On the verge of any big travel adventure, like our upcoming cross-country road trip, I find it’s easy to romanticize everything to come. Picture our little family all smiles, all bliss driving off into the sunset. There’s lots of that, sure. But there just as many real life moments thrown in too, without which, we wouldn’t have the full story. These experiences can be downright terrible at the time, but in the end, are parts of the adventure that make for a good laugh or a really wild story – the grit of any traveler.
Here are ten of our collective family travel fails – from traveling with kids and without. I’m excited to have this post largely written by my husband, Doug. Feels only appropriate that the craziness we lived together, we tell together. And even more appropriate that the guy who makes me laugh all the time, tell most of these stories. Ready?
Meet Doug + our family travel fails.
01. The Lost Wallet
I sort of have this thing about losing my wallet and keys. To the point where it doesn’t even phase Breen when I run into the room in a panic 30 seconds before I need to leave for work and say, “Where is my _____? I can’t find my ______. And I need to leave for work.” But it wasn’t always like this. Rewind to eight hours before our flight leaves for a three week trip to Germany. I can’t find my wallet with all of my IDs, credit cards, debit card and everything else typical adults carry around. What starts as a small search and rescue turns into a full blown panic attack replete with a suicide run to the DMV (unsuccessful), calls to people about wiring money (or if people even still wire money), and a mad dash to the airport. Not amazing and it won’t surprise you to learn this won’t be the last time you hear about the lost wallet in this post.
02. The Rental Car
Hey, remember that lost wallet I was talking about a second ago? Well, apparently German rental car rules are surprisingly similar to U.S. rental car rules in that they kind of want to see driver’s licenses from the renters. Well, that was in my wallet and since Germans are better than us, everyone drives manual transmissions. Breen doesn’t drive stick since she nearly caused a riot at a gas station because she kept stalling out while pulling to the pump. That was the end of it for her. Anyway, we can’t rent the car in Germany because I don’t have ID and to boot Germans laughed at Breen’s Discover Card like it was a forgery of a real credit card. Didn’t help that when we called the International Assistance number on the back of the card it was just some dude’s apartment in Germany. We eventually got the car, though it was so stressful we nearly got divorced over how to put the car seat in.
03. The Electric Fence
So, we get the rental car and Breen pulls it together enough to drive us away to the Alps via the Autobahn, where we find our mountain retreat on a backcountry farm. My daughter and I are taking a walk along the property and since I buried the lead with the title, you know what happens next. She grabs hold of the electric fence lining the neighboring farm and starts screaming bloody murder. I couldn’t figure out what was going on at first, but eventually put it together. Wanting to understand just how she was feeling, I felt a fatherly duty to touch the fence myself. It wasn’t amazing. Because she’s my daughter, she spent much of the rest of our stay insisting I “touch the fence again, Daddy. Touch the fence.” Good kid.
04. The Near Faint
I wasn’t around for this one, but Breen and her girlfriends went to Southeast Asia for a trip I was destined to hear about ad infinitum for the rest of my life. This is the story in her words:
So, it gets pretty hot in Vietnam. I’m sweating everywhere, literally, everywhere. You’d think hydration would be a priority, and I suppose it was. I certainly was drinking what felt like my body weight in water, but apparently, it wasn’t enough. We arrived at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to find the day as hot as ever, the crowds in full force and I’m about to faint. My friends were quick to help get me water and back to our room, but it was close. Domino effect again. The next day, I’m rejuvenated, rehydrated and ready to go. We’re headed to dreamy, Halong Bay (seriously, lovely). But now I have the opposite problem. I’m too hydrated for a four hour bus ride with no toilets. Our one pit stop along the way was only temporary relief. Crazy things can happen when you really need to go to the bathroom and there are few options at hand. I contemplated forgoing my pride, but instead just went into a special place that somehow helped me hold it together. I was a hot mess.
05. The Scorpion
I’m back. On our honeymoon we went to Mexico. After spending many, many days in full sloth mode we decided to actually get out for a day and experience some of the culture and history of the region. What a mistake. After visiting some Aztec ruins, something must have crawled in our bag and hitched a ride back home because later that night a scorpion the size of one of Daenerys’s dragons is climbing the curtains in our room. We, of course, freaked out and called the front desk. Not shockingly, they were slow to respond and sent a guy who either drew the shortest straw or was the lowest on the lowest of totem poles. He half-heartedly swiped the curtain with a broom, the scorpion momentarily disappeared and he concluded the job was done. We wanted to see that thing dead and in a panic began screaming at the dude, “Mira muerte” as the closest approximation to “we want to see it dead” as we could configure. Google translate that for fun.
06. The Catamaran
On this same vacation, Breen and I were feeling adventurous and thought a cool thing would be to learn how to sail. We rented a little catamaran and a guy from the resort came out to “teach” us how to work the thing. He gave a thirty second tutorial in broken English concluding with “And whatever you do, don’t <mumble> <indecipherable word> or else the mast will break and you’ll have to pay for the boat.” Before we could say “Whaaaa?” he jumped off and swam back to shore. We were alone. After a couple of turns around the ocean in which we picked up a bunch of speed only to come to a crashing halt we decided sailing was for the birds. We got the boat pointed toward the beach (no easy feat) picked up a head of steam and crashed it into shore. Hopped out and went back to the open bar.
07. The Evac
After college we took a road trip down South for a little Bourbon Street and some camping along the Gulf. New Orleans was amazing though we kept hearing about a hurricane coming toward the area. Willfully ignoring these warnings we set off to Waveland, MS to camp and kayak. We saw boats coming in droves to shore, though for some reason it seemed like a good idea to rent the campsite for another night. We’d beat the storm in the morning. Nope. Got back and state troopers yelled at us for still being in the area. That’s when we got pretty scared, threw all of our stuff in the car and got out of Dodge. Katrina made landfall 36 hours later.
08. The Forgotten Bags
Another one from Breen:
When our daughter was 18 months old, we made a last minute call to spend a few days in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s only a few hours drive away, so we packed our bags and our bikes and were off. Well, most of our bags. Turned out I forgot my purse at home. Who does that? Okay, so we figure, we have my husband’s wallet; we’re good. We checked into the inn, hopped on our bikes and pedaled down to the nearby beach. When we got there, we realized I hadn’t brought diapers, snacks, water – anything. I felt like a rookie traveler and a rookie parent all wrapped into one. We enjoyed the beach and the lobster roll stand enough to forget about my flubs, but I was so confused. What was going on? I got a good night’s sleep and that seemed to right my brain enough to get it together for the rest of the trip.
09. Hiking Boots
Also from Breen, from the same fainting trip as before:
After grad school, my girlfriends and I backpacked across Southeast Asia. We had to fit everything in our packs so we could easily move around. I thought I was a genius for opting to leave my hiking boots at home. I remember my thought process at the time. Thailand is known for its markets and lower-cost items. Why carry boots the whole time for something I would only use on the days we were in the jungle? I’d get cheaper boots, use them and then pass them along to another traveler or ditch them altogether. Brilliant. Except I missed a few things in this equation. These markets weren’t filled with everything I’d find back home; they were largely populated with Thai things, of course. So the boot selection was pretty slim. And most American women were generally larger than Southeast Asian women. A fact we were reminded of regularly: as we stood head and shoulders above most crowds, as I broke the first plastic chair I sat on at a street vendor’s setup, and as they kept yelling, “get more bamboo!” for our group’s bamboo raft down said Thai jungle tour. So when I stood at the market stall telling the shoe saleswoman that I needed a 9.5 size boot, she openly laughed at me. Women in Asia typically don’t have feet that large. So, while my friends happily wore the hiking shoes they lugged around, my master plan foiled as I purchased the only men’s shoes that would fit. They were soft with soles, that’s about it.
10. The Broken Ankle
And I’m back for the last, but not least. Last summer we had an amazing time spending a month and half with our friends at a summer camp they were running. The last full day there before setting out on a three week camping trip through New England, I was helping one buddy re-side an old barn on the property. On my last trip up the ladder for the day, I realized much, much, much too late that I hadn’t locked the ladder in place. It came crashing down with my ankle taking most of the fall. This set off a chain of events that would take a couple of blog posts to cover. Let’s just say the trip was cancelled and I spent the next eight weeks hobbling around on crutches.
Alright, there we have it. I love having these stories – and Doug to regale them – as much as I love having the adventures themselves. Even though in the moment, these travel fails and other wild travel adventures can be nightmarish, they keep life and travel interesting, to say the least. So, next time I romanticize our travels – and I’m catching myself right now as we leave for our road trip – I need to remind myself of the fails, as often as I think about the beautiful and inspiring parts of our journey ahead. They both will come and both have their place in our memories.
5 Lessons Learned: Traveling Abroad with a Toddler
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