Travel disasters tend to occur regularly. It’s just how it is. Usually at the time it feels like the end of the world. In hindsight though, most of the situations we have thought were disastrous turned out just fine in the end. Now they make for some great stories and a laugh at ourselves. Here are some of those stories.
Singapore – Bruised Legs and DVT
This disaster was on our first family trip into South East Asia. I was planning it for months, and there was so much to fit into our limited time in Singapore that I had scheduled almost every minute. We landed in Singapore early in the morning after an overnight flight from Australia. After dropping off our bags we immediately head out to get our bearings. The rest of the day we were on our feet walking, despite the heat and humidity. The next day we got up early to go to the Singapore Zoo. We had a great day walking around looking at the exhibits until closing time. Rather than calling it a day, we waited until the Night Safari opened and spent the evening walking around there too.
It was close to midnight when we got back to our accommodation. I had noticed on the bus on the way back my calves felt rather tight. We were walking a lot and I just thought my legs were tired. The next morning I had what looked like huge bruises on the insides of both calves. On closer inspection it looked like hundreds of tiny broken blood vessels. My legs had no pain, it just looked bad.
So sticking to my schedule, we head out again, and enjoy a cruise up and down the river before stopping for lunch at Clarke Quay. At some point during lunch the penny dropped that this bruising could actually be a symptom of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). After all, we had just done a long haul flight! And worse, we were flying again the next day, although a much shorter flight to Kuala Lumpur. I was in a quandary – get this checked out or stick to my schedule? The schedule is not to be messed with! And DVT would mess big time with the schedule for the whole holiday.
Simon talked me into getting it checked out. After a quick Google, we headed to the nearest hospital in Singapore. This was a Saturday, so outpatients was busy. The hospital was as good as any here in Australia, and the service was actually much quicker. The doctor thought it could be DVT and arranged for a blood test to be done. The results would take around three hours, so we went to explore some nearby markets, returning at the given time. The blood test was inconclusive, again showing DVT was a possibility. Come back on Monday for an ultrasound was the advice. Only problem was I was going to be in KL by then, with a flight in between, and I didn’t want to fly with DVT. So the hospital arranged to call someone in who would do the ultrasound then and there.
The results? No DVT. The only thing they could put the bruising down to was too much walking in the heat. The heat just didn’t agree with my body. My legs have been fine since. Our afternoon that was to be spent on Sentosa was crammed into an hour or two the next morning before our flight out. We still haven’t been back there to explore properly.
Dubai – The Second Airport
Did you know Dubai has a two airports? Our Qatar Airways flight was flying out of the second one and I was keen to try it out. The airport, officially called Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), is in Jebel Ali, right at the opposite end of the city to the main airport (DXB). We were staying with a relative in Silicon Oasis which, in Dubai terms, is not far from DXB.
Our flight was at 9am and knowing it would be about an hour to get to DWC we booked a taxi for 6am to be at the airport two hours before the flight. The taxi driver obeyed the speed limits, a first for us in Dubai! We arrive at DWC to find it deserted. This can’t be good! As we talked to the lone staff member, the taxi driver finally finds the accelerator and speeds off into the distance as fast as he could go. The lone airport staff member was fantastic! Not only was he able to tell us our flight had been cancelled five days before, he was able to look up which flight we had been put on instead. If only Qantas (our booking was with them) did that some time before now!
Now we had to get back to DXB to get on a 9:45am flight and not a taxi in sight! Our new friend made a quick phone call, and in minutes a taxi arrived. I have no idea where he could have been as this airport really is out in the middle of nowhere. It was starting to get tight now for time, but this taxi driver was fantastic. We flew down Emirates Road at speeds that were only slightly less scary than the thought of missing our flight. We had to laugh as he slowed down at various points, telling us that’s where the speed cameras were!
On arrival at DXB there was a big sigh of relief! We’d made it! Except when we went to check in we were told we don’t have confirmed seats as we hadn’t contacted the airline after they changed the flights. “Please take a seat Ma’am while we sort it out”. Another half an hour passes – surely they must be about to start boarding? I asked again. The check-in lady handed us boarding passes with no explanation for the delay. We run to security and immigration, getting to our plane as it was boarding. Phew! The closest I’ve come to missing a flight.
Izmir – When Prepaying Goes Wrong
Earlier this year we travelled to Turkey. Right before we went there were some terrible terrorist attacks and everyone was telling us not to go. This meant we were on high alert, and were being a little more attentive to our safety than we may have been otherwise.
With this in mind, I prepaid for a transfer from the Airport to our hotel instead of catching the train or even a taxi after a 1am arrival in Izmir on our first night in Turkey. Having someone standing and waiting for us with a sign felt like a safer option than wandering around looking for the train and then for the hotel. Sounds like a good plan!
Except there was no man with a sign. So we waited. Soon the airport emptied out as there didn’t seem to be any other flights arriving or departing. The shuttle buses left, and the unused taxis headed back to town. We were really not feeling very comfortable. As we hunted through our paperwork to find the international phone number to call the transfer company, our ride finally arrived – 45 minutes late. Oh well, at least he was here.
We sit back and enjoy the ride into town, and eventually pull up outside our hotel. Or at least it was A hotel! We had booked to stay at the Doubletree by Hilton. The driver had just dropped us off at the Hilton instead. There is a distinctive difference. Unfortunately our driver did not speak a word of English, so we couldn’t get through to him it was the wrong place. He just kept pointing and saying Hilton! Okay, we thought, maybe it was different in Turkey, and maybe we weren’t thinking straight at 2am.
No, we were right! The Hilton people directed us a few hundred metres down the street to the Doubletree. So despite all my planning, we were still walking through the streets of Izmir in the early hours of the morning with our backpacks looking for our accommodation!
Hanoi – Terrifying Taxi Ride
I almost didn’t put this in here. I mean, a taxi driver ripping us off in Vietnam is more normal than not from what I’ve heard. This taxi ride was just a little bit scarier than most.
We had arrived in Hanoi at around 5am on an overnight train from Sapa and needed to get a taxi to the airport. We left the station while it was still dark and jumped into a taxi. Before we left, there was a brawl amongst the taxi drivers with about five other drivers yelling in Vietnamese at and pushing our driver. The taxi driver eventually agreed to something and they let him get in the taxi. We gave directions to go to the airport, an immediately realised our driver didn’t understand English – or at least claimed he didn’t.
Once on the road the driver made a phone call and another animated conversation ensued in Vietnamese. I had read about a scam that happened involving a phone call to someone while you were in the taxi, so I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. We then stopped in a place that the taxi driver said was his office, and he got out and went inside for a few minutes. We may have jumped out of the taxi then If it wasn’t 5am, and we didn’t have our kids with us. But in an unknown part of the city, in the dark, with kids, we decided to stay.
We started driving again, but after a while I said to Simon “He’s going the wrong way – the airport is north and we are going south!” Again we questioned the driver, who just kept pointing forward and saying “airport”. I kept talking a lot about going the wrong way. It wasn’t long before we changed roads and began to head in the correct direction. I acted like I knew exactly what I was talking about, something I tried a few more times during our trip to Vietnam. The behaviour of someone I was sure was trying to rip us off seemed to change.
We made it to the airport, the meter showing nearly 50% more than what a taxi ride should have cost us. We just paid it without arguing. I am still not sure if the taxi driver planned something more sinister, but this definitely changed the way we take taxis when travelling.
London – Tube Trouble
Last year we travelled to London with both our kids. We had caught the Tube multiple times making our way around the city. On this particular occasion as we came down the stairs the train was already at the station. We all jumped on – or at least three of us did! The doors closed before my eldest daughter could get on. We were heading back to where we were staying only a couple of stops away. Thank goodness my daughter was 18 and old enough to work this out for herself without panicking. She was still pretty grumpy with us. From then on we were much more careful to make sure we could all get on before the train took off again.
Istanbul – When Terrible Events Fix My Mistake
This happened before we had even left home to go on our trip. I had spent months trying to decide if we were going to do a particular tour of Istanbul. It was a back street tour, so heading to places off the beaten track. It sounded fantastic, and had really good reviews, but it cost $200US each just for a day tour. That pushed my budget to the limit. I finally bit the bullet and booked the tour with only a couple of weeks to go until we left.
Just days later we heard in the news about the terrible bombing on Istikal Street in Istanbul. Within the hour I received an email from the tour company cancelling the tour I had booked – for the next day! I had inadvertently booked the tour for the wrong month. The tour company happily changed our tour to the correct dates as then they didn’t have to refund us and loose business. We were so lucky to avoid an expensive error.
What disasters and mishaps have you had while travelling? I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one these things happen to!
Looking for more disasters? Read about some of our more recent travel mishaps in Our Ten Biggest Gap Year Failures
A friendly reminder – while my disasters were relatively mild, things can and do go wrong while travelling. I am a firm believer in always purchasing travel insurance, and for our gap year we went with Cover-more. It was a close call, but in the end they provided a better cover for our circumstances. We have made a few small claims, and the process has been stress free and timely. For my Australian readers, click through here to have a look at what they offer and see if they suit your travel. They even provide a free international SIM card with any purchase for peace of mind.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.