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Lonely Planet’s travel fails: mistakes, mishaps and embarrassment on the road

By Anita Isalska   22 June 2013 1:54am Europe/London

At Lonely Planet, we know travel – but that doesn’t mean we always get it right. We asked Lonely Planet staff and authors about mistakes they’ve made on the road, and they shared embarrassing encounters, transport disasters and some highly regrettable kebabs. Here are some of Lonely Planet’s best (and most cringe-worthy) travel fails.

Lost your way? Image by tabsinthe. CC BY 2.0.Lost your way? Image by tabsinthe. CC BY 2.0.

Fogged up at India’s Taj Mahal

After a romantic stay in Varanasi, we were newly engaged and giddy with excitement. The final leg of our trip would be a 12-hour overnight train to Agra. Unfortunately the train took a full 27 hours, which we spent in an overbooked 2nd class sleeper that hadn’t been cleaned since the previous passengers.  Despite sharing a tiny bunk with no linen or food (we only had a few Pringles to keep us going), our excitement to see the Taj Mahal hadn’t dimmed.

We arrived the following evening, missing the day we’d planned to explore Agra. Our train back to Delhi for an onward flight was at 8am the next morning, so we awoke at 5am, still determined to see the Taj. We were stunned to see a shroud of fog so thick that it completely obscured the Taj Mahal. These days I joke that I touched the Taj, but never actually got to see it.

Anna Parker, Research Analyst in LP’s London office

Iconic, impressive, invisible? Anna in front of the Taj Mahal. Image by Anna Parker.

Lost in translation in Mexico

I speak Spanish learned in Spain where it’s perfectly acceptable to say ‘voy a coger el autobus ’ (take the bus). Unfortunately when I was in Mexico and I used the same phrase I was actually saying I was going to do something unspeakable to the bus…

Becky Henderson, Foreign Rights Manager

Chivalry lives in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia

Take a hungry wife. Add a prawn massaman curry. Combine with a recent history of tummy trouble. And stand well back. Or not, in my case, as a husband can’t just sit on his hands (or stifle hysterical laughter with them) when the rendang hits the fan. My beloved can’t have been more than halfway through her meal when it happened: that bowel-emptying spasm familiar to many a hardened traveller. I didn’t need to be told any more; the expression, the raised eyebrows, the hint of self-loathing – all bore eloquent testimony to her predicament, which was amplified by the choice of a short, clingy dress. Improvisation was key here: I excused myself, purchased a copy of the Langkawi Gazette from the kiosk outside, then fashioned a makeshift ‘skirt’ of newspaper to drape casually over her nether regions. We waited until the nearest patrons were probing their own meals, then paid the bill and shuffled in lockstep – with a telltale ruffle of newsprint – toward the exit.

James Kay, Digital Editor

Marooned on a pedalo

Travel involving sport is not my thing. Although I’ve hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge, biked around Lake Bled and scuba-dived in Croatia it has always been with a sense of my own impending doom.  However, in Riva del Garda I was presented with something that could scarcely be described as an extreme pursuit: a pedalo ride.  After setting off, it was evident that I had natural talent and with the James Bond theme echoing in my head, I began to push the limits of my new-found skill.  Sure, we could steam through the main arch in the moat of Riva’s castle, but why not go through the smaller arch – the one with craggy rocks surrounding it?  There was a loud, sudden crunch that vibrated below our feet and we stopped moving.  Fifteen minutes later completely devoid of movement but full of crunching sounds, we began to get the attention of the tourists ahead.  We soon had a mob on our hands, shouting advice and catcalling in multiple languages.  They got a hell of a show; I fell in the moat twice, my first mate burst into hysterical tears and nautical English swear words punctuated the air.  To a wave of applause, we eventually got ourselves free and with seaweed wrapped around my hands, I gave our fans a final naval salute.

Joe Revill, Foreign Rights Coordinator

Pedalos - hopefully with a capable crew. Image by Irene Grassi. CC BY-SA 2.0.Pedalos – hopefully with a capable crew. Image by Irene Grassi. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Orange you glad you packed mosquito repellent?

While backpacking across Europe we had to spend a night in a tiny Greek train station before our onward connection to Istanbul. I was paranoid I would be bitten by mosquitoes – I’m like catnip to bitey things, which can make for an uncomfortable holiday. I must have applied repellent in my sleep (and pretty furiously at that) because when I woke up I was bright orange, from head to toe. I had to wash my foul-smelling ‘tan’ off at a water pump with all the locals pointing and laughing at me.

Jo Cooke, Associate Publisher in LP’s London office

My British tourist shame

In Chile in 1998 I was keen to hide my Britishness in order to avoid unwanted attention. The British government, you see, had just arrested General Pinochet the former Chilean dictator and British travellers had been advised to lie a little low.

When asked by Chilean teenager in the laid-back seaside town of La Serena where I was from I thought for a second and, reasoning it was unlikely anyone would call my bluff, claimed I was from Holland. Said teenager then began to speak to me in what seemed to be fluent Dutch. I was exposed and gobsmacked, and so confessed to my English nationality.

For the remainder of my stay in the town I was hooted at by the young man’s friends not for being British but for trying to hide it in such a ham-fisted fashion.

Tom Hall, Editor of lonelyplanet.com

Takeaway during a Chinese typhoon

During a volunteer teaching trip to eastern China one summer, a typhoon hit the town where my group was staying. We were barricaded inside our guesthouse, which flooded over the entire ground floor, for several days. The first night, we watched a van being washed away as the canal just outside slowly overflowed. We’d stocked up foodstuffs (read: wine, crisps and Oreos) for the first day, not realising the severity of the situation. We eventually had to hail down a rickshaw driver from our guesthouse window to deliver us instant noodles, which we pulled up on a makeshift rope made of bedsheets.

Megan Eaves, Online Content Producer

Not quite the Venice of the East – Megan’s view over the flooded streets. Image by Megan Eaves.

Bullied by hair-braiders in Bali

Kuta, Bali. I am 23 and on the first day of my world travels. Braving the markets I am bullied into hair plaiting for which a price has not been agreed. I pay what seems fair and flee, pursued by a posse of threatening young men. Outside my bungalow they loiter with intent; night soon draws in. The ‘emergency’ 20-dollar note gifted by a friend is retrieved from my backpack and relinquished. I am alone.

Sarah Bennett, Lonely Planet Author

Stranded in Uruguay’s dullest town

The closest I’ve come to death by boredom was when I travelled overland from Uruguay to the Iguazu Falls. Unfortunately, I got the bus connection wrong so ended up spending 10 daylight hours in a small town where the only thing of interest was a collection of perfume bottles from the 1950s. I was on my own, I’d finished my book and there was no internet café. By the end of the day, I had resorted to making patterns in my skin with the prongs of a plastic fork. The café waitress seemed unconcerned…

Dora Whitaker, Commissioning Editor in LP’s London office (bruises easily)

So close, yet so far from my hostel

Having spent spent most of my day travelling from Hiroshima to Osaka, navigating the bullet train, subway system, traffic and pedestrians, I finally arrived outside my hostel… only to find I don’t have a booking. After checking in anyway, I head outside to look around – and find the actual hostel I’ve booked next door.

Drew Miller, UI Developer

Abandoning a car in Iceland

My friends and I spent a glorious week driving Iceland’s 832-mile Ring Road. It’s a major route, but there are still unpaved and rocky stretches. At the trip’s end, about 50 miles from Reykjavik, our rental car let out a metallic clank which devolved into wailing screech, so we had to abandon it in a parking lot. Fortunately, the rental company was used to this sort of thing and said they’d find it and pick it up for us so we could make our flight (which we did, by bus instead).

Rachel Berg, Content Producer in Lonely Planet’s Oakland office

Rachel’s rental car on its last legs. Image by Rachel Berg.

Hungover in Hong Kong

‘Airport bus?’ we screeched at the bewildered taxi driver, expertly brandishing our battered maps after 3 months on the road. Off we trundled into the Happy Valley rush hour, having awoken in a panicked haze of pounding headaches minutes earlier. Not a bus stop in sight… Finally, Bus A-something! The minutes ticked by until, amidst some far-flung industrial estate, we realised this was not the speedy route we were counting on. 9am, Hong Kong International Airport. Flight boarding. We heard the sound of our final, very expensive flight from Hong Kong back to London leaving without us.

Isabella Noble, freelance travel writer

Regrettable Chinese kebab

My travel buddies and I saw a lovely little kebab vendor in the middle of a park in Yangshuo, China, and ordered what we thought was lamb with noodles and fresh chillies. It tasted unusually gristly so we double checked with the vendor, as best we could with limited Mandarin, what we were actually eating, to which he replied to me ‘meow, meow’ and my friend ‘ruff, ruff’. I’ve been a vegetarian ever since.

Rosi Croom, Admin Assistant


Have you failed harder than this on your travels? Tweet your own travel failures @lonelyplanet using the hashtag #oopsLP or share them on our Thorn Tree Travel forum.