Well, I sure love to dish out travel advice and share travel tips, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my fair share of travel mishaps and near fiascos on the road. I’ve already confessed to forgetting to write down addresses whenever I travel, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, I have made some pretty ridiculous mistakes that would leave you shaking your head in disapproval and mumbling “what a rookie”, but thankfully most of them turned out okay in the end. Today I thought I’d share a few of those, but I’m capping it at 5 – otherwise you might start wondering why you even take my travel advice to begin with!
Forgetting my passport in the toilet
You may laugh at my incompetence, but I know I’m not the only one out there who’s forgotten her documents in a bathroom stall, right? Right?! (Bueller? Anyone?)
So this happened when I was flying to Seoul via Tokyo. In my defence, I was moving to Korea to spend a year teaching English, so I was a bundle of nerves and minding my possessions was clearly the least of my worries.
I had a short connection between flights, but I also had a bladder that was about to burst, so I bolted into the bathroom, set down my passport and boarding pass on the toilet paper dispenser, and then I just walked out and went on my merry way.
It wasn’t until I got back to my gate that I realized something felt a little off. Why did I suddenly have a free hand? I had my backpack, I had my purse, I had my…nope, I didn’t have my passport or my boarding pass. What?!
My mind was racing, “Where could I have left them? Where!” I checked my pockets, I checked my backpack, I checked my coat pockets – nada! I tried thinking back to the last time I had them: the bathroom!
I raced back the same way I had come hoping and praying they would still be there, and sure enough, there they were in the first cubicle. Praise da lawd! I’m pretty sure I gave myself some heart palpitations with that one.
Not checking what airport I fly out of
So I had been travelling in Europe with my friend Verena and one of our last stops was Barcelona. I remember being quite adamant about finding the cheapest airline tickets at the time, so we flew into Girona and then took the 1.5 hour bus into the city. Not exactly nearby, but I was willing to scrimp and save anyway I could.
Our trip to Barcelona was pretty laid-back and we spent most of our time eating tapas, going to the beach, and just basking in the sun. It was so relaxing in fact, that I kind of forgot when we were supposed to leave.
On the morning of our departure my friend asked me, “so at what time do we need to head out?” All week long I had been saying that we weren’t leaving until the afternoon, but I finally looked at my itinerary that morning and that’s when the numbers jumped out at me – our flight was departing in just a little over 3 hours and we were nowhere near ready.
“NOW! We need to leave right now!”
We proceeded to race around the rental apartment trying to shove everything into our bags as quickly as possible. Who cared about folding or sorting clean from dirty laundry. We hauled our bags down the streets, onto the metro, arrived at the train station, and as we were waiting I was hit with the realization that I didn’t know which airport we needed to go to.
El Prat? Girona? Reus? I didn’t have a clue.
We were flying out with a different airline from the one we had flown in with, so there was no guarantee it was Girona, and the confirmation I had printed only said ‘Barcelona’. Of course, a quick Google search would have revealed that El Prat is in fact the only airport in Barcelona, and therefore Girona and Reus which are in neighbouring cities could have been easily eliminated, but this was the days before anyone travelled with smartphones, laptops or tablets. I had no internet access.
So we did the only thing we could do considering we were about to miss our flight – we waited for the first train to show and when one pulled up reading ‘Aeropuerto’, we hopped on praying it was our lucky day. We didn’t know which airport it was going to but it took us to El Prat, and when we got there I was overjoyed to find our flight listed on the screen! Imagine that.
We were some of the last people to check into the flight and we reached our gate just as they were beginning to board passengers, but we made it! Whewwww!
Nearly leaving with a stranger’s passport
While travelling in Vietnam, I found that it was quite common for guesthouses to hold on to my passport for the duration of my stay at their establishment. (I thought this was a bit odd at first, but apparently it’s a requirement by the police, so I went with it.)
Sam and I had just spent a full month backpacking the length of Vietnam and on this particular morning we were scheduled to fly out of Hanoi. Since it was an early flight we quietly tiptoed down to the hotel reception area where the security guard was sprawled out on a foam mattress.
I felt really bad to have to wake him, but I needed to get my passport back so after a few awkward whispers of “Sorry, excuse me!” he finally awoke and walked over to the desk. Here he unlocked a drawer where passports were grouped by country with rubber bands. He blearily pulled out two Canadian ones, handed them to us, and then walked back to his bed.
I was ready to walk out of there with my bags – the taxi was waiting and the security guard looked like he really wanted to go back to sleep, but that’s when I heard a little voice in my head say, “You should probably check those passports.”
I opened my Canadian passport and saw that the place of birth was right, but that wasn’t my face staring back at me. Then I looked at Sam’s and there was another man from Quebec staring back instead. We had been handed someone else’s passports and we could have very well gone off to the airport with them!
We called back the security guard and fumbled through the remaining Canadian passports until we finally found ours. As we drove to the airport and I just kept thinking how thankful I was that another traveller hadn’t mistakenly departed with our documents. That could have been a real travel fiasco.
Forgetting to rent a car for a road trip
A few years back I did a little road trip around Canada’s East Coast with my friend Rebecca. If I had to describe this trip in just a few words, I would go with “just wing it”. We did very little planning and as you might expect that resulted in a few minor hiccups along the way, namely with transportation.
After spending a bit of time in Toronto and Montreal, we took the train out to Moncton where we were planning to visit another friend and also do a few day trips. We wanted to see a bit more of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, so we knew we would need a car. What we failed to consider is that smaller cities may have less rental cars at their disposal, and that booking in advance is essential.
Well we kind of forgot to book a car for the road trip...
When we arrived in Moncton, we noticed that there was an Enterprise-Rent-a-Car just down the street from our friend’s house, so the following morning we walked over there to see if we could rent something. The conversation went a little something like this:
“Hi! I’d like to rent a car.”
“Did you book online?”
“Nope. I don’t have a booking.”
“When do you need it by?”
At this point the guy looked at me a little bewildered and informed me that they didn’t have a single car available in their lot with such short notice. I could tell he wasn’t very impressed with my lack of planning skills, but he politely excused himself and went to call their other office in town. Lucky for us, they had a car we could snatch up, the only problem is that it was on the other side of town.
“So can I walk there?” I asked, thinking this place looked pretty small.
“Is there a bus that goes there?”
“No, there are no direct buses there.”
“So how do I get there?”
I’m pretty sure I saw an eye roll, but I also think he felt a little sorry for these two scatterbrained travellers because he offered to drive us across town. (Gotta love small town hospitality!) But all’s well that ends well. We got our car in the end and the road trip was a blast.
Leaving my luggage behind on my honeymoon
For most of my trips I tend to travel with two pieces of luggage: my Osprey 80L backpack and a day pack that acts as my carry-on. Those two pieces of luggage are such a big part of my routine, that I never really take time to look around for other belongings on the plane. When the wheels touch down, I know I just have to grab my day pack, go through customs, and then my big backpack will be waiting for me at the carousel.
Well, for our honeymoon Sam and I went to Cuba and since we were only planning to be there for a week and we were spending most of the time at the beach, I didn’t bother with my 80L backpack. I fit everything I needed into a small carry-on and I also packed a little day pack with my camera, documents, and electronics. I carried both of these items onto the plane, but I completely forgot about one of them.
You see, the day pack went at my feet, but the carry-on suitcase went up on the overhead compartment a few seats back because everything was full. Once we landed I did what I always do; I grabbed my day pack from the floor and I walked off without checking for anything else.
The lines at immigration were quite long and we were some of the last people through, so I’m just staring into space, daydreaming about beaches and palm trees when I see a man marching up and down with a suitcase above his head. “Did anyone forget their suitcase? Is this anyone’s suitcase?”
I’m thinking, “Pfff, how ridiculous, how can someone just forget their whole suitcase on the plane?! What are they planning to wear on holiday?” That’s when I notice that the piece of luggage looked familiar; it was a red suitcase covered in flags and coats of arms from around the world. That is my suitcase!
I sprinted after him flailing my arms in the air, “Wait, sir, it’s mine! It’s mine!”
After a few laughs from nearby passengers I was finally reunited with my luggage, but now I’m extra careful to check my surroundings (and look for parcels I may have forgotten about) whenever I disembark from the plane.
What’s the silliest travel mistake you’ve ever made?