Travel Mishaps: How to Cope When Everything Goes Wrong

Our Nomads share their biggest overseas blunders and advice on how to get through the hard times.


Photo © Pixabay

Let's face it; shit happens. Travel isn't supposed to be easy. If it were, nobody would stay employed.

Don't stress. When everything goes wrong on your trip – which is totally normal – know that you’re not alone. It's highly likely that someone else has been up in the same predicament before, and got out safely.

We asked our community to share their biggest and most hilarious travel mishaps – plus some advice on how to cope.

Why Spring Water and Electronics Don't Mix

"My most memorable travel mishap occurred inside an electronic store – which doubled as a bank in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

I needed cash to use in the local market, and since safe ATMs aren't readily available in certain parts of Mexico, I decided to head into the superstore to pull cash out – I'd seen many locals use this type of ATM during my trip.

It was pushing 95ºF (35ºC) that day, and I was sweaty, anxious, and dehydrated. I pushed my way through washing machines and computers to get in the long line, and waited.

Parched, I decided to pull out my water bottle from my pack. It all happened in slow motion. Without acknowledging the bumpy ride my water had taken throughout the day, I opened the bottle and it exploded all over me, and the brand new computers lined up alongside me.

I stood there in shock, covered in sparkling water, too terrified to look at how many computers I'd just drenched – all while 50 or more customers stared at me.

I was quickly descended upon by store security and retail associates. After a long parlay of broken Spanish on my part, and angry rapid-fire Spanish on the part of the store owner, I agreed to pay 7,500 pesos (roughly US $350) for a brand new laptop I could not afford, nor did I need.

After signing my contract, I walked out of the store and burst into anxious, uproariously laughter. The entire scenario was terrifying at the time, but looking back there are a few things I've gleaned from the situation:

1. Learn the basic language of the country you're visiting. It’ll benefit you both socially, and in times of trouble.

2. Carry cash on you in foreign countries, depending on ATMs is sometimes risky.

3. Learn your rights in the country you’re visiting. In my experience, I wasn't sure if I was protected by "the cost of doing business" as I might've been in the United States.

4. Stay calm. Getting angry or overly upset will not help your case when you're the underdog in any given situation overseas. Show humility.

5. Carry ID on you at all times. Without my ID they would have called the authorities to verify my identity.

6. Learn which banks and ATMs are commonly used among tourists and locals, and learn how far or few they are in regard to where you're staying. This way, you know when and where you should take out money to avoid scrambling.

7. Hydrate, sleep, and take care of your general health while traveling. You're far more likely to let your guard down, have an accident, or be subject to theft or vulnerability the more fatigued you are.

8. Look up hospitals, safe modes of transportation (i.e marked taxis, buses), and the location of your local embassy.

9. Have a sense of humor. Most travel mishaps that seem traumatic in the moment, heightened by foreign language and settings, make for great dinner conversation years and years later."

Alexandra Fletcher, via Facebook

When Your Belongings Get Stolen

“It wouldn't be a backpacking trip of mine if someone's phone wasn't nicked. The tech gods must have it in for me in particular, because my phone's vanished twice.

My advice is to have a cry and then get over it, it's gone. I learned the hard way about not backing up your phone, so always make sure it's up-to-date.

Try to block it as soon as you can, that way creepers won’t have a gander through your photos.

If you want your insurance to have your back, you must provide a copy of a police report. This can be a little tricky when there's a language barrier, but definitely persist – otherwise you're out of luck when making a claim.” 

– Brooke Hobson, via Facebook

When Plans Don’t Go to Plan

"I'm a planner by nature. But, when you’re on the road, you’ve just got to accept that plans will change", says Martin Hong, our Editorial Manager.  

"Don’t be so rigid in following your itinerary that you either miss out on impulsive experiences, or stress yourself out to make sure you’re at a certain place at a certain time.

One of the best nights of my life was on the island of Koh Tao, where I left my friends (who wanted to go back to the hostel), and stayed out with the locals who worked in our dive school instead. We hung out at the local bar – away from the raving tourists – and swapped travel stories till dawn. "

Stolen Passports in Pompeii

When Emily Willis’ passport was stolen while boarding a train from Naples to Pompeii, she wasn’t aware at the time that it was all a scam.

“The local people crowded around me while people were boarding the train, and emptied everything in my day bag – which was strapped to my front!

I had no idea until I was on the train and the doors had closed. I had to embrace the idea of some alone time, and travel to Florence to stay for a few days while a new passport was issued.

In the end, it was an awesome few days, I spent a lot of time alone in my favorite art galleries in Florence – which I could never have done if I was with others.”

The Ol’ Baggage Scam in Peru

And then, she got scammed in Peru.

“The worst bag theft situation I’ve had was in Lima, Peru. I arrived after an overnight bus journey, exhausted having not slept.

My boyfriend at the time left me with his backpack while he went to buy us new bus tickets. I was sitting on two big backpacks, plus my day bag, when suddenly the conductor started screaming, “Someone has stolen your bag!” I had to run with two bags to chase after the one that had been stolen.

The conductor then ‘recovered’ the stolen bag for me, and asked for a tip.

My advice, always carry small notes in local currency for these situations. I had no small change, so felt obliged and probably gave him too much. You never know whether it’s a scam or not, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.”

Getting the Rental Campervan into Sticky Situations

When Stefan Chan and his friends managed to get their campervan stuck in a river by taking a wrong turn in New Zealand, they didn’t let panic get the better of them.

“On the second day of a three-week road trip around New Zealand, my friends and I were afraid this was the end of our trip – but we jumped into action and managed to get out within a couple of hours – with the help of a weak signal and a friendly mechanic. Now we chuckle every time we see that same campervan on the road."

Mistaken Identity

"Landing at New York to transfer to Lima, only to be accused of not being me, and having stolen my own passport, and being someone else.

I made my connection by a couple of minutes and flew to Lima.

When I arrived, my backpack was lost for 24 hours, and I caught a taxi to a hotel in the wrong side of town.

At 2am, I couldn't handle the screams and arguments any longer, so bailed out back to the airport and slept on the floor until my bag arrived."

– Paul Ford, via Facebook

Advice from Travelers

"I may be a crazy planner, but shit does happen, and you can't control anything that happens outside of your ability. If you miss that bus, take it as an opportunity to explore the area around the bus station a little longer."

Veronica Mercado, World Nomads

"Keep your wits about you! Don’t let the adrenalin or emotion cloud your judgment, or cause others to feel fear or freaked out.

I was grabbed in an underpass in Santiago, followed home at night in Singapore by two men, missed last flights in Manila airport, mugged at gunpoint in Managua, had my passport stolen in Guangzhou, delayed by floods for days in Urumqi. Whenever the situation involved a threat to my personal or physical safety, I tend to really get focused on getting out of the situation.

When it comes to scheduling-type oopsies, you just have to roll with it. Be pleasant with staff, get your options clear, and be decisive about how you want to resolve. The key is to not stay frozen in inactivity."

Christina Tunnah, World Nomads

Share your travel nightmares below!

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1 Comment

  • Rob said

    The best fun ive had travelling is when things have gone a bit wrong...

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