Let’s face it, traveling doesn’t always go as we expect, despite our best efforts to think ahead and plan our itinerary down to to the minute. Most of us can recall a situation when a train was late, we missed a flight (or in my case, didn’t really have a flight and lived in the airport for three days – more on this later), or we just ended up in the wrong place, and these are only the most common of travel inconveniences. The best thing about travel misadventures? They’re learning experiences, and they’re part of the adventure itself, often making for great stories you’ll find yourself telling over and over years later. Read about our very own travel-gone-wrong experiences from the Panrimo staff and how we survived to tell about them!
Ellen Knuth – University Relations Manager, Kyoto, Japan
What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to have a nice night out with friends, which I did, but with a slight hiccup.
What actually happened: I was working in a rural area in Japan, but on a long weekend, traveled to the cultural capital of Kyoto to meet-up with some college buddies. After a very long, very late evening of revelry, everyone hugged goodbye and went back to their hotels. Everyone except me, of course. Because I hadn’t booked a hotel.
Resolution: With another friend who had also neglected basic travel prep, I got a room. Not in a hostel or business hotel, but in a 24/7 karaoke parlor. (Pro-tip: If you do your research on deals, you can rent a private karaoke room, with an unlimited drink deal, for around $35.) Karaoke rooms in Japan are usually sound proof with long couches, adjustable lighting, and a karaoke system that you can turn off if you just want to sleep. Sure, they kicked us out at 5:30am, and yes, I may have had to change clothes in a MacDonald’s bathroom, but it all worked out!
Lesson learned: Book a hotel room, it’s more comfortable!
Caroline Steer, Intern Abroad Coordinator, Panama City, Panama.
What was supposed to happen: It was my first time traveling alone internationally, but I had made this trip countless times with my family. One stop in Houston, then straight to PTY, baggage claim, customs… the usual.
What actually happened: Everything was fine until I got through customs. There was a man asking for $10 for a tourist visa to exit the airport. What? I’d done this trip so many times before and I had no recollection of a $10 tourist visa! Maybe this was new, or maybe my parents had seamlessly taken care of this fee in past trips. I checked my wallet and realized I had exactly $2. In broken Spanish, I tried to explain that I didn’t have enough money, but they wouldn’t let me through. I had no cell phone, no cash, no way of reaching my family who were likely waiting for me just on the other side of the door.
Resolution: Thankfully a kind stranger offered me $7 and I was on my way.
Lesson learned: Always ALWAYS travel with at least a little cash. And research the airport and travel regulations ahead of time, even if you’ve made the same trip before!
Michael Radke, Study Abroad Advisor, Somewhere in Mexico
What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to have had an uneventful car ride from the Cancun airport to the small village outside of Merida where I would be staying for a week.
What actually happened: About halfway between Cancun and Merida, my friend Tony and I realized that we were running dangerously low on gasoline. As there was only one gas station between Cancun and Merida, and we were approaching the gas station, I assume we would make it and there wouldn’t be any issues. However, approximately 6 miles from the gas station, the dreaded sputtering of the car’s engine occurred, and I felt my stomach drop: I was about to be stranded in Mexico. After kicking the wheels a few times, Tony and I managed to hitchhike our way to the gas station. We befriended a helpful woman from Canada who traveled back and forth to Mexico every few months, and she was more than happy to give us a ride to the gas station.
Resolution: After arriving, we filled a 5 gallon water jug with gasoline and hopped into a van with around 6 other Mexican workers, who were assisting in road cleanup. After passing our car (having forgotten exactly where it had stopped), we finally returned and I managed to jimmy the gas tank seal open with a stick. Carefully (and by carefully, I mean not at all), we emptied the jug into the gas can and managed to drive BACK to the gas station to fill the tank. Afterward, we made it to Merida!
Lessons learned: Always begin long-distance drives with a full tank of gas. Especially if there’s only one gas station between destinations.
Dominic Palazzolo, Director of Admissions, on a study abroad trip in Spain
What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to fly back to the US from my study abroad trip in Spain.
What actually happened: In 2004, studying abroad in Spain, on my return trip home, I missed a connecting flight in Paris.This was my first experience in missing a flight and I was devastated. Funny thing is that I was at the gate 30 minutes before the flight; however, since CDG airport recently had some structural damage, they were shuttling passengers out to the vessel so they closed the gate early to allow for the commute. In the meantime, my friend happened to show the gate agent the time and, in the process of tapping her watch, military officials were called over and we were confronted with automatic weapons as a precaution.
Resolution: As cooler head prevailed, we were redirected to the AirFrance travel counter and we were booked on a flight the next day. We were given great accommodations and food vouchers to use in Paris and even had the day to get to the city and see the sights.
Lesson learned: It can be pretty daunting missing a flight/train/bus – especially when you are away from home for the first time in a foreign country. My advice is: There are always other flight/train/bus – and you might get a chance to explore a city you weren’t planning on seeing. Never tap on a gate agent’s watch to show them that you were at the gate on time – they will likely not care (nor understand you) and they have the ability to call military personnel over to fix a solution.
Audry Niscoromni, Study Abroad Coordinator, CDG Airport, Paris
What was supposed to happen: I was supposed to hop on a direct flight from Paris to Detroit.
What actually happened: I was returning home from my study abroad trip in France, which was the first time I’d ever traveled anywhere alone. To save money, I decided to fly standby. My dad works for an airline company, so I can fly on a very reduced fare, but the catch is my seat is not confirmed, and if the flight is full, I don’t fly. And I didn’t, for three days. Airport employees actually started to recognize me, and even started referencing the movie The Terminal (though my experience was a little different). One day in the airport when I was stranded without my suitcase (it had been checked, on the off-chance I got on a flight, and was somewhere in the airport) and without money (I had run out of cash and my credit cards had also been locked because I hadn’t told my bank I was traveling and they thought some prior purchases were fraudulent) I sat down in a state of despair and seriously thought of selling my belongings and finding a job in France to earn money for a flight back home.
Resolution: After quite a few tears, distressed pay-phone calls (#lifebeforesmartphones) back home, and very little sleep, my sweet grandma came to my rescue and bought me my ticket home. Paris to London, London to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Detroit. And done! Thanks Gram!
Lesson learned: Never ever fly standby internationally (especially in mid-July when all of France is on vacation) and before you go abroad, notify your bank and credit card companies of your plans to travel.
As you can gather from the above stories, it always works out, so expect the unexpected, go with it, learn from it, and share your travel wisdom with others so they don’t make the same mistakes!
What are some of your most memorable travel misadventures?