandoned. I walked another 5 minutes before I stumbled upon a small, wooden shack that happened to be a bus station. I met other passengers in the same predicament as I was. From the same bus!
We laughed and became fast friends. A short while later, I hoped on a different bus, bound in the same direction. A few hours later, I caught up with that other bus at the Tanzanian border and was reunited with my things! A positive attitude really does bring about positive opportunities. Now if only I can convince border patrol to give me a visa…
Robbed in Saigon
Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic
One hour after I arrived I was robbed in Saigon. Wallet, camera and passport were ripped from my body by scooter driving thieves. Locals watched with horror and while we didn’t share the same language they motioned for me to stay as they called someone. Within a few minutes English speaking locals arrived on scooters, drove me to the police station and acted as translators. Afterwards they left wishing me luck and asking for nothing.
Locals at the consulate were so concerned my holiday would be ruined they processed the passport application immediately and told me to keep my original plans to travel to Hanoi and emailed me every day, finally with instructions on where to pick up my temporary password. I left the country not feeling the sting from the thieves but the generosity and kindness of locals.
Not All Destinations Are Paradise
Hannah of GettingStamped
Traveling surely isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. There have been several times we get to a destination with high hopes and are completely let down and are counting down the days until we leave. This happened to us when we were on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia, it just wasn’t for us. There was nothing terribly wrong with it, it was just missing something. We already had flights bought departing Langkawi so we had to stay…we kept seeing signs for speed boats to Koh Lipe Thailand. After another day we said screw it let’s hop on a boat to this mystery Thai island we have never heard of.
90 minutes later on a bumpy speed boat we arrived to Koh Lipe. It looked like paradise before we had even stepped foot on the beach. We found ourselves a $30 night beach hut, had the best Thai curry in our lives while our toes were sunk in the sand. We didn’t want to leave, Koh Lipe has become our favorite place in the world and we have since returned. We turned our around and ended up finding our happy place.
Car Wreck in Iceland
Jennifer of Made all the Difference Travel Blog
I was into the last leg of my Iceland winter road trip. I had about 5 hours of driving and 4 days left until I was due back to Reykjavik. I had made it almost 800 miles around and all the way though the North Iceland, though three snowstorms, white out conditions, and high winds. I had spent all week being excited about visiting Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The weather had been listed as clear with a high chance of solar activity for the previous week. I checked the weather before I headed from North Iceland and my clear sky was gone. I was so disappointed since this was my last real opportunity to see the northern lights. I was about 20 mins from my hostel when I felt my rental car lose traction.
I did my best to get out of the slide but it wasn’t happening and into the guard rail I went. The car stopped sliding and I just sat in my car for a couple mins just being thankful that there was a guard rail. I glance at my cell phone and realize I have no idea the Iceland emergency number (112) or where exactly I am. I grab my flash light and go check out the damage. I have destroyed the corner of the bumper and a cosmetic damage to the side. It looks drivable. I get back in and start the car up. I make it to my hostel and call my rental car company. They were more concerned about me then the car. In the end, I did $1,800 US of damage and am forever thankful my credit card comes with car issuance. I did get to see the northern lights later that night so the day ended on a high note.
Stuck in Mexico City
Danielle of The Thought Card
I have lots of fond memories from my recent trip to Ecuador but getting there was a nightmare. To save money on flights, my friends and I booked a connecting flight with AeroMexico. The first leg went well but the layover in Mexico City was a complete disaster.
When it was finally time to board the plane, instead of calling zone numbers, the attendant shouted “cancelado” over the loudspeaker. Cotopaxi, a volcano that had been dormant for over 130 years had just erupted. The next available flight was in 3 days.
Since it was getting late, we decided to stay at the airport and slept on chairs. The next morning after a healthy serving of huevos rancheros, my boyfriend playfully took out a deck of cards. We spent the entire day playing card games and had so much fun that we didn’t notice our flight had been rescheduled. We were finally on our way to Quito!
When things go wrong, I find that humor can turn a negative experience into a positive one. I now joke with my friends, “Remember that time we were stuck in Mexico City for 17 hours.” “Yeah, how could I forget?”
Theft in Barcelona and Cinque Terre
Roxanne of Head 2 Heels
Last year after I quit my full time job, I decided to take a two month vacation; 3 and half weeks in Dubai and the remaining in a few European cities.
I’ll cut to the bad parts right away. My wallet got picked in Barcelona. I was leaving to go to Brussels the very next day and I had 5 euros in hand at this time. My ATM cards were gone as well as all my spare cash, including Indian money. I had to go to the cops in the metro station to report it (since it most possibly happened there). The Airbnb I stayed at had some lovely people. A girl who I met that very same day and who I was sightseeing with lent me 50 euros (which I repaid when I met her in Paris) and the Peruvian couple gave me enough change for my bus fare to the airport. We cooked dinner and stayed in that night and went clubbing soon after. They helped me cheer up. Thankfully I had family in Brussels who I was staying with for a couple of days, so they gave me one of their ATM cards along with a consent letter for the rest of my trip.
A couple of weeks later on the same trip, my phone got lost/stolen in Cinque Terre. This was a much bigger blow and I was really down. As a blogger, I needed my phone for images and social media and this left me so anxious (first world problems!) My Italian host who was this elderly lady who couldn’t communicate in English too well bought me some gelato and was very kind. I used my iPad for the rest of my trip. Good news is, a couple actually found my phone and managed to track me via my blog’s facebook page. By the time this happened, I was already on the lookout for a new phone back in India and this couple went back home (Florida). But as coincidence would have had it, they stayed close by to someone who I knew and whose mother was visiting. I had to wait another 2 months to get my phone in my hands. I’m still using the phone!
Left in La Paz (Bolivia, that is)
Steve of In The Know Traveler
After treating myself to luxuries in a fairly posh downtown hotel after a month-long excursion through Peru and into the Altiplano, I caught a cab up to El Alto airport. Mass confusion greeted me at the Aero Peru ticket counter, with voices in several languages rising in both pitch and volume. I soon learned the airline had gone bankrupt and all flights had been canceled.
After consulting the ticket agents who basically parroted the management line, I quickly left to visit the downtown headquarters and sort things out. There I found my avatar –a middle-aged whirlwind of a woman, representing not only Aero Peru but a host of other airlines including American. She rebooked my flights back to the US, extended my hotel stay by 3 more days and gave me complimentary tickets to some major city attractions. She set me up with an airport limo in La Paz and even rebooked my shuttle at the airport back home – talk about service!
Surviving on the Kindness of Strangers
Ron of Active Planet Travels
While I was traveling through China, I had my identity stolen along with all of my credit cards and cash. Luckily, I had a small stash of cash that lasted me for about a week elsewhere in my backpack along with my passport. Originally thinking I was going to be fine while my Dad mailed out my extra credit cards, I had to travel for an additional 2 weeks until they came in the mail.
During this time, I was broke and had no money – just relying on the fellow backpackers I met in the hostel as well as the hospitality of a few locals who understood my situation and was able to put me up for a few nights. All in all, I learned a few very valuable lessons and that you should never underestimate the kindness of strangers in a strange land!
Violence in Kenya
Mar of Once in a Lifetime Journey
I have had the incredible misfortune of being caught up in a coup in Madagascar, shootings in Sudan and Nigeria, post election violence in Kenya, riots in Uganda and Malaysia, an entire cafe kidnapping in Australia, an earthquake in the Philippines and an entire lock down in Pakistan. If I didn’t know myself I would think I bring bad luck to those I visit!
The truth is that, if you travel to enough places with high instability and are on the road often enough, your chances of those things happening while you are there are high enough.
Perhaps the most relevant of those times was in Kenya, when the post election violence extended for well over six months yet we continued to travel in and out of the country every week when most airlines stopped flying and even the crew of those who still did chose to avoid the layover and return on the same flight back.
What we did to keep safe? We had a stash of cash in the client’s safe, an evacuation company at the ready should we have to be airlifted into safety and a satellite phone that would ensure connectivity even in the case of a break down. In the end, we never had to use any of that and with enough common senses judgement, we stayed safe throughout.
An Unexpected Turn of Events in Vietnam
Steph of Every Steph
Travel sometimes can go wrong, very wrong, as I discovered in Vietnam. I was in Mui Ne with a friend and we had spent a great day sandboarding at the sand dunes. We had rented a scooter for the day and we were on our way to another dune where we planned to watch the sunset… an amazing way to end the day right? But destiny had other plans for us.
At one point some men with green uniforms on the side of the road made us stop. They said that we were speeding and that we didn’t have the right documents, which wasn’t true, and asked for a huge sum of money (about $200) or to give them our scooter. We had heard stories of this happening often to tourists so we said no. We discussed quite a bit and things turned bitter. So bitter that one of the policemen kicked our bike with us still sitting on it. We fell and the cops started hitting us and kicking us on the floor. We fought back, and luckily none of us got badly injured. We were just very scared and shocked, we never imagined something like this could happen! While we were fighting some other cops took the bike and brought it away, and we ran away as soon as we could.
People in the village had seen this happen lots of times and asked if they could be of help. We called our hotel’s manager who told us to find a ride and go back. The owner of the rental place wasn’t surprised of hearing what happened and eventually he got his bike back a few days later by paying a little bribe. In the end, our resort’s manager reported the event for us to the police’s chief and we went on with our trip. We learnt our lesson, to be more careful when dealing with the police in developing countries…sometimes they are the bad ones!
Post-Party in Bogota
Gemma of Two Scots Abroad
I admit this is partly our fault but also Viva Colombia’s responsibility too. After a very heavy night out in Bogota (Colombia), Craig and I went to catch a flight to Santa Marta, the coast was calling. We checked in and the advisor wrote ‘gate 15’ on our ticket so off we popped to gate ‘quince.’ Super hungover I fell asleep, Craig checked the gate information, twice, and bought some snacks. I woke up a few hours later to confusion. Why were we still here? It later transpired that our flight was never from gate 15, Craig was misreading the board (it moved fast) and the tanoi did not reach our gate. We had to buy another set of tickets (with Avianca), wait an age on Viva Colombia returning our bags, and get on a correct flight to sunny Santa Marta. So the moral of the story is: do not party in Chapinero, Bogota the night before a flight!
Spooked in Koh Samui
Vanessa of The Island Drum
Two years ago I accepted a pet sit assignment in Koh Samui. After meeting the pet owner in person, what looked like a dream come true quickly became a weird scenario, Without going into details, the person seemed to have a colorful and questionable relationship with her neighborhood. This made me hesitant to take on responsibility for her pet’s safety. I had come a couple of days early, so pet care was not jeopardized when I canceled the sit.
I fled for the first hotel I could find and they gave me a cheap ‘garden view’ room. I was stunned when I saw that my little hut-style room also had a superb sea view. Soon after I unpacked and settled in, another guest approached me and told me that she had been trying to get my particular room all week. The hotel staff had told her that someone else had reserved it. Obviously it hadn’t been me and told her as much.
At any rate it seemed as if the accommodations had been pre-arranged by ‘the Universe’. After I left the island, I posted a photo on Instagram and one of my followers recognized it as the same room his sister had stayed in during her honeymoon. She had told him that room A-12 was also haunted. He asked me if anything ‘weird’ had happened while I was there! I won’t say that a few more odd occurrences didn’t happen, but I will say that that room did provide me with a rather magical Koh Samui holiday after all.
Corruption in Cambodia
Rob & Nat of Love and Road
Cambodia was in our travel plans for a long time. We always dreamed about Angkor Wat, to explore the ancient temples and learn about the culture. On December 2014 we finally made our way to Cambodia but things didn’t start right. At the Cambodian border we handled our Passports, photos and the USD 30 fee for the Visa. The officer look at me and demanded more USD 5, pure bribery, we refused to pay and the officer threw the passports on us and left us waiting. We saw every single person paying the “extra” USD 5, which is damn wrong. And if they don’t have spare dollars they would yield on you, complain and later accept the “extra payment” in a different currency. It’s not about the money, but about principles and to not accept corruption, especially in a country like Cambodia where it’s the people who need help, not the Army. After one hour another officer came to talk to us, accepted the correct USD 30 fee and let us go. It was a messy and frustrating way to start our dream trip. On the second day in Cambodia we went to Angkor Wat to appreciate the sunrise. It was such a beautiful moment that we completely forgot what happened on the first day. Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive places we have ever been, the architecture, the nature, the history… Probably we will go back to Cambodia, but next time by flight, no more land borders, we have had enough of stress.
Have you experienced “travel gone wrong”? Share your story in the comments below!
AndyJune 20, 2020 at 10:51 am
I loved reading this post, some great stories here. I recently started a blog dedicated to travel gone wrong… travelgonewrong.com
JessicaOctober 7, 2018 at 8:46 am
>I was stranded alone in Kenya with no passport or suitcase!
Before sunrise no less… how scary! Glad it ended up all working out :). I’d sure like to know why the bus left without a bunch of its passengers though!
Marissa SuteraOctober 7, 2018 at 7:00 pm
Oh no! Glad to hear it worked out in the end. Travel definitely teaches resilience!
Duke StewartAugust 5, 2016 at 9:30 am
So many courageous stories and I’m thankful that everyone came out of this alright. I have a few stories about travel gone wrong to relate, from times in Korea while living there to others throughout the globe. Thanks for sharing this collection, Marissa. It’s hard work to put collabs together but fun at the same time working with people. Cheers.
Marissa SuteraAugust 17, 2016 at 5:45 am
Glad you enjoyed it! I love hearing everyone else’s stories, and I think it’s important to note that travel isn’t always perfect, but a good attitude (and a little luck) can go a long way.
BrianaJuly 29, 2016 at 12:25 am
Great compilation! Glad they were able to be turned around!
Marissa SuteraAugust 17, 2016 at 5:42 am
Jen BrownJuly 27, 2016 at 4:52 pm
This is a great article and it shows that no matter what happens, things will be ok with the right attitude.
As far as the situation in Cambodia is concerned, by Western standards, no that corruption isn’t right, however that is just how things are done in some parts of the world. Paying the $5 from the beginning would have prevented unnecessary stress and inconvenience. Not saying it was wrong to hold out, but an hour of my time is worth much more than $5.
Marissa SuteraAugust 17, 2016 at 5:42 am
Absolutely, it’s all about perspective!
Liz SmithJuly 22, 2016 at 8:28 am
Loving all the positivity in some pretty scary situations here! Kudos to you all for having a good attitude in the face of disasters that none of us want to face. And ah – the Cambodia border crossing scam! We remember that one well. We had read about it in advance, and I was determined not to pay it either. After quite some time we saw just how many people were paying it and leaving quickly…and we had a long way still to travel to Siem Reap. We ended up having to pay the “fee” so that we could arrive in Siem Reap before dark. We were SOOOOO livid really didn’t want to pay it. But the road is so dangerous – and we knew that night would be worse. So we thought 5 bucks wasn’t worth our safety.
– Liz (Peanuts or Pretzels)
Marissa SuteraJuly 22, 2016 at 8:35 am
Sounds like you made a tough but smart decision! Thanks for reading Liz 🙂
GemmaJuly 20, 2016 at 3:44 pm
Oh dear! I like that there seems to be some glimmer of hope in tragedy! Thanks for featuring us!
Marissa SuteraJuly 22, 2016 at 8:32 am
Yes it appears so! Thanks for your contribution!