In all aspects of life, there are things we cannot control and things we can, especially when traveling.
Travel mishaps occur, it seems, with a cruel specificity designed to perfectly ruin whatever trip you happen to be taking. It’s as if the universe itself targeted you for revenge for some unknown slight. You can clutch your crumpled boarding pass in your first and scream to the heavens or social media. However, before it even gets to that point, you should ask yourself if there wasn’t something you could have done to avoid all your headaches. While you can’t predict every possibility, there are some common travel mishaps you can take steps to avoid, no matter who is at fault. Still, there are differences in approach to how you avoid travel mishaps that you can prevent and those you cannot.
A Bit About Travel Mishaps
Our list of common travel mishaps and their solutions is fairly extensive, but as mentioned above no one can predict everything. Yet, you can predict that carelessness on your part will create only headaches. So, you don't just need to learn which ones to avoid, but how to figure out what kind are out there.
How to Survive Travel Mishaps You Can Prevent
These can be simple things, like checking the expiration dates on your passports well before taking an international trip. Conversely, they can be complex things, such as how to make sure you can replace necessary medicine should your supply be lost or destroyed. Luckily, it’s just simple planning and organizing that can solve this problem. All you need to do is pay attention to the details.
Long before you take a trip, make a list of all the things you’ll need to take with you. Also, do a little creative thinking about how things could go horribly wrong. For example, if you encounter something as serious as losing medicine, determine whether replacing it is even possible. If the involved condition is life-threatening, make sure you have a plan for emergency transport home. If you’re going to a remote resort or on a luxury cruise, it’s not so easy to just pack up and go. Still, you are your best travel agent and know what you need above all else. It may take a little more time online or on the phone, but it will ensure that no matter what happens, you’re prepared.
How to Survive Travel Mishaps No One Could Prevent
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you do everything right. All the lists have been checked, and you’ve thought of everything. Then, two days before you’re supposed to fly to your resort, a typhoon or hurricane appears. Maybe you’ve traveled to some wintery wonderland as part of a Thanksgiving holiday getaway, and you end up snowed in. Sometimes even if you’re lucky, you’re still unlucky. Still, with a little creative thinking, you can be prepared for these unpleasant surprises.
When it comes to travel delays, it’s always wise to give yourself a day or two before and after you’re supposed to travel. This way, you aren’t missing important commitments like work or school. You may get less time at your destination, but you’ll not regret it should the airport shut down. If you can’t find accommodations, that means being stuck in the airport. So, make sure you have device chargers, blankets, hygiene items, and whatever snacks you can carry. With the right travel pillow, you’ll be able to sneak in some shuteye in any situation.
12 Travel Mishaps & How to Get Out of Them
To ensure that travel mishaps don’t ruin your vacation, you’ll need a two-pronged approach. First, you’ll want to do what you can to avoid these problems in the first place. If they befall you anyway, you’ll want to have a plan of action about how to deal with them. It’s not as daunting as it sounds.
1. Not Paying Enough Attention to Time
Unquestionably, the most common travel mishaps occur because travelers lose track of time. There is nothing more frustrating than hurrying up to get somewhere only to end up waiting. Even worse is doing that instead of enjoying a few more hours in whatever paradise you chose to visit. In some cases, losing track of time means you just might miss out on an experience or event. Of course, losing track of time means you miss your scheduled train, flight, or port call. You could end up stranded in a strange land with nowhere to go, all because you wanted one more cup of some delicious local tea.
Thankfully, travel mishaps related to time are just as easily avoided as they are common. Take full advantage of technology, planning out your routes and even taking practice runs. Find a local resident willing to help in order to learn about high traffic times or viable short cuts. Make sure you set more than one reminder on your phones and that everyone in your party has them as well. Write down the name, address, and phone number of your hotel to keep with you, in case you get lost. If you end up missing your ride, you can get another one fairly easily, but it will cost you a pretty penny.
2. Not Bringing What You Need…
Traveling with luggage is often so cumbersome, travelers silently contemplate whether it wouldn’t be worth it just to express ship their luggage to their destination ahead of them. In the interest of traveling light, either for convenience or so airlines don’t collect the baggage fee, you run the risk of being unprepared. For example, you might think you only need a few pairs of shorts, swimsuits, and sunscreen for a trip to the beach. Yet, if the weather goes bad or you encounter a place with a dress code, you’ll be out of luck. So, figure out what items you’ll need and make sure you have them.
If you’ve ended up at your destination and are short on supplies, they are usually pretty easy to find. The places near tourist areas are going to tax you with high prices on these items, but that’s what happens when the buyer is desperate. If you’re on a cruise ship or at a luxury resort, chances are there is a medical center than can help replace medicines. There is very little that can’t be replaced that you might forget, but it’s going to be an expense you weren’t planning for. Still, whether you replace the item or not, it could cast a gloomy pallor over your whole trip from that moment on.
3. …And Bringing Too Much of What You Don’t
Just as not bringing along the right items can be a headache; over-packing is one of the more common travel mishaps. While it’s a good idea to plan ahead and give yourself options, there can be too much of a good thing. In this case, a person brings along too many items on the trip. This means unnecessary luggage costs, to say nothing of the utter hassle it will be to lug it all around. It will take up much-needed space in your room, making your stay less comfortable. Finally, you will be unable to bring back any souvenirs, as your bags are already overfull. There is a bigger difference between bringing one coat in case it gets cold and bringing three of them than the just the number disparity. You’ve got to learn to travel lighter.
Luckily, this is one of the travel mishaps that is the easiest to fix. If the extra items you’ve brought along aren’t that important to you, just get rid of them. It’d be wasteful to dump them overboard or into the trash. Find a nearby church or donation center and let the people they help be the beneficiary of your over-packing. Of course, you can also just pack the items and up and ship them home, so that they will be waiting for you upon your return. You’ll free up space in your bags, and you will feel emotionally lighter, too.
4. Not Doing Your Homework
If the threat of not packing enough or packing too much seems like an impossible choice, you need to pay attention to this step. A lack of research, basic carelessness really, is at the root of a lot of the travel mishaps that can ruin your trip. This means that if you want to take a relaxing vacation, you’re going to have to work at it. Figure out what sort of trip you want to take, what you want to do, and where you want to go. Do you want to just go somewhere warm to relax and not worry about things? Then you need to look into luxury resorts. Do you want to tour the filming locations of your favorite movies? Then check into tours or travel packages, or you can hire a travel agent to help you figure all that out. Make sure you research your destination, so you can know to bring specialty items, like bug spray or reef-safe sunscreen.
If you find yourself somewhere you aren’t adequately prepared to be, you’ll be fine. At least as long as it isn’t a survival tour of the wilderness or a solo voyage across the ocean you’ve undertaken. The best thing about travel mishaps related to misinformation is that it is almost never to late to learn what you don’t know. If you’re already at your destination, go to the concierge or someone you trust familiar with the area. They can help you find what you need and correct your mistakes. Still, the best practice is to do all the research you can before you even leave home.
5. No Reservations at Your Hotel or Resort
Despite your best efforts in doing your homework and planning ahead, sometimes things just happen. Maybe it was a computer glitch or a forgetful employee, but you arrive at your resort or hotel and they have no record of any reservation for you. This could be one of those travel mishaps that just causes you to absolutely lose it on the poor desk clerk unlucky enough to be the messenger. Do not do this, for a number of reasons. First, should this problem be resolved, these will be the people tasked with taking care of you for your stay. Professionalism aside, no one wants to help a guest who abuses them. Threats and anger may work for some but remembering the people on the other side of the counter are human, too, is your best bet. No one helps a person like someone who empathizes with them.
This is one of the travel mishaps that you can easily prepare for, starting from the moment you book the trip. Ensure you get confirmation in writing, either via email or traditional mail. Keep your receipts, any documentation, and your confirmation letters handy at all times. In fact, you will want to keep them with your carry-on bags, rather than your luggage. No need to go digging through a big suitcase in the lobby. It also helps to call and confirm the reservations right before you leave. So long as you have some evidence of your reservation, the hotel will be forced to accommodate you. Without such documentation, you’re wholly dependent on the good graces of the staff. And you’ll probably have to pay again.
6. The Airline Loses Your Luggage
If you are traveling by train, bus, or sea, your luggage won’t ever be that far away from you. However, if you are flying to your destination, your bags are taken from you right as you arrive. You won’t see them again until after you’ve landed at your final destination. Depending on where that destination is, there are a lot of steps in-between where your luggage could go missing. Just because this is definitely one of those travel mishaps that you can’t directly prevent, doesn’t mean that if your luggage goes missing your vacation is shot. Like with all of these tips, all you have to do is plan ahead.
First, get modern luggage tags and even consider getting some with technology implanted to help you track it wherever it ends up. Make sure that you put a copy of your travel plan in each bag, as well as information about where you are staying. Try to make your luggage unique somehow making it more unlikely someone will pick your bag up by mistake. Finally, take photos of all your bags and their contents, both to help identify your stuff and for any insurance purposes. Make sure to arrive at the airport as early as possible. Most lost luggage happens because of last minute transfers or arrivals. Finally, carry a change of clothing and basic hygiene items in your carry-on. Also, if you’re traveling with someone, stash some of your clothes in each other’s bags. This way, if one is lost, some of your stuff will make it in the other one.
7. Your Passport, Wallet, or Vital Documents Are Lost
From simple carelessness to practiced pickpockets preying on tourists, losing your wallet, passport, or something like them can be a huge problem. Obviously, losing cash is the biggest concern, because once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. However, losing your passport, identification, and maybe even your hotel key can even more serious. Fortunately, this is one of the travel mishaps that are entirely preventable. With some attention to detail, careful planning, and a little luck, this is one you’ll never have to worry about.
First, and foremost, is that it’s your responsibility to keep these items secure at all times. Don’t keep your wallet or passport in your back pocket, instead keep them in front pants or inside jacket pockets. If someone bumps into you, immediately check for your items. If you carry a bag, wear it so the straps are diagonally across your body. This makes it less likely to be grabbed. Make sure that wherever you keep these vital items, it’s secure. Credit cards, checks, and travelers’ cheques are all traceable and able to be canceled, if you act fast. Keep copies of your passport and identification cards, as this can help you replace them more quickly. Wherever you go, make sure you know the location or contact information for your home country’s embassy. They would be the ones to help you should your passport go missing, though the embassy can help with a number of other serious travel mishaps.
8. Your Health: Local Illnesses, Dehydration, and Intoxication
So, you’ve arrived at your destination, precisely-packed luggage in tow and hotel reservations in order. You might think that you’re in the clear for a great vacation, but not necessarily. Traveling can take a lot out of a person, both metaphorically and literally. In an unfamiliar place, unrested, underfed, and drunk or dehydrated means you make yourself susceptible to illness. Nothing ruins a trip like spending it sick. While this isn’t entirely preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of falling ill when you’re supposed to be traveling.
It’s most important to stay hydrated, and this means drinking bottled water to ensure that you don’t contract anything your body isn’t used to. Make sure you wash your hands and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby, just in case. Yet, most vacation illnesses aren’t from some local bug, but rather come at the hands of travelers who don’t take care of themselves. Drinking too much alcohol and not enough water can wreck your entire trip, so enjoy yourself in moderation. Make sure you’re eating and resting enough. If you’re extra thorough, you can visit or call the Centers for Disease Control to find out about any advisories for the areas you are traveling to. But in most cases if you drink water, get sleep, and don’t overdo it on the partying, you’ll be fine.
9. Know the Area, Watch for Taxi Scams
One of the most daunting things about traveling is being in a place where you are unfamiliar with your surroundings. While it might be fun to get lost in a new environment, actually getting lost is something to avoid. Keep a map handy at all times when you are traveling in a new place. Of course, use your smartphone maps and GPS, but you should also get a paper back-up in case your battery dies or you lose your signal. Learn your hotel’s address and phone number, but also make sure to mark cross streets and landmarks. Also make sure you understand basic directional words in the language(s) spoken by the locals. It’s not just enough to know how to ask for directions, you have to be able to understand them.
For most travelers, they will stick to public transportation or taxis. When it comes to public transportation, make sure you have a copy of the schedule. Check with the concierge at your hotel for tips only the locals would know. If you do take cabs, be mindful that they do not try to run up the fare on you. Plot directions beforehand, if you can, and ask the cabbie if he or she can show you any faster route. If one does try to run up the fare on you, call the police. The worst-case scenario is you’ll have to pay the cabbie. Of course, at the mention of law enforcement, any scammer worth his salt will back off and let you slide. Though, do your fellow travelers a solid and report the scammer anyway.
10. Plan for the Weather Wherever You Are
When discussing over- or under-packing, we touched on another one of the more common travel mishaps: weather. While no one can control the weather, you are totally in charge of how you prepare for your trip. So, research what the climate is like at your destination. Learn when rainy or cold seasons are and make your plan accordingly. This doesn’t just mean looking for what weather is predicted in the area but also at the weather that is possible there. Okay, if it snowed once in the 19th century, that doesn’t mean pack a snowsuit. But if it’s an area like the beaches in the Carolinas, it’s very possible the temperature drops to blazers-and-jeans weather. You may even have to bust out a hoodie or, heaven forfend, a coat.
Strange weather patterns are one reason why it’s preferable allow room in your luggage for an outfit of warmer clothing. Now, if you are at a beach resort and the temperature drops into the 40s, maybe stay in and use the HD television that came with the room. The warm outfit will just keep you comfortable as you run to dinner or on a snack-run. However, if you are on a vacation where an experience or an event is part of the fun, you don’t have to miss it just because of some drizzle or cold air. Don’t just pack gear for cold or damp weather but think of the reasons why you’d have to go out in it and pack accordingly.
11. Know the Local Laws and Customs
Maybe you come from a state in the U.S. where cannabis is legal, so while on vacation you try to pick up some on the black market. If you do this in the wrong place, you could end up in a foreign prison or worse. On the other hand, something you do might be legal but also terribly insulting. One of the most easily avoidable travel mishaps is breaking the law or the social compact in a country where things are done very differently. It is imperative to familiarize yourself with local customs and laws in order to have a smooth trip.
Now, you might be thinking that you don’t need to do this because you are a polite person and not a criminal. While this is surely true, manners and legality are nebulous things across international borders. It need not even be as severe as the legal cannabis example, but rather you could end up on the wrong side of the law for something as simple as sunscreen. Most sunscreens contain chemicals that kill coral reefs, and some of the nations where there is a lot of reef tourism have banned those sunscreens. Finally, as a guest in another country, you don’t want to be boorish and insensitive. Taking the time to read up on the laws, customs, and practices in your host country is repaid tenfold when you put them into practice.
12. Your Flight or Cruise Gets Canceled
Let’s say you go on vacation, and you do everything discussed above just right. You have a great trip and easily avoid travel mishaps. Then, right at the end, you show up at the airport and a thunderstorm hits, grounding all the flights. When your flight (or train, bus, cruise, et al.) ends up canceled, there is really nothing you can do about it. However, as one of the unavoidable travel mishaps, these companies should be prepared to handle it. There is a plan in place and, eventually, you will get home. However, the experience you have depends entirely on how urgently you need to get to your destination. If you can, tell the staff you are in no hurry at all. The airline will likely put you up in a nice hotel and offer you rebates or travel vouchers as recompense. It’s like getting a few extra vacation days and free stuff for the hassle of it.
If getting to your destination is truly urgent, the first thing to do is not get angry or lose patience with the staff. The delay is inconveniencing them, too. And while you worry about getting to your destination on time, they have to worry about being berated by hundreds of pissed off passengers. Trying to find sympathy for and empathy with the staff is the best approach. Explain your situation and rather than blaming them for your trouble, hit the with that old Star Wars plea: You’re my only hope. Ask for same-day standby or look for full nonstop flights that might have extra room. You can use third-party services to monitor multiple airlines. Finally, just because planes are grounded it doesn’t mean that trains, buses, or cars can’t make the trip. Though remember, no trip is worth your life. If you can wait until its safer, do that.
When it comes to travel mishaps, abide by this old military saying: failing to plan is planning to fail.
There is a kind of inherent cynicism in hoping for the best but planning for the worst. Because no matter how many things you think of and plan for, life always finds a way to throw us off of our game. Perhaps the best way to handle travel mishaps has little to do with planning or solving the problem. Maybe the way to handle them is to just accept what comes while trying to make the best of it. If you an afford the delay in time or any extra costs, the best way to deal with travel mishaps is to not worry about them.
When you are on a vacation, business trip, or adventure, don’t sweat it when things don’t go according to “plan.” Because what happens to us as we travel usually won’t be the thing that ruins a trip. No, what ruins it is how badly we react to it. If you can keep your cool and, even better, enjoy yourself, there are no travel mishaps that can derail your good time.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you enjoyed it, so your friends can get in on the conversation.
Related Article: How to Travel In Style Without Sacrificing Comfort or Convenience