Travel fails and oopsies… you can’t deny it, you can’t avoid it.
At same stage, somewhere down the (possibly wrong) road, we all go through some sort of experience – some more than others – that reads like a blooper reel when you look back on it.
I’ve had my fair share of travel fails too; from making a fool of myself in a Korean restaurant, to pooping on my pants the first time I had to squat (I was 13 years old), to forgetting my underwear in a 5-star hotel, to stealing a cup of coffee in Thailand, to that one massive fail of a holiday romance.
And then there were the minor ones, like that time a chocolate melted in my backpack and became one with my car keys (Lindt nogal), when I forgot a camping mattress and used sofa cushions instead or that time I lost track of my travel dates and booked accommodation for the wrong date in Sri Lanka.
I asked some of my travelling friends to share some of their biggest travel fails with me and received an overwhelming response. So brace yourself for a long post, go make some coffee, get the popcorn and indulge in these fails.
Travellers share their TRAVEL FAILS
Heather | Jail fail
“My travel fail happened in the Old City section of Dubai, when I tried to photograph a coconut stand in a market and accidentally photographed a woman walking away from the stand. She immediately became very upset and asked me to delete the photo immediately, which I couldn’t do because because I was using a GoPro without a display screen. Turns out it’s illegal to photograph people without their permission in Dubai, and I spent a couple of hours in an Emirati police station trying to straighten things out. Fortunately I managed to avoid the six-month jail sentence.”
Di | The sound of gorillas
“Way back in 2014 I did a 14 day overland tour of Kenya and Uganda, the highlight of the trip being Gorilla Tracking. Armed with a brand new GoPro, I foolishly imagined I was going to capture footage of epic proportions, NatGeo stuff you know. After a few hours of hiking, our guides spotted the gorillas and we were told to leave all our bags in one spot and follow the guide, armed only with our cameras. Off I went, intrepid explorer that I was, camera, GoPro and oops, no reading glasses.
The old GoPros had no screen, so I set mine to video with my blind eyes, took a few shots with my camera and spent an enchanting hour with the Kyakuliro Gorilla troop in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Returning to our base at Lake Buyoni late that evening I could not wait to see my award winning footage.
I fired up my laptop, put the memory card in the slot and then I cried. Big, ugly, messy sobs of humiliation, frustration and extreme embarrassment.
If anyone needs the sounds of gorillas, call me.
In my blind state I had set the GoPro to audio mode and all I had was an hour of grunts, leaves rustling and some talking. Not one image. Not one.
My friend found me sobbing and when I told her why, she really tried to make a sympathetic face, but it did not work and she was rolling on the floor in hysterics.
My tears turned to laughter eventually as I sort of saw the funny side to it.”
Lauren | Stolen passports
“My BIGGEST travel fail to date has been having my passport stolen twice. The first time from a hostel in Chiang Mai, Thailand and the second time in Tbilisi, Georgia. A few hours before my flight to Turkey, my carry-on handbag was stolen out of room along with my camera, passport and all my Kat Von D makeup. Luckily, my wallet was not in there at the time, but I spent the next few weeks organising an emergency travel certificate from the nearest South African consulate which was in Ukraine. FUN.”
Dominique | Rocky terrain
“I booked a family getaway to Clarens in 2016, checked the directions numerous times, planned my route and felt genuinely chuffed with myself. I remember on the website and the booking confirmation email that they stressed that if you are driving a normal sedan to take road X and if you are driving a 4×4 then take road Y. I made a note and off we went. We were driving in a Fortune, which was not 4×4 – can you see where I am going here? Yes, we took the wrong route to our accommodation. I was driving. It was completely my fault for taking the wrong road. I think I drove like 2km an hour the whole way there. We went up steep rocky inclines, sheer cliffs, the one back tyre lifted off the “road”. I swore all the way. My heart rate was fast, I was sweating. But we made it. The next day we found the pretty easy road into the accommodation site and I felt like a right idiot. But we had an adventure, nobody died, and we will always laugh about that day.”
Ryan | Private roads
“In late 2016 I did a road trip down the Cape West Coast exploring all the little town and interesting people along the way. One evening I stayed over in Lamberts Bay, just down from Muisbosskerm (which unfortunately was closed when I was there!). Leaving the lodge I stayed at, I turned left onto the dirt road rather than right, which would have taken me back to Lamberts Bay and the main road. It was a wonderful experience and loved driving this dirt road.
Problem was at the end of it, approximately 70km later, I was taken to task by a rather unimpressed security guard who would not let me pass his boom and finish the route. It turned out the dirt road I was driving on was in fact a private Transnet road and I did not have a permit to be on it. I spoke really nicely to him, pleaded ignorance (which was genuine in my case) and after much debate I was allowed to pass. At one point I asked him how I was supposed to “undrive” the road which was the problem. In the end all was sorted and I am so happy because I got to capture this photo (above) and experience Verlorenvlei and the flamingos.”
Gaynor | NO ticket, NO entry
“So back in 2011 when I was still a total travel amateur, we planned a little staycation to Wellington in the Western Cape. The stay was meant to coincide with their popular Wine Harvest festival and we’d booked our tickets well in advance. On the day, we were super excited and hit the road early so we could visit as many farms as possible. But as we entered Wellington, we realised that we had forgotten the festival tickets at home! The event was sold out so we were forced to drive all the way back to Cape Town and of course back to Wellington again. This cut almost 3 hours off our exploring time so needless to say we were NOT happy at all. I can assure you, a major fail like that never happened again. Moral of the story? Do a simple 5 minute check before you leave the house to ensure that you’ve got all the essentials with you!”
Sarah | Left or right
“Just before dawn in Vancouver Island, we headed out to go salmon fishing. We turned onto a dark country lane and a few kilometres along, were gobsmacked to see a pair of headlights coming straight for us in our lane. “Get out of the way you idiot!” shouted Ralph. “Dad, you’re on the wrong side of the road again!” screamed the kids.”
Iga | A comedy of errors
“My trip to the UK and Greece in late 2016 was a comedy of errors.
My ticket to the UK to attend a work conference was supposed to be paid for by an employer, which was to be followed by a press trip to Greece and across the UK afterwards to be written about for said employer. But when they pulled out of the conference, I had to buy an expensive last-minute international ticket. Once I arrived I had nowhere to stay, so I crashed on a friend’s lilac couch.
We had considered a number of flight options back from Athens to London and I accidentally planned the rest of my trip according to the wrong flight. I missed my flight and had to buy one later that day to catch my trains the following day. Out came the credit card to buy a ticket that cost more than half of my return international flight from SA to the UK.
So, I’m on the train from London to Durham and someone has gotten off the train with my luggage. Did I mention it’s winter? Cue the rain and snow. My guest house doesn’t have a laundry service so I get by for two more days by washing my clothes and drying them on the wall heaters and using the hairdryer. Each day I call and visit the train station to no avail, all while trying to follow my itinerary in the rain and cold, and that’s how I get the flu that becomes bronchitis. By the evening of day three I buy a new set of clothes, while trying not to convert pounds into rands. The following morning they recover my luggage – an honest mistake.
When I land back in South Africa, my boyfriend says he wants to break up because I travel too much. Well, I’d chose travel (even with the downs) over most people any day anyway!”
Jean | Airport Sprints
“My biggest and sadly regular travel fail is booking cheap flights. Without really understanding where the airport is in a foreign country and how to get there. Like that one time I almost missed my flight from London to Copenhagen because I had no idea how far away Stanstead was or that you needed to buy a bus ticket and not use your Oyster card!”
Roxanne Reid | Suspension tension
“Imagine you’re about halfway through an 8000-kilometre road trip in the boondocks of South Africa. You set out on a dirt road in Limpopo one morning and discover that your usual smooth ride has disappeared in a puff of dust. In its place is a rollercoaster, a bucking bronco. Tiny corrugations on gravel or small potholes on tar set up a chain reaction that rocks the car with frightening momentum. Anything over 40km/h is asking for trouble.
It took us six terrifying hours to drive 180km to the nearest service centre. They diagnosed a suspension problem, ordered the part and fixed it, but by that time our three nights in the Pilanesberg had flown out the window.”
Verushka | Emergency passport saves the day
“A few years ago while I was living and working in London I spent most of my money travelling. One trip that sticks out as my biggest travel fail was what was meant to be a Girl’s Weekend Birthday celebration to Zurich turned into a disaster of note without no actual celebration.
My bestie and I headed off all excited and in a playful mood to Zurich. At the airport on arrival we were dumbstruck by the gorgeous immigration officials and this was the start of a weekend of stolen passports, unexpected visits to see the SA Ambassador to Zurich in Berne and entering into the UK on emergency passports while on working holiday visas.Generally an emergency passport is generally to your country of origin but we got in and made it to work on Monday morning.”
Nadine | Break a leg
“In May 2013 I was in Thailand with my family. It was a HUGE deal. It was the first time I had dared to spend the money to travel internationally in years, and it turned out to be the start of the insatiable travel lust that I currently suffer from. About halfway through our trip I was in our hotel room alone (my brother and I had been sharing rooms) and I was almost ready to dash out and meet my family for breakfast before being fetched by our tour guide for the day. Well, at the very last second I realised that I hadn’t put on deodorant yet. I “ran” into the bathroom to grab it and as my foot hit the tile floor I slipped. That would still have been ok, except that as my leg shot up from under me, my left knee slammed hard into the metal doorknob on the door. White sparks of pain shot through my head and I nearly passed out. But now: there was no wifi in the rooms so I couldn’t even whatsapp call anyone for help. And I was at the top of two flights of stairs. Getting down those stairs was hell, to say the least. Long story short: my knee was broken. There was a nice little crack down the middle of my kneecap. And I had ten days of my holiday left. Needless to say I was devastated, but I somehow managed to have a really great holiday regardless. I did allow myself one mini-meltdown where I let my tears and disappointment flow freely, but after that I still had a wonderful time. My brother and my dad were heroes – they carried me around and lifted me into cars and onto planes. The staff at our hotels were all incredibly helpful and I was provided with a wheelchair free of charge at some point. They even let me take it to the beach! I snorkelled and went to a show and did all the stuff I’d hoped to do. All hopped up on painkillers, and feeling a little fuzzy, but still fine. I was kind of proud of myself about it, I must admit. It could have been a disaster but it wasn’t. It simply turned out to be a lesson in the kindness of humanity, and I still cannot help but marvel at the way even strangers went out of their way to help this silly hopalong tourist.”
Carl | Fully Booked Hotel
“I’ll never forget the time that we checked out one day early from our hotel on a beautiful Thai Island, took the 4-hour minivan ride back to Bangkok, and arrived at our hotel in good time. The thing was we had done all this one day early and our hotel in Bangkok was full for that day. Thankfully, they found us something down the street and we were able to check in the next day. What a journey!”
Nadine | Two bottles of fine wine
“Considering I have been in the travel industry for close on two decades, it’s hard to believe that I could make such a rookie mistake. Perhaps it was the sheer excitement of travelling to Europe for my 40th birthday (I was like a kid in a candy store for WEEKS before we departed) that made me “forget” that you can’t travel with wine in your hand luggage. I thought it would be safer rather then having it tossed around in our checked luggage with the potential of breaking. This wasn’t any old wine either – we had two bottles of iconic Meerlust Rubicon that were to be sipped and savoured along the canals of Venice and other exotic places.
Airport security politely informed us that we couldn’t take it on our travels. Aarrghh!
So we did the only thing that made sense – we had time to drink one bottle prior to departure (not what I had imagined at all!) and we gifted the second bottle to a perfect stranger that was quite gobsmacked but thrilled by the unexpected gesture.”
Karin | Puppy with a catch
“One summer, we were hitchhiking in Central Slovakia; as most of Eastern Europe, it is not only quite safe but also fairly easy to hitchhike there and that afternoon, we got a ride from a young guy in a beaten red car. On the front seat was the cutest, softest and fluffiest creature you have ever seen: a six weeks old puppy of Slovak Chuvach. This breed is meant to work as a sheep guard dog and it grows up to be quite a big animal; even at six weeks old, this puppy was already rather heavy and had huge paws. It could still fit in my lap though and so we jumped into the car, my husband in the backseat and me with the pup on my knees in front. The driver was a young man who told us he was bringing the “chuvach” to guard their workshop. We exchanged stories and jokes when the car suddenly filled with a putrid smell. Oops! We stopped the car and investigated whether the puppy pooped himself, but his white fur was spotless. We continued the way; the road was full of hairpin turns, winding across the mountains. For the puppy, it was the first time away from his mum and he was probably feeling sick – luckily, he didn’t pee on me, but he kept farting all the way. It was the cutest puppy ever, but let me tell you – it was also the smelliest ride of my life!”
Stephanie | A series of car troubles
“Whenever we’re about to go on a weekend away or coming from a trip, our car seems to malfunction like our gear selector popped out on our way to Genadendal, the water pump burst on our way to Tulbagh, an oil leakage occurred while we were in Swellendam, the car overheated on the N2 coming from Kleinmond and our CV joint snapped just coming off Clarence Drive. You can’t get more car trouble like ours.”
Linda | Don’t touch me on my cheese
“This didn’t happen to me, but my poor dear husband. Many moons ago when we were both still in our impressionable 20s we both decided to head to Gabon to work for the Wildlife Conservation Society in the remote parts of Mayumba along the coastline. Our biggest hurdle was that us two little South Africans spoke very, very basic French and were still coming to grips with this incredible new country that was a complete departure to places we had been before. As a newbie, my dear husband arrived day 1 after landing and was promptly handed a long list , written in french, with the stocks of food he alone was tasked with going to collect in the behemoth shopping center in downtown Libraville. Never shy of a challenge he happily popped on over and began the confusing task of trying to locate a whole range of varying food stuffs canned and fresh in a whole new language. It was a little terrifying, and took ages. But he started getting handle on things and with each baguette, des fever and du boeuf his confidence grew.
He had this.
Piece of cake.
First day on the job nailed it.
That is until he got to the cheese.
Standing in a bubble of brimming francophone lingo-fantastic he leaned over the cheese counter and, in his best french uttered , “ Bonjour .une frottage madame, sivuple.”
The buxom lady behind the counter widened her eyes and cocked her head to the side. “ Excuse moi?”
Only slightly daunted now my husband tried again. “ frottage madame, sivuple” He also decided to add in some hand gestures- to aid his bad french. This involved repeating ‘frottage’ and using both hands in a circular motion to, in his mind, mimic the big wheels of cheese in the counter.
There was suddenly a commotion and the now terrified looking deli lady began waving her knife in his direction and shooting loudly for security, who promptly came running over. Now in panic my husband was being shouted at by a security guard and as beads of fear sweater down his back he envisioned an international incident he was going to have to explain to his boss on his very first day.
Eventually another deli lady who spoke a bit of english managed to break into the now escalating fray and calmly asked my husband what exactly was he asking for. When he repeated his statement of his longing for a mere cheese a smile creeped across her face and she burst out laughing in a stream of French. Translating to the group and audience around everyone then proceeded to break down in belly laughter, and my perplexed hubby stood in the middle-terrified but glad that it was laughter now aimed at him.
You see the word for cheese is FROMAGE. FROTTAGE, what my dearest had been saying, was the word for , in essence, copping a good feel. I don’t think the cheese wheel hand maneuver helped his case either.
So kids, always remember to co ordinate your words and your actions when out and about in a new environment or be prepared to provide everyone around you with a good laugh and a story they can tell their friends.”