My Hilarious Travel Screw Ups (And How to Avoid Them!)

travel screw ups

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You know what, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m pretty damn cool. Despite struggling with anxiety on a regular basis, I still push myself to the furtherest limits. I, especially, like to stretch my mental boundaries when I arrive in a new exciting location. For example, I’ve paraglided off mountains in Slovenia. I’ve snorkeled in frigid waters in Iceland. I’ve slept in a lighthouse on an uninhabited island off the coast of Sweden.

Cool? You bet. I’m the coolest girl in alllllllll of New Jersey. Travel has transformed me into a more confident person. I don’t regret spending a single dime.

travel screw ups
Looking “oh so” pretty before TBEX

But am I a perfect traveler? HAHAHA, no. I make so many mistakes that it’s actually a little pathetic. But hilarious too. I’m great at eating delicious foreign foods. And I’m also great at staring at the best artwork in world class museums. And attending operas? I can do that too.


I decided to write this post in honor of my amazing travel screw ups. Now none of these mistakes are catastrophic, I promise, but I hope you’ll still laugh! Maybe you’ll also learn what not to do the next time you embark on an incredible adventure.

Bon voyage!

travel screw ups
I’m seriously embarrassed to post this picture of me.

Mm, Lisbon Roast, Baby.

Sun illuminated the streets that Easter Sunday in Lisbon. I happily strolled alongside pink and green buildings, as I chatted to new friends (met on Couchsurfing) and enjoyed the rays. Portugal’s radiance was a needed a change from New Jersey’s dreary weather.

“You should apply sunblock,” peeped the warning voice in my head, reminding me that I had forgotten (yet again) to buy it at the hostel.

I opened my mouth to let the group know I’d be back in a second, my hostel only ten feet away, but then one of my new travel companions suddenly touched my arm and blurted, “Rachel! That’s your name, right? I fell in love with a girl named Rachel once.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, she didn’t love me back.”

Now, on the internet, I’m a confident superstar, but around this Swedish hunk? Pfft. I smiled (an awkward nervous grimace, more like!) and nodded, trying not to turn into a giggling mess.

The 0.3 second distraction made me completely forget about protecting my fair skin.

The results were gorgeous, my friends.

Red face. Red neck. Red arms. … Not to mention the fashionable RINGS around my eyes, thanks to my oversized sunglasses. Sunburn absolutely stinks. I spent the rest of the time in Portugal in pain. I still loved the country, though.

And the Swedish guy? Uh, he didn’t say another word to me. So, yeah, that interaction was totally worth looking like a half-baked raccoon the entire week. There’s a lesson here somewhere…

Never forget your sunblock, travelers. Apply it often.

travel screw ups

Did You Forget Your Map in Paris?

I’m a literature nerd. I love my books almost as much as I love my passport. When I was in Paris, I already knew I needed to visit Oscar Wilde’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery and browse Shakespeare and Company, a world famous bookstore.

Sadly, I had a bad cold on my last day in the French capital. My brain was too fogged for common sense, meaning I didn’t check my phone for Shakespeare and Company’s location ahead of time. And a physical paper map? Well. We all forget stuff, right?

After walking around the same block ten times, I heard a voice call out to me. “Heyy, do you speak English?”

The speaker smelled like a public restroom and grinned like an intoxicated frat kid during Hell Week. I should’ve known better than to acknowledge him, but … I’m nice. Why, why, why am I nice.

“I speak some English, yeah,” I replied.

Creeper Extraordinaire winked at me (ew). “Do you think I could borrow some euros for the train?”

My new friend edged a little too close for comfort. I mumbled an excuse and quickly took off, and never made it to Shakespeare and Company. So, yeah, learn from my mistake and don’t talk to creepers. And actually LOOK AT A MAP before you leave your accommodation. Better yet, bring a map with you.

travel screw ups

OUCH! Twisted Highlands Ankle.

All I can say is that you shouldn’t climb over random fences and wear crappy sandals at the same time. It’s a stupid idea. But, on this particular cloudy day in the Highlands, I felt absolutely invincible. It was my first solo trip, after all, and euphoria trumped common sense.

“Let’s climb all the way up that mountain!” one of my travel companions exclaimed. “We can see EVERYTHING!”

I laughed, enticed by all the pretty white sheep, and agreed. Sure, I wore lousy footwear! But who cared! I can scale rocks and fences, and look like a runway princess! Watch me!

Haha, as I lifted myself over the fence and heard a crack! inside my foot, I knew it was game over. Sure, confidence can make you physically stronger, but it’s probably a good idea to wear sneakers if you’re gonna take a hike. Just sayin’.

Luckily, I was able to take my Loch Ness cruise, but not before visiting a pharmacy and spending way too much money on painkillers.

Bathroom Fun.

Okay, this one is gross so I’ll keep it short, sorry. Let’s just say I was feeling unwell on a bus ride between Croatia and Hungary. I should’ve taken medicine. I should’ve extended my stay another day. However, I should NOT have tried to power through a five hour bus ride with an upset stomach.

As for the squat toilet at border control?  … yeah, it was no good.

If you feel sick, please know your limits.

Enjoy Row 43.

Although my fear of flying is slooooooooooooooooowly (ha) improving, I still don’t like it. At all. On my most recent trans-Atlantic flight, my reserved seat was located in the very, very, very last row on a Boeing 777.

Side note: I’m picky with my seat, damn it! I need an aisle seat right over the wing! Why? There is less turbulence, and I can stand up without having to ask strangers to move.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I failed to reserve my seat in advance on this trip and paid the price dearly on board. “What did we hit? Are we gonna crash into the Hudson now? I’m sorry, mom,” I thought, as the plane jerked in the middle of take off. Every few seconds, another bump. Another drop. Another whimper from yours truly. Not to mention the poor girl in my row had her face buried in her hands. Not helpful.

Tears burned my eyes, but I refused to cry. The last time I cried on a flight happened in 2014, on an overnight trip from Vancouver to Toronto, and I didn’t want to repeat the experience, because, uh, embarrassing much?

Somehow I survived the journey even though claustrophobia ate my insides for the next six hours.

Upon landing in Amsterdam, however, posters of many cities greeted me on the jetbridge. “Welcome to Amsterdam!” with canals. “Welcome to Barcelona!” with twisty buildings. “Welcome to Beijing!” with the Great Wall. One poster after another until I reached the gate.

… yeah, I needed the reminder that fighting my anxiety is worth it.

I’ll just suck it up, pay, and reserve my wing seat next time. If you’re scared of flying, take charge of your seat. Seriously.

travel screw ups

Adorable 1950s Style Bathings Suits =/= Workout Gear

Okay, I already mentioned my crappy sandals in the Highlands, but that wasn’t the only time I underdressed for an adventure. I mean, who would think wearing a cute pink one piece swimsuit before a 26 km bike ride was a good idea? APPARENTLY ME.

Seriously. I don’t know where my brain was that afternoon, but it wasn’t with me in rural Austria.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

By the time I reached the lake, I sprawled on a bench and did nothing for two hours.

Remember comfort is better than fashion.

Lost in Berlin. Lost in Split. Lost in Tallinn. Lost in –

I’m great at some things. For example, I can write five page essay on an obscure line from a random Shakespeare play. I’m also talented at blowing money at boutiques in New York’s Soho. And I’m good at getting lost.

Like the time in Berlin when, on my first morning, jetlagged and overburdened, I got off at the wrong subway stop and walked an extra two miles to my hostel. Or the time in Split, when I got lost at night and walked down the same street about fifty times before I realized my hostel was most certainly not on that block. Or the time I ended up on the opposite side of Tallinn with a dead cellphone.

I don’t have any solutions for not getting lost. I guess just laugh at yourself.

The Moral of the Story?

Errr, I make a lot of mistakes. Apparently, 95% of those mistakes are due to strange men, bad fashion choices, and personal laziness.

But every single mishap is still worth the beauty of traveling.

If you’re gonna travel, especially alone, you will mess up, but mistakes are a part of life. Perfect people are boring as hell, and so are perfect trips.

Instead of freaking out if you twist your ankle or are stuck in Row 43, embrace your inner bravery and live for the moment. You’re amazing.

Share your biggest travel screw ups in the comments! 

18 thoughts on “My Hilarious Travel Screw Ups (And How to Avoid Them!)

  1. Fiona Maclean says:

    I am the queen of Lost In. You should see me panic when my mobile plan doesn’t cover data roaming in the country I’m visiting. I always mean to download google maps before I go – and I always forget

  2. Kara says:

    Hi Rachel,

    I got lost in Beijing trying to get to my hostel. I got off the bus too early. Most people didn’t speak English. I got the translator app out on my phone and let them know I was lost and where I needed to go. The only problem they didn’t speak English and could only point in the general direction. Then I had a great idea I found the nearest hotel with a Starbucks in it. I found one of the female security guards who spoke decent English. She told me to take line 2 on the subway. After meandering around the subway for like an hour trying to figure out where line 2 was it finally clicked. I got to my hostel! There’s a kind of excitement in getting lost, especially in a place with not much English. Makes for a great story too!

  3. Susanna says:

    Girl, we’ve all been here done this I think, but thank you for sharing your experience. I hope some travelers learn form your mistakes. I got so sunburnt in Barcelona once after falling asleep at the beach I couldn’t even move! Also, I think you need to download googlemaps offline. It’s saved my life once or twice!

  4. Drew says:

    Love reading about travel screw ups. It happens to all of us, and in hindsight, tend to be funny.
    I once took a taxi to the train station in Saigon, as I was taking the overnight ride to Danang. I got out of the taxi, entered the terminal, and looked for the departure board. It was only displaying flights, which I thought was weird. Then, I couldn’t see any trains or tracks. It suddenly hit me that I was at the airport, not the train station.I had to make the train motion and a ‘chu chu’ sound to a local. He just shook his head and pointed to the taxi stand. Luckily, I was able to catch the train just before it left!

  5. Bobbi says:

    Love the mishaps. Mishaps make life exciting! 🙂 hahhaa I have gotten lost so many times I cannot count. By the way, I don’t do this often at all, but I subscribed. I need some humor in my reading! Thanks for not being boring af. 🙂

  6. Elaine J Masters says:

    You are adorable!! I love your honesty and wit. Keep going and don’t forget the sunblock. Thanks for such a fun post and reminding me of so many times I could’ve traveled better too.

  7. Tami says:

    Our family had a sunburn story when traveling, too. Have you ever burned your eyeballs? Awful! And that’s what my sons did on a spring snow-skiing trip! I wrote about that and all of our other travel fails on my blog, too. Good luck with all your future travels!

  8. Penny Sadler says:

    I love the story about the hot Swedish guy. I’ve done the stupid sunburn thing. I’ve had people try to shame me into doing things I know are not good for me. I’ve learned to just. say. no.

  9. Rob says:

    I have been fortunate not to have many mishaps. One memorable one though, when traveling I try to use the local language as much as I can and it has led to a few misunderstandings. Once while trying to order peach gellato in Italy, I used the term pesce, instead of pesca. After the server stopped laughing she explained to me that I had just ordered fish gellato not peach.

  10. Mel Jones says:

    Rachel, I admire your honesty and don’t worry! I think most of us have been there, whether it being lost, not putting on sunblock or the dreaded upset stomach with no bathroom in sight (my GOD is that the worse haha!), it’s all part of the learning process. We always laugh about it in hindsight don’t we? 😉

  11. Sara Broers says:

    The mishaps make for great travel stories, as you have found. The map scenario is so me. If I don’t have it on my phone, I start looking for a paper one. I have learned to be prepared, but then there will be another time when it’s not there. Happy travels and I look forward to reading about your next travel mishap.

  12. Julia says:

    I got lost in Tallinn, too! I stepped onto a bus to ask a bus driver for directions (because I didn’t have map with me, ha!), and he took off, leaving my friend behind at the airport. And my friend had all our money and the name of the hostel and my cell phone was dead. The bus driver didn’t sleep any English and kept demanding money while I begged him to let me off, and I finally got off at the first stop over a mile from the airport. I somehow trekked across the ice covered sidewalks and got lost and turned around a few times before miraculously making it back to my friend. I learned quite a few lessons that day!

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