Wrong buses, misplaced luggage, shelling out for that tie-dye vest: travel inevitably goes wrong sometimes. But rather than leaving lifelong emotional scars these ‘mishaps’ can often enhance the travel experience, kindling new adventures, deepening connections to a country and its people or, at the very least, providing a good anecdote.
To celebrate the release of The Solo Travel Handbook, we’ve selected a handful of stories from Lonely Planet staff about their solo travel misadventures, showcasing that sometimes it’s good when things go wrong.
Grounded in Vietnam
Whether it was the repulsive whiff of another cocktail bucket or the sight of a young backpacker showfully setting fire to a delicate part of his anatomy, at 9:30pm on a Tuesday evening I decided it was time to leave Nha Trang.
Salvation, I was sure, awaited me in Hanoi, but when I arrived at the train station I was informed that all overnight trains were fully booked. With a dogged determination that bordered on derangement, I jumped in a taxi and headed for the town’s airport.
An hour later, I arrived at a remote facility that had evidently closed for the night. Cursing my stupidity, I curled up in the deserted car park to sleep, only to be prodded awake by a security guard undergoing his rounds on a dilapidated bicycle. Dutifully abandoning his responsibilities, he spent the night chatting with me. His name was Duc, a chain-smoking Hanoian who had moved to Nha Trang to pursue a fledgling career in security. Between drawn-out drags he explained that his family still owned a restaurant in his hometown, where he insisted I dine upon my eventual arrival. He even called his mum so she would expect me.
After landing in Hanoi the following day, I followed Duc’s directions to his family’s rustic restaurant, burrowed deep within the warren of Old Quarter alleyways. Here, I was treated to the best – and largest – meal I had during my whole time in Vietnam. The best part: not a cocktail bucket in sight.
Jack Palfrey is Assistant Editor of lonelyplanet.com. Follow Jack’s tweets @jpalfers
Lost and lonely in Laos
When travelling alone in Laos, I caught a midday bus heading south from the capital Vientiane to the lesser-visited city of Savannakhet. Unfortunately, the bus dropped me outside of town in the middle of the night. No one was around. I checked my map and realised the old town where I could find accommodation was at least a 2km walk away, so I put my backpack on and headed east.
Street lights are a rare treat in this part of the world and I quickly found myself wandering down a dark suburban road. The terrifying barks of guard dogs drowned out the crickets that had been keeping my spirits up and it wasn't long before tears were streaming down my face as I contemplated sleeping in a ditch for the night.
Suddenly, I heard the high-pitched whine of a scooter coming straight towards me. I couldn't see the rider but ran out and flagged him down. A young man, probably about 16 years old, pulled over looking very confused by the sight of a chubby white girl crying in the middle of nowhere. I showed him my map and motioned that I needed a bed. He put me on the back of his bike and we sped into town through the warm night air. I clung to him for dear life. I was so utterly relieved by the kindness of this stranger I actually started laughing out loud. And then he did too.
When he got me to a hostel, he banged on the door until someone came out to let me in. It was a small gesture – but the lesson has stayed with me on all my travels since. And every time I've had the opportunity, I have done the same for other lost souls – paying it forward.
Tasmin Waby is Lonely Planet’s Destination Editor for Australia and the Pacific. Follow Tasmin’s tweets @TravellingTaz
Marooned in the Mojave Desert
Contentedly cruising through the Californian stretch of the Mojave Desert in a fast car, I stopped just beyond walking distance to the dust-swirled town of Twentynine Palms to pee against a cactus. On returning to the Chevrolet Corvette I’d borrowed, I found that the doors had somehow locked. Blipping the key fob and all other attempts to open them failed.
I called for breakdown assistance and was told it would be seven hours in coming, and – even less helpfully – that the activities of a nearby secret military base could well have fried my car’s electronics. At midday, with summer temperatures peaking at 48 °C (120 °F), I began to cook. Sweaty and downtrodden, I accepted a passing local’s offer of a lift to the nearest diner.
I have the warmest memories of an afternoon spent in that perfectly air-conditioned place, eating vast mounds of waffles and ice cream, listening to vintage country and western on the jukebox and making new friends.
Eventually the guy driving the breakdown lorry collected me, en route to getting the Corvette up-and-running again in seconds. The major delay led to the greatest drive of my life, winding through Joshua Tree National Park with the roof folded back and the sky exploding in a desert sunset.
Peter Grunert is Group Editor of Lonely Planet magazines. Follow Peter’s tweets @peter_grunert
Blue and bagless in Mozambique
I'd just crossed from Malawi into Mozambique and was feeling somewhat disorientated when I attempted to change some currency with a local black market dealer. Moments later, just after I'd placed my bag on the back of a flatbed truck that I was about to ride east for a few hundred kilometres, I realised that the dealer's calculator must have been rigged – I'd been fleeced out of US$20. I quickly tracked him down and as we had a polite disagreement, the truck – and my bag – pulled away. I chased it, but the driver didn't stop.
Dejected, I sat on the curb and wondered what more could go wrong. Miraculously, the truck returned with my bag 15 minutes later – it turned out the driver was just patrolling for more passengers! Elated, I hopped onto the truck’s flatbed. My relief must have been obvious to the other passengers who, sensing my stressful day, went above and beyond to lift my spirits.
As we trundled toward the coast with arms locked and legs dangling over the sides of the truck, they offered me sugarcane – along with a vital lesson on how to correctly chew it – and when we stopped at a roadside stall for roasted chicken, a fellow passenger paid for my meal. From feeling exploited to feeling like part of the family – it was quite a day; since then, the generosity and hospitality of African people has never ceased to amaze me.
Matt Phillips is Lonely Planet’s Destination Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa. Follow Matt’s tweets @Go2MattPhillips
Third-wheeling on Venice’s waterways
Booking tours can be a challenge for the solo traveller. Advance bookings restrict spontaneous adventures, but waiting to form a band of new-found comrades may mean you miss out on hot ticket experiences. And, of course, solo travellers are always at the mercy of the ‘minimum persons required’ rule.
Such was my luck when I went on a kayaking tour in Venice. Not wanting to risk the tour selling out, I jumped onto a trip that had already reached its minimum booking of two people. Little did I realise that those two people were a couple. Celebrating their recent engagement.
The couple were so embarrassed to find this beaming British girl stuffed into a wetsuit at the start of their hot date that they swiftly swapped their tandem canoe for individual kayaks. If two's company, three was the most awkward crowd ever, and we took to the water in relative silence, exchanging forced smiles.
Fortunately we all got on great, and the tour itself – which I wouldn’t have been able to undertake alone – was a highlight of my trip. Though I do occasionally feel pangs of guilt when I think of them sifting through their holiday snaps to find their amorous boating escapades photobombed by a shrieking British girl colliding with a gondola.
Louise Bastock is Assistant Editor of lonelyplanet.com. Follow Louise’s tweets @LouiseBastock