10 Things I Learned from Travel Mishaps

by Erika Osurman
10 Things I Learned from Travel Mishaps

While blogs and social media may lead us to believe that travel is all luxurious airplane face masks, gorgeous views, and perfectly styled food photos, we all know that some trips are a bit more of the “anything that can go wrong will” kind of experience.

But part of the thrill of traveling is the unknown, the sense of adventure, and the way it can change you for good. So while ideally we want our vacations to go as smoothly as possible, the lessons we learn when things go wrong can be incredibly valuable.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned from travel mishaps:

1. Always double check addresses

After our flight was slightly delayed, we were in a rush to get to our Airbnb. Our host only had a small window to meet with us to hand over the keys and he had been sending us anxious updates regarding our arrival. When we got to our Airbnb, our host was nowhere in sight and no one answered the door. I checked our travel reservations and realized I had given the taxi driver the address to the Airbnb that had canceled on us at the last minute...not the actual apartment we would be staying at. We were in a pedestrian super block so we had to walk quite a ways just to find a street with cars, then wait for a taxi, and then drive 30 minutes across the city to our actual Airbnb. Our host was stressed, we were flustered, and in our rush I left my cell phone in the taxi. Always double check the address. And always double check you have your phone.

2. Always check the lost and found

So if you lose your phone - or any other item - like I did in Barcelona, do some digging to find out if there is a city lost and found. While some people are lame and keep lost items for themselves, most people are good and will attempt to return the item or turn it in. In the case of my missing cell phone, we contacted the taxi company who connected us to the driver, who invited us to his home. He and his daughter returned the phone (and had actually found us on social media and attempted to message us!). Sometimes all is not lost even when it seems so.

3. Just buy the extra seat

When traveling with a young toddler, it can feel like a major financial blessing to be able to consider them lap infant, but if you’ve got a long flight ahead, it is probably completely worth it to just buy your child a ticket for their own seat.

A few years ago we found really cheap (I mean cheap!!!) tickets from Honolulu to Barcelona. We jumped on them immediately and wondered if we should buy our son a ticket for his own seat, even though he was young enough to be considered a lap infant and fly for free. We decided not to book the ticket even though flights were so cheap, just so we could save even more money and use it elsewhere on the trip. But 6 hours into a 12 hour flight from San Francisco to Zurich, it became clear that our son had zero intentions of sleeping or behaving like a human being. From jumping in our laps, climbing onto our trays, crawling under our seats, to literally not sleeping a single wink - we were losing our minds and we began our trip seriously exhausted and defeated. The next long trip we took, we booked him a seat and brought his car seat on the plane. And it was incredible: he slept, he ate, he read books, and it was almost relaxing. If you can make it work, always, always get the extra seat. 

4. Don’t keep important documents in your pants pocket

When I flew for the first time, I was very scared of losing my plane ticket. So rather than keeping it in a travel pouch, my wallet, or somewhere in my bag, I decided to keep it in my pocket. And then when I went to the bathroom, my plane ticket fell out of my pocket and I had no clue until it was time to board and I no longer had a ticket. Fortunately someone found it, but I learned my lesson not to keep important documents in my pocket. A travel pouch that can be tucked in a jacket or a bag is definitely a safer bet.

5. Don’t overdo it

Packing too much into your itinerary can make you too exhausted to actually enjoy your trip.

When we met some friends and family in Spain, we packed a lot of different sites into one day. We had limited time together and honestly didn’t do much research into where all of these spots were - we just had a list and started at one point and worked our way around. We ended up zig-zagging across the city, wandering around for food in between, hot sticky and tired. It really wasn’t much fun and we were so exhausted at the end of the day that we all slept through dinner and woke up around 1am starving. Don’t overdo it and try to see everything in one day - traveling isn’t about just checking items off your list. If you can’t savor the experience, really be in the moment and enjoy, what’s the point? 

6. Ask questions if you are unsure

My mother and I went to Montreal together when I graduated college. We didn’t do too much research - we are both pretty laid back and like to just wander. But we did read about a special bagel shop and decided it was on our “must-do” list. It didn’t look too far on the map but - spoiler - it was! By the time we got to the bagel shop it was nearly noon and nearly 100 F. We entered the bagel shop and there were two signs in French above two separate cash registers. We didn’t know what it meant and just went to the closest one, ordered, and then sat down in the cool A/C to enjoy our bagels. Turns out we had ordered from the “to-go” line and we were told to leave. We explained we couldn’t read French and didn’t realize and asked if we could please stay - but they refused and made us leave. We wandered around for nearly 15 minutes before we found a bench to sit on to eat our bagels in the blazing hot sun. If I could go back in time, I would have just asked someone about the lines.

If you’re ever unsure of how to behave appropriately, what to order, where to go, etc. etc. JUST ASK! You won’t look foolish and more often than not, people will kindly explain to you.

7.  Don’t make assumptions

Traveling can be stressful - we can become hyper critical of our own and others’ actions. But at the end of the day, we really don’t know anyone. We don’t know their story, their culture, or what they are truly thinking or feeling and making assumptions about these things can trap us in a cycle of negativity.

When my son was a baby, he loved flying. He loved it so much that he would be too excited and overstimulated to sleep on flights. On shorter flights this was not a big deal, but on 6+ hour flights, this would become really stressful. He would get quite tired and grouchy but would not fall asleep no matter what we tried. And quite often I was exhausted and desperate for a short nap as well. One of the times he wouldn’t sleep, he was being quite fussy and noisy. It was a red-eye flight and a woman across from us kept staring and sighing. Every time she sighed, my anxiety rose. I was so certain she was angry that my son was so noisy and I began to get worked up and practiced in my head what I would say if she confronted me. The time finally came when she leaned over and spoke to me: “You need to calm down and stop stressing. Look around you - we all are flying with children or we have in the past. We get it. But you are acting so worried and distressed. Just relax and focus on your child - none of us are thinking poorly of you. You are the only one upset right now.” It was a shock to me and made me realize that I was escalating the situation with my own assumptions when I should have just minded my own business and not worried so much about what others were supposedly thinking.

8. Always find the family bathroom

I’m not going to share a personal anecdote with this one because frankly it’s a little bit too graphic, but when traveling with children always take the time to find the family restroom. Trying to change a diaper on the floor of a public bathroom with lots of toilets flushing and hand dryers roaring is *not* pleasant for anyone. Airports are already so over stimulating and the bathrooms are no exception. Find somewhere nice and quiet to take care of business - just trust me on this one.

9. Keep your phone charger in your personal item

So remember when I lost my phone in Barcelona but got it returned to me? It was amazing! The only catch was that I had already turned off my phone service because I thought it was gone forever. And the taxi driver didn’t get home until late the night before our flight so my husband was out quite late trying to get it back and didn’t have time to fully charge his phone before our 4am taxi ride back to the airport. And then our carry-on got checked for being overweight, and it wasn’t until a flight or two later that we realized my husband’s phone was definitely going to die. We only had a brief layover and we could not find any chargers for purchase in our terminal of the airport. So with his remaining 4% we called to turn service back onto my phone. We were extremely fortunate it worked because we needed the phone to connect with our ride home from the airport. Moral of the story: don’t keep your chargers in your carry-on. Keep it in your backpack or purse or whatever “personal item” so that you don’t get caught in a jam or pay crazy amounts for a new charger at the airport.

10. Don’t just wing it (too much)

While I’m definitely the type to prefer a loose schedule with lots of time to wander, going with the flow when traveling can be risky. Many parks, gardens, or architectural attractions may be free but require tickets or timed entry during peak seasons. And when you plan your whole trip around going to a location, but you didn’t realize you needed tickets and there were none left it can be *really* heart-breaking and disappointment. Do a little Googleing and read up on other blogs or review sites. Be thorough when it comes to things that are important to you so that you won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

I realize I’m quite lucky I haven’t run into any particularly stressful mishaps while traveling - no stolen luggage or passport, and no extreme weather that has left me stranded in another country. What about you? What things have gone wrong when you were traveling? How did you resolve it and what did you learn from it? Tell us more in the comments below or on Instagram.

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