Traveling is amazing – but it certainly isn’t perfect. I am so thankful that 2017 has been full of travel and adventures. As I look back on my year, it is hard to pick out a favorite moment because there were just so many good ones! It isn’t hard, however, to recall my biggest travel blunders of 2017. So here’s to the less glamorous side of travel and the mistakes I (hopefully) won’t be making in 2018!
Overpaying for train tickets from Paris to Brussels
When my sister came to visit me in Brussels for the holidays, we knew we wanted to do a weekend trip to Paris. I looked into train tickets and found tickets that were about $60 each way per person. My gut told me that $60 each way was a bit pricey, but I did some light price shopping and I couldn’t find any better deals. I figured since it was near the holidays, that was just the price I’d have to pay.
On our departure from Brussels to Paris, the only tickets available were “Premium” tickets that were about $3 more, refundable, and included tons of perks we didn’t need. I felt weird about spending so much, but it was my sister and it was Paris so I went ahead and booked them. The return tickets from Paris to Brussels were standard, nonrefundable.
The next day, I was taking the metro in Brussels when I saw a billboard advertising 2 for 1 train tickets from Brussels to Paris for $29. Surely I couldn’t have missed this deal in my researching! This had to be too good to be true.
I got home and looked up IZY, the train company offering the special, and there it was, two for one train tickets from Brussels to Paris for $29 each way – at the same day and same time as my original tickets. How did I miss this!?
I was able to refund the Brussels to Paris tickets since they were premium and refundable, but the return tickets from Paris to Brussels tickets were set in stone. I got a great deal for our departure tickets ($29 for BOTH of us) but I seriously overpaid for our return tickets ($120 for both of us, ugggg).
Lesson learned: if it feels like you are overpaying for train tickets, spend time price shopping and if a refundable ticket is only $3 more, get it!
Not checking the opening hours for Manuel Antonio Park
When dad and I traveled to Costa Rica, one of the sights we were most excited about seeing was Manuel Antonio Park. This beachfront rainforest is a major tourist destination and it kept popping up as a “must-see” place. We didn’t have a strict schedule on our trip, but we knew for sure we wanted to see Manuel Antonio.
We decided to make the long drive to Manuel Antonio on Sunday afternoon and then spend the entire day in the park on Monday. Then we would drive to San Jose Tuesday morning to catch our flight.
With visions of beautiful beaches and sloth sightings in our heads, we drove to the park Monday morning only to learn that it was closed on Mondays. I never even considered that a national park might be closed one day of the week, but I’m learning that many attractions and national parks are closed on Mondays.
Thankfully, the beach beside Manuel Antonio park was still quite lovely. We spent a day exploring the beach and the surrounding town, so we definitely made the best of it. Manuel Antonio Park, you are on my list next time I’m in Costa Rica!
Lesson learned: always check the website for opening hours before driving halfway across a country to see an attraction.
Not carrying cash for the metro in Brussels
My first time taking the Metro in Brussels, I didn’t realize that the automatic ticket machines only accept coins – no cash. There were ticket vendor counters where travelers can purchase tickets, but those were closed.
Of course, I didn’t have enough coins with me to get my ticket, and since my travel credit card required a signature, I couldn’t use my card to get the tickets. I was far from home and didn’t have data on my phone to look up the way back on foot.
Thankfully, a nice person walking by noticed my trouble and offered to get my ticket for me, which was such a kind thing to do.
Lesson learned: always carry cash and coins when taking the Metro.
Walking into a pole in London
Within two hours of landing in London, I walked head-on into a metal pole because I was, no joke, looking at a cute dog. I hit my face directly into the pole, hard. I broke the skin over my eyebrow and my bloody disoriented face was probably a sight for all to behold. I was able to find a pharmacy that sold antiseptic so I could clean the cut and now I have a tiny scar.
Luckily, I didn’t need any serious medical attention, but I still felt pretty ridiculous to get that bruised up because I was looking at… a cute dog.
Lesson learned: Always travel with travel medical insurance. You might walk into a pole.
The most nauseating bus ride ever from Hastings to London
It was 8:00 am and I was running through the cobbled streets of Hastings frantically looking for my bus to London. I just assumed the bus would pick me up at the main bus station in town, but when I arrived my bus was nowhere to be found.
A kind bus driver hanging out outside the station told me that many buses pick people up at regular city bus stops. Great. He pointed me in a vague direction and said: “hurry.”
Thankfully, I ended up finding the bus stop with seconds to go. Sweaty under my layers of winter clothes, I boarded the crowded, hot bus. We set off lurching and swaying up and down windy coastal roads.
The combination of the frantic run to the bus stop, the stifling artificial bus heat, and the frequent switchbacks was a recipe for disaster. I began to feel so carsick I almost asked the driver to pull over.
It was the longest and most nauseating bus ride of my life.
My trusty sea bands were no match for this journey. Hastings is only supposed to be 2.5 hours from London but due to traffic, we ended up trapped in our hot bus for double the time.
Sometimes I get lucky and charter busses don’t make me sick. This wasn’t one of those times. I should have prepared by buying anti-nausea medicine, but I didn’t think of it until it was too late.
Lesson learned: if you get the slightest bit car sick, always travel with anti-nausea medicine.
The world’s worst hostel roommates
When my sister visited for the holidays, we took a short trip from Brussels to Paris, followed by a day trip from Brussels to Brugge. We would be arriving in Brussels from Paris on Saturday evening and leaving Brussels for our Brugge tour first thing Sunday morning.
We decided to stay in a central hostel so that we wouldn’t have to commute so far to the tour in the morning. We thought we would get more sleep and it would just be more convenient. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.
We had an amazing night out in Brussels and around midnight, we made our way back to our hostel. It was empty and about 100 degrees, so we opened the window and tried to get some sleep. The heat and the loud music coming from the streets kept us awake for the next two hours, then the fun really started.
First, two travelers ripe from a night of partying arrived around 2:30 am. They were very loud, having a full-blown conversation and watching YouTube videos together. Finally, they went to sleep and promptly began snoring loudly, like two foghorns, getting louder and louder and louder until they stopped, hacked, rolled over, and started over again.
This continued until all of us were woken up by our second guest, who is unremarkable except for his dramatic tumble. He came in quietly at 3:45 am and was getting ready for bed when he tripped over a metal stool that crashed to the floor. He groaned in pain and hopped around the room, knocking over more bags in the process.
The metal stool bounced several times before settling, each time with a loud metallic clank. The dust settled and he went to bed. Within moments, the snoring duet became a trio.
At one point, the party on the street outside got particularly loud and Snorer #1 (the loudest of the snorers) woke up. He walks to the window and closes it, saying “man this city is noisy at night.” You don’t say, snoring guy?
Enter roommate three. Let’s call him Chip. Chip rolled in around 4:45 am and did his nightly routine without waking any of the snoring ensemble. But then, he gets into bed and begins eating what sounds like an entire family-size bag of chips, loudly. Chomp. Chomp. Slow rhythmic chomping against the backdrop of snores. Chomp. Chomp.
At 5:30 am, a phone starts blaring. Not like a normal ring tone, but like a song from the intro of a kid’s TV show or something. It is going off at full volume but everyone seems to be sleeping right through it. Finally, Snorer #2 realizes that the phone belongs to Chip, so he wakes him up. “Hey man, cool ringtone.” Chip apologizes and everyone in the room is wide awake.
By this point, we know we have to be awake and leaving for our train in about three hours, so we try to salvage as much sleep as we can. The snoring continues. I’m not exaggerating when I say we got zero sleep that night. Looking back, we laugh about this night to this day. But at the time, oh boy this night was tough.
Lesson learned: you’re trying to get a good night of sleep, a ten-bed dorm in a cheap hostel might not be the best option.