Most of what I share here on MWL are travel tips, suggestions, and other such things to try and help you have the best trips imaginable. But often, the best way to help someone is to actually show them what NOT to do.
In other words, to show you the worst travel mistakes I’ve made so that the same things don’t happen to you. These are the lessons that are truly invaluable! Plus, I do feel it’s important to show you all sides of travel: the good, the great, the unfortunate, and the downright terrifying.
Worst travel moments and mistakes of 2023
Some of the items on this list are travel mistakes I’m fully responsible for. (I’ll always own up to it!) Others are simply my worst travel moments that were (mostly) out of my hands. Regardless, it’s always important to examine each situation afterwards to see what can be learned from it that you can apply to future trips.
It wasn’t all bad
Don’t let the stories in this post fool you, all-in-all it was a fantastic travel year. I took many trips in 2023 where nothing unfortunate or regrettable happened. That’s almost unheard-of!
But it’s not a coincidence—that’s just the result of learning from past travel snafus. (Ten years ago, every single one of my trips had some kind of mishap.) So, here you go: my worst travel moments of the year for 2023 (and what you can learn from them). In no particular order…
1. Getting locked out of my rental car on the way to the airport
- When: April 2023
- Where: Memphis, Tennessee
One of my earliest worst travel mistakes of 2023 happened in April when I was home visiting friends and family in Memphis, Tennessee. After a week there, I was loading up my suitcase and saying goodbye to my parents in their driveway. I was literally on my way to the airport from there.
Just as I threw my suitcase in the trunk and slammed the door shut I realized the keys were also in there. I immediately tried to open the trunk—nothing. My husband was standing next to me and tried the rear driver side door—nothing. My parents were on the passenger side—neither of those doors opened either.
Enter: panic. I’d timed my trip to the (relatively small) airport (that doesn’t have a lounge) so that we’d get there with about 30 minutes to spare. Ergo, there was no time for dumb shit like this!
I quickly realized I had no idea what to do. Call a locksmith? I’d still miss my flight. Try to break into the car? I’d still miss my flight. (Plus, I have no idea how to break into a car.) Call the rental company? I picked it up in Nashville! I’d still miss my flight and probably have to pay a ton of fees too. Admit defeat and call the airline to reschedule? But I don’t wanna!
How this happened
All these scenarios played out in my head while I paced the driveway ranting about how my car back home doesn’t let this happen. Eventually, someone figured out what we’d all missed. The front driver side door! It opened! Because, in fact, this car doesn’t let this shit happen either.
We’d tried the other 3 doors and, blinded by panic, either assumed they were all locked or just plain didn’t notice that we’d missed one. The driver’s door. The most important of the 4 doors.
I have a tendency to sit my keys down in the trunk while I’m loading or rearranging luggage, I know this. And I catch myself doing it almost every time. This time, I was just distracted by saying bye to my parents, thinking about the travel ahead of me, and probably shouting and waving to my parents’ dogs in the window if we’re being honest.
The lesson here
What I learned from this is to never sit your keys down in the trunk (or anywhere else in the car) if you’re not actually in the car too. With my car at home, my key is always somewhere in my purse since it just has to be *in the car* for it to work.
But this was a rental car. You know, so it had two super huge keys on one small keyring. It doesn’t fit in my purse or in my pockets or anywhere else convenient. Just my hand. My hand that I needed to sort my suitcase. From now on, I will maintain better awareness of my rental car keys at all times. This could have been so much worse!
Also, I really should have a backup plan for when/if I should lock myself out of a rental car. In most cases, I’d probably just call the rental company and accept the consequences. In this particular case, one option I didn’t think of was that I could’ve had my parents drop us off at the airport and then drop the car off later after a locksmith got it opened. (A solution I thought of just now, seven months later.)
2. Getting locked in a hallway in a cave
- When: May 2023
- Where: Matera, Italy
One of my most panic-inducing worst travel mistakes of 2023 happened while in Matera, Italy, before I could actually get out and explore Matera, Italy. My husband and I had arrived to Matera (the city of caves) the night before and stayed in an awesome cave hotel.
After checking in, the owner showed us around and how to use one key to open the door to the building from the street, and another key that opened the door to the hotel room once inside. The instructions for the next morning were to leave the keys in the hotel room since the door would automatically lock behind us when we checked out.
How we got trapped
Later that night, after a few hours of dining and drinking at MoMAng, we headed to our cave hotel for the night. The next morning, we gathered up our stuff, left the keys on the table in our hotel room, and shut the door behind us. But… when we went to exit the building, the door was locked! AND THE KEYS WERE LOCKED IN THE HOTEL ROOM. (I’m starting to panic breathe just telling you this story.) inhala, exhala…
We were now trapped in the tight hallway space of a small cave hotel, hours before the official check-in time when the owner would actually respond to messages. If I could even get reception here.
And there was no one else around. I banged on the door to the only other room and no one answered. There was another room that was under renovation and therefore empty. (I did search it for an ax with which to break myself out of the building though with no luck. Or maybe that was luck after all lol.)
I immediately started calling the owner who thankfully had given me her number the night before. (I bet she regrets that!) No answer. I called again, no answer. And I planned to keep calling until either she answered or I ran out of oxygen. The thought that maybe that phone wasn’t even manned until the official check-in time sent me spiraling.
How we got out
I finally got a text from her that simply read: “Non posso parlare ora.” (I can’t speak now.) So I wrote back explaining that we were trapped in the hallway between the hotel room and the door to the street. (I left out the part where I was about to huff and puff and blow the building down if she didn’t hurry up.)
Her response: “Impossibile.” (I think you can figure that one out.) Now, I won’t go into the long story of why Italians saying the word “Impossible” to me fills me with rage (see: Worst Travel Moments of 2012).
I was so angry, I couldn’t even respond. CLEARLY IT WAS POSSIBLE, LADY. I calmly put my phone back in my pocket and took the deepest breath of my life. Even I didn’t know where my rage was about to send me.
Thankfully, she texted right back saying “Aspettate un attimo” (Wait a moment) so we wouldn’t have to find out. A little bit later, someone came through the locked street door! I think it was the woman who cleans the room after people check out and that the owner sent her there early to rescue us.
But I’ll never know. I picked up my bag, grabbed my husband (who is like the chillest dude ever in these kinds of instances), and burst through the door out into the city. I never looked back and I never responded to the world’s most infuriating text.
You might like: One Day in Matera, Italy: The Perfect Simple Matera Itinerary
How this happened
When we went back to the cave hotel after dinner, we unlocked the main door from the street with no problem, then locked it behind us once we got in, the way you do in Italy.
The only thing that went through my mind at the time was: if you have to unlock the super old wooden door to get into the building, you probably have to lock it behind you on the other side. I’ve stayed at tons of old places like this in Italy and you always have to lock the door behind you!
But what didn’t cross my mind is that I would then need to unlock that door to get out. It never occurred to me that the super old wooden door had some kind of automatic locking capabilities. I never even thought to make sure we could get out the exterior door after leaving the keys in the room.
I actually forgot all about locking the main door anyway. It wasn’t until I tried to turn the knob that didn’t budge that I remembered exactly what I’d done.
This is a real problem in Europe
This is actually a problem I see all over Europe, not just in Italy. Specifically, the ease with which we could all, oh I don’t know, die tragically in a hotel fire. There is no such thing as an abundance of caution here.
So many (actually, probably the majority) of the hotel rooms I stay in use regular ol’ keys that you even have to use to lock the door from the inside. If you need to get out in a hurry, you better make sure you know where that key is or you’re literally trapped inside your hotel room. (For this reason, I always keep the key in the keyhole.) Honestly, have you never heard of a one-sided deadbolt, people?
The lesson here
The lesson I took away from this is just to always make sure there’s an out. This is something I practice religiously as it is, so I’m particularly pissed that this one got me. Don’t leave the keys behind if there’s still a door between you and wherever you’re headed.
3. Getting scammed in Naples
- When: May 2023
- Where: Naples, Italy
Getting scammed in Naples, Italy is not shocking actually. If you’ve been to Naples, chances are you’ve been scammed too, whether you know it or not. And while I always try to prepare for everything, some things still get by me. I’ve been to Naples twice in two years and have gotten scammed both times. It just, literally, comes with the territory.
My trip to Italy in May 2023 was a shitshow from start to finish. Mostly because our feline sidekick of 18 years passed away the week before we left. Instead of working on trip details, I was grieving hard and just… not with it. But we decided to go through with the trip anyway.
I booked the cheapest rental car available which happened to be from some company I’ve never heard of. Their website said they were located in the building with all the other rental car companies outside the Naples airport (which I was already familiar with), and for some reason I simply believed them. Spoiler alert: that was a big fat lie.
They were not, in fact, anywhere near the other companies. My husband and I trekked many blocks, over a highway, in the pouring rain to find this place. While we were waiting in the (totally expected) ridiculously slow line to pick up our car, a thought occurred to me out of the clear blue sky: we’re about to get scammed. Spoiler alert: we got scammed. And I knew exactly how it was going to happen.
Don’t be like me; rent from a reputable car rental company that you at least have heard of before. And don’t always be quick to pick the cheapest option. Check out rental car deals here for wherever you go next.
The new rental car scam
My husband and I have been renting cars in Italy (and elsewhere in Europe) for over a decade at this point with zero issues. But I had a lot of time to soak up the vibes while I was standing in that line, especially when one of the two staff members just put on her coat and left for the day because Italy. For whatever reason, I just knew they were going to ask for an “international driver’s license.”
Now if you’ve ever rented a car in Europe, then you already know what a joke the international driver’s license is. We should really call this, in itself, a scam. No one has ever, ever asked me or anyone else I’ve ever been in a car with in Europe for their international driver’s license. But I knew it was about to happen. Mostly, because Naples. It’s a vibe. If you know, you know.
While in Naples, at least check out Herculaneum – it’s way better than Pompeii!
How this happened
After over an hour in line, we got to the counter. He looked up our info and, as expected, asked my husband for his international driver’s license. Of course we don’t have that stupid thing we aren’t even sure is real because literally no one has ever mentioned it in real life. Enter: rage.
Apparently, this company’s “policy” was that: if you don’t have an international driver’s license, you can still rent the car, but you have to pay for their super expensive insurance plan. Regardless of whether you have rental car insurance of your own or not. Otherwise, no rental car. Was this mentioned anywhere in their rental terms or confirmations they sent me? Of course not; it was just a hustle.
The situation was perfect (for them). We were still soaking wet. We’d just flown overseas, overnight, and we were tired and hungry and just OVER IT. And we had already waited over an hour to get this car.
Our only other option was to ditch it all, walk the mile to one of the other rental companies, hope they had a car randomly available for us, and didn’t ask us for an “international driver’s license.” But even if they did, you know we’d end up way overpaying for it anyway, because Naples.
Despite my blood quickly approaching its boiling point, we really had no other choice. We had to fork over the almost $500 ransom to get our car (which is about what the car cost to rent BTW). But it wasn’t even the money that filled me with rage; it was the fact that they were totally scamming us and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
Methinks it could have been worse
I do think it could’ve been worse though. The guy really hammered in the fact that, with their insurance, it would only cost us $3,500 if the car was stolen. He stressed this point numerous times, enough to set off all kinds of alarm bells.
Once we were finally in the car, I mentioned that to my husband: “How often do you think this company tracks the car’s GPS, steals it themselves during the night, and then charges the renter $3,500?” This is Naples; the police are in on it too.
Also check out: Must-Have Travel Safety Items: Never leave home without these essentials
The lesson here
I know getting scammed is always possible, but it rarely actually happens. Unless you’re in Italy. Both times I’ve been scammed in Naples, I’ve tried to preemptively consider all possibilities so I’m prepared for whatever they try to get out of me. The “international driver’s license” thing totally slipped my mind (because it’s really a load of baloney).
So my advice is to just take all the extra steps you think you might even barely need so nobody can get one over on you. Read travel blogs about your destination to see what others’ experiences and warnings are.
My international driver’s license
Look, as ridiculous as it is, the thing only costs $20 and it’s good for a year. You just have to reframe it in your mind. Maybe you don’t need an international driver’s license in order to rent a car in Europe, but you do need one to keep from getting scammed. That’s its benefit. Even though it may be scam-adjacent itself, it’s at least a cheap scam that can save you from getting way more scammed.
Ahead of my road trip around Slovenia a month later, I bit the bullet, drove to AAA, and got a damn international driver’s license. WHICH LITERALLY NO ONE HAS YET TO ASK FOR. (Even in Slovenia, one of the countries that allegedly “requires” it.)
If you think you want to get an International Driving Permit (IDP) just in case, know that AAA is the only provider authorized by the U.S. Department of State. Get more info here.
4. My hotel elevator free falling and then getting trapped in it
- When: March 2023
- Where: Marrakech, Morocco
The first of my worst travel moments of 2023 happened on the last night of my 2 weeks in Morocco in March. My friend Amanda and I were ending our trip in Marrakech and, for the majority of our time there, one of the two elevators at our hotel had been out of order.
Late on our last night, we were heading down to meet our group for our last dinner in Morocco. Since our room was on the top floor, we called for the elevator. The one that showed up was the previously “out of order” one, but the sign had since been removed. Assuming it’d been fixed, we got in. We sort of hesitated… but we still got in.
After the elevator had descended about a floor, something snapped and the thing just dropped out from under us! Amanda screamed and I completely went into shock. (This is not at all how I’ve prepared for a hypothetical dropping elevator my whole life lol!) Thankfully, the elevator’s free fall lasted just about a floor and a half, but holy shit was that a terrifying few seconds.
But after it stopped, we were now stuck between floors. The doors wouldn’t open, the alarm didn’t work, none of the buttons worked. We banged on the door and screamed for our lives. I had never gotten stuck in an elevator before, which was terrifying on its own, but we also didn’t know if the thing was going to free fall again.
Also check out: All the Morocco Riads, Hotels, Kasbahs, & Camps I Stayed In
How we got out
Even though cell reception was crummy inside the fragile steel tube, I managed to get a call out to our tour guide Mohammed. I frantically explained that we were trapped in the elevator… while he laughed about the whole thing. Mohammed’s laughter, as confusing as it was, actually made us laugh and really brought down the tension. (No pun intended.)
But before he could get anyone to come help us, the elevator started to drop again. But this time, at a more reasonable, less vomit-inducing pace. The door opened on the next floor down and we exploded out of it. Needless to say, we took the stairs up and down for the rest of our trip.
How this happened
Honestly, I don’t know enough about elevators to explain how this happened. But how we got into this situation is that, even though we knew we probably shouldn’t get into the elevator that had been out of order until that point, we did anyway because we were in a hurry.
The lesson here
I’m already a stairs > elevator person, but even more so now. Unless I’m on the 10th floor or above, or I have a huge suitcase, or the stairwell is creepy, it’s the stairs for me.
But really, we both had a gut feeling we shouldn’t take the injured elevator but we did anyway. Always listen to your gut, people! And while we’re at it, maybe give the “out of order” elevator a grace period after it gets “fixed.”
You might like: 10 Life Lessons I Learned in Morocco I Hope to Never Forget (Surprisingly, the elevator thing is not one of them.)
5. Getting trapped in our car on the side of a mountain in Slovenia
- When: June 2023
- Where: Somewhere in Slovenia, literally no idea where
Definitely one of the most traumatic of my worst travel moments of 2023 was the time Amanda and I ended up trapped on a tractor path on the side of a mountain in rural Slovenia. Trusting Waze and Google Maps unconditionally is one of my biggest travel mistakes to date.
Amanda and I were on a mission to visit Slovenia’s World War II Partisan Hospital, the nature of which means it’s located deep in the woods in the mountains. But since it’s a legit tourist attraction today, we figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Spoiler alert: it was a problem.
How it started
We left Triglav National Park, put the address into Waze, and followed the route without issue for quite some time. We ended up driving through a pretty tiny village as we headed up, up, and up a mountain. But… the hospital is in a gorge? Why are we going up?
We kept checking the map and kept deciding to just follow it. We were only a couple miles away. (…is what we kept telling ourselves.) Eventually, the paved road of the village turned into dirt. We kept driving.
We made it over the top of the mountain and finally started heading down. This made more sense. The dirt road then turned into loose gravel. We kept driving. It meets back up with the road just around this corner. (…is what we kept telling ourselves.)
This gravel path we were on was surrounded by a high wall of earth/trees on both sides. There was no possibility of just turning around. We kept driving. We passed a wooded farm, and as the goats we passed looked at us like they’d just seen a UFO, we realized the path we were on was for the farmer’s tractor, not a front-wheel drive Volkswagen.
But we kept driving and eventually came to a spot where two gravel tractor paths converged. We had enough space to “pull over,” compose ourselves, and figure out wtf we were going to do next. After I finished emergency peeing in the gravel (lol), we went over the map again. It still looked like the main road was “just around the corner.”
How it’s going
BUT, this was the only spot we’d come to where there was enough room to maybe turn the car around. We could either keep going down this gravel path that was barely big enough to fit a car and that was clearly not meant to be driven by a car. Or we could turn around, accept defeat, and not visit the site we really wanted to visit that had already taken us hours out of the way.
Even though my gut said to bail out, I am not a quitter. We both said F*CK IT, got back in the car, and took off around the mountainous corner not having a clue what was on the other side.
A little bit farther and the path opened. We could now see we were on the edge of the mountain. A little bit farther still and the path dead-ended at a hay field. BUT, since the hay had been recently mowed, we could see that there was indeed a “road” on the other side of it. So, I got out and ran across the hay field to make sure. But on the other side of it, in front of the “road,” was a barbed wire fence. That was the last straw; we had to call it.
I turned the car around in the hay field and started back up the gravel tractor path we came down. It was only then that we understood how screwed we truly were. Our front-wheel drive Volkswagen simply could not make it up the steep gravel path.
The tires just spun, gravel flew everywhere. The car was blaring loud, non-stop warning alarms and flashing lights, and would actually… literally… lock up when the tires started spinning. We started sliding backwards, there was so much screaming. So much regret.
How it ended
As I tried and tried to get the car going forward, we went through every possible scenario. Maybe we could hike to the village and find a farmer willing to pull us out with his tractor? Would anybody speak English? Do I just call the rental company? Do we go back to the hay field, collect the hay (ahem, steal), lay it down over the gravel and try to use that for traction? What. Do. We. Do.
Eventually, we managed to get the car up to where the two paths converged. There was just enough room that I could sort of reverse the car into the trees, then gun it for hopefully enough speed to get some momentum.
And this is just what I did, after I kicked Amanda out of the car so I could fully concentrate on my role as the protagonist in an upcoming installment of the Mission: Impossible series. Mission: Impossible 9 – We’re Just Trying to Do Some F*cking Sightseeing, coming soon to a theater near you.
It took a few tries but the plan eventually worked. I managed to get just enough momentum to keep the car moving forward (very slowly, still throwing gravel everywhere, but moving!). Up the super steep mountain, over the extremely pot-holed gravel path, with Amanda running up the mountain behind the car screaming, “GO! GO! GO!”
How this happened
The real error here was blindly trusting the GPS apps. We’ve all become so dependent on them that we just put in an address and hit the gas. And while this may work perfectly in most places, we quickly found that this is not the case in Slovenia. Stuff like this happened all over that country during our whole 10-day road trip.
This story was the much-shortened, much-censored version of what actually happened. We talked about that ordeal for the rest of our trip. We’ve been talking about that event for the past 6 months actually. We talked about it again last night. We were scarred for life, I’m afraid.
But we did eventually make it to the Partisan Hospital (which you can read about here). But this time, we read over literally every inch of the map to see the route it was going to take us. We made sure all of the roads it took us on had actual numbers (meaning they were actually roads and not dirt paths in a farmer’s backyard). It was still harrowing for a while, but we made it.
Shortly after our visit (July 2023), a massive flood caused significant damage to the Franja Partisan Hospital and it’s still closed (as of February 2024). Just another reminder to see what you want to see when you have the chance!
The lesson here
This taught us both some super valuable lessons. Mainly, don’t simply trust the GPS apps when you’re driving around a foreign country you’re unfamiliar with. At the very least, read through the route to make sure it looks legit.
And specifically if you’re considering a road trip around Slovenia, I would opt for renting a 4WD SUV or similar. There were many times when we wish we’d had one. We went up many mountainsides on dirt roads and down many gravel paths during this trip. Sometimes it was by accident, other times it was just how you got places there. Next time, I’ll opt for a legit off-road vehicle.
That being said, this was actually the most pleasant rental experience I think I’ve ever had. We rented from Sixt and I highly recommend them. Check out the best rental car deals here for wherever you head next.
6. The absolute worst Amalfi Coast weather ever
- When: May 2023
- Where: Salerno, Italy
The rain we encountered upon landing in Naples in May 2023 never stopped. We were in Italy for 10 days and only on one of those days did it not rain. After picking up our rental car in Naples, we drove to Salerno where we based ourselves for the next few nights. And this was the worst weather of the entire trip. Actually, that was the worst weather I saw all year.
Everyone has dreams of the Amalfi Coast—sun-soaked patios and colorful houses covered in colorful flowers. Delicious food and limoncello, a blue ocean, sailing from town to town, blah blah blah. But did you know the Amalfi Coast could also look like this:
How we dealt with it
Luckily, I had already visited the Amalfi Coast a few times before so I at least had that going for me. But I planned a lot for this trip—a full-day Amalfi Coast tour with my friend Daniele who runs the Salerno Antica B&B, another hike on the Path of the Gods, ferry rides, day trips, and more.
And because my cat had just died that week, the miserable conditions just felt like torture. At a time when I desperately needed sunshine and warmth, I got nothing but gloom.
We still did all of we planned, it was just endlessly more miserable than it should’ve been. We toured the cities of Salerno, Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Minori, Vietri sul Mare, and Atrani… just in the torrential downpours. We took days trips from Salerno… in our head-to-toe rain gear.
We hiked the Path of the Gods… in the pouring rain. Then afterwards, our ferry was canceled because of the bad weather. We had to scramble to find a way from Positano to Salerno, which is borderline impossible. Long story short, we got there, but it was a struggle.
Besides seeing the Amalfi Coast at its ugliest, the whole thing was just miserable. Our clothes were soaking wet for three straight days. It felt like we would never be dry again. Everyone we encountered apologized profusely for the abnormal late-spring weather. We were constantly told that the weather on the Amalfi Coast has never been like that.
How this happened
You know, weather be weather. For the most part there’s nothing we can do about it. Sure, it was spring, but the showers are supposed to be in April duh. May gets the flowers; everybody knows this. Regardless, these conditions were not normal for this part of Italy at this time. ‘Twas just a fluke.
The lesson here
The only lesson you can really glean from this is just to always be prepared. Weather, like travel, is mostly unpredictable. Yes, we can check the forecast before we leave to make sure we pack the necessary things like rain coats, waterproof shoes, etc.
But you’ll never know what kind of weather you’ll get when you book the trip months ahead. When you commit to visiting somewhere, you have to just accept that you’ll deal with whatever the weather gods bring you when the time comes.
Get my yellow rain jacket here. As seen in almost all my Italy photos.
7. The absolute worst Eagle’s Nest weather
- When: September 2023
- Where: Berchtesgaden, Germany
Speaking of unfortunate weather, another of my worst travel moments of 2023 happened four months later in Germany when I’d made plans to visit the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany. The building that’s known for being Hitler’s mountain retreat is also famous for its incredible Alpine views. Allegedly.
While the vast majority of visitors to the Eagle’s Nest take the quick bus ride up the mountain, I instead opted to hike up with my WWII historian/hiking guide Claudio. Despite the weather, this experience was absolutely incredible! Definitely a top-10 travel moment for me. But OMG the weather did not cooperate. This is what the Eagle’s Nest usually looks like:
I’d been looking forward to visiting the Eagle’s Nest (and seeing its famous views) for years. So imagine my disappointment when we finally got there after 3 hours of climbing and found this:
As far as hiking conditions go, this wasn’t the worst. The next day when it was clear and sunny it was also brutally hot. This hike would actually have been unbearable had it not been cloudy all day. I just wish I’d been able to see the views that everyone speaks so highly about!
How this happened
Again, just weather being weather. For the next couple of days the weather was totally clear and you could see the Eagle’s Nest for miles. When it comes to weather when traveling, it just is what it is.
The lesson here
Again, all you can do is try to make the best of the situation and find the good parts. Even though we didn’t get the incredible views we’d been hoping for, we also got:
- better hiking conditions
- a totally unique experience
- the chance to see this locale (where the Nazi party was informally based and where many of the officials, including Hitler, lived) the way it should be seen. (Dark and gloomy)
- many good laughs at our bum luck
Regardless of the weather, or maybe even because of it, this was still one of my top travel experiences of the year. Plus, it just gives me another reason to visit Berchtesgaden again in 2024.
That being said, my guided Eagle’s Nest hike was one of my highlights of the whole year! Claudio is amazing and we had so much fun. Click that link for more info.
8. The absolute worst flight of the year
- When: June 2023
- Where: Instanbul to Boston
Because of course there’s a flight horror story on my list of worst travel moments. Even for someone who doesn’t really mind flying all that much, when you fly as much as I do, there’s bound to be a bad egg.
After my trip through Slovenia, I’d planned to fly back to Boston from Ljubljana through Munich on Lufthansa. But literally as I’m about to board my shuttle to the airport, I get a text from Lufthansa saying my flight is canceled. Just flat-out canceled. That had actually never happened to me before.
I’d been auto-rebooked on a flight the next day, Ljubljana > Istanbul > Boston. Instead of spending the whole day fighting with the airline and trying to get something else, I just accepted it. I remembered that I had travel insurance for just this sort of thing so I booked a (nice) hotel for the night and committed to having one more awesome day in Slovenia.
Fast forward to the next day. The flight to Istanbul was short and uneventful. The flight from Istanbul to Boston was one of my worst flights to date.
1 out of 10, do not recommend
First of all, the flight from Istanbul to Boston is long (11+ hours). I’ve done it before and it’s fine. But this time was awful. There’s nothing extreme that made it so awful, just a ton of microaggressions.
The kid behind me kicked and punched my seat for the entire flight. Her teenage sister next to her gave no shits about it. Her mother was rows away. I could not get her to stop.
There was a baby two rows behind me with some kind of… let’s just call it a “mental disturbance.” It made some crazy loud squeal/panting sound every ten seconds on the dot. For 10 out of 11 hours. (And yes, I definitely consider how the mother must have felt and must continue to feel every day of her life.)
The man next to me was wearing so much cologne I could hardly swallow. And he coughed on me, without a mask, for the entire flight. My seat-back entertainment/screen didn’t work. The two full-strength Dramamine I took to pass out did nothing but trap me in a state where I was so physically sleepy but still awake. I’m pretty sure this is a method of extracting secrets from enemy states.
There was, not one, but two medical emergencies on the flight. So, there was a lot of chaos on the plane for a while. And what do we not want on our flight over the ocean? A LOT OF CHAOS! These medical emergencies happened back to back which terrified me. I was suddenly afraid that it was the meal we all just ate. That it was going to take us out one by one. With so many hours to go. I was petrified. This is but a sampling of what made this my worst flight of the year.
How this happened
There’s usually one annoying person or event on every flight. But to have all of it happen on one flight was just an unfortunate coincidence, I’m afraid. Just about all of those things were beyond my control.
The lesson here
When you have an ordeal like this that’s beyond your control, all you can really do is just take cover and wait out the storm. The flight is eventually going to end, so just keep reminding yourself of that. You can also:
- Take care of your own mind and body to deal with the strains flying puts on you
- Have plenty of backup entertainment for when your TV doesn’t work
- Maybe bring something stronger than Dramamine if that’s your process
- Meditate, pray, or whatever you do that will help you deal
Another solution I started utilizing in 2023 is that… many of these kinds of issues go away if you just upgrade your seat if you have the means to do so. It’s sad, but it’s true. Had I not already spent an exorbitant amount on that flight, I maybe would have splurged. I certainly learned my lesson after this trip.
9. Honey massage panic attack in Slovenia
- When: June 2023
- Where: Grosuplje, Slovenia
If it sounds like I have a lot of travel-related panic attacks throughout the year, you’re absolutely correct lol. But the one I had before my honey massage in Slovenia was probably the funniest of my worst travel mistakes from 2023.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “honey massage,” well it’s exactly what you’re picturing. (Click the link above to read my whole account of it.) But here’s what you need to know:
- Slovenia is the world capital of beekeeping
- I am a beekeeper
- You can get a honey massage in Slovenia where they pour honey on you and then massage you
- It’s as bizarre as it sounds!
I knew I wanted to write an article about apitourism in Slovenia (aka – all the bee-related things you can do here). So, in the name of research, I knew I couldn’t pass up a “honey massage.” Only, I forgot how much I hate massages… and hate being sticky… until about an hour before my appointment.
Amanda and I were out to dinner when the whole thing struck me. I immediately went into my trademark cry-laughing hysteria as I spiraled out of control at the thought of a stranger rubbing honey all over my naked body. In 98°F heat… in a shed without air conditioning.
This went on for about an hour as I waffled back and forth about whether or not I should just cancel it. I REALLY didn’t want to do it. But I am not a quitter! Those two ideas battled it out in my head while poor Amanda just tried to finish her dinner. As we left the restaurant and headed back to our bee house for the night, I still hadn’t made up my mind.
When we got back to our room, it was all set up for the massage. We passed the owner and his family on the way, and they showed their excitement that I had booked the honey massage. I couldn’t back out now.
Ultimately, I swallowed my fears and went through with it. It was much weirder and infinitely more awkward than even I had anticipated, but holy cow does it make for a funny story. (…that Amanda and I laugh about regularly. We laughed about it again last night.) You can read all about my honey massage here.
How this happened
Well, I have a tendency to sign up for things that sound like good ideas, especially when they’re far off in the future. I plan my trips thinking only objectively, not subjectively.
I sign up for things that sound fun, interesting, and worthwhile, completely forgetting that it might be something I hate, that terrifies me, or that grosses me out. The phrase, “I’ll figure it out later” is quite popular in my world. But really, I regret nothing.
The lesson here
The lesson here is not to only sign up for things you know you’ll enjoy or that won’t scare you. Rather, the lesson (for me at least) is to keep doing this exact same thing. Only by exploring outside your comfort zone can you grow. Only by signing up for things that challenge you can you overcome fears and apprehensions.
Lean into the anxiety instead of fighting it. And all that stuff about getting over your fears by going through them, not around them, not avoiding them. The honey massage was not at all enjoyable, but I am SO glad I went through with it. What doesn’t kill you, gives you hilarious travel stories.
10. Tetanus scare panic attack in Hawaii
- When: August 2023
- Where: Oahu, Hawaii
On December 29, 2012 I fell down some stairs and had to go to the ER. The wine glass I was carrying shattered and went through my hand, so they had to sew up the gaping, bleeding wound I now had. I got a tetanus shot.
That means that on December 29, 2022, my tetanus shot expired. (According to traditional medical logic.) I kept meaning to get a new one, but you know how that goes. I figured I’d just wait until the next time I hurt myself, which would be any day now.
Fast forward to August 2023 when I went surfing on Oahu’s North Shore. I cut my foot pretty bad on some coral during one of my many wipeouts, but I was so hyped up on adrenaline I didn’t even notice.
After my time in the ocean, I threw on some shorts and sandals and headed even further north. I drove until the road ended, parked my car, and hiked the Ka’ena Point Trail to Hawaiian Monk Seal Beach in search of, you guessed it, Hawaiian monk seals.
Ka’ena Point Trail is a coastal hiking trail, and I use the term “trail” loosely here. You’re basically hiking through sand, dirt, brush, cacti, and all kinds of other sharp dirty things. And I did so in my Teva sandals with open wounds a-plenty.
Fast forward again to a couple hours later when I had to go straight from the trail to meet my friends at dinner. (It was definitely the dirtiest dinner I had in 2023, please don’t judge me.) After dinner, we all walked back to my friends’ house about 30 minutes away. Well, they walked; I limped, severely. My foot hurt so bad I couldn’t even remotely walk on it.
Hello panic my old friend
I got to their house and washed my foot as good as I could with soap and water. I then noticed just how many open wounds I actually had… and how they were all packed with dirt and sand and lord knows what else. And how my foot was all swollen and hard. I doused my wounds with hydrogen peroxide and went to work tweezing the grains of sand and debris out of my foot.
And then I remembered I hadn’t updated by tetanus vaccine yet. And panic set in. To make matters worse, I then turned to the internet to diagnose the severity of the situation.
Most people think you only get tetanus if you “step on a rusty nail.” But really, you can contract tetanus any number of fun ways! Basically, any time you have an open wound that becomes contaminated with dirt and bacteria, you’re at risk of contracting tetanus if it’s been longer than 10 years since your last tetanus shot.
And not only did I have an open wound, but I cut my foot on ocean coral, which is like one of the worst ways to cut your foot in terms of gross things that can get inside it. Then I hiked through dirt and sand in my sandals, and didn’t actually clean my wounds for about 10 hours. I still wasn’t quite hyperventilating yet though.
Tetanus is no joke
That is, until I read that you have less than 48 hours to get your tetanus booster until you face (what I was sure would be) certain death. But I’d planned so many expensive activities for the next day (my birthday) and would be flying home the day after that. Another trip to the ER and a bum arm was not going to fit into my plans.
I pretty much spent the rest of the night washing my foot, cleaning it with peroxide, making sure I’d gotten all the earth pieces out, and devouring everything there was to read on the internet about tetanus. My plan was simply to not freak out about it. (How am I doing? lol)
After all, my tetanus shot was only expired by a few months, and it’s not like it stops working at 10 years on the dot. (Right?) I’m sure they include some kind of grace period. (Right?) I kept it clean and bandaged it up for my trek through Jurassic Park and my birthday luau the next day. And I’m still here to tell the tale. But for that one night, I thought for sure I was going to die a horrible death.
How this happened
Procrastination is a bitch and I just kept putting off getting my tetanus shot until, oops, I wish I hadn’t. (The tetanus shot is the most painful shot I’ve ever gotten, and most people agree with me. Beyond that, I’m not even able to use my entire arm for like 2 weeks afterwards. So much pain. So no, I was not in a hurry to do that to myself again.)
The lesson here
BUT, getting tetanus would be so much worse. Even though it’s rare here in the U.S. (because vaccines), tetanus is actually a very serious and life-threatening disease, the symptoms of which sounds truly horrifying.
Also check out: Getting sick while traveling abroad: What to do and how to deal
The other lesson is that preventative healthcare is always the way to go. Please never wait until something happens to deal with it when there’s a simple (and most likely free) solution that will stop it from ever happening in the first place.
And, even though you can certainly wait to get your tetanus shot until you’ve cut yourself, there’s a chance you might not be in a place or position to do so. Luckily, I was still technically in the U.S. and it would’ve been easy to just go get my shot. (Honestly, why didn’t I just go do that?)
But I travel internationally a lot. What if I were to cut myself while hiking through the jungles of Belize or riding camels in the Sahara or earlier that week while hiking the Koko Head railway? Waiting until an injury is not a smart idea!
And always travel with a small first aid kit! Here’s a good one that has tons of stuff you’ll totally probably use at some point.
It’s important to remember that travel often brings complications and unforeseen challenges for which you must prepare. But it’s equally important to try to see the bright side in every crappy situation. After a week of nonstop rain, there’s almost always a rainbow. I hope you have a happy new year and best of luck on your travels in 2024!
Save these cautionary tales, pin this image: