Let’s face it; we’ve all been there. Sometimes no amount of planning can combat a travel hiccup. But the important thing is to remember the lessons so you can hopefully avoid a similar fate in the future.
Granted, I haven’t found myself stranded in the middle of a country (except that time when I was 8, had no money and no phone, and was on a school trip to the Netherlands…) and luckily I’ve never been mugged or a victim of a tourist crime – so in that sense, my holiday hiccups aren’t all that extreme. But chances are, I’m betting a few people out there have done something similar.
I hope some of these stories make you laugh – or gasp – and I hope you’re able to learn from them so you don’t make the same mistake.
The perils of an unlicensed taxi
In the world of Uber, getting a ride has never been easier. The only difficulty comes in the form of mobile data and having a reliable internet connection. Combine that with the utter chaos of an airport and it’s a recipe for disaster; where are you? Which terminal? Where does the driver collect you? And the fact that you only have 2 minutes to find your ride before the meter starts costing you – with direct access to your bank account – is a scary prospect.
After arriving in Dubai airport, we were making our way to the designated taxis and where we could hopefully get an Uber. But the group of so-called taxi drivers that were lounging nearby seemed a much simpler option, and so we asked one of them to take us to our hotel. He was super friendly and only too pleased to help.
After chivalrously taking our suitcases, he led us through the building, past the waiting taxi rank, into the multi storey car park and to a random, unmarked car. I could feel Lee next to me getting more tense as we got closer to the car, but the guy had our suitcases. How were we supposed to politely ask what the hell was going on and make our way back to the main terminal?
We climbed into the car – maybe the stupidest thing I’ve ever done – and thanked my lucky stars that I’d been endlessly pouring over Google maps in the few weeks leading up to the trip. I was immediately able to recognise landmarks and determine that we were in fact going in the right direction – at least that was a good start.
About half an hour later, we made it to the hotel safe and sound. Although Lee definitely enjoyed telling our friends he thought we were about to be in a real life Taken and firmly blamed me.
The Lesson: don’t EVER trust a strange man at the airport, and ALWAYS head to the taxi rank if you want a lift. No excuses.
Dodgy airport parking
We always choose to drive to the airport. It’s a lot more convenient from where we live – plus I use public transport pretty much every day (outside of lockdown) to get to work, so driving to the airport is a bit of a luxury. I also don’t fancy navigating the British train system at 4am…
However, cheaper doesn’t always mean better.
In the past, we’ve parked with a number of different companies and they’ve always been great, as well as affordable. But the last time really took the biscuit.
We rocked up at about 6am, only to discover the whole place closed. No lights, no people, nothing. I rang the number on the confirmation email a few times but no-one answered. Did I mention this place looked like somewhere you could hide a dead body? Not even exaggerating.
The Polish guy at the car wash next door was nice enough but couldn’t really tell me anything, and his English wasn’t great. I had a bit of a wander round the site and wasn’t comforted. It looked like somewhere cars went before they got sent to a crusher; there were so many crammed into this tiny space that it looked impossible to get any of them out. Not just that but right smack in the middle of the lot was this ramshackle rusty warehouse that was made from random parts of sheet iron and felt like it would keel over at any moment. And we were supposed to leave our car here?
It was now about 6.30am, there was another car also waiting for the site to open and we were heading into problematic territory; we could either wait, keep phoning and hope someone would show up, then leave our car with them and hope against hope it was in one piece when we got back. Or try and look for some last-minute place and essentially pay twice.
Before we could seriously consider this second option, two guys in a people carrier arrived, and opened up. And then the driver spent our whole journey to the airport complaining about a customer not turning up…
Needless to say, the car was fine and came back all in one piece without a scratch on it.
The Lesson: I will definitely be double checking every airport parking company before we book for peace of mind and professionalism. I would suggest looking at Google reviews – when we looked this place up, the reviews were terrible.
Acts of God Part 1
Iceland is a pretty common bucket list destination, and one that I would highly recommend. We managed to squeeze in a brief trip between Christmas and New Year as part of Lee’s 30th celebrations a few years ago. We were so excited to see the Northern Lights, except we hadn’t banked on one thing: the weather.
From the moment we landed, the weather took a turn. And we spent three days experiencing snowstorms, sleet, fog and rain. While it didn’t stop us exploring the Golden Circle Tour, the Blue Lagoon and the city of Reykjavik, it definitely made it an interesting experience and meant the Northern Lights were a definite no-show.
The worst bit was probably when we were due to come home and found ourselves stuck in Reykjavik airport for an extra 7 hours.
The Lesson: just because the weather takes a turn doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun. We didn’t see the Lights and that’s annoying, but we did make the most of the other tourist spots and some of my favourite photos from that trip are us trying to take a selfie in terrible weather.
The mystery of the disappearing passport
Border control is pretty strict in the US. And it’s a little terrifying. They take your fingerprints, scan your face and sternly stare at you while you do as instructed.
A lot of this process is now electronic – if you’ve visited the country recently – which was great news and meant we could skip the lengthy queues.
You can imagine my horror when we were tapping away on the electronic border control station only to discover that I no longer had my passport.
I’d successfully managed to get through London with my passport, had boarded the plane fine, had even had it when we were gathering our stuff to disembark, but in the time it had taken us to walk from the plane to border control, it had disappeared.
That meant it could only be in a limited number of places.
However, that also meant an opportunistic swine might take advantage; a free passport with someone else’s identity can be a valuable thing.
Before panic could take full hold, we spoke to the attendant who pulled us to one side while a colleague went to check – we weren’t allowed to look for it ourselves, and so we stood there, painfully and anxiously waiting to see if it had been found. All the while, I was muttering about what might happen to us…
A few minutes later, we heard someone call my name. We both looked up to see a different attendant reading out my name. A fellow passenger had seen it on the floor on their way to border control and had kindly handed it in.
The Lesson: ALWAYS check you’ve got everything. Don’t carry anything unless it’s absolutely crucial for that moment, it’s just not worth the risk.
Confusing car hire
Hiring a car for Vegas had been a mission. Location seemed to Havre driven the prices right up (goodbye dream Mustang that would have cost £800 for two weeks) and we spend ages trawling different sites and tinkering with different drop-off/pick-up points.
Top tip: changing your drop-off/pick-up location to a nearby branch that isn’t in the airport could save you some serious £££. In Vegas, we opted for a nearby Enterprise instead of the one in McCarran International Airport and saved ourselves about £250.
I then discovered that some states don’t require your partner to be a named driver on the insurance = even cheaper car rental. But it can be difficult to dig out some clear cut rules on a state by state basis; some only accept legally married spouses, whereas others accept domestic partners.
We’d managed to book a pickup truck for a ridiculously low price (about half of what it should have been) and were pretty confident on the driving laws in Nevada, but when I asked the car rental guy to confirm or clarify, he didn’t even know his own Ts&Cs. Queue the eyeroll.
So the rental Terms and Conditions stated that a domestic partner could drive the vehicle without being named, but he then couldn’t clarify what a ‘domestic partner’ was. Queue another eyeroll.
The Lesson: do your research beforehand. And don’t be afraid to stand your grand when a sales guy is clearly trying to pump you for money.
Problematic plane tickets
A good deal isn’t always as good as it seems.
We’d booked ourselves a package holiday with Lastminute.com for our trip to New York. It was a great deal, amazing hotel, perfect location and included our airline luggage…
Except it didn’t.
We arrived at the airport for check-in only to discover our tickets didn’t include luggage, and we needed to pay an additional £45 per person to take our suitcases.
Not only that, but BA often farms its seats out to other airlines, so we fast discovered we were flying with American Airlines and not British Airways, which wouldn’t have been an issue until we were told it would cost £80 per person for us to sit next to each other. On an 8-hour flight.
This left us shuttling between the check-in desk, the American Airlines helpdesk and the BA helpdesk, just to sort this mess out.
In the end, we had to pay the £45 baggage fee as
We were told Lastminute had messed up the ticket assignment with BA and so BA were unable to fix the issue. Our only real option was to pay the baggage fee and speak to Lastminute when we got home.
As for the seats, we’d just have to hope for the best.
Once we were on the plane, it turned out we were both sat next to another couple who’d been split up by the system. Thankfully they were only too happy to swap.
On the way back, we got lucky again. The flight was mostly empty so the attendants rearranged all the passengers for better weight distribution, pairing up separated couples as they went; we ended up with a whole row to ourselves.
The Lesson: take a gamble. There wasn’t much more we could do in the moment so we just had to roll with it and hope for the best. Luckily it all worked out.
A mobile mishap
10 years ago, the thought of travelling abroad and being able to use your phone at no extra cost was absurd. Yet today, we can use data, make calls, send texts and access the internet from so many international countries, and it’s all included in the price of an ordinary plan. Who’d have thought!
Last year I’d bought a new iPhone. My old one was old and I’d had it for years, so it was about time I was due an upgrade. With all the travelling we do, the difficulties we’ve had abroad and the fact that my family live in Germany, it seemed sensible to ensure I had a contract with international roaming.
After a glitch with the transfer of my number which left me without a working phone for nearly a month – don’t even get me started – you can imagine my dismay when we landed in New York and my phone didn’t work.
At first we thought it might just be a delay. Sometimes it takes an hour or two to pick up a server. But nothing happened.
I couldn’t even get a signal.
Maybe I’d got it wrong? Maybe my new contract didn’t include roaming in the US? We checked my account on the hotel WiFi, but it said in black and white that the US was included in my data plan. So what on earth was I supposed to do?
We restarted the phone, updated settings, changed settings, restarted it again but nothing.
Jet lag had me up at about 4am the next day and the damn thing still wasn’t working. So we decided to call my network provider. Initially they told me it would take 3 days or so before the phone would work. I pointed out that we were only in NYC for 5 days – I couldn’t wait 3 days for it to ‘maybe’ start working.
It took an hour and half before they were able to finally fix it.
The Lesson: be firm, yet polite. I always try to remain calm and polite to customer service personnel – it’s not their fault, no matter how frustrating the situation is. Plus, being nice about it normally means they’ll try harder to fix the problem.
Acts of God Part 2
Now the Caribbean is renowned for it’s tropical climate and gorgeous beaches. But like most tropical climates, it’s prone to thunderstorms. If you’ve ever been during the rainy season, you’ll know how refreshing it is to go outside after the 4pm downpour.
During our time in Jamaica, we got into a great routine; out by the pool around 9am, a spot of lunch around 12pm, inside for the thunderstorm around 3pm, followed by a shower and change of clothes ready for our evening entertainment.
Having washed some underwear and a few other items – I always wash clothes on holiday so we can pack lighter/rotate clothes – I’d hung them out on the built-in clothes line on the balcony. All was going well until an afternoon thunderstorm hit, with pretty strong winds.
It’s safe to say our clothes that were innocently drying ended up scattered in the bushes underneath the balcony (outside the room directly below us).
Lee dashed downstairs and started gathering up items as I pointed to them from my vantage point, and with a sigh of relief that we’d caught everything, we thought nothing more of it.
The next morning, as we were heading down to the pool, we walked past the room below us, laughing at the previous day’s debacle, only to release a pair of my knickers – with cartoon owls on them, I might add – lay strewn on top of the bush in direct view of the path.
Horrified, I snatched them up and dashed back up to our room to put them somewhere out of sight.
The Lesson: always consider what the weather will be doing. And if you’re going to hang out washing, make sure you have some pegs.
Tell me, what’s your worst/funniest/most memorable holiday hiccup?