Vacations gone wrong: 6 stories of epic travel fails


Illustrations by Katty Huertas

Things don’t always go as planned.

That’s especially true when it comes to traveling. Over the Fourth of July weekend, flight delays and cancellations left thousands of Americans scrambling. And as the high season for summer vacation begins, travelers are bracing for more setbacks — from labor shortages and inflated prices to extreme weather events and an ongoing pandemic.

Welcome to summer travel. It’s hell.

But some mishaps are just so unusual that they prompt the question: Was the trip doomed from the start?

Take By The Way reporter Natalie Compton’s first big work trip of the pandemic as an example: She wanted to try sleeping in a camper van in Hawaii to test drive #VanLife. The plan had a huge flaw, though. She didn’t check to see if the van had air conditioning.

“I assumed that was a given,” Compton says of the mistake.

She ended up spending two days driving around Maui sweating through her clothes, showing up for work appointments drenched and disheveled. It was a disaster but not a total loss, she said.

“Honestly, you get a better travel story out of a bad time than a good one,” Compton says. “No one wants to hear ‘everything went perfect, we had a great time!’ They want the blooper reel.”

As the holiday weekend comes to a close, we asked Post readers to tell us about their worst vacations. Like Compton, many of them left with a good story to tell — plus some long-running family jokes and memories they now cherish.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

‘The stomach bug got us all in the end’

Autumn Gonzalez, 44, Portland, Ore.

When I was 10, back in 1987, my dad took my sister and me to Disneyland. The plan was to meet my uncle and my cousins ​​at the hotel we were staying at in Anaheim, and we would all enjoy the three-day vacation together. Everything was going swimmingly until, on the first night we were there, one of my cousins ​​just leaned over and threw up on the pier as we were walking back to the hotel from dinner. It turns out that my other cousin had caught some stomach bug on the train to Anaheim and had spent the day puking in the bathroom on the train. Cut to waking up to the sounds of my uncle throwing up into a trash bin the next morning, and later that morning, me chirping “I can’t believe we’re finally here!” at the gates of Disneyland and then immediately bending over and throwing up.

The pinnacle of the trip had to be when my cousin started throwing up and, to be “helpful,” my other cousin and I tried to prop her up and stuff her head into a trash receptacle so at least she wouldn’t be getting puke all over the Magic Kingdom. We managed to make it through the rest of the trip without much fanfare, but then my sister started puking as soon as we got home, and then my dad picked it up right when she finished! The stomach bug got us all in the end. This whole adventure has become part of family lore, and thankfully, now, we just howl with laughter, not horror.

‘She owes me a trip to Paris’

Lily Van Bergen, 18, Forest, Va.

When my mom and I were in Lyon, France, on a day trip to see the city, she fell off her electric bike and needed to go for an overnight stay at the hospital (everything was okay), but we brought only our day bags . We ended up needing to cancel all kinds of trips in Paris where we were staying, and I had to fend for myself in a foreign country by myself for two days at age 17.

Luckily, I spoke French to a sufficient level, and I was able to translate and give some information, but for the most part, I was completely panicked. Sometimes I would lose my ability to speak French altogether. It was an insane experience, and when we finally made it back to our VRBO rental in Paris, I couldn’t have been more relieved, but we had to fly back the next day. The whole thing put a real damper on our trip. Now, my mom likes to always say that she owes me a trip to Paris, but to me, it’s a great story to tell, and I learned a lot about myself and my abilities.

‘A minor kitchen fire’

Corrine Melissari, 38, Alexandria, Va.

When I was about 12 or 13, myself, my mom, and two great aunts and great uncle had rented a house at the Jersey Shore for a week. I was so excited to spend time at the beach! I hadn’t been on a long family vacation to the shore in a few years since my mom and stepdad divorced. We settled in on the first day and decided to get pizza that night. We had some leftovers, and when one of my aunts decided to reheat a slice in the microwave the next day, she neglected to take the foil off it. This, of course, created sparks and a minor kitchen fire.

We called the property manager, the owners’ college-aged son, who came quickly to assess the damage and assist us. I felt so bad for him when he arrived, just seeing the look of horror on his face and clearly thinking, “How am I going to explain this to Mom and Dad?!”

He didn’t have a replacement, so we spent the week without a microwave, but at least we had an oven. This became a running joke in the family with my aunt anytime we were together and ordered pizza.

‘Our reservation had been lost’

Loralee Bergdall, 20, Berkeley, Calif.

When I was 16, I took a two-week exploratory trip to Fiji with my school. We were sent to collect data to form a national park on their second-largest island, Vanua Levu. The night before the trip, our chaperone got a notification that our reservation had been “lost.” So eight hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport, they had to scramble to find the reservation for all 16 of us. It was a four-hour drive to the airport, and we were unsure if we would even be able to make it.

We got to the airport and were told at one check-in desk that our reservation had been handed over to an airline on the opposite side of the airport. Not only did we have to run through the San Francisco Airport with our 40-pound hiking packs, but we also had to run through security because we were going to miss our boarding time. We dashed through security but, as we boarded, we realized that they had overbooked the plane, and two of us were not on board and were left behind. The two did not end up joining the group for a whole day.

The airline lost half of our luggage, and we were forced to make the trip without it. During our taxi to take off from LAX to Fiji, someone had a heart attack, and the flight attendants were frantically looking for a doctor. Luckily there was one on board, and the person made it off in time. Now two hours delayed, we made the 11-hour flight to Fiji.

Everything went smoothly for the two weeks, but on the way back, our flight was delayed due to bad weather, and we were stuck on the airport floor. Most of us had some mysterious stomach bug that made us extremely ill for 24 hours, myself included. I remember sleeping on the floor, wrapped in my sleeping bag, crying because I was so sick and just wanted to get home. By the time we landed in San Francisco, I was so ready to go home, I left the airport at 3 am and made the four-hour drive back home! It was such a wild experience, but I would absolutely go back to Fiji in a heartbeat.

‘We returned home two days late and much poorer’

Jeremy Rachlin, 42, Brookeville, Md.

When we arrived at the KLM counter in Amsterdam to check in for our return flight to the United States, I realized with horror that I had left my messenger bag with laptop, car keys and, yes, passports, on the train to the airport.

It was a Friday at noon. An Uber ride to the consulate, a mad dash through cobblestone streets with suitcases to the one photo store that could take passport pictures, a dash back to the consulate, a bribe to the local cafe owner to store our suitcases, a frantic call to our next door neighbor to break into our house and find our daughter’s birth certificate to email to the consulate, and many hundreds of dollars later (and 150,000 Flying Blue points to avoid $3,000 in change fees for the missed flight), we had temporary passports allowing us to fly home the next day and return tickets.

After nearly missing our connection in Paris, our parents met us at Dulles International Airport with our spare car keys, and we returned home two days late and much poorer — only to discover that our air conditioner had broken during our summer vacation. Our then 8-year-old was a trooper. On the plus side, we got to hang out with Woody Harrelson in Amsterdam. And my family has a permanent one-up on me anytime I get frustrated on vacation.

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