Recently my friend Liz wrote about dealing with travel problems, and it got me thinking about the less glamorous side of travel. Travel isn't always sunshine and sparkles, for blunders and mishaps are bound to happen to the best of us. Some misfortunes can make for great stories in the end, but in the moment they are often overwhelming, frustrating and embarrassing.
While things may not go awry every trip, I've certainly had my fair share of epic fails. Although most are slightly mortifying, I've decided to share my five most memorable disasters abroad.
Stranded in Africa
My trip to Marrakech was a tumultuous one. Needless to say, when it came time to leave Morocco, we were anxious to get out of there as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for us... and by "universe", I actually mean an Icelandic volcano that erupted and halted all flights back to Europe.
After arriving to the airport and being greeted with the unfortunate news, we were initially shell-shocked. Filled with panic, fear and frustration, reality hit us: we were stranded in Africa.
Thankfully we had been misinformed, and there was still one last ferry that night. We caught the last boat and endured the rocky ride through the Strait of Gibraltar, arriving in the sketchy port town of Algeciras around 2:00 am.
The rest of our night was spent laying on the pavement outside the Algeciras bus station, braving the cold and desperately trying to catch some z's before the first bus back to Cádiz. With prostitutes lingering just a block away and the panicked lullabies of car alarms going off every hour, we were relieved when the local cops befriended us and checked in on us regularly.
We miraculously survived our night on the streets and made it back to Cádiz safely. That said, I don't think I'll be going back to Marrakech anytime soon.
Takeaway: If an Icelandic volcano threatens to erupt, maybe it's best to stay home.
Sedated in France
During my time studying abroad in Paris, I came down with strep throat one weekend. Although my hipster roommate didn't like me very much, she was kind enough to take me to the hospital on a Sunday afternoon. Finding a doctor's office that was actually open on a Sunday was a difficult feat, and the closest place - which happened to be an Emergency Room - was a considerable trek away. I was having trouble breathing because my throat was so swollen, so by the time we reached the hospital I was nearing a full-blown panic.
Upon entering the crowded waiting room, the nurse told us it'd be at least an hour or two before I could see the only doctor on duty. After waiting about 15 minutes, I suddenly found myself grasping for breath, trying to spout out the words "I can't breath" in broken French. Full-on internal pandemonium had set in, and I found myself in the middle of my first panic attack. Not knowing what was going on, my roommate ran to the nurse for help, and the nurse subsequently started banging on the door to the doctor's office.
The doctor came out into the waiting room, calmly examined my throat, and popped me a little blue pill. The rest of the visit was a haze. After regaining my ability to breath, I remember spouting eternal thanks to my roommate for "saving my life", waltzing into the doctor's office once it was my turn to see him, and feeling absolutely euphoric about how well I communicated my symptoms to him in French.
I was never asked to show my insurance card, but the ER visit (and what I assume to be a strong benzodiazepine) only cost me 50€. France's healthcare system knows what's up! I frolicked to the pharmacy afterwards to pick up my delightfully cheap antibiotics, loving every minute of getting lost on the way.
Takeaway: The magic of Paris can also pertain to hospital visits. Just try not to get sick on a Sunday.
Scammed in Buenos Aires
Before traveling to Buenos Aires I had read all about the popular bill swapping scam, where taxi drivers supposedly take your change and give you back counterfeit bills. We had done our best to avoid this all week long, taking Radio Taxis that work for specific companies as opposed to independent drivers.
One afternoon, we ventured to the Museum of Latin American Art. After admiring the colorful exhibits, we were starving and eager to head to lunch. Our thoughts clouded by hunger, we hopped into the first cab we could find, despite the fact that it wasn't a Radio Taxi.
"Do you have any larger bills? I need to get rid of some change", the cabbie said as my stepdad handed him some small bills. We caught on quick and insisted that we didn't, but the driver kept pressing us. We exited the cab in a huff after he reluctantly gave us our change, quickly realizing that we were definitely not in the right neighborhood. We rushed to a nearby café to figure out where we were and how to get to the correct destination.
I ordered a glass of wine to calm my nerves, and when it came time to pay, we handed our waitress the bills that our driver had just given us. Not before long, she came up to us and apologized in a hushed tone, "I'm sorry ma'am, but these bills are fake."
We were mortified. As seasoned travelers, we should have known better. Thankfully we didn't lose that much money, but it still wounded my pride. I was livid at the driver, at Argentina, and at myself for letting it happen.
Takeaway: Only take official Radio Taxis in Buenos Aires, and never give cab drivers large bills.
Mystery bites in Istanbul
Turkish food was quick to win over my heart and become one of my favorite international cuisines. That said, it was surprisingly difficult to find authentic meals near our hostel in Sultanahmet. So when some Turkish friends recommended Palatium, located above the ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople, we enjoyed it so much that we went there twice. With mouthwatering food, friendly service and picture-perfect Turkish ambiance, what was not to love?
On our second venture to Palatium, my best friend and I ate our meal on the floor, sitting in a pair of picturesque woven bean bag chairs. They weren't the most comfortable, but I sucked it up for the sake of authenticity. When we returned to the hostel and met back up with her husband, we noticed that we were covered in bites.
It couldn't have been from the hostel, because we were all staying in the same room and my best friend's husband didn't have a single bite. We deduced that we had only been bitten where our skin had made contact with the bean bag chairs.
Although we originally thought the rash might be from fleas, it was more characteristic of bed bug bites. Covered in countless tiny welts, I flew home the next day nauseated, itching and emotionally scarred. This wasn't my first bout with bed bugs, but I seriously pray that it's my last.
Takeaway: As picturesque as bean bags in exotic restaurants may be, never sit in them.
Glutened in Amsterdam
Many of you already know that I have Celiac disease, which means that I can't indulge on normal glutenous goods such as beer and bread. (Tear.) So on my first day in Amsterdam when my friend told me that she'd found a place that sold gluten-free bagels, I was practically jumping for joy. I had just gotten in from my early morning flight, and I was starving.
I ordered my "gluten-free" bagel and could not get over how delicious it was. "Is this for real?!", I enthusiastically proclaimed. "It tastes too good to be true!"
The waitress accidentally served me a regular bagel, and I was reminded of this terrible blunder every hour on the hour for the next three days. Thanks to the frequent bouts of illness and the subsequent dehydration, I was out of commission for an entire week.
Takeaway: If it tastes too good to be true, it probably is.
As humbling as these experiences are, they certainly happen to the best of us. So now I'm curious,
What are your biggest travel fails and mishaps?
Please share or link to a post in the comments below!