Traveling is definitely one of the best things we can do in life. But even the most experienced travelers have on their account some epic travel fails from time to time.
Failure to provide transit documents, buying wrong flight tickets, or even forgetting the time change around the world. All of these travel planning mistakes can happen even to you.
You already know my own worst travel planning bloopers. Today, I am gonna show you the most hilarious travel fails by my fellow travel bloggers. So relax, enjoy, and learn their lessons!
And remember to check out also the complete list of travel planning mistakes that sabotage your vacation sometimes without your knowledge!
This post is a part of the Travel Planning Series.
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Epic travel fails by travel bloggers:
I’m not gonna lie, I have been responsible for a significant number of travel fails in my time. However, the one that really sticks in my mind was the time I booked a return flight not only from the wrong country but from the wrong continent!
My husband Adam and I spent an unforgettable two weeks in Canada, visiting Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks, canoeing, hiking and walking on glaciers, and generally living our best lives. You can see our trip itinerary here.
As we only had two weeks, I’d planned everything to the finest detail and even laminated an itinerary in that crazy over-the-top way I have never done since. It turns out there is such a thing as too much planning.
We flew into Calgary, hired a car for our road trip and were due to fly home to London from Vancouver. It was all sorted and I’d found us a real bargain too.
The day before, I checked our flight details and felt a little confused. It seemed like a very short flight between Canada and London.
I tried to figure it out, getting a little confused by the time difference. Even taking that into account, how could we possibly get home so quickly?
I felt a little panic starting to rise when I looked at the price we’d paid; that really was incredibly cheap. Hmmm hang on, VAN, that’s Vancouver, right?
Hesitantly, I typed in VAN airport to Google and my nightmare was realized. VAN is an airport in the east of Turkey.
Ah, that’s not going to work! I had to tell Adam what I’d done and felt nervous about what he’d say.
Fortunately, I have the most laid-back husband anyone could hope for. He simply smiled and asked me to remember this next time he made a mistake!
We lost a day as a result of my mistake and around £1000. Would you believe, just six months later I made another very similar faux pas?!!!
Our Oh Snap travel moment happened in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. We’ve been traveling for a month and feeling a bit run down. Also, we kept our phones on airplane mode for the duration of the trip and relied on wifi. Our Google Calendar still thought we were on the other side of the dateline. That’s our excuse for almost missing our flight home, and we’re sticking with it.
On our way out of the Hikkaduwa Coral Sands, the girl at the front desk asked if we were checking out. We were confused and double-checked our calendar. It showed that we had one more day in the country, so we book an extra day at the hotel. We spent that day enjoying Hikkaduwa wondering how we could have messed up our itinerary like that. Upon returning to the hotel and reconnecting with wi-fi, our Tripit notifications started to roll in. Oh Snap, we had two hours before our flight left, the Colombo airport was 1:45 minutes away, and we haven’t packed.
Only the urgency of the staff kept our panic at bay. One call to the front desk and we had half a dozen people in our room helping us pack and arranging transportation. A high speed, harrowing trip up the toll road and down the streets of Colombo brought us to the airport in the nick of time. Only the heroics of Coral Sand’s staff kept this from becoming a painful experience, but it was certainly embarrassing to have messed this one up.
I was living in Turkey and needed to exit the country to renew my visa. Bulgaria appeared as the easiest option. I could get there on a cheap overnight bus and come back the next day. I contacted a Bulgarian friend from university for travel tips. She recommended going to her hometown, Plovdiv, instead of Sofia. She wrote me a full itinerary that included all the best things to visit in Plovdiv but also her favourite dishes at her favourite restaurants. I printed it all (it was before we had smartphones) and felt super organised. I booked my bus tickets and didn’t do any further research.
The bus arrived in Plovdiv earlier than planned, at 4.30 am. I was by myself in the middle of the night at the exit of a gloomy area with too many drunk guys around saying words I couldn’t understand. I started to look for the main street. Surprise! The street signs weren’t in my alphabet. That’s when I realised Bulgaria uses a Cyrillic alphabet. All my maps where in Latin alphabet. I felt lost and stupid as I had no clue on where I was supposed to go. I didn’t feel safe staying for longer at the bus stop, so I took a cab and tried to show the driver where I wanted to go on the map. I couldn’t understand him, but I could sense there was a problem. He stopped after a few metres and left me somewhere random with no people around. Far away from my expectations as I was trying to reach the main street where my friend said there were shops and restaurants. Later, I’d realise I was asking him to drive me to the middle of a pedestrian zone… I followed far away lights to finally find the main street and a place to sit down and wait until sunrise. In daylight, the city was a lot more welcoming, and I ended up spending a fantastic day in Plovdiv.
I’ve been booking my own trips for more than 20 years, so I’d like to think I have some expertise with travel planning. However, I made a rookie mistake just a few years ago!
I used Kayak to find reasonably-priced flights from the U.S. to Europe. When I arrived at the airport, I realized I was scheduled to land at London Gatwick Airport and to fly out of London Heathrow! My frantic Google search showed recommendations to allow at least 4-5 hours. I had three.
There were limited flights to Dubrovnik, so missing the flight might add as much as a day delay to meet my friend.
First Connection: I landed in Boston and searched for my next flight, only 45 minutes later. Little did I know that due to construction, I had to exit the terminal, take a shuttle to another terminal, wait in line for security again, and find my gate.
I was able to jump to the front of the security line, which would usually guarantee additional security screening attention, but somehow they let me through. I ran to the gate, breathless and within seconds of their closing the door. Yes!
Navigating London: After a sleepless flight over the Atlantic, I arrived in London. I found a taxi driver up for the challenge and we raced off. Miles from the airport, the highway came to a stop.
Almost in tears, I begged him to find a way. He drove up on the curb and raced the few hundred feet to the exit, found a way to the airport and I ran up with enough time to grab a Pimms lemonade.
What did I learn? Always read every detail with bookings and don’t assume that if a website shows you an option, it’s feasible.
For more travel tips and adventures, go to My Flying Leap.
My first trip to Pamplona, Spain for San Fermin, The Running of the Bulls, was an exciting adventure. Unfortunately, due to numerous missteps on my part, a lot of the adventure was just getting there. I was catching a flight from Dusseldorf, Germany to Bilbao, Spain. I arrived at the airport in Dusseldorf and couldn’t find my flight.
Tip 1: Always make sure to verify which airport you are leaving from.
This is when I learned that Ryanair will call airports by the names of cities that they aren’t even close to. Yes, I was at the wrong airport. However, I arrived early and Germany has the autobahn, so all is not lost. I make a mad dash for the correct airport and arrived before the departure time, but they had already closed check-ins. So close.
Tip 2: Always have a backup plan for travel arrangements.
This is where things get interesting. I asked the attendant, “What do you have going to Spain today?” She stated that they had a flight to Valencia that was leaving in a few hours. And because I arrived within an hour of the original flight’s departure time, it was only a change ticket fee. For those keeping score at home, yes, Valencia is on the other side of the country.
Tip 3: Leave room in your itinerary for travel delays.
I rushed to the train station. Because it was getting late, there wasn’t a train all the way to Pamplona, so I stayed the night in Madrid. I picked a hotel near the train station so that I could get up early and still make the opening ceremony. But, then I decided to step out for a drink.
Tip 4: Get an appropriate amount of rest before you travel.
While I was walking around from bar to bar I kept passing these two guys. We ended in a bar together later and it turns out that they were American’s too. They invite me to another club that they are about to go to. The place was nice, several stories, good music, and a big open dance floor. Then one of the guys says, let’s get bottle service.
Tip 5: Don’t overdo it with alcohol while you’re traveling.
One guy orders a bottle of vodka and the other guy orders a bottle of tequila. I’d like to remind you that it’s just the three of us. At some point, the two guys disappear and it’s just me, the bottles, and my apparent lack of self-control. I finally made it back to my hotel and got up the next day to finish my journey. As you can imagine, my plans to leave early went completely out the window. After a short nap on a bench in the train station, I finally got on the train to Pamplona and made it to the festival. I missed the opening ceremony, but I still had a great time and came home with a hell of a story to tell.
Back when I was first traveling around Europe as a 19-year-old, I did not have a Smartphone, so for navigation I relied on looking up directions beforehand and writing them down.
More than once I scribbled out vague, unhelpful directions only to realize how complicated they actually were once I arrived.
I’ve wandered the streets of London, Paris, and Venice without a clue where I was going, but my worst navigational planning fail was in Florence.
When I stepped off the train, my scribbled directions read something like “Take Bus 3 for 2 stops.” That was all.
So I dutifully hunted down Bus 3 and climbed on. A woman I had met on the train decided to tag along with me since she hadn’t booked accommodation yet, so she was relying on my navigation to get us to the hostel.
Before long, the bus was climbing a steep hillside, and when I looked out the window, I saw downtown Florence spread below.
That couldn’t be right.
We had yet to reach the second stop, but I realized the bus driver was not announcing each one, so we had long since passed our destination.
Pulling the bell, we got out at the next stop—in the middle of nowhere, still on that hillside overlooking Florence—and waited for the bus in the opposite direction.
When it arrived, it was the same driver as before, and he was kind enough to let us back on without paying for the return trip.
This time I told him the name of the stop, so he let us out at the correct place back in downtown Florence.
From here the directions were easy, and it was not long before we found the location I had been looking for.
But the hostel was no longer there!
I had been following outdated directions, rather than the correct directions I had received in the booking confirmation email.
Thankfully we weren’t the first lost travelers to arrive at the former hostel location, so the owners of the new hostel directed us to the correct location. It was close enough to walk, so despite our sore backs, we trudged off through the maze of downtown Florence once again.
At last, several hours after getting off the train, we arrived. We were exhausted and sweaty from wandering around Florence with all our luggage.
Only when it came time to leave five days later did I realize how much extra hassle we had gone through for nothing.
The hostel was just a 5-minute walk from the train station.
I have traveled with my kids alone to several destinations that I stopped checking the immigration requirements anymore – thinking it will be the same. I became complacent, that if the USA and Asian countries are not asking for parental consent, then other countries won’t ask one.
Last year, our friends decided to have their wedding in Johannesburg, South Africa. My husband went ahead of us because he was part of the entourage plus my older child still had classes. The wedding was on a Thursday, and we were leaving Qatar on Wednesday at 2 am. The staff did not let us check in because I didn’t have a notarized parental consent form the South African embassy. The next flight was at 8 am – meaning the embassy was still closed and we might miss the wedding.
Anyway, the bride’s sister went to the police station in Johannesburg with my husband to ask for parental consent stating that my husband is permitting me to travel alone with my kids. It had all our names and passport details with police stamp. They sent it to me via email, and that’s the one I showed to the check-in staff and the immigration officer in Johannesburg airport. They accepted the police report.
Lesson learned: do your research every time. Be familiar with the immigration requirements. Never assume. What is allowed in one country may not be allowed in another. What is applicable to a solo traveler may not be applicable to families.
Take note: Aside from South Africa, know the immigration requirements for Mexico and the Dominican Republic if you are traveling with kids/minors.
Giulia’s story: As a student, I planned a trip to visit my friends in the USA and Canada: from Italy to Montreal, then Toronto, then North Carolina, and back to Europe. When booking the flight back, I thought, “why pay Lufthansa to travel from Germany to Italy, if I can get a cheap low-cost flight instead”? So I booked the return flight to Frankfurt, and then chose a Ryanair flight to my city in Italy, a few hours later, just in case anything happens. Well… on my last day in the USA, as I reviewed printouts and tickets, I read an unexpected thing: why was I landing in Frankfurt international, and departing from Frankfurt Hahn? Wait a moment, ARE THERE TWO AIRPORTS?!? Not only there are two airports in Frankfurt: the Ryanair airport in Frankfurt Hahn was 2 hours away, in the middle of the countryside. On top of this, I was heavily hungover from Halloween. After a mild panic attack, I realized I had enough time to get there, and found a bus between the two airports. Since then, I became a Google Maps and planning addict!
Darek’s story: After travelling several times with low-cost airlines in Europe, I became quite knowledgeable about the controls and procedures in Budapest. Once, instead of bringing my trusted passport, I decided to bring only my Hungarian ID, since Europe’s borders are open to European people. As a Polish expat in Hungary, I always have my Hungarian ID with me, which is suitable for identification thanks to the photo. Well, as it turns out, my ID was not the same as the ID of Hungarians; to be precise, mine could only be used inside the country. That day, in my blissful innocence, I went to the airport, queued at security, had a coffee, waited for the gate to open, queued at the gate, only to be told: “Sorry, you cannot leave the country with this ID, we cannot board you”. I had to go back home, grab the passport, book another flight, and get back to the airport. But I learned my lesson: I always have my passport with me! (Except for that one time when I forgot it at home, but I was just 10 minutes away, so it doesn’t count.)
There are two types of travellers – one who plans meticulously everything before the trip and the other laidback one who leaves everything for the moment. We happen to fall in the second category. While there is fun in living in the moment, bad planning often leads to some situations that are best be avoided.
We wanted to visit Nagaland in northeast India for a long time and a weeklong off from office was all that was needed. We knew that for visiting Nagaland, an Inner Line Permit (ILP) for northeast India is required. We also knew that we could get the ILP done from Guwahati. Neither did we look into the time and day when we can get the ILP, nor into any other relevant information. We arrived at Guwahati on a Saturday morning and headed straight towards Nagaland House at Guwahati. Once we were there, we found out that the office remains open only for half a day on Saturday and on Sunday the office is fully closed! We hurried to fill up the required forms and submit it to the counter, thinking that we might get the permit before the office closes. At the counter, we came to know that they take one full working day to process the request for ILP. That means we would not get the permit that day. We had our train tickets booked for Dimapur, Nagaland that night. Without the permit, we would not be able to travel across the state.
No amount of requesting, praying and cajoling could move the officials. We did not get the permit on Saturday. We would only get the permit on Monday late afternoon! This meant we would lose 2 days in Guwahati itself and will have even less time to explore Nagaland.
Well, we cancelled our trip to Nagaland that time as we had only 6 days in hand and 2 days were lost in making the ILP. We visited another place instead. But this epic travel fail made me realise that proper planning is required for certain destinations.
This is a hard one to relive, but now that it’s over I can laugh about it. At the time, I was panic-stricken and having a small melt-down. Earlier this year I went on safari in Southern Africa. We began the two-week holiday by flying into Johannesburg, South Africa. We spent a few days exploring the city and surroundings, then began our tour through Botswana. We finished in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was an epic safari and Victoria Falls is a fantastic destination in itself. Truly a magical sight to witness!
After a great time exploring Botswana and Vic Falls, my partner and I were off to the airport. We were heading to Cape Town for a few nights on our own. Or so we thought! When I arrived at the airport and reached a gate agent for my boarding pass, I was in shock. He informed me that I was unable to board the plane and go to South Africa. I was unaware that South Africa passport requirements demand two consecutive blank passport pages. They also must be labeled “visa”. This is even required of travelers with a visa-free entry like I had. When I first arrived in Johannesburg the requirements were met. After a few stamps throughout the week, I only had consecutive pages in the back of my passport that are labeled “endorsements” and not “visa”. I WAS STUCK.
The airline would not budge because they have liability to fly me home if I am refused entry. I had to stay in Zimbabwe. I could fly to the capital when the embassy reopened in two days, or reroute my flights home and stay in Victoria Falls. Once the panic and worry subsided, I realized it was a great place to be “stuck”. My partner and I enjoyed a few more days of adventure activities and we flew home from Victoria Falls with a one-day stop to explore Doha. The credit card took a little beating, but the crisis was averted and a valuable lesson was learned.
Traveling: not always that easy
As you can see on these epic travel fails by travel bloggers, there are many mistakes that you can unconsciously make while planning a trip. They will usually cost you some money and nerves.
But in the end, with no mistakes, you will not have any hilarious travel stories to tell. Because after time those mistakes are things that we remind with a smile.
Now it’s a truth-moment for you! What was your biggest travel planning mistake? Tell us about your blooper in a comment below!
Looking for some more travel stories and inspiration? Check out those articles:
- Family Travel Quotes: Inspire your beloved ones with this quotes collection
- 5 exciting TED talks inspiring to explore the unexplored
- How to save money for traveling the world: 15 easy tricks to use now!
- 20+ insanely beautiful photos from the Caribbean which will inspire you to travel
- How to pack only carry-on baggage even for a two-month trip?
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Dominika is a founder of Sunday In Wonderland and she recently switched her life to be local independent. She aims to travel the world and admire all of its wonders. She is much focused on sustainable life, self-development and making this world a better place.