Real Simple readers share their most ghastly globe-trotting misadventures—the ones they’ll (unfortunately) never forget.
When my father was stationed in England with the air force, we traveled to Sweden to buy a new car from Volvo. While my parents filled out paperwork, my brother and I played in a children’s area in the showroom, which included a large ball pit. Unfortunately, my father had entrusted my eight-year-old brother with the key to our hotel room. I got to see my six-foot-four-inch father swimming in the ball pit, searching for the key, to no avail. It was a great memory for me, but not for my parents.
One December my whole family, 20-plus people, set out for a cruise. Unfortunately, the flight to the port was delayed by snow and then mechanical failure. After three days of plane rides and hotel stays, we finally caught up with the ship, where everyone on the boat knew us by name: “Oh, you’re the Johnsons. We’ve heard about you.”
I was stopped at the passenger loading zone at Chicago O’Hare airport to wait for my husband. He had wanted to check our bags before returning the rental car. While he was waiting in line, a police officer told me to move the car. I circled the airport three or four times and could never get back on the level where I left my husband. The same police officer finally stopped traffic and let my husband cross several lanes and jump the divider, or else I would still be circling that airport today!
When our children were young, we took a last-minute Fourth of July day trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We quickly packed a diaper bag, put the kids into their car seats, and left. At the end of the day, we returned to our car only to find that it no longer started. Because of the holiday, there were no auto shops open and all the hotels were full—except one. We ended up in the honeymoon suite, with an in-room heart-shaped tub. We had packed only enough formula and diapers for the day, so after dinner my husband had to set out on foot to find the needed supplies. The only one who got to enjoy the heart-shaped tub was my three-year-old.
West Richland, Washington
While I was on vacation in New Orleans, I slipped and fell and hurt my foot. I refused to spend my time there in the ER, so I borrowed the hotel’s wheelchair and went back to partying on Bourbon Street. When I got home and went to the doctor, I found out that I had broken a bone off my foot! I spent the next four months in a walking boot, then had surgery, then spent the following three months in a boot.
Last year I was living in Belgium and planned to travel to Rome for the weekend with a friend. We each booked tickets for the same flight coming home Sunday evening and couldn’t figure out why mine was so much cheaper. On the train to the airport, I realized that the flight I had booked left Rome at 8 a.m., not 8 p.m. After a panicked encounter with the ticket agent, who mockingly informed me there was a 400-euro fee for American ignorance of the 24-hour clock, I got booked on the correct flight.
I was staying in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks, and my group decided to go to Beijing to visit the Great Wall and other sites. I packed a small bag for the two-day excursion but forgot my underwear. Buying a new pair wasn’t easy, since Chinese sizes in undergarments were quite small compared with what I was used to in the United States. I still have them, and every time I wear them, I chuckle and remember that trip.
Charleston, South Carolina
I was in Washington, D.C., with my old boyfriend when he tried to sneak us into a Capitol Hill sightseeing tour for free. The tour guide looked directly at us before the tour started and said, “Now, for those of you have paid for the tour.…” So much for that; we got caught. I was so mad at my boyfriend that I walked away. As I wandered around alone, I bumped into a man who worked for the State Department. He had been preparing for a tour that he needed to give to a group of diplomats. We (cheap boyfriend included—he came and found me because I had the car keys) ended up getting a free private tour and went to places no one else got to see.
My husband and I ventured to Ireland for our first overseas vacation. Excited for an adventure, we took the hostel owner’s recommendation to see the Cliffs of Moher via an offbeat path. “Follow the barbed-wire fence,” he said. After trudging through ankle-deep swamp ground, we were expecting a gorgeous view at the top, but the weather suddenly shifted. Hurricane-strength winds nearly knocked me to the ground, and rain pellets beat on us from every direction. We were soaked. We quickly hiked back to the hostel to dry off in front of the fireplace.
Beth Ann Mergens
Our trip to Thailand and Bhutan didn’t start well. First, our flight was delayed, forcing us to miss a connection. Then our luggage, packed with precious trekking gear, vanished. When my husband asked a baggage handler where our two suitcases were, he got this irate response: “There’s only one person who knows where your bags are, and that’s God!” Our luggage magically appeared the next day. Maybe it was divine intervention?
Royal Oak, Michigan
My fiancé and I rented a truck to move my stuff from Colorado to Texas, where he was stationed in the U.S. Air Force. Halfway through the trip, we pulled into a Sonic drive-through. As we rounded the curve to the cashier’s window, we heard a loud screech. We knew immediately that the top of the truck had barreled into the restaurant’s roof. It had made a big dent and took out a gutter and quite a few neon lights. Once we pulled up to the window, we just stared at the cashier in shock and thought, Thank goodness we have rental insurance.
My husband and I and our two young children were traveling from Minnesota to Colorado to visit friends and see the sights in between. While we were driving, our car-top carrier opened (it was as flimsy as a fast-food container), and we watched helplessly as our clothing—T-shirts, underwear, pj’s—flew across the highway. Luckily, the road was deserted so we pulled over and collected what we could find. I will never live down losing my son Brian’s favorite Batman pajamas. He still reminds me of that, even though he’s now in his 20s.
I was on a vacation in France and needed to use one of those freestanding pay toilets. As I went in, a nice woman held the door open for me and said something in French that I didn’t understand. I thanked her, walked in, and let the door close. As it latched, the lights went out, and suddenly water started spraying from the ceiling and walls. To make matters worse, the door had locked so I was stuck. (Later I deduced that she must have told me not to let the door close.) I yelled to my travel companion to pay the fee to get me out of there, but by the time he found the correct change, I was soaked.
My husband and I accidentally locked our two-year-old son in a rental car at a train station in Bergen, Norway. I had tossed the car keys onto the driver’s seat while I was strapping my son into his car seat and then shut the door; at the same time, my husband had slammed the trunk, which for some reason locked the entire car. Neither my husband nor I speak Norse, and the responding police officers didn’t speak English, but toddler screams are the same in any language. Thankfully, after a few tense minutes, they got him out.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
When I was 12-years old, my family went to Morocco. All the bags but mine were lost on the flight over. And so my skinny nine-year-old sister wore my baggy athletic shorts, which fell past her knees, and my statuesque mother sported my bright purple jeans that were much too tight and short. After spending five days assuming the bags would arrive any minute, my mother finally ventured out and bought several caftans for herself and my sister, only to discover that their suitcases showed up—at last—while she was out.
I planned to meet my husband at a hotel for a weekend getaway. He had told me our room number and the rough location of the establishment, but not the name of it. I was pretty sure I knew which one it was, though, so I confidently strode in and asked the desk clerk for the key to room 101. He just handed it right over. Moments later, I was horrified to find another woman’s things in what I thought was our room. It took me several seconds to realize that I was in the wrong hotel.
During college, I studied abroad in the Netherlands. One day, I went to a drug- store to buy contact-lens solution. Not being able to speak or read Dutch, I did my best to select the product I needed. As it turns out, I didn’t do such a great job. I ended up dousing my eye with hydrogen peroxide and nearly blinded myself. Friends thought my eye was red from visiting Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops, which was fine with me. It sounded much cooler than what had really happened.
My husband and I were on vacation in Cancún, Mexico, and had had quite a few cocktails. We returned to our beach villa to find that we had locked ourselves out. I convinced him to let me climb over the outside shower wall, instead of trekking to the lobby to get a spare key. Getting over the wall was no problem, but on the jump down, I broke my foot. After a trip to the hospital, my husband had to push me around in a wheelchair for the next five days with a big black boot on. The tan lines were not attractive.