O.A.T. associates are a well-traveled bunch. So when we decided to ask Inside Scoop readers about their biggest travel fails in our May Question of the Month, we got curious about what our coworkers might be hiding. Read on for inspiration, and share your most memorable fail—and the lessons you learned from it—in an email to [email protected].
Kicked Out, Snowed In
I was living in Australia and thought I had a second-year visa, until someone from immigrations (customs, the embassy, I don’t really know but something government-related) came to my apartment and told me I only had a one-year visa and my second-year never processed. I was being deported! Luckily they were pretty nice and gave me two weeks to organize flights home. Naturally I ignored them, because they told me once I left I would be banned for three years (who would want to leave such a beautiful country), so I left about six months later. My three-year ban is now over, and this past November I was fortunate to travel back to Australia to see the West Coast, something I didn’t get to do before I left the last time.
In Iceland, I was with my sister and our husbands driving the Ring Road (route 1) in the winter and we got to a point that was blocked off and said the highway was closed. But the road was completely clear, so I convinced Meg to drive around it. All of a sudden the road was covered in snow, and our car was very quickly stuck. We used our hands to dig out for hours without luck and eventually called for help. We waited around four hours until a truck came. We played endless amounts of car games, sung out loud to all of the songs downloaded on our playlist, and even built a snowman. Eventually someone came to tow us. They tied a rope to the back of our car and as they pulled the rope snapped, whipped back, and snapped our bumper in half. We eventually got to our destination, but lesson learned: If the road is closed, it’s probably for a good reason. And luckily the car rental company didn’t even notice the cracked bumper!
— Lori McMillan, Manager, Product Marketing
I went on a solo backpacking adventure throughout Southeast Asia a few years ago. When I got to Angkor Wat in Cambodia it was a major holiday, and everything was closed for an entire week. Even though the bank itself was closed, I was still able to use their ATM to withdraw cash. To my absolute horror, the machine swallowed my card! I was entirely without cash for a whole week and only survived off the good graces of the hostel I was staying at until banks opened a week later. I had to jump through hoops to get my card back, and when I finally did, I realized I had used an expired card, which looks exactly like my valid card—and I’d had the valid one with me the entire time, thinking it was the expired one. The only silver lining is that I had the peace of mind that the ATM was attached to a real bank which brought me comfort in the security of my finances.
— Molly Romano, Video Content Specialist
DON’T Drink the Water
So we’re on safari in Tanzania … and if there’s one thing they drive home to you it’s that you must not drink the water. You can bathe with it, wash your hands … but don’t drink it and don’t brush your teeth with it. That’s why they give you so much bottled water.
Given that we did a lot of early morning wake-ups, I was usually very tired and sleepy by the end of every day. One night, I was getting ready for bed, and I was brushing my teeth, and my eyes strayed over to the pristine, unopened bottle of water on the sink.
Oh, yeah … I was brushing my teeth with water from the sink.
I quickly spat it out, gargled with some bottled water, and brushed my teeth a second time.
But a couple of days later, I was super glad I’d brought the Cipro.
— Andrew French, Traveler Support • Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari
Last September I was organizing a romantic getaway to Rome with my fiancée, and I called my dad to get his input. He asked a lot of helpful questions, especially about the flights to Italy. At the time, I thought “Great, he’s taking an interest. Maybe he’ll give us a ride to the airport.”
Then a couple of hours later he called me back and said “I’m in!”
“You’re in what Dad?”
“I’m coming to Rome with you—I booked the flights!”
And that’s how I took a romantic getaway with both my fiancé and my father.
P.S.: The kicker is that when I asked them both (separately) what they wanted to do in Rome, they both came up with the same list … in the same order … including the same obscure church. So basically, I’m marrying a younger version of my dad.
— Erin Lenzing, Copywriter, Pre-Trip Materials
Making an Entrance (and Exit)
Back in 2014, my sister and I went on Japan's Cultural Treasures. During one of our free nights in Kanazawa, we were determined to find a truly local, authentic sushi place. This quest involved a few “fails.” First, we had a hard time reading the placemat-map we’d picked up from our hotel’s front desk, and ended up at a very deserted mall. Then, after passing over a few sushi restaurants that felt little too touristy, we discovered what looked like hidden gem: stairs leading down from street level to a secret sushi joint.
It was pretty dark when we first walked in, and it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to the light. It was a moment too long however, because my poor sister didn’t realize that the entrance was actually a sunken floor, where you were meant to take off your shoes before stepping up into the restaurant. Instead, she bumped right into the high step with a loud crash and nearly toppled in. A hush fell over the diners as they all turned to stare at the noisy Americans. A startled hostess rushed over, and—when she realized we didn’t speak Japanese—she ran off again to fetch someone who spoke a little English.
It turned out to be one of the chefs. He said, “Do you speak Japanese?” We amicably shook our heads. He continued, “Our menu is Japanese only. No pictures.” We knew what that meant immediately—our Trip Experience Leader had advised us to find a place that had pictures of the dishes on the menu so we’d at least have an idea of what we were ordering. At this revelation we said, “Oh! Arigato! Sayonara!” and high-tailed it out of there!
— Megan Mullin, Senior Copywriter • Japan's Cultural Treasures
On a photo shoot in Panama, the photographer and I were taking images of the ship as it sailed along the canal. We pulled over on a side road and walked to the riverside to wait for the ship to pass by. We had asked to have travelers on deck for photos, so were happy to see lots of people onboard enthusiastically waving at us. We didn’t realize that they weren’t waving for photos—they were trying to wave us away from the water as there was a crocodile not too far from where we were standing. We couldn’t see it, but everyone onboard could. Fortunately, we didn’t walk closer to the water’s edge. We were both rather embarrassed because we probably should have known better. In my defense, there were no warning signs posted.
— Meredith Gausch, Photo Manager • Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United
Stuck and Snatched
In France, my friend and I were running to catch the train in Paris and they have the gates right on the track where you get on. Well, we tried to catch it—she got on, and I got stuck in the gate. The train (and my friend) took off, and I had to have two French guys help me to free myself and my purse. Best part: I didn’t speak any French, and my panicked 19-year-old self just kept saying, “help” and “stuck.”
On that same trip, I was in Naples and we were running late for our train that morning, so I stuffed my passport into my purse (the only day on the entire trip that I didn’t wear it in a holder around my neck—we were more than a month in), and as we were crossing the street going into the train station, a guy rode by on a Vespa and snatched my purse off of me—which was being held together by a hair tie because it broke in the gates on the metro in Paris; probably a good thing or he may have dragged me with it. It all comes full circle! So I naturally had no passport, no phone, and no money … another reason to carry cards and money in multiple places and take pictures of your passport so you have the information!
— Jackie Cifarelli, Director, O.A.T. Email Content
The High Mountains of Portugal
Arriving early in the morning in Portugal didn’t seem like a fail at first. My husband and I knew we wouldn’t be able to check into our first hotel in Lisbon, but figured we’d stash our bags and go exploring. Who needs a shower? As it turned out, Mother Nature thought we did, because it poured for the entire morning. We pretended to enjoy ourselves, but we were dirty and wet and jetlagged (so … miserable).
After leaving Lisbon to go north for Porto and the mountains, we returned to Lisbon for a final night in the Castle District (our previous stay had been at sea level). When we dropped off our rental car, the attendant offered to call us a cab. My husband, without discussion, immediately said no. Let’s pretend I accepted this gracefully. The trouble started as soon as we went down to the Metro station—which was devoid of elevators or escalators. Did we call a cab then? Of course not! Down the stairs with our luggage we went—and then back up when we exited in Lisbon proper.
The subway doesn’t go all the way up to the Castle District, but streetcars do. If you think we took one, you have never met my husband. We proceeded to drag our suitcases up those tortuous hills—which have very narrow sidewalks—clattering on cobblestones all the way. The rain, by this point, had given way to intense sunshine and 80-degree temperatures. Suffice it to say, this was not my finest hour. I hope our audience of tourists and locals appreciated my performance when I melted down on a corner and he threatened to keep going without me. I know he felt bad, though, because once we got up there—drenched in sweat—he didn’t dare object when I took a vinho verde from the minibar: a one-time only deal.
The best part? We did call a cab from that hotel to the airport the next morning. I think it cost less than $10 U.S.
— Laura Chavanne, Creative Director, Relationship Marketing
At a lodge in Nepal, despite all the signs warning about monkeys, I closed my window screen, but did not lock the window. Early in the morning I woke to a sound, but wasn’t sure what it was. The monkey had come in, gone to the minibar, grabbed a granola bar, and the sound I’d heard was the monkey closing the screen as he left the room! He then sat outside snacking on his spoils.
— Jan Byrnes, Vice President, Grand Circle Foundation • Nepal & the Mystical Himalayas
Stay tuned for our travelers’ answers to this question—What was your most memorable travel “fail”?—in an upcoming edition of The Inside Scoop. You can read answers to our previous questions here.