It is a truth universally acknowledged that, despite countless hours of research, sometimes even the most eagerly anticipated trips can go spectacularly wrong.

Whether it was a poor choice of hotel, hiring an inept tour guide or trying those month-old 'freshly caught oysters', one poor decision can scar your experience of a great destination and leave you wishing you’d done things differently.

In celebration of these only-funny-in-retrospect moments, we’ve coerced a selection of Lonely Planet staff into reliving their travel traumas, and explaining how they'd avoid a repeat if they ever retraced their steps.

Mayan ruins of Copan, Honduras © Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock
Calming forests surround the town of Copán Ruinas, but James's 'tour' was far from relaxing © Inspired By Maps / Shutterstock

A hair-raising horseback tour of Honduras

I signed up for a riding tour of the countryside near Copán Ruinas against my better judgement. I distrust horses. I asked for a nag, a plodder, a laggard – the slower, the better; alas, my meek-looking pinto bolted within minutes of me clambering on its back.

So much for appreciating my surroundings. I didn’t see any members of my tour party for the next hour; didn’t see much at all, in fact, as my eyes were squeezed shut for 75% of the ensuing uncontrolled gallop. Which is a shame because, as I later discovered, the countryside is beautiful.

By the time the foaming beast finally tired of my terror and returned from whence it came, with me clinging half on, half off the saddle as it trotted into the stable yard, I had lost my precious Tilley hat, not to mention my dignity. And very nearly my wits. Carlos, my guide, chuckled, shook his head and said: ‘This little one has a fiery temper, no?’ Could have punched him, but he had a gun.

Next time: I'd take a two-footed tour. Of the many modes of transport available to travellers, my considered opinion is that nothing beats a walk.

James Kay is the Editor of Follow James’ tweets @jameskay123

An aerial shot of the large Maria Theresien Platz public square in Vienna, which is filled with people © photosounds / Shutterstock
Vienna is renowned for its baroque streetscapes, musical heritage and coffee culture; unfortunately, Niamh didn't get to experience them © photosounds / Shutterstock

In the doghouse in Vienna

Towards the end of a whirlwind summer spent trundling around Europe on trains, a group of friends and I arrived in Vienna, eager to ogle the Austrian capital’s imperial palaces and grand concert halls.

The problem was, we were skint, and the whole trip had been very capricious, so we didn't think anything of buying dog passes for the U-Bahn to save a grand total of 50c.

I barely had a chance to poke my head out from the underground station and look around before realising a particularly wide-eyed member of our group had been stopped by a ticket inspector.

After failing to talk our way out of trouble in a myriad of broken languages, we all chipped in for the €60 fine. This badly ate into our limited funds and – accepting the event as a negative omen – we decided to scoot on out of Vienna on the same day, meaning we totally missed this gorgeous city. We sprung for adult-fare tickets on our trudge back to the train station.

Next time: I would prioritise the booze budget less and not be too tight to buy a human-fare ticket.

Niamh O'Brien is Lonely Planet’s Multi-Regional Destination Editor. Follow Niamh on Instagram @niamhtroody

A dirty hotel room with unmade beds and bare walls © Antlio / Shutterstock
Orla's trip to Tokyo was soured by a night in a dodgy hotel © Antlio / Shutterstock

Not feeling the love in Tokyo

My now-husband and I visited Tokyo, where a friend kindly let us crash on his futon, and decided it would be fun to spend a night ticking off some classic Japanese experiences.

After sushi and sake, vending machine beers and karaoke bar cocktails, we spontaneously decided to check in at a 'love hotel', having heard about their playful, kitsch designs. Roaming the Shibuya district, we discovered most had no room, but eventually found a vacancy.

After posting a credit card through a mysterious hatch, we were buzzed in by an unseen proprietor but were dismayed to discover there was no love in this hotel. The room was cramped, grey and stank of cigarettes. A thick plastic sheet lurked under nylon bed linens, and faulty air conditioning meant the room was boiling hot. A single plastic rose in a vase on the bedside table was the only nod to romance, and to top it all off our stay cost a fortune.

Next time: I'd research the best options beforehand – and save money by opting for a ‘rest’ stay of a few hours, rather than an overnight.

Orla Thomas is Features Editor of Lonely Planet magazine. Follow Orla’s tweets @OrlaThomas

Colourful houses overlooking the Nyhavn canal in Copenhagen © LaMiaFotografia / Shutterstock
Copenhagen's colourful restaurants overlooking the Nyhavn canal were beyond Megan's budget on her ill-fated trip to Denmark © LaMiaFotografia / Shutterstock

Cashless in Copenhagen

When I was a master’s degree student, I used up my entire semester's financial aid to book an ill-advised trip for myself and my best friend to the non-budget destination of Copenhagen.

When we got there, the first thing that happened was my friend’s camera got stolen while we were using the internet cafe in the railway station. This incident set the tone of the trip.

We were so skint we ate at the same Chinese buffet once per day. We avoided Nyhavn and the lure of its (pricey, at least to us) harbourside cafes with their Scandi-cool coffees. We skipped Rosenborg Slot and didn’t even consider springing for tickets to Tivoli Gardens. Worse still, we didn’t sample a single glass of Copenhagen’s renowned craft beer.

Instead of designer Danish digs, we stayed in a couchsurfing flat where our host engaged in loud all-night copulation in the room next to our sofa-bed, the only thing separating us being a grotty old sheet strung up across the threshold as a 'door'. The final night, we slept on the floor of Copenhagen Airport to avoid a repeat.

Next time: I’d go back with enough cash to enjoy Copenhagen’s beautiful sights and have a proper Scandinavian coffee. And a hotel room.

Megan Eaves is Lonely Planet’s Destination Editor of North Asia. Follow Megan’s tweets @megoizzy

People relax under palm trees near Cenang beach on Langkawi island, Malaysia © karnizz / Getty Images
A day spent lazing on a Langkawi beach left Simon in a world of pain © karnizz / Getty Images

Laid up in Langkawi

With a copy of Michael Palin's Halfway to Hollywood tucked under one arm and a folding chair in the other, I strolled happily onto the beach outside my hut on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. It was morning. The beach was almost empty, the sea was shimmering and the sky cloudless.

There I was, chortling away, when I realised just how hot it was – and how long I’d been sitting in the sun. With no shade. And no water. ‘Was this bad?’ I thought to myself. ‘Probably,’ I decided.

It wasn't until the evening that I started to feel a chill creep up on me, a prelude to the worst heatstroke I've ever had; the fever left me bedbound, forcing me to drink approximately 37 litres of water a day and pour roughly the same on my head.

Plans to see Langkawi Sky Bridge, the majestic 12-metre statue of an eagle taking flight at Dataran Lang, and the bound-to-be-thrilling-because-I-love-aquariums aquarium were put on hold. But as soon as I recovered and stopped vomiting, it was time to leave.

Next time: I would probably not sit on the beach all morning without any water or shade. In fact, I’d just stay inside.

Simon Hoskins is Lonely Planet’s Brand Copywriter. Follow Simon on Instagram @simon.hoskins

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Explore related stories

Ksamil in Albania; Shutterstock ID 1266913741; GL: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial ; full: Where to go in Europe in August; name: Alex Butler
The Ksamil resort area in Albania.


The best places to go in Europe in August

Jun 13, 2024 • 6 min read