Travel Sucks Sometimes: My 12 Worst Travel Stories

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A street sign with a car driving into a body of water, a bad travel experience

Travel Sucks Sometimes: My Worst Travel Stories

 

Travel sucks sometimes, it’s a fact.

Life on the road has the tendency to unravel and spiral out of control when we least expect it. The best-laid plans can fall apart at a moment’s notice, and there’s nothing any of us travelers can do about it.

But this won’t keep me from traveling, and it shouldn’t discourage you either.

Because each bad travel experience brings about a chance to learn, a reason to grow. Travel disasters happen for a reason, although it may not always be crystal clear at the time. When we travel, we sign up for uncertainty. It’s part of the adventure.

So, sit back and enjoy my 12 very worst travel stories and the lessons they’ve taught me. I’ve watched helplessly as my backpacking trips have turned to chaos. I’ve run out of money and become stranded hundreds of miles from home. I’ve been whisked into an alley and offered dog meat from a grinning stranger.

I’ve had more maddening, humiliating, and miserable travel moments than I can begin to write about, but that’s okay. I’m going to keep traveling anyways.

Because my travel mishaps are minor compared to the problems many people face on a daily basis in places I’m simply passing through. I’ll never forget how incredibly fortunate I am to travel, even when I’m crashing and burning in an unfamiliar land.

Make Travel Suck Less: My Best Travel Resources

Travel disasters can be damaging and costly, so it’s best to go on your next adventure prepared. Use the following resources to keep bad travel experiences from ruining your trip.

Travel & Blogging Resources – Here’s a  list of the very best travel and blogging resources I use on a daily basis. Use this page to plan, book, and maximize time on your next trip.

Travel Insurance – Injuries, theft, sickness – any number of things can go wrong during travel. Protect yourself and your belongings by utilizing travel insurance for your next adventure.

Cyber Security – Using unsecured WiFi networks can compromise your online identity. Use a VPN while traveling to keep your passwords, bank accounts, and other valuable information safe. 

Stranded and Broke in a Greyhound Bus Station

Two young travelers staring at the camera

Riley + Noel at 18 years old: The recipe for bad travel stories

 

I was 18 years old and chomping at the bit to escape the doldrums of my boring suburban hometown. After some naive brainstorming with my childhood friend, Riley, we decided it was time to go on our first cross-country adventure. No parents. No itinerary. No rules.

What could possibly go wrong?

So, we packed our bags and hopped aboard a crowded Greyhound bus from Denver to San Francisco. The ensuing week was a reckless and intense blur of questionable decision making, just the trip we’d been dreaming of. The journey had opened our eyes to the wonders of travel, and we’ve been seeking out adventure ever since.

But our trip back home didn’t exactly go as planned.

A snowstorm between Utah and Colorado had shut down eastbound bus traffic, and we were left stranded in Salt Lake City’s decrepit Greyhound bus station. We were exhausted, hungry, and entirely out of money.

I hobbled to a nearby payphone and placed a collect call to my mom. My voice squeaked and cracked as I explained that Riley and I were completely broke and stranded. Nearby, a man with a tangled mess of a beard and a torn flannel shirt stared at me in silence.

My worried mother promptly wired us $100 and assured us that we’d be okay as long as we left the bus station immediately. We escaped to a nearby budget hotel and nervously giggled off our poor decisions from the safety of our dimly lit room.

The next morning, we joined a cramped busload of weary travelers and anxiously counted down the minutes until we arrived back home. Adulthood: 1. Noel and Riley: 0.

Lesson Learned: Travel with more money than you think you’ll need.

Inhaling a Cuban Cigar on a Class Trip to Mexico

It was the summer of 2004, and I was amidst a chaotic and life-changing class trip to explore Mexico with seven classmates and our young-at-heart Spanish teacher. One fateful evening, my friend, David, and I decided it was time to take our experience up a notch. We strutted to a nearby street vendor and to buy a couple of ‘authentic’ Cuban cigars.

(It’s worth noting that I’d never smoked a cigar in my life.)

We nodded at each other confidently as we took deep drags of our hearty, robust cigars. We coughed and chuckled as we blew the black smoke off the balcony of our hotel room. “This must be what it feels like to be a Cuban,” I thought to myself. David and I felt invincible. We were unstoppable.

Then, in a flash, it all came crashing down.

My hands began to sweat and I started feeling nauseous. I stood up out of my chair and nearly lost my balance. Staggering, I made my way to the bathroom sink and splashed water onto my face in a feeble attempt to balance my body’s chemistry. I glanced up at my pale, miserable reflection in the mirror. I was a shell of my former self.

I desperately lurched onto the ground. I flipped open the lid to the toilet, clutched its cold porcelain sides, and vomited violently until I had emptied my entire stomach. My body was drenched in cold sweat, and I’d never felt so sick in my life.

Grimacing, I retreated to my bed and curled up into the fetal position. With tears in my eyes, I trembled helplessly and prayed for a quick recovery.

“Wait, you didn’t inhale that cigar, did you?” David asked.

Lesson Learned: Don’t inhale cigar smoke.

Getting My Credit Card Information Stolen in Guatemala

It was a sunny spring day in Panajachel, Guatemala, a bustling and noisy village near the picturesque Lake Atitlan. I’d just arrived in town and was exhausted from a bumpy four-hour van ride from Antigua. Out of cash, I made my way to the nearest ATM and attempted a withdrawal. Transaction declined, no dice.

Slightly confused, I regrouped at a nearby restaurant and decided to do a little investigating. My checking account had plenty of cash to cover my attempted withdrawal, and I’d set up a travel notice with my bank, Chase, just a few days prior. I connected to Skype and called my Chase’s customer service line to get answers.

“Everything looks good on our end. You should be okay to make a withdrawal. Maybe you can try another ATM,” the customer service agent told me.

Stumped, I turned back up the road and made my way to the next ATM. This time, the withdrawal went through. I grabbed my money, hopped aboard a water taxi, and arrived off at my hostel across the lake. I spent the next several days relaxing in the sun, reading books, and generally not worrying about anything. That is until I checked my bank account.

Most of my money had disappeared. Poof. Gone.

Terrified, I squinted at my online bank statement as my heart began to pound through my shirt. 80% of my funds had been withdrawn in a series of ATM transactions in Florida over a period of a few days.

Florida? What. The. &#@$.

I scrambled to my cell phone and dialed up Chase as my hands began to shake. Travel meltdown mode was beginning to take over.

I frantically told my story to a calm and helpful customer service agent, and Chase eventually refunded all the money that had been taken from my account and canceled my debit card. I heaved out a big sigh of relief and put my head in my hands.

Turns out, my debit card information had been skimmed from my first attempted withdrawal and then used to create a phony debit card in Florida. Someone then took that fake card to an ATM and started emptying my account. Bastards.

What exactly is credit card skimming, you ask?

In short, a skimmer is an electronic device that is placed over a card reader at an ATM, which then stores the information of any credit card that is inserted. Thieves then obtain PIN numbers for these cards by placing a small camera somewhere in the ATM or by putting a fake PIN pad over the actual keyboard.

Though I got all my money refunded and my situation was but a minor annoyance, I was still completely incensed by the whole ordeal. Some criminal out there was strolling around with my hard-earned money and was probably going to rip off other countless other innocent people.

That’s just how life goes sometimes, I guess.

For more information on credit card skimming, and how to avoid it, check out this extremely helpful post on the subject.

Lesson Learned: Inspect every ATM before inserting your debit card.

No Home, No Job, No Money: Using Resumes to Start a Campfire

A campfire started from burning resumes: a travel disaster

Travel can be tough, even on the North Shore of Hawaii

 

In terms of ‘worst travel stories’, this one’s a bit of a hard sell, so stay with me.

In September of 2011, my friend, Danny, and I quit our restaurant jobs, sold our belongings, and bought one-way tickets to Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii. We didn’t have much money and hadn’t lined up jobs or an apartment, but we weren’t worried. Everything was going to fall neatly into place, and we’d enjoy a stress-free existence living in an island paradise. That’s what we told ourselves, at least.

Fast forward a month, and we’d blown through nearly all of our savings. Neither of us had found a job or an apartment, and we’d been cruising the island since we’d arrived in a white 1996 Volvo named Mildred. We’d learned the hard way how incredibly difficult it is to find employment or housing in Hawaii without any local references. 

Our nights alternated between sleeping on a friend’s apartment floor and setting up camp on Oahu’s picturesque North Shore. We were essentially homeless and unemployed, and hopelessness was beginning to set in.

Then, during a fateful night at Malaekahana Beach Campgrounds, a pivotal string of events unfolded. Danny and I had been trying unsuccessfully to start a campfire with a mound of damp kindling we’d gathered near the beach. Demoralized by our inability to find jobs or an apartment, we weren’t about to fail ourselves on camping’s most basic level. We didn’t want a campfire, we needed one. Badly.

So, we scoured through our car in search of paper, cardboard, anything to help get our fire started. Having already burned through everything flammable on previous excursions, we were left with two choices:

1. Burn our resumes.
2. Spend the rest of our evening without a campfire, in a dark depression
.

Without hesitation, we decided to torch the rest of our resumes and stared quietly at our crackling campfire. No jobs. No home. No money. No resumes.

As we gazed blankly into the campfire, we realized that we were left with two tough choices:

1. Use what little money we had left to fly back to Colorado, and move back in with our parents.
2. Drive straight to Kinkos in the morning, print off some more resumes, and make it work.

We chose option number two and, as fate would have it, we found a couple of restaurant jobs and moved into a humble Hawaiian apartment the very next week.

Lesson Learned: Never give up.

Hungover Food Poisoning: My 30th Birthday Present to Myself

As you read through my stories, you might be realizing that many of my worst travel experiences are self-inflicted. Sure, travel sucks on occasion, but my own poor decisions are largely to blame much of the time.

That said, here’s the story of my 30th birthday.

To celebrate three semi-successful decades on earth, I traveled with my girlfriend, Keri, and my friend Nate to Sayulita, Mexico – a bustling party town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I’d fallen in love with Sayulita as a 20-year-old studying abroad in Guadalajara, so it felt fitting to the decade as it had begun – by drinking tequila, eating tacos, and swimming in the ocean.

The night of my 30th birthday played out as predicted, and I drank copious amounts of tequila and wandered the streets in search of food. Nate stayed home sick and Keri was recovering from a bout of food poisoning from the previous night, so I was essentially a one-man crew of self-destruction.

Keri stuck by my side as I blabbered in slurred Spanish at taco stand workers into the wee hours of the morning. The tequila eventually rendered me useless and Keri gripped my hand tightly as I staggered back down the dusty dirt road towards our Airbnb. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was in rare form.

The following morning, we made our way to a nearby beach to enjoy a lazy day soaking in the sun. As we lay our towels down and settled in, a small wedding began 50 feet away from us. It was then my hangover began to take hold. A sharp headache crept in and my mouth was parched and chalky. All I could taste was tequila.

Then, the food poisoning hit. My stomach grumbled as I twitched and groaned in the sand. My headache grew stronger. I stared hopelessly at the wedding taking place in the distance. The bride kissed the groom as I staggered to the bushes to vomit. The wedding-goers cheered in delight. I deserved every bit of pain I was experiencing.

The rest of the day was filled with stomach-twisting and head-pounding regret, and I began to realize that I’d gotten my 20s off on the completely wrong foot.

Lesson Learned: Don’t act like you’re 20 when you’re 30.

Nearly Eating Dog Meat in Vietnam

Before I ever visited Vietnam in the winter of 2018, I’d heard all the rumors.

Everyone eats dog in Vietnam! They capture strays and cook them for dinner! You’ll never truly know what meat they’re actually serving you in your pho!

I love dogs. I’ve shared a home with dogs nearly my whole life. Dogs have brought me endless comfort, joy, and loyal companionship. I have zero desire to eat dog meat, and I wasn’t about to start because I was traveling to Vietnam.

That said, I do understand that many countries around the world choose to eat dog meat. I can handle that because it’s a cultural thing. No dog meat for me, though. I’m good.

But, on a motorbike trip around Northern Vietnam, my friend, Cris, and I let our guard down and came awfully close to eating the forbidden meat. Let me explain.

We’d just left the tourist-packed town of Ha Long and had been navigating the bumpy country roads back towards Hanoi. It was the final day of our eventful 10-day, 1,700-kilometer journey. A few hours of riding later, we’d become famished. We’d skipped breakfast that morning and finding food was our top priority.

So, when a grinning man in a dusty and dilapidated town flagged us down and whisked us into an alley to eat, we were more than willing to indulge. Big mistake.

He motioned for us to have a seat and began to prepare our meals. Cris, a lifelong chef, glanced over his shoulder to observe what the man was putting together.

“I think that’s dog meat,” Cris exclaimed worriedly. “Those look like dog paws.”

I stood up and looked over the man’s shoulder. Cris was right. The man was about to cook us dog meat. I frantically got out my phone, opened the Google translate app, and asked the man what he was about to cook.

“I am the owner of dog meat,” was his translated response.

We immediately started shaking our heads and motioned for him to stop preparing the meal. I explained to the man that we don’t eat dogs where we’re from and asked him if he had any chicken or beef he could prepare for us. Nope, dog was the only thing on the menu that day.

Mortified, we got out of our seats and apologized to the man profusely. We attempted to pay him for his troubles, but he laughed and motioned us back towards the street.

We shook our heads in disbelief, hopped back on our bikes, and sped out of town as fast as we could. It would be an hour until we found another restaurant, which was fine with me. I didn’t have much of an appetite anyway.

Lesson Learned: Always ask before you order mysterious food in a foreign country.

Insane Weather Derailing My Icelandic Trek

A weary hiker with a "travel sucks" expression on his face, soaked in rain during a trek in Iceland

Iceland is as unforgiving as it is beautiful

 

Back in 2014, I flew across the world to embark on Iceland’s daunting Laugavegur Trail. This particular trek is known for its harsh, treeless terrain, frequent rain, and fierce winds. Only experienced trekkers are recommended to attempt this trek.

I should probably mention that I’d only been on one overnight backpacking trip in my life at the time.

When I showed up at the trailhead, it’s safe to say that I was overwhelmingly unprepared.

My backpack was overstuffed and bulging at the seams with 50 pounds of bulky and inefficient gear. I didn’t pack a map, and for some reason, I hadn’t trained at all. I was by no means an experienced trekker, but I was fearless. That had to count for something, right?

I felt blissful for the first few hours of my hike as I soaked in some of the most incredible landscape I’d ever seen. I trudged past my planned camp spot for the evening and kept hiking. I decided I was going to take advantage of Iceland’s midnight sun and shave a day off my itinerary. Nothing could stop me, or so I thought.

Hours later, I arrived at the next camp completely exhausted and began to set up my tent. It was then, things started to get interesting.

Howling Icelandic torrents of wind shook nearby tents. Dumping rain pelted me from every direction. My heart rate started to rise as I struggled against the brutal weather to set up my tent.

My tent poles began to flex and bend as the wind caved in my shelter repeatedly. Water began slowly seeping in through the sides and soaked all of my belongings. My gear was failing me and I was paying the price.

In a panic, I jogged to a nearby sleeping hut and asked the staff if there was any room for me to sleep on the floor. There wasn’t, but they suggested I pack up shop and hike two more miles down the trail if I wanted to sleep under a roof. No way in hell was I packing up all my belongings and hiking in that weather.

I returned to my tent as the weather started to worsen. I tucked into my sopping sleeping bag and started shaking. I was chilled to the bone.

Suddenly, a hut warden ran to my tent and started screaming for me to evacuate. My inflatable camping pillow got swept up in a gust of wind and disappeared into the night as we frantically jammed my tent and other gear into my backpack. I lugged my belongings into the hut and collapsed, joining dozens of other weary trekkers, similarly assaulted by Laugevegur’s weather.

I ended up getting a much-needed night of sleep on the floor of the hut before a bus arrived to take me, my waterlogged belongings, and my bruised ego back to Reykjavik.

Lesson Learned: I learned seven lessons, actually. You can read about them all here.

Embarking on the Trek of My Dreams, Injuring My Knee

In the summer of 2017, three years after my disastrous Laugavegurin Trail debacle, I decided to hike the Colorado Trail. In the years following Iceland, I had been on dozens of backpacking trips and trimmed my ultralight backpacking setup to under 10 pounds. No longer an amateur backpacker, I was ready to take on the trek of my dreams.

To prepare for the 486-mile Colorado Trail I meticulously studied maps, waffled over gear choices, and meal prepped for the entire journey. I prepared multiple boxes of food and supplies and shipped myself care packages to pickups along the trail. Nasty weather was the least of my worries, as I had gear that could handle it.

My first five days on the trail were blissful. I was breezing through the wide-open trails and averaging about 16 miles a day – keeping pace with my personal goal. The weather was exceptional and the landscape was becoming more beautiful by the day. I listened to my favorite hiking music, reveled in my solitude, and shed occasional tears of joy.

Then, on the sixth day of my trip, the physical exertion caught up to me. Dull pain began to ache on the outside of my right knee on ascents and descents, which slowed down my pace considerably. I took plenty of Advil, stretched constantly, and adjusted my hiking posture in an effort to keep the pain at bay. It was working, more or less.

Then, 13 miles into my sixth day, I came across a perfect campsite. I pondered setting up camp for the day to rest my knee but eventually decided to keep moving. I wanted to cover my 16 miles, and figured I’d find a suitable site a few miles up the trail. I’d be fine, I told myself.

Bad idea.

The next three miles of the trail offered zero realistic opportunities to camp, and my knee began to ache more and more as I limped onwards. Just before nightfall, I decided to set up camp at a less-than-ideal site and tucked into bed – cursing myself for pushing on when I should have stopped.

On day seven, I took a few more Advil, stretched, and got back on the trail. My knee felt solid for my first hour of hiking until, on a steep downhill stretch, searing pain suddenly hit the outside of my knee. I took a contemplative break, stretched, then attempted to push onwards. The pain got worse. I could only put weight on one leg, and the next road was 30 miles further up the trail.

The harsh reality of the situation caught up to me as my eyes welled up with tears. I had to turn back.

I limped three miles back to the nearest road, took a deep breath, and stuck my thumb out at the cars passing by. I hitchhiked into the nearby town of Fairplay, walked into a bar, and called a friend who agreed to pick me up. Slowly sipping a beer, I stared blankly at the dusty liquor bottles behind the bartender. I sunk into my seat as I realized my dream was over, for the time being at least.

I visited the doctor the next day and was diagnosed with iliotibial band friction syndrome, which although very painful, healed up without surgery. Discouraged and depressed, I spent the next few weeks lamenting my poor decision to push myself too hard.

Lesson Learned: Train properly and listen to your body.

Accidentally Van Dwelling in Skid Row

In the fall of 2017, Keri and I learned that we prefer to travel solo during a cramped 67-day road trip around the western U.S. in my converted Chevy Astrovan. Aside from realizing that ‘me-time’ is absolutely vital to keep our relationship healthy, we learned many other meaningful lessons about travel, love, and van life.

Like this one: Don’t park your camper van in Skid Row with the intention of staying the night.

Skid Row, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is an infamous neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles known for its open drug use, rampant crime, and abnormally high homeless population. While I don’t judge or look down on anyone who spends their days in Skid Row, there are other places I’d rather park and try for a restful night of sleep.

During our few days in L.A., Keri and I had learned that it’s really difficult to find cheap and legal overnight parking within its chaotic confines. So, when I came across a flat (and free!) spot near downtown, I backed in and humbly celebrated my van life prowess. It was still daytime when we’d arrived, so Keri and I left for a few hours to have dinner in Little Tokyo (which is wonderful, by the way). 

After a few hours of exploring, we returned to the van just after nightfall. The parked cars on the crowded street had thinned out drastically while we’d been strolling the town. Keri and I, exhausted from a busy day in the city, brushed our teeth and tucked into bed.

After spending a good amount of time tossing and turning, a cacophony of riff-raff slowly began outside the van. Loud music and shouting echoed down the street from a car parked nearby. Various car alarms blared in the distance. My heartbeat began to pick up. I crawled to the front seat and peeked out the window to see that zero cars remained parked on the street around us. Dark figures in the distance lurched down the sidewalk under fluttering street lights.

I nervously got on my phone to study exactly where the hell I had parked for the night. It didn’t take long to realize that I’d parked on the outskirts of one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the U.S. We’d parked our van in Skid Row and were attempting to sleep for the night. Ha. 

Consumed by anxiety, I frantically awoke Keri (who can sleep through anything) and got her up to speed on our situation. She was barely conscious and couldn’t be bothered, so I made the executive decision to get us the hell out of there immediately.

I drove us to Hollywood, a slightly less seedy neighborhood, and pulled into a quiet parking space. Keri slept like a rock as I tossed and turned the night away.

Lesson Learned: When van lifing, park in a safe place every night. No exceptions.

Hiking a Volcano, Enduring the Most Uncomfortable Sleeping Situation of My Life

A volcano peak at sunrise

Volcano Fuego at sunrise: worth a miserable night of no sleep?

 

As you may know by reading my blog, I’m big into the hiking, trekking, and backpacking scene. I’m an ultralight gear junkie and I’m always planning my next big trip.

So, when I was presented with the chance to join on an overnight backpacking trip to Acatenango — a massive volcano near Antigua, Guatemala — I was all over it. On this particular hike, I would have the chance to witness the nearby Volcano Fuego violently erupt and spew lava into the black night sky. Sign me up immediately, please.

The ensuing adventure was brutal, to say the least. I’d embarked on my adventure as part of an organized group of about 15 other giddy travelers, and we spent the entire first day huffing and puffing up the side of Acatenango for an ass-kicking 5 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Relieved and exhausted, we finally arrived at base camp just before nightfall. We spent our evening observing the adjacent Volcano Fuego for eruptions, sipping mysterious Guatemalan booze, and huddling around a campfire that was far too small to keep anyone warm. The sky was overcast and the volcano was inactive, so the night was rather uneventful.

We made our way towards our tents to get some rest before we hiked the last 1,000 feet of elevation gain to Acatenango’s summit for sunrise. Inside this crowded tent of four weary travelers is where I endured the worst night of sleep of my entire life.

Chilling rain and intense wind began to pick up just as we entered the tent and began to prep for bed. The weathered and worn shelter flapped around like a windsock in the intense conditions, as our ancient sleeping bags offered little protection from the plummeting temperatures. As I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep, ice-cold water began to dribble on my forehead.

The four of us tossed, turned, shivered, and grumbled for five straight hours as the awful weather continued to run its course. None of us caught a wink of sleep. At 4:00 a.m., our tour guide shouted for everyone to wake up. It was now time to hike straight uphill to the summit of the volcano it the dead of the night.

We staggered like zombies through the howling wind of a pitch-black night and wondered out loud just what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.

Lesson Learned: Choose your tours carefully, and always check the forecast.

Winning $1,200 in Las Vegas then Losing it All (on My Birthday)

If you know me well, you’re probably aware that I enjoy a good bout of gambling from time to time. Las Vegas is one of my favorite travel destinations, and blackjack is my biggest weakness while I’m visiting.

Let’s rewind back to March 8th of 2015, the day before my 28th birthday. I’d flown out to Sin City with a couple of friends, and it was our full intention to ravage Vegas’ world-class food scene, soak in sun by the pool, and gamble for hours on end. We hit the ground running as soon as our plane landed.

My first round at the blackjack tables went swimmingly. For hours, a flurry of cards, cocktails, and casino chips overwhelmed my existence. My friends and I shouted as I connected with big bet after big bet. I felt unstoppable. When it was all said and done I was $1,200 richer. Days like this are why I love Vegas.

The next morning, we all emerged from our hotel rooms in sky-high spirits. Elated from my recent victory, I treated my friends and a couple of strangers to an all you can eat buffet at the MGM Grand. My pockets were full, and it was my birthday. Life was good.

And after breakfast, I promptly began to redistribute my winnings back into the casinos.

The blackjack dealers, once a lovely sight, began to deal me a terribly cold run of cards. My once-formidable chip stack evaporated throughout the course of the day until it dwindled into nothing. Apparently, Las Vegas didn’t care if it was my birthday.

By returning to the tables I’d tempted fate, and given Vegas the opportunity to settle the score. And in their twisted, addictive, and heart-pounding universe, the blackjack gods had made everything right again.

Lesson Learned: Don’t get greedy when gambling. Learn to walk away as a winner. (Or simply don’t gamble in the first place).

Nearly Crapping My Pants, Missing an International Flight, Sleeping in an Airport

This story and all its harrowing details are fresh in my memory. It was on this fateful day, June 5th, 2019, that I completely failed at traveling. As I look back on this disaster just a few months later, I reflect on it in utter shame and regret. Can I have a do-over, please? 

My whole sad saga began on the morning of a flight I’d booked from Chengdu, China to San Francisco. From there, I would fly to Denver to visit my friends and family for a couple of months. I was intensely eager to get back home and see everyone. 

That fateful morning, I awoke bright and early, gathered my backpacking gear and travel bag, and bid Keri adieu. I ordered a Didi (China’s equivalent to Uber) and walked out the door towards the front gates of my apartment complex. The Didi promptly canceled on me.

I spent the next 15 minutes scrambling about the sidewalks of early morning Chengdu, searching for any glimpse of WiFi to connect to my phone, which didn’t have data at the time. Finally, I found a weak connection and called a new Didi. I began to get quite nervous, as I hadn’t given myself much time for delays.

A visibly exhausted driver picked me up, sighed deeply, and pulled into a thick swarm of bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. I grimaced in uncertainty as I silently tried to reassure myself. You’ll be fine, Noel. Traffic will clear up. You won’t miss your flight. Don’t panic.

In addition to stressing about my timeframe, I desperately needed to go to the bathroom, in more ways than one. My bladder was slowly expanding and my guts began to twist and turn as they growled and I squirmed in my seat. Life was becoming more and more unbearable by the second.

It was at that moment when I started to panic.

I might crap my pants, piss myself, and miss my international flight – all within the same hour. Dear God, please no.

Thankfully, I didn’t end up soiling myself in the backseat of that taxi, but I came about as close as humanly possible – non-stop, for an hour straight.

Once my Didi driver finally arrived at the airport, I scrambled to the check-in counter, with only 58 minutes before my flight was set to depart. A sign sat in front of the counter to inform me that check-in had closed just two minutes prior. For a pathetic moment, I attempted to find a customer service agent that could help, but I quickly scampered to the bathroom after minimal effort.

The sweet joyous relief from my bathroom trip quickly faded as the realization sunk in that I’d most likely missed my flight. I went back to the check-in counter and couldn’t find anyone to help. My flight was already boarding. I was completely screwed.

As a result, my entire round-trip ticket to the U.S. was canceled, and I wouldn’t be receiving a refund. I then threw my head in my hands and wallowed in self-pity. I was so incredibly upset with myself. 

I eventually booked a new (and expensive) flight back to the U.S. which was set to take off later that evening. It got delayed multiple times over a six-hour period until it was finally canceled at 4:00 a.m. The airline then drove me to a hotel, where I showered and slept for 20 minutes before they started banging on my door and hurried me back to the airport in a haze of confusion.

Embarrassed and demoralized, I eventually arrived back in Colorado a full 48 hours later than planned. I had forfeited a substantial amount of money booking my new trip back home and was running on very little sleep. I was a complete emotional disaster.

Lesson Learned: Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.

When Travel Sucks, You Grow

Two cows sitting in the sand during a bad travel experience in Beihai, China

Travel is an unpredictable beast

 

It’s not every day that I get the chance to bear my most embarrassing and disastrous travel moments to the world. The entire experience, the sharing of these stories, was a bit cathartic and quite fun. I hope you enjoyed yourself as well.

Keep in mind that I have plenty more stories just as miserable and humiliating as the ones you’ve just read, but I’m going to spare you the details. Some of my stories are best left untold, jammed deep down into the recesses of my soul.

I’m well aware that my future travels will bring about even more of these ill-fated and cringeworthy adventures. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to them per se, but I’m ready. I’m waiting for them.

Oddly, I hold these disastrous travel stories closer than all the happy and cheerful memories I’ve made along the way. These tales — the ones brimming with failure and misadventure — remind me that the world owes me no magical moments or storybook endings. Life on the road is chaotic, cruel, and comical at times, so it’s best I find some lessons to take with me along the way.

Yes, travel sucks sometimes, but I just can’t seem to get enough of it.

Plan Your Next Trip: Travel Tips & Resources

Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights by searching with Skyscanner or Momondo. Both sites pull fares from a huge network of airlines to help you find an affordable flight every time.

Book Accommodation

Use Booking.com — my go-to booking website — to reserve hotels and hostels. Search Hostelworld to browse a gigantic database of affordable hostel options. Book with Airbnb to rent apartments, houses, or rooms from locals.

Rent a Car

Search RentalCars.com to compare prices among hundreds of car rental brands. Use Turo to rent cars, trucks, campervans, (and more) from locals.

Protect Your Trip

Travel is unpredictable. Use World Nomads to insure your trip against illness, theft, injury, and cancellation. They’re widely trusted among backpackers and travelers worldwide.

Travel Better

Look through my complete list of travel and blogging resources and use my carry-on only packing list to get ready for your next trip. See precisely how I travel the world and maintain this blog.

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What are some of your very worst travel stories? Have you had any similar bad travel experiences to me? Let me know by leaving feedback in the comments below!

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