Travel Mishaps & what I learned from them


Nomadic Life

Travel mishaps are bound to happen, especially if you are a digital nomad and travel a lot. These are my most memorable ones & what I learned from them.

Throughout the years, some things have gone wrong while I was traveling or living abroad. And while there definitely were small incidents that are long forgotten, others were more memorable. Be it, because they forced me to completely alter the travel plans I had or because these travel mishaps were rather unique.

At the end of the day, none of them made me want to stop exploring new places, but all of them taught me a crucial lesson or two. And that is what matters the most. Travel mishaps will happen, but you have to move on and try to learn from them. And after a while, you might even see the funny side of your own misfortune.

Laughing about travel mishaps

But there is another takeaway from everything negative that happened and in parts, this compilation of my biggest travel mishaps (so far) is dedicated to it: The kindness of strangers that ended up helping me out when I desperately needed it.

It is always heartwarming to experience it, and thanks to those kind strangers I managed to deal with things that used to terrify me when I started traveling. It is those moments, that made me the solo traveling adventurer I am today and I am forever grateful for those experiences.

Travel Mishap #1: Broken Bones (Australia)

aka ‘How not to surf’

“Sticks and stones may break my bones”, or in my case, surfing does. There were a lot of scenarios I imagined before I first decided to move abroad, but breaking a bone right in my knee while jumping off a surfboard was not one of them.

It was definitely the most painful of all travel mishaps, and I can only say that this incident taught me that it is good to have travel insurance.

Given that I had never lived near the ocean before and also never done the beach holiday thing, I did not know how to surf. Therefore, I, along with some other exchange students, decided to attend a surf camp.

Mishap Australia
7 Mile Beach, Gerroa: aka the beach where I killed my knee while surfing

I am proud to say that I did in fact learn the basics. And that was when things went wrong. We decided to have some fun at the end of the day by jumping off the surfboard in funny ways.

And I more than misjudged how deep the water was as I could not see a shallow sandbank under the waves. This resulted in me literally slamming my bend knee into the ground, which in turn caused a tibia head fracture.

My knee hurt a long time as there was severe bone bruising and in combination with the fracture, I was unable to join a lot of great adventures for two months (and more extreme activities for even longer). It has been years, but I am still miffed that I missed out on the glow worms in an abandoned railway tunnel.

Lesson learned after this travel mishap: Trying to be ‘cool’ is not worth it. You never know how deep the water actually is.

Incident #2: The Lost Wallet (Corfu)

Another travel mishap of mine was the time, my wallet continued the bus ride without me. I had just arrived in Corfu, one of the best Greek Islands, and to get to our accommodation, we had to take two buses. The first bus ride was rather short and dropped us off at the main bus terminal.

When I looked for my wallet to buy a ticket for the second bus, I could not find it. I was more than panicked as it contained my ID, driver’s license, and all money for the entire week in Corfu. And I guess the panic was obvious on my face, as a bus terminal employee approached me to ask what was going on.

Once I told him that I had forgotten my wallet on the bus, he told me to follow him inside where he then asked a colleague to check who was driving the bus. By some small miracle, the gentleman knew the bus driver’s phone number, so he gave him a call.

I could not hear what he was saying, but at that point, I was just happy that someone was helping me. The older gentleman hung up the phone and told me to wait outside at this bus station.

Travel Mishap Corfu
enjoying my vacation after I got my wallet back

Turns out, that the bus driver was able to find my wallet (and everything in it) on the seat, and skipped his break to drive back and bring me my wallet. I could not believe that I got my wallet back!

I tried to reward the bus driver and the man that had helped me, but they both refused and told me they were just happy they could help. And in addition to that, the gentleman that had first helped me also told the other bus to wait for a few minutes, so I and my travel buddies could get to our accommodation without further issues.

Someone else in my group happened to leave her jacket on the next bus we took right after I got my wallet back. Sadly, she never got it back. A fact, that served as a good reminder that I was more than lucky. And that my Corfu travel budget could have been completely different.

Lesson learned: Always put your valuables back in the bag if you do not need them for a minute. This way, you always know where they are and therefore cannot forget them.

Mishap #3: No more fuel (Vietnam)

To drive, you tend to need fuel in your tank, but while exploring Ninh Binh, I somehow miscalculated how far I and my travel buddy could go with the fuel we had left. If I recall it correctly, it was closed the night before as we were minutes too late, so we did not get to do it before we turned in for the night.

Travel Mishap Out of fuel

Knowing that we had little fuel left, we decided that the first stop of the day had to be the nearest fuel station. And then the inevitable happened around 500 meters before we reached the fuel station. The scooter turned off as we had officially run out of fuel.

We had no choice but to push it the rest of the way to the fuel station. Thankfully it was an even street and not a long walk. But as we were walking along the street, we sure laughed a lot about this travel mishap.

I wish I could say that this was the first and last time that I ended up running out of fuel while traveling, but sadly that is not true. It previously happened to me during my second Australia road trip from Broome to Perth, but thankfully we happened to have a spare can of fuel in the trailer. However, I have to admit, that none of us knew if there was any fuel in there as we never bothered to check.

The lesson I hopefully learned from this travel mishap: Always check if you have enough fuel and where the next fuel station is.

#4: The Missed Flight (Turkey)

Many frequent travelers have missed a flight at some point, but I certainly did it in a rather unique way. It was during my first solo trip and my first trip outside of the European Union, so I was admittedly slightly nervous the entire time. And I guess that mild anxiety was what lead to a lapse in judgment on my part.

The evening before my rather early flight home, I decided to pack my bag and then stay away to ensure that I would not miss the hotel shuttle to the airport. My plan was to head down to the lobby one hour before the shuttle was set to depart. Just before going down, I pushed my suitcase towards the door and then decided to jump on the bed one last time as it was so soft, and lying in it felt like relaxing on a cloud.

I had more than enough time and was certain that nothing would go wrong, so it appeared to be a good idea. And then it wasn’t.

My eyes were closed before my back even hit the bed, and I woke up three hours later. It was way too late to catch a shuttle to the airport, and there was no nearby taxi that could have driven me to the airport as the ride would have taken an hour.

Travel Mishaps Missed Flight

It is safe to say that I panicked and was more than freaked out. I raced down to the lobby and they tried to find a way for me to get to the airport in time. But to my dismay, there was nothing anyone could do.

And then a kind stranger heard what had happened and decided to look up new flights for me. And to my surprise, the new flight happened to be a direct flight instead of my original flight with a layover, and it was also cheaper than what I paid for my original two flights back home. So in the end, the only real bad thing was the fact that I missed out on the Turkey Airlines inflight meals.

Lesson learned: Set several alarm clocks even if you are awake. It is no effort at all and can prevent one of the most annoying travel mishaps.

Mishap #5: The ‘Bali Kiss’

aka ‘The time I burned my leg on an exhaust pipe’

While I usually tend to skip the super touristy things, I sure did not do so during my first trip to Bali. And based on what I have been told, it means I have now passed the official rite of passage of expat life in Bali.

While chasing waterfalls, I visited Banyu Wana Amertha waterfall on the north of the island. And given that I was already planning my blog post about the location, I decided to catch a motorbike ride back to the beginning of the trail. I wanted to know what it was like so I could say something valuable about it.

And it did not go as intended. The motorbike ride was more than bumpy and I was already questioning whether or not it was a good idea, but we made it back to the parking lot without further issues.

Bali Kiss Incident

And then the driver asked me to get off the bike on the right side. I subconsciously knew that it was the side of the exhaust pipe, but he would not let me get off on the other side. So I did what was necessary and instantly felt a painful sting in my leg.

I severely burned my leg on the uncovered exhaust pipe and it is safe to say that I did not get to swim in the ocean or dive for the rest of my Bali trip.

Thankfully, a pharmacy employer was really helpful and helped me treat the burn, which meant I did not have to find a doctor. But having to buy everything I needed to properly treat the severe burn sure upped my Bali travel budget. And having to buy these things including big waterproof bandaids also was a good reminder that they are not available at every pharmacy or supermarket.

Lesson learned thanks to this travel mishap: Always check if the exhaust pipe of a motorbike is covered before you sit on it, so you know that you should not get off on that side of the bike. Also, ensure that your first aid kit includes something you can use to treat burns and a bigger bandaid.

Travel Issue #6: How to be a Lobster

At this point, I can only call the sunscreen situation a repeat offense, as it happened a few times, but somehow my turning into a lobster has never been the result of me not trying to protect myself from the sun. In recent years, I managed to turn into a lobster on the last day of my diving trip to Egypt and then again while kayaking in La Ha Bay.

When flying to Vietnam, I only had hand luggage, so I did not buy more sunscreen before boarding my flight from Bangkok to Hanoi. Once in Hanoi, I was planning to buy sunscreen, but to my dismay, I did not get around to doing so before me and my travel buddy boarded the bus to Ha Long Bay.

Once there, we made our way to the ferry terminal where sunscreen was incredibly expensive, so I decided that it was fine to just cover my shoulders and arms with a light scarf instead. And it worked perfectly fine during my first day on Cat Ba.

And then I did a Lan Ha Bay day cruise and things went downhill. While on the boat, some new friends were kind enough to give us some of their sunscreen, but apparently, it was strong enough for my pale skin.

The cruise was not even halfway over when I noticed my skin turn red, so I once again decided to cover my now already red shoulders with my scarf, but I was kayaking, so the scarf kept slipping off.

Travel Mishap No Sunscreen

I sure had a blast that day, but when I put on a red dress a few days later, it was still not clearly visible where my skin ended and the dress began.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS buy reef-safe sunscreen regardless of how much it costs and ensure that the SPF is high enough. And wear a rashguard while kayaking if the UV index is high.

Incident #7: The Wrong Trail (Germany)

You do not have to travel far for travel mishaps to occur. While exploring my own region and checking out some hiking trails in spring, I ended up following the wrong trail. And it turns out that I was not just off the beaten track, but meters away from an active military shooting range.

Travel Mishaps Wrong Trail

I wanted to follow the Daffodil Loop Trail in Eifel National Park, but as the signs of not always clearly visible, I decided to look up the trail on AllTrails. I followed the trail and at some point, I ended up taking a wrong turn because the app told me so.

I kept walking through the forest and suddenly saw a big wooden sign. Thankfully, I stopped to read it, as it stated that the trail I was set to follow was on a military training area that often sees training with live ammunition.

And the day I was hiking there happened to be one of those days. It is safe to say that I turned around and walked back to my car. I would have loved to complete the Daffodil Route, but sadly the weather forecast reported heavy thunderstorms in the area, so I had to complete the hike another time.

Lesson learned: Check where the official trail goes and do not just trust apps – especially when hiking alone.

Travel Mishap #8: Stranded in the Parking Garage (Gran Canaria)

After seeing and doing all the best things to do in Gran Canaria, I and my blogger friend Florine decided to spend the last night(s) of our trip in Las Palmas. Florine had an early flight back home and we had to return our rental car that day, so we decided that she would return our rental car at the airport.

As we arrived at the parking garage near our hotel that was supposed to be open 24/7, we saw a paper sign that said it would be open around the clock on certain dates. Something that more than confused us. We decided to park there anyway so we could drop off our luggage.

Once we had checked in, we asked the woman at the reception about it and she decided to call the parking garage about the opening time. They told her, it would be possible to get leave the parking garage at 4 AM and that it was just not possible to reenter it. A fact that did not impact our plan, so we decided to leave our car there.

The next morning, my blogger friend went to the parking garage and could not even enter it. Our car was locked and we had no way to get it out. Therefore, we had no choice but to alter our plans after way too little sleep. Florine ended up taking a taxi to the airport, while I was supposed to take the car back to the rental place around mid-day.

We were happy to have this option and figured that everything was fine. And it was – at least until I tried to pay the parking fee and had to realize that our parking ticket was all the way in France. It sure was a memorable experience to explain that my parking ticket was in another country to the parking attendant. Thankfully, it all ended up working out.

My Travel Mishaps 1

Lesson learned: I honestly have no idea what I could have learned from this travel mishap, as we did have the hotel call the parking garage to clarify when it would be open. Somethings things just go wrong and there is nothing you can do about it. But I guess having a plan B or rather being able to adapt when things go wrong is a crucial thing.

#9: Visa Regulations (Vietnam)

There are many things that can go wrong when it comes to visas, and in the grand scheme of things, my visa-related travel mishap was nothing compared to what others have experienced. I am well aware that my passport comes with a massive privilege, and this is just my harmless run-in with visa regulations, that taught me a good lesson or two.

During my Asia trip in 2019, I spend 2 weeks in Vietnam before heading to three other countries over the course of the next month. Due to several factors, I ended up cutting my trip short and therefore booked a new flight home. And as it was I ended up having a long layover in Ho Chi Minh.

Given that I had just been in the city and love Vietnamese food, I decided that I should use said layover to satisfy my foodie heart. With that in mind, I headed to immigration instead of waiting in the terminal.

I handed over my passport, it was scanned and then the immigration offer looked at me and told me I could not enter the country.

Travel Mishaps Visa Regulations

And I just looked at him and asked him why, before proceeding to tell him that I just wanted to catch a bus to the city center so I could grab some ‘amazing Vietnamese food’ before flying back home. He looked at me like I was insane (and maybe he was right).

Then he told me if I was aware of the visa regulations and that 30 days had to pass between my last leaving Vietnam and returning there to be eligible for the visa exemption. I was aware of the rule, but apparently, I had not taken into account, that my cutting my trip short meant it had only been 29 days since I had left Vietnam. Therefore, it is safe to say, that I did not get to eat in Ho Chi Minh during my layover.

Lesson learned as a result of this travel mishap: Always check the visa regulations twice before traveling and cross-check if you moving your flight dates might affect said visa regulations.

Issue #10: Lost in Translation (China)

If there is one thing you should know before you travel to China for the first time, it is that you will not be able to use Google. A fact that I was aware of, but that completely slipped my mind when I planned what to do in Guangzhou. I took the hotel shuttle from the airport, and after dropping off my suitcase in my room, I decided to head out to see what the city had to offer.

Lost in Translation in China

And the first course of action was to get closer to the city center. So I opened Google Maps to find the best route to the first attraction while connected to the hotel wifi and had to realize that it did not work.

Thankfully, Apple’s navigation app did work, so I walked to a nearby bus stop. And here I was more than lost in translation because no one was able to understand English.

A fact that would have been alright if I had remembered to download the Chinese-to-English translation in Google translate ahead of my flight to China. As it was, I had forgotten to do so, so I had to get by with gestures and by showing the bus driver my list of places I wanted to see to get the right ticket.

It took a while before we understood each other, but thankfully, he was patient enough to explain where I wanted to go like a pantomime.

Lesson learned: A VPN is a good idea and so is downloading all necessary languages of the Google Translate app.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see the full disclosure for further information.

Planning a trip?

Check out these useful websites and resources I use to plan my own adventures.

Flights: Kiwi


Rental Cars: Discover Cars

Day Trips & Tours: Get Your Guide, Viator —or— Klook

Travel Insurance: SafetyWing

Airport Lounge Access: Priority Pass

Wanderlust edited

Roundup: My Travel Mishaps

Traveling is a great adventure, but it is not without its trials and tribulations. Every now and then things do go wrong and there is little we can do to prevent these travel mishaps. The only thing we can do is learn as much as we can from these incidents and do our best to ensure that they do not happen again.

It might not always work that way, and you might just end up being a repeat offender like me and running out of fuel. Be sure to see the funny side of it and do not focus on the negative aspects of it. Focus on the kindness of strangers that helped you, the anecdotes, and how these small travel mishaps made you a more experienced traveler.

See it as a challenge you have overcome and have a good laugh about it at one point in the future. Or just write a blog post about it like I did.

Digital Nomad

If you liked this post about travel mishaps, you might also be interested in these posts:

The Truth About Moving Abroad
Working as an OBC

Which travel mishaps have happened to you?

Let me know in the comments down below!

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10 Travel Mishaps
Travel Mishaps and what I learned from them

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Steph Kloeckener

I am the founder of A Nomad's Passport and a solo traveling digital nomad, photographer, and writer. Originally from Germany, I have lived in several countries around the world. My goal is to explore every country in the world while promoting ethical and sustainable traveling. And of course to write as many destination guides, itineraries, road trip guides, and content about scuba diving.

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