I've been itching to go some place new. On holiday or a staycation. Actually I think I've just been itching to spend some time at the beach. This itch led to me looking at a few of our past travel photos and invariably this post of past memories and travel mishaps.
Tee and I had our very first air plane trip and international travel in 2013. I was studying at Cambridge for my LL.M and he had just completed his MSc. Seeing as I was in the UK, and had obtained a Shengen visa, we decided to explore nearby European cities - Paris & Amsterdam - on a budget. Between then and now, we've been to 10 countries. And honestly, there's a bit of a near travel mishap story related to most of these trips. We've almost become a topic of conversation amongst our friends. They never fail to bring these hilarious tales up, and every time one or both of us travel they ask for 'what really happened this time?'
I'm pretty sure we aren't the only ones that these happen to. Travel and holiday photos often seem so cool, but then sometimes so many hurdles and annoying experiences happen in the process of arriving or leaving your destination.
I recently saw a friend's post on Facebook that she was almost always so close to missing her flight, and still never learnt from the experience. Many comments suggested that perhaps when she eventually missed it, she'd turn a new leaf. Or may be not.
Here's our most annoying / hilarious travel mishaps so far:
So I already mentioned this 2013 trip was a budget one. After a really fun time in Amsterdam, we boarded an overnight coach to Paris, via Brussels. The journey in itself was not the problem. I can actually sleep in uncomfortable positions and Tee is often willing to offer his shoulder. But then we arrived Paris at about 5am and got to the hotel at about 7am. Ofcourse our room had been booked for 2pm, and no way were we paying for an extra night. So we pretty much napped in the reception and then loitered about the streets of Paris till it was 2pm!
This perhaps is the worst of all. In the winter of 2015, we went away to Spain for a 5 day trip, and it was such a lovely time. We flew into Malaga, hired a car and explored a lot of the area and the city. As it was my birthday week, Tee came up with a surprise and drove us down to Altura, Portugal. I had such a great time and at the end of it was looking forward to heading back. We had had no travel issues and were pretty pleased!
The plan was to return the car to the rental company at the airport and simply catch our flights. We were on time. As is usual car rental policy, you're obliged to top up the fuel as close to the airport as possible. We were just about eight minutes away from the airport when we sighted a fuel station. All of the signs were written in Spanish which we obviously couldn't read. But Tee tried to asked the attendant (who seemed to speak a bit of English) which was diesel and which was petrol. He appeared to confirm the petrol one and we went ahead to fill up the tank happily, and drove off.
After about four minutes we approached a sign that said "four minutes away to airport", and we felt the car jerk once, twice and then come to a complete stop on the express way. You guessed right. We had put in the wrong fuel. This was at about 6pm. Our flight was in approximately 2 hours. We didn't speak a word of Spanish, we had no local SIM cards - and thus no phones. In fact I think our phones were dead and we were only using the car charger to charge it.
It was beginning to get dark. I was pretty terrified. We came down and tried to flag some cars. Ofcourse no one stopped to help. You probably wouldn't have stopped as well. We eventually tried to place an SOS call, and got through to emergency services. After about an hour and half or more, a rescue car arrived and towed the car back to the rental company. The company was going to get in touch with us in respect of damages.
We missed the flight. Tried to get on the next one and there were no available direct flights out of Malaga. For a 2.5 hour journey, some of the flights available were 18 hours stopping at various destinations. No thank you, we passed.
The next best thing we were told, was to book a flight out of Madrid. That seemed feasible and as we had air miles it was a great option. We were informed by an official that we could get trains at any time down to Madrid. So we booked this flight. We only needed to get to Madrid from Malaga. This could be done by train. We looked up the train schedule and realised that the trains didn't run all night and we had just about missed the last train.
We had booked a flight, so we had to get into Madrid that night! The next option was an overnight bus - and we took it. Let's cut the long story short. We got to Madrid, and missed this flight by a few minutes! I was so pained. We finally booked another flight. Bear in mind that our visas had only been granted for 5 days - the duration of the trip, so we were so close to overstaying! Geez. I don't even want to imagine what would have happened.
On getting to the UK in one piece, we were greeted with a huge bill, for car damage. Sigh. It was such a crazy one. And now everytime we have to top up a rental car, you can literally hear our hearts pounding.
This was visa related. And the reason why visa free countries continue to be the top of my list. We had booked a flight to Malaysia. And on further research realised that Singapore was just a high speed train ride away. Surely it was worth it! We looked up the visa requirements for Singapore and it appeared that it had a two day visa application time frame. How perfect - plus it wasn't strange because the Malaysia embassy offers a same day service. So we booked the speed trains (as you'd require evidence of travel) from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. On getting to the embassy, we were told that the law had changed and the online details had not been updated. The turn around time was now two weeks. Well, we didn't have two weeks. So some other time Singapore.
I was still determined to make the best of Malaysia. And we did. Until I got back to the UK, and we received a telephone bill from a telephone company that I was owing a bill of £650! What!? How? Apparently my line had roamed, and when I thought I was happily chatting away to my mum in Nigeria on wifi or via a local app, I was actually roaming. I was honestly so pained. £650 would have bought me a ticket to Nigeria to see everyone live and chat with them in person! For my own sanity, I had to split this payment over a while, because I couldn't imagine paying it all in one go.
You can read an overview of our Malaysia trip and photos.
Dubai mishaps have been a pain, such that I've blogged about them in this post - the Dubai vacations that never happened.
But in relation to mishaps, I didn't mention how a freebie offer almost caused some issues for us. It was our honeymoon, and on arrival at the Dubai airport, some persons offered us free vouchers including tickets to the safari desert tour, swimming with the dolphins or lunch at the Burj Al Arab. I mean, we thought it was a true freebie, and so we accepted. The catch was that we were supposed to attend a brief meeting at some office. The office looked pretty genuine when we got in - albeit lonely. Basically, these persons were trying to sell us landed property in Dubai and convincing us to sign an agreement. When we mentioned we had zero interest - they got pretty offended and almost began to raise their voice. Thankfully all ended well, we left the offices, not buying any property and not using the vouchers - even though I think they were still valid.
2 years later on a separate UAE birthday getaway, I had the desert safari tour in AbuDhabi - without any suspect vouchers!
The mishaps in Barbados were two fold. One at the beginning and one right at the end. We arrived at international airport tired yet filled with so much excitement. Again it was visa free, so passing through immigration and border control with no hassle was a plus. Only for our bags not to arrive! Apparently they had been left back in London. Sigh. Spent too much time complaining, describing the suitcases and filling out forms. Plus literally did not utilise the first day of the trip because we had no clothes & personal items.
The second bit was right at the end of the trip. Dropping our now retrieved luggage off at bag drop off and being asked for travel documentation. Guess who had left her residence card at home? Me! The official said there was no way I could get on the flight without it. But that my husband was welcome to get on the flight. Haha. After a long process of calling the UK immigration to verify my status, I was finally allowed to board. This is child's play compared to a friend who left her card at home, and was not allowed to board until she contacted someone in the UK to physically post the card to her. That took an extra 7 days!
The reason why I left this document behind is kinda funny. Normally, Tee & I when we travel together would double check that we have all important stuff. That morning, we got into a minor disagreement and so no one bothered to ask. See why you should always be on happy terms with your spouse?
You can read about our Barbados trip, if you missed it.
Some relatively minor ones include:
~ On our recent trip to the US, we overslept and it was the taxi driver who had come to pick us up that woke us up when he rang the bell! I have no idea how we made that flight. It had to be partially attributed to the fact that because the cab driver was Ghanaian, he understood our rush, and did everything legally possible to get us there in time! We keep comparing this to our trip to South Africa, where due to our house move, we were again rushing. This driver took his sweet time - like he couldn't be bothered if we were late. In the midst of this rush, I keep wondering how people with kids do it. They probably have to wake up 5 hours earlier. And then I remember one of my all time fave Christmas movies - Home Alone, and how due to the rush and wrong head count they left poor Kevin at home!
~ Still on the US, we incurred some administrative car charges again, as we had missed some of the tolls and thus hadn't paid for these.
~ There was one occasion where Tee mixed up his travel dates. After saying good byes and giving hugs to everyone he realised his flight wasn't till the next day. It was pretty embarrassing. To save face, we had to tell some people the flight had been reschuled by the airline.
In hindsight these allow for some good laughs. And they've been a few more. From actual missed flights, to visas denied and damaged luggage. But many could all be curbed and I think we're so much better now - learning from past experiences, being much more organised, and having necessary checklists. This means that our more recent trips have been almost hitch free! Fingers crossed that it continues that way...
Some people have had it much worse: getting robbed, taking another person's luggage, loosing their passports, getting terrible sick (or going into labour on the plane!) and getting lost. Recently, a friend's luggage got lost and he had his wedding suit in there!
But these mishaps don't just happen on international travel. I remember the first ever flight I boarded which was from Lagos to Abuja. It was a school trip organised by Cadbury, and had the title "Bournvita Magic Flight". Before letting me go, my mum had to come to the school school to find out what was so 'magic' about the flight! She wasn't about to take any chances!
Similarly on a road trip from Lagos to Enugu to commence my studies at Nigeria Law school our bus broke down several times and we arrived at Enugu at 3am - and so I had to sleep at the bus park. Thankfully we were quite a number and most people slept there as well.
Travelling can be all fun, but then there's often a bit of stress to it and when you think or remember what could go wrong, it's tempting to sit right at home! But the good times, timeless memories and perks like upgraded flights and hotels bring the itch right back and make it worth it.
Generally speaking, here are a few tips to avoid/deal with travel mishaps:
- Plan - right down to every detail. Research a lot about your destination.
- Always triple check travel documentation, IDs and banks cards. Have a scanned and accessible copy of these on your phone and cloud storage. Have a handy checklists for all other stuff.
- Try as much as possible to be reachable by phone (perhaps get a local sim) and let someone have your itinerary and accommodation details.
- Tag your luggage with your name and address, and a distinguishing item. Have a day or two worth of clothing and important items in your hand luggage. Arrive and drop off your bag early, so it gets loaded to the airplane on time.
- Get travel insurance, and don't forget to take up any necessary claims from the airline or insurance company. We recently got travel vouchers due to a delayed flight.
- Have a sense of humour - because plan as we might, sometimes these things happen. And at the very least, you can write a blog post to of it.
What travel mishap stories - on local or international trips have you encountered or heard of? Any lessons to be learnt? Also share your top tips for dealing with such mishaps!
pS: The photo above is from our trip to Spain, happily munching street food and oblivious of the matters ahead!