Each time you travel, you’re bound to encounter problems. No matter how well you plan your trip, something will inevitably go wrong. BUT it’s how you handle those problems that determine how the rest of your travels will go! Luckily for you, I’ve encountered more travel problems than I can count on both hands. I’m here to share my common travel fails in the hopes that other’s will be able to avoid these problems.
Common Travel Fails
1. Running out of Cash
If you grew up or spent most of your life in a first world country, it’s easy to forego cash and only have card on hand. This can present problems when it comes to traveling in third world countries. Oftentimes cash is the only accepted form of currency.
I usually forget about this at the beginning of a trip and have to keep taking out cash. It can be hard to determine how much you want to carry on you at all times, especially with theft being a concern. With that being said, if you don’t take out enough you may find yourself in a remote location where ATM’s are sparse or frequently run out of money each day.
I found it best to usually take out roughly $200 CAD at a time or more when I knew I’d be paying for accommodation and everything else with cash in an Asian country. Do you research and the math beforehand to see how much money you’ll need to last you anywhere from 3-7 days.
2. Losing Money on the Conversion
Due to my fear of not having enough cash on me, I’ve often fallen into the trap of taking out too much cash. Not only can this be dangerous when it comes to theft, but you can end up losing money on the conversion.
Not following? Let me give you an example. When I had to unexpectedly spend a few nights in Manila, I took out more pesos (too much) from the ATM and then didn’t up using the cash before leaving the Philippines. This meant that I lost money on the conversion and ATM fees. On top of that, I was then was stuck with Filipino pesos I was unable to convert to a new currency for a while.
As much as I hate math, this is the one time where it becomes important in travel. You don’t want to be throwing away you hard earned dollars for no reason and it’s a common travel fail you can easily avoid!
3. Forgetting Medical Insurance
Medical insurance seems like a no brainer until you’re sitting at the gate for your impromptu flight to Iceland, calling your parents to tell them about your plan and realise that you didn’t get insurance. Oh … that only happened to me?
A lot of people put travel insurance in general last on their list of to-do’s before getting away. I mean let’s face it, it’s another expense that doesn’t seem necessary. Luckily when it came to my trip to Iceland, my parents were able to help me get insurance quickly and I didn’t end up needing to use it. Although I lucked out, I have used it in the past and you can’t predict if you’re going to be in a situation where medical insurance is needed.
I also had trouble dealing with getting travel insurance before my last backpacking trip for a few reasons. I had been living in Australia for a year and therefore out of Canada (my home country) for too long to be covered by a Canadian provider. I spent too many hours of my time calling Australian companies to try and find one that would cover me. It was only then that I found that they would only cover Australian citizens or those who were returning back to Australia. I then spent more time researching global travel insurance companies until I came across World Nomads Insurance. They pretty much cover anyone going to any country and were great to deal with.
Make sure to give yourself enough time to look into your medical insurance options before traveling. You’ll probably end up needing it at one point or another!
4. Visa Problems
If you’re new to travel, it’s easy to overlook the visa’s necessary to get into a country. Even if you’re an experienced traveler, visa’s can be tedious and therefore are often left to the end of the planning. As a Canadian, I’m quite lucky and it’s usually fairly easy to be granted a tourist visa for many countries. With that being said, I ran into problems when I went to apply for my visa to get into Vietnam.
Due to issues with the visa portal and not being able to contact someone in the country because of the Chinese New Year, I wasn’t able to get a visa prior to entering the country. I thought it would be fine and that I’d be able to get a visa upon arrival. For whatever reason I was not allowed the board my flight into the country from the Philippines without proof of a visa. If you take anything away from this post, ALWAYS thoroughly research the steps you need to take to get a visa!
5. Missing a Flight / Not Having Flight Insurance
As you probably have guessed by now, after my incident with the Vietnamese visa, I wasn’t allowed to board my flight. I ended up missing not just that one, but flights I had booked ahead of time within Vietnam and from Vietnam to Sri Lanka. Then I had to book a new flight altogether – talk about unexpected expenses!
It didn’t help that being the poor and cheap backpacker that I am, I chose to forego flight insurance when booking my Vietnam flights with AirAsia. This meant that I lost somewhere around $1000 CAD in flights after booking a new one to Sri Lanka early. While I had no problems with AirAsia up until this point, I was very disappointed with their customer service at the time of this dilemma. It was definitely upsetting that they couldn’t help with giving a flight credit to use towards my new flight to Sri Lanka or offer any other assistance (read my two week Sri Lanka backpacking itinerary here).
This was extremely frustrating and a hard pill to swallow. Especially since I still had a few weeks of travel left and was running low on cash. Looking back and learning from my mistakes, I’ll 100% be purchasing flight insurance when it’s with a budget airline or if I’m not dead set on my travel plans. It comes in handy to have the ability to switch flight dates if necessary!
6. Rearranging Flights
If you thought that was the end of my tragic flight experiences sit tight, because I’m throwing another catastrophe your way!
Picture this – I was flying from the Filipino island of Cebu to Siargao. I had just spent 5 hours on a bus from one part of the island with an injured hand from an accident that happened the previous day. In need of medical attention, I had no time to seek out a physician and got a Grab from the bus station to the airport. After 5 rounds of security (taking my laptop in and out of my backpack with a barely usable hand), I boarded my flight. I was in pain, but I had looked up a nearby hospital to go to when I arrived in Siargao. We are in the air for about 45 minutes to an hour when the captain announces over the speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are unable to land the plane safely. We will be returning back to Cebu”.
My heart sank. The entire flight back, no further reasoning was given as to why we couldn’t land and my hand was in excruciating pain. Once landing back in Cebu, it took about 3-4 hours to rearrange my flights and change everything. This was because I had a flight leaving from Siargao and going to another Island, Boracay in a few days and still needed medical attention. At this point in time, the tears were flowing. I ended up booking a grungy hostel in Cebu for 2 nights so that I could see a doctor and get on a new flight to Boracay.
Long story short: Rearranging fights sucks. It’s not fun and can be a very stressful situation if you’re by yourself and have accommodation and other things booked. If I could give any advice, it would be to try and stay calm and realise that these things happen to all travelers at some point in time.
7. Lost Luggage
Let me set the scene again for this one:
You hop off the plane, smiling brightly and ready to get started on your beach getaway. You’ve never been to this tropical paradise before and you can’t wait to kick back and relax. You make your way to the luggage carousel, waiting patiently for your bag to make its rounds. You start to notice less and less people waiting for their belongings and your heart starts to race a little. You tell yourself, “surely it’s not my luggage that’s gone missing! It’ll be coming out soon”, only to realise that it’s been misplaced. Now you have to spend hours trying to track your luggage, dealing with your travel insurance and you don’t even have fresh undies to change into …
Unfortunately there’s no way to avoid lost luggage. It happens often and I can only imagine how much it sucks. Luckily, I’ve yet to experience the trials and tribulations of lost luggage (knock on wood), but it’s always in the back of my mind each time I travel. Weirdly enough, it’s probably one of my biggest travel fears!
Since I’ve always been terrified of this situation, I prepare myself by carrying the essentials in my carry on bag. By essentials I mean, phone charger, a pair of socks and underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, shorts and a t-shirt and of course a few bikinis! If you’re going to be without luggage at a hot destination, being able to hang by the beach will definitely help soften the blow in my opinion!
8. Shampoo Explosion
Shampoo explosions are hands down one of the most common travel fails. If you like to take your toiletries with you, you’ve most likely experienced the wrath of your shampoo. It could even be conditioner or sunscreen exploding in your suitcase so watch out!
Of course I’ve had this problem but to make matters worse, it was with purple shampoo (for blonde hair). It got ALL over the inside of my luggage and ended up leaving it stained. An easy solution is to keep your shampoo in not one, but TWO ziplock bags. If one rips and the shampoo explodes, your clothing and luggage will be protected.
9. No Early Check Out Time
One thing I never thought of before my most recent trip was check out times for hostels. Usually you have to check out anytime between 10AM and noon, which isn’t a problem.
The problem arises when you have to leave the hostel early in the morning because you have a bus, ferry, flight etc to catch and you need to return your key and get your deposit back. If you’re smart (unlike me), you’ll make sure to ask about how to check out the night before if you know you’re going to be leaving at an unusually early time!
Calling all other clumsy travelers! If you happen to find yourself getting injured more than the average person, you’re probably terrified of the idea of having to go to a hospital in a foreign country.
After hurting myself in the Philippines and having to go through the struggle of getting to a hospital, having x-rays done and contacting my insurance about the problem, I can assure you that it’s no fun.
While there’s probably not much you can do to avoid getting hurt – other than the typical common sense stuff – if you find yourself getting injured, try not to let it ruin your trip. When I hurt myself in the Philippines, it was rough at first. I was traveling alone and therefore didn’t have much of a support system. Once I got past the initial pain and fear I realised how lucky I was and that it could’ve been a much worse situation. I later met many other backpackers with similar injuries and my arm brace ended up being a great conversation starter with strangers. Try to look on the bright side!
11. Getting Lost
If you can be directionally challenged at times like your’s truly, it’s easy to find yourself getting lost in a new place. Even if you’re great with directions at home, you may find yourself struggling to find your way in a country where they don’t speak your native language.
The best way to avoid the common travel fail of getting lost is by getting a SIM card upon arrival. It’s often pretty cheap to pick up a travel SIM at the airport when you land or stopping at the local telecommunications store once you’ve reached your accommodation. This will allow you to always have access to maps, as well as be able to call or text people you came with or are meeting up with.
12. Food Poisoning
Sometimes food poisoning is completely unavoidable. With water contamination abundant in many third world countries, there is only so much you can do to avoid it. Some of my best tips would be:
- Wash your teeth only with bottled water
- Buy the bottled water or refill a bottle with the canisters they have at many hostels or hotels
- Watch what you’re eating. It’s also good to stick to fruits that have to be peeled instead of washed and vegetables that are cooked to ensure that you won’t walk away with food poisoning!
I fell ill when I was in the Philippines after eating a fresh vegetable wrap. I had been craving fresh vegetables because they aren’t easily accessible there. So when I was able to get my hands on some veggies I was pumped! A few hours after finishing the wrap I was throwing up all night long. Not an enjoyable experience to say the least.
The next day I stuck to bread and bananas for food and made sure to stay hydrated! I luckily encountered nurses who had extra antibiotics on them for a medical mission they were on and shared some with me. This definitely help sped up my recovery time and I was good to go the day after!
Moral of the Story
When you decide to travel, you’re accepting the fact that you’ll encounter difficulties along the way. It’s not always fun in the moment but you learn from each experience and it helps you grow. Don’t let a few inconveniences or problems get you down when you’re out there exploring the world!