Things Gone Wrong On Vacation

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Last updated Jul 23, 2023

You have been planning your vacation for a long time, and the time is approaching for you to get on the plane and forget about your everyday responsibilities.  This is your well-deserved break, you are excited, you’ve double-checked all your reservations, and you are ready to go. What could go wrong?! A lot of things can (and will) go wrong and most of them are for no fault of your own. Here are some real-life examples of travel challenges we have faced and overcame to still have a great vacation!

Most things that go wrong on a trip can be attributed to people simply forgetting things, miscommunication/misinformation, natural disasters, and uncontrollable delays. The list of things that we’ve put together, is our own experience that we are sharing in hopes that they will be helpful to others.

We have been through insignificant events that just made our vacation a little more stressful but not that impactful and then some events that made us wonder if we could have been truly harmed. Especially when we had to involve the authorities. Now all of those events are just amusing memories that we like to bring up every once in a while for entertainment value but in reality, some of those things were downright scary and uncomfortable to live through.

“We Have Your Reservation But Not a Room…”

Just hearing that phrase out of the front desk employee at the hotel in Zagreb made us both laugh out loud and then quickly realize she was dead serious. With no apology, she informed us that due to some “glitch” they have our reservation but not a room (to this day we laugh about the way she said that), so they decided to make an arrangement with another hotel that has a room available, without consulting with us or informing us.

The main reason we picked this hotel was that it was close to the rental car store where we needed to be first thing in the morning. The hotel they picked for us to stay at was a 15-minute drive. But we were tired, it was late at night, and just not willing to fight over this.

Transportation was “provided” by the hotel, but when we got in the taxi we quickly realized the driver wasn’t aware of that and he didn’t speak English, luckily I speak Croatian and was able to communicate with him. He spent another 10 minutes calling his boss and the hotel verifying this information before finally driving us off to the new hotel.

We had been traveling all day and just wanted to get clean and get some rest. The new hotel was outside of the city in the middle of nowhere. A place that time has forgotten. Unlike the previous hotel, the staff here was really nice, they didn’t speak English, but they did everything to make us feel comfortable, brought us a couple of shots of rakija (traditional brandy made of plums) and some meza (charcuterie) to enjoy in the lounge area. The room was clean and comfortable enough for one night.

Lessons Learned:

  • Verify that both your reservation and the room (who thought those were two different things) are available on the day of your arrival.
  • Do not accept so lightly the arrangements from the hotel where you made your reservations. Make them accountable and if in no other way than a poor review on Google.
  • Make the hotel at fault accountable for transportation both ways. We paid for a cab ourselves next day to get to the car rental store.
  • We would normally say learn couple of key phrases to help with language barrier, but in this case couple of phrases wouldn’t mean anything, so that’s why we suggest that the hotel receptionist verifies all arrangements that they are promising in your presence, which would eliminate confusion with the taxi driver and minimal conversation needed at the new hotel.
  • A lot of hotels nowadays are offering their best rates through their own website or will match any rate offered by online platforms. We often use services like Expedia and Hotels.com to find the right hotel and the best deal, but book directly with the hotel if they will offer the same rate. We find they are less likely to “bump” or “lose” your registration in the event of overbooking if you book with them directly.

Lost Luggage

This happens more frequently than one would hope and most of the time for no fault of your own. Once we had someone pick up our luggage thinking it was theirs, and the only way we found it was we ran into this person at the luggage claim office. He was filing a claim for a broken wheel on our suitcase, not realizing that it wasn’t even his suitcase and FYI airlines do not really take claims for something like that. However, your credit card may have a benefit that covers your damaged luggage.

Other times we’ve missed connecting flights, having to spend a night somewhere other than our destination without our luggage or alternatively, we made the flight with a short layover after a sprint through the airport, only to find our luggage didn’t sprint with us.

Lessons Learned:

  • Make sure you look closely at the layover time on your flights before you book them. You would think that they wouldn’t offer you an option with less than an hour long layover, but you would be surprised. To us, an hour is the bare minimum and we typically look for longer layover especially when clearing customs and immigration is required or you are changing planes in a large major airport.
  • Always write your information on the piece of luggage you carry with you and with today’s technology invest in little GPS/Bluetooth tracking devices, light weight, and put in your luggage pocket and track it that way. Some of them are really nifty.
  • If you have connecting flights, take a backpack or carry-on with you on the plane with a change of clothes and your essentials; battery chargers, hygiene products, snacks, etc. in case your luggage doesn’t make it you have at least one change of clothes.
  • Some credit cards offer a benefit for “Baggage Delay Insurance” that reimburses you for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays over 6 hours.

Road Closures

When traveling internationally the road closures may not be updated on Google Maps. Following some of the local news, blogs, or knowing someone locally can be very beneficial for that information.

When driving from Zagreb to Bosnia we had protesters close down the main road to the city we were going to. This was Kris’ first trip to my homeland, and I haven’t been back in a few years so we were eager to get there and see the family. An hour outside of the city, around 14:30, the traffic comes to a complete stop. After a while, we get out of the car to see what’s going on and find out that protesters are blocking the road and will be there until 19:30.

Using Google maps we found a back road, through the forests and hills that would take us around the strike, and take off on our own. The scenery was beautiful, but the ‘road’ was not meant for standard vehicles, more like horses and buggies.

About a couple of hours into the drive, according to the GPS we were supposed to make a sharp right to cross the bridge except the bridge was not there, the flood from the prior year has knocked the bridge down and it was never replaced. Needless to say, we turned around and by the time we got back on the main road the protesters have opened up the road.

Lessons Learned:

  • Be patient. If you are not familiar with the area find a nearest café, rest and wait. We were in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception with all our belongings, a perfect target for someone to rob us.
  • Cell service and GPS signals can be spotty in more remote places all over the world. If you aren’t familiar with the area, or know you will be travelling through remote areas, sometimes it’s best to go old-fashioned and print out the map of your route.

Vehicle Broken Into

We had the window on our rental car smashed but nothing was taken from the car. We had to report it to the local authorities to get an official report for the car rental and insurance company and also swap out the car since we needed to cross the border into another country the next day.

We had to go to the police station in person, driving our rental car with a broken window. Even though the police showed up at the scene they could/would not issue a report without us coming to a police station to make a statement to the “supervisor” and someone official stamping and signing it.

The questions that we were asked were completely irrelevant to the event, the information on the report was misspelled and incorrect. The entire process seemed like a bad joke and was very uncomfortable. We felt like we did something wrong and worst of all we wasted an entire day.

We were in a different country than where we rented the car, but luckily there was a rental location where we were.  However, customer service was awful. We had to wait for hours for someone to show up at the office and then drive us down some back ally roads to get a different car.

Lessons Learned:

  • Take a deep breath when dealing with officials in different countries especially if you don’t speak the language.
  • If renting a car, make sure you have an insurance policy. We always decline the car rental company’s insurance option, and use a credit card that offers “Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver”. The entire rental cost has to be charged to that card, coverage is provided for theft and collision damage for most cars in the US and abroad.
  •  Take pictures as evidence and have all the documentation necessary to submit for the reimbursement claim and it does take a few weeks to receive the payment.

Last Minute Tour Cancellations

Most tour operators are very reliable, especially if they have decent reviews online to prove they are the real deal. Sometimes when you are trying to get to a certain, less mainstream tourist destination from where you are staying taking a guided tour can be your best bet.

When we were in Prague, we really wanted to visit the Saxon Switzerland National Park, just across the border with Germany. From what we could tell from our research, taking the train would only get us 90% of the way there and it was unclear what our options were to get the rest of the way, so we decided to book a tour guide.

We had booked the tour guide months in advance, confirmed the tour right before our trip started and once again a few days before the tour. Even with all these proactive steps, when we awoke at 4 AM that morning to get ready since we were being picked up at 5:30, we had received an e-mail from the tour guide saying “sorry I can’t make it today.” We were floored! But as is the theme with all travel-related problems, step one is don’t panic!

We had our hearts set on still going to the national park, so we tried once again to figure out how to get there by train, which still wasn’t clear. We decided to just walk to the train station and ask someone. Luckily enough, the woman at the ticket counter at the main train station in Prague spoke enough English and knew where we wanted to go (even if we didn’t), took our money and handed us two tickets to a town we had never even heard of!

Once we got off the train, now in Germany, we were able to buy a ticket for a touristic bus that just drives back and forth from the train station to the park. In the end, we were able to experience the beauty of this national park and were grateful for it.

Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes, even with your best efforts to confirm arrangements, things will be cancelled or not go off as planned.
  • Not all destinations will have easy to figure out public transportation options you can research online ahead of time. Sometimes you just need to have faith that there are many other people that want to see the same thing and you will figure it out when you get there.
  • Don’t give up! If plan A doesn’t work out, switch to plan B. If you don’t have a plan B, make one up on the fly!

Missing the Tour Bus

It has happened to us twice, and both times it was entirely our fault. When we are on vacation, we are not fans of having to be on a schedule and we truly try to minimize the number of tours we take, but sometimes that is the best and/or only option.

The first time was visiting Stonehenge, we missed the bus back to Salisbury and needed to catch a train from there to London. To our advantage, someone stood up a cab driver and he was looking for a passenger while we were looking for a ride. Match! It was money well spent, and he thought us more about the history of town than the tour.

The second time was in Coast Brava, after kayaking we were scheduled to meet back at the bus at a certain time and drive back to Barcelona, but we spent too much time at the shop trying to buy towels to dry off and warm up. We were soaking wet and freezing because it rained the entire day. Once again we were in luck, the tour guides counted people on the bus before we got off and didn’t leave without looking for us.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t panic, sometimes the alternative outcome is better than original plan.
  • If you are on tight budget, be accurate with your time.

Running out of water at your accommodations

On our last night in Venice, we had dinner reservations and just popped into the apartment to shower and get ready after a day on the beach, when we found out that there was no running water. This was an Airbnb rental, so we got in touch with the host, with his broken English and our non-existent Italian it was hysterical trying to get something going. Kris was troubleshooting the water pump, and the line to the water tank, until about an hour later we heard back from the host that the entire building is out of the water and there is nothing he can do.

We got online real quick and found a hotel room right around the corner that we moved to for the night. Our dinner reservation had to be moved 3 times until we got all of this figured out and after hearing our story the restaurant treated us with all kinds of extras. Airbnb customer service was great and quickly refunded our payment for that night.

Lessons Learned:

  • Once again, do not panic! Not everywhere in the world has the same reliable services you are accustomed to at home, and stressing about the situation will only make it worse and ruin your vacation.
  • Try to find another accommodation with running water, and work with the original place to get your money back for the night you didn’t spend there. Most places will work with you.

Crossing Boarders

This is hardly ever a pleasant experience, and it doesn’t matter where you are. The lines are always long, and boarder control officials always have a strongman attitude and not the most friendly approach.

Lessons Learned:

  • Allow yourself plenty of time in your schedule if you have to cross an international border, you will need it!
  • Have all your paperwork in order to expedite the process.
  • Fill out the customs sheet accurately.
  • Make sure you know what you are allowed to have and not have on you as crossing the border to minimize the hold ups and potential fines.

Petty Crime

Pick-pocketing is common in a lot of tourist flooded cities. Pickpockets congregate in common tourist spots in the city where you can hardly avoid them. That being said, all the responsibility pretty much lies with you to keep your belongings safe and your eyes open.

When we were in Barcelona my purse was almost stolen at the subway and we witnessed a waiter sneak a customer’s phone between the menus and tried to walk away with it. As frustrating and impacting to your vacation getting robbed may be, do not attempt to go after your stuff. It is not worth it! You don’t know how many other people they are working with and what they are willing to do. Instead, use that time to cancel all your credit cards and contact your embassy if your passport was stolen and report it to the police – not that they are going to even try to get your stuff back, but you may need an official report if your belongings are insured.

Lessons Learned:

  • Most scammers work in groups. In some places it is an entire operation that involves handicapped, kids, elderly, men and women.
  • Subway scams – as you are buying subway tickets someone may approach you pretending that they don’t know how to buy tickets, then you quickly realize they are asking you for money hoping you will pull out your wallet; or as you are passing thorough the subway entrance and you get separated from your travel buddy/group they attempt to yank your purse/backpack..
  • Kids scam – they send kids out to either ask for money or take your belongings if you are not paying attention and the kids are always cute and innocent looking. But don’t forget the adults are lurking around.
  • Keep an eye on your belongings – when we were in Santiago, Chile every time we attempted to hang our backpack on the back of the chair some polite local will remind us not to do that because it will get stolen, and most tables had hooks where you can hang your bag in front of you. Don’t leave your phone, your wallet or anything of the value sitting on the table or out of your sight.

Rule of Thumb: If someone out of the blue is trying to initiate a conversation with you while you are walking by, or minding your own business, they are most likely up to no good.

Tips to Protect Yourself

  • Try to blend in with the locals, scammers usually prey on tourists.
  • Carry only as much cash as you need on you.
  • Carry only one credit card with you, leave a backup in the safe place where you are staying
  • Do not carry your passport with you, either make a paper copy of it or take a picture on your phone.
  • Carry your wallet and the phone in the front pocket.
  • Carry your backpack in front of you or make sure it is really hard to get into it.
  • Leave your jewelry at home.

Most of the time you will have no issues traveling, you will have a wonderful time and never come across a thing to worry about, but if you don’t at least you can be prepared with this little guide.

Other helpful posts…

Tips for Renting a Car In Europe
Italy by Train
Driving and Renting a Car in Costa Rica

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