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The good times may be sweet, but the bad times keep you humble! I firmly believe that, and that’s why I always write about my worst travel moments of the year. I love looking back and remembering the bad, scary, and oftentimes funny moments that happened on my travels.
This is one of my favorite posts to write and one of your favorite posts to read each year!
I want people to know that travel is amazing, but it isn’t all fun and games 24/7. No matter how well prepared you are, you’re going to have some not-so-great moments. Go into your trip knowing that. It will help you roll with the punches better.
Please join me in a journey through my WORST travel moments of 2021!
Everything Covid Hath Wrought
I don’t have to tell you about COVID. You know what happened this year. Here in Prague, we spent the first 3.5 months of the year in lockdown, and the cases were so high that Charlie and I even stopped seeing the friends in our bubble.
It felt like we were finally getting back to something close to normal in the late spring, but then Delta swept in and cases increased again, first in the US over the summer, then Central Europe in late fall.
I did get in some wonderful travels in 2021, but this year wasn’t what it could have been.
I had been hoping to do a series of Christmas Market posts all over Europe — Vienna! Strasbourg! Rothenberg! Brno! — and this happened to coincide with Delta breaking case records in Central Europe. Oh well. At least I got Budapest in. I can’t even write about the Prague Christmas Markets because they aren’t happening this year.
The worst day was when our entire vet’s office was exposed to COVID and closed down. This was when we were taking Lewis for his daily FIP shots and we had no idea what to do. If he missed a single shot, he could relapse.
Charlie and I tried to give Lewis his shot at home, but it wasn’t working — by that point in his treatment he was shrieking and jerking so hard that half the medicine would spill out. In a fit of desperation, we called our old vet to see if he could help with the injections. He was shocked Lewis was still alive and agreed to help us.
(That actually worked out for the best. The vet offered to do the daily shots for 100 crowns each — $4 — and it was a five-minute walk from our place instead of a 15-minute drive.)
Getting Swindled by Thrifty
Ugh. I’ve written about this several different times this year — most extensively, in the Adventurous Kate Patreon — and it still makes my blood boil.
Long story short: I booked a two-week car rental out of Boston for the ridiculously low price of $288 on Priceline. Priceline told me it would be with Thrifty and gave me the Thrifty confirmation number. But when I showed up at the counter, Thrifty had no record of that reservation.
With no other options, I booked a rental on the spot, and it came to $1,964. YIKES.
After the rental period ended, I started making calls to get my money back. Priceline refunded me the $288 immediately. Chase refused to do a chargeback. And I called Thrifty again and again and again, kept getting promises of return phone calls and emails, AND THEY NEVER DID. They hoped I would go away.
I refused to give up.
Thrifty finally agreed to refund me $800 after I emailed their media relations team and told them I was writing a story about the incident, had documentation of every time they failed to call me back, and wanted to confirm the details before publication. Yeah, they acted pretty quickly when I sent them that!
But what about all the swindled Thrifty customers who don’t have the audience I do?!
Overall, this is a lesson to book car rentals directly with the company, not with a travel booking engine like Priceline. (But sometimes the deals are SO TEMPTING.) One of my Patreon members had a suggestion — as soon as you book with another company, call the rental company and have them confirm your reservation, ideally by email.
Food Poisoning…Times Two
I used to joke that I had a cast-iron stomach. Despite all my travels, I’ve only had food poisoning three times: in Cambodia in 2013, in Thailand in 2013, and in New York the morning after coming home from Mexico in 2019.
This year, I got it twice: once in Prague and once in London. Judging on the timings, I’m fairly certain it was from a kebab shop in our neighborhood and at Franco Manca, my formerly beloved London pizza place.
I need to start packing more pepto-bismol.
The Worst Parts of the Stromboli Climb
Let me be clear: I’m glad I climbed Stromboli. And parts of it were quite enjoyable, like when we were bouncing up and down in a gorgeous green area. But parts of this hike were SO difficult, especially considering the circumstances of the evening.
When we got to Stromboli, we found out we would have one clear night followed by two possibly rainy nights, so we signed up to do the hike the first night. Unsurprisingly, so did half the island. The tours were swollen to enormous sizes and got started half an hour behind schedule, so the guides hustled us to hike faster and take shorter breaks so we could be there for the good light.
The fast hiking was hard — but doable. The lack of decent breaks is what killed me. I could barely catch my breath before we were heading out again. There was one point when the mountain got steep that I was gasping for air with each step. (Another climber stopped to help me calm down!)
Again — I’m glad that I did this hike! It was SO cool seeing the lava up close, and really nice to look at Stromboli from other islands days later, thinking, “Yep, I conquered that cartoon-looking conical island with the smoke coming out the top.”
Knowing what I know now, I think this hike was a victim of its circumstances — a way-too-large group, a way-too-late start, and everyone trying to make up for it by rushing us through it as quickly as possible. Part of me wished I had done it at my own pace with a private guide.
Getting Locked Out in Varna
There were some peculiarities in our Varna apartment. The pillows were either nearly flat or overstuffed. There was literally nowhere to hang up towels. We couldn’t find the router — it was actually hidden on top of the closet.
But the worst part was coming back after the wedding around 3:00 AM — and the gate was locked.
WHY NOW? WHY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT?!?! SHE PURPOSELY GAVE US NO KEY!
There was shaking. There was pushing. There was walking around the neighborhood, trying to find a hotel that still had someone at the front desk, and failing.
Eventually we went back to the apartment and I reached into the lock and pushed a lever up. It swung open. And by then the shaking had woken up at least one angry neighbor.
The owner and I ended up not reviewing each other on Airbnb. Both of us were angry at each other — her for locking the gate, me for waking her neighbors — and we wanted to put it behind us.
The Shuttle Kerfluffle in Catania Airport
Sicily is wild and raw and gorgeous — but also disorganized. You should know that before arriving. (This post that I wrote in 2015 covers it well.) So of course we had to deal with that upon landing in Catania!
We had booked a minibus shuttle from Catania to Milazzo. It was a bit of a time squeeze — it would be leaving 45 minutes after we landed. But that would be okay, wouldn’t it?
Not quite. The luggage took 45 minutes to come out. Because Sicily.
This whole time, we were on WhatsApp with the driver. “Please don’t leave,” we texted him, bereft at the thought of a busload of people waiting for the last two to show up. “I will leave in 10 minutes! In five minutes!” he replied. “HURRY!”
We hurried, we freaked out, and still our bags did not come out on time. Finally, I ran out to meet the driver while Charlie waited for our bag.
Guys. We were the only people booked on the shuttle. Literally nobody else was waiting.
Leaving My Purse Behind in Toronto Airport
This is the dumbest thing I did all year. For about half an hour I sat at a table in Toronto Pearson Airport, on the way back to Boston from Halifax, and then I gathered up my belongings to use the bathroom and get going.
Or at least I thought I did. I took my big purse but left my mini purse behind. The mini purse that held my passport and wallet.
I went back to where I was sitting. IT WASN’T THERE.
Cue the freakout.
I ran all over the terminal. Was there a lost and found? I spoke to staffer after staffer — nobody gave me any guidelines. And how was I supposed to get back to Boston without my passport? What a pain in the ass was it going to be to get my credit cards reissued?!
I ran back to where I was sitting. This was my seat, wasn’t it?
I moved to the next row over. My purse was still sitting on the table.
“Oh, thank God,” I sighed.
“Oh my God, I was hoping you would come back!” said the girl sitting at the end of the table.
A Scary Overnight Stay in New Hampshire
This was the one incident of the year where I actually felt scared. I was planning to do a moose tour in Gorham, New Hampshire, a town on the edge of the Great North Woods. I decided to stay overnight in Gorham because moose tours can go as late as midnight, and I didn’t want to drive in Moose Country that late.
So I booked a night at the cheapest place with non-terrible reviews, a local motor inn. I checked in and all seemed fine. The room was cheaply furnished, but otherwise normal.
But when I got out of the room and back to my car, I noticed several men around the inn staring at me. It looked like they were long-term residents, and I was the random woman who showed up alone for the night. I didn’t like how they were looking at me.
Later, I opened the door to my room — and found an empty, stripped bed. What the…oh, I accidentally opened the room next door. WAIT A SEC, WHY DOES MY KEY WORK FOR THE ROOM NEXT DOOR? DO ALL OF THE ROOMS HAVE THE SAME KEY? WHO HAS A KEY TO MY ROOM?!
Women often ask me if I get scared on my travels. THIS is when I get scared. You all know that feeling.
The tour was about to start. I didn’t have time to find a new place to stay. I decided to keep my electronics locked in the car, which I parked in downtown Gorham. When I came back for the night, I lodged the desk in front of the door. Nobody would be able to break in through there.
Watching the Insurrection from Prague
Nothing like preparing for a mundane political event and watching horror unfold before your eyes.
We were going to watch the vote for president on TV. People had been making a big deal about how Pence could theoretically refuse to certify the vote. I paid for SlingTV just so we could watch it.
Then the news promptly changed. Insurrectionists were storming the Capitol.
I don’t need to describe what happened. You all saw it. This is the worst thing that I accidentally witnessed in real time.
Realizing I Need to Travel with a Pillow
At 37, I’m indisputably in my late thirties now. And unfortunately, this is the year I realized that I need to start traveling with my own pillow. Specifically, a contour pillow. Anything less and I’m sleeping miserably all night.
It took three nights in the Berkshires — the first nights I had been without a contour pillow in about eight months — for me to realize that.
That’s going to be a pain to pack. Especially for carry-on.
The Confederate Flags of the Czech Republic
Imagine going for a hike and being confronted with hatred — Confederate flags waving in your face, telling you that you don’t belong here. Now imagine that you’re in Europe. How does that even work?!
One weekend this year, Charlie and I hiked the Posázavská stezka outside Prague. I was shocked beyond belief to see not one but two Confederate flags on display.
I did some research later. Turns out that many Europeans see the flag as Americana — a symbol of rural American life. I’m sure the Dukes of Hazzard didn’t help with that. Since this pub is called the Saloon, I think that’s the case here. Flag is decor.
But for others, they’re adopting the Confederate flag to further their own white supremacist goals.
PCR Test Fuckery
Dear America — or Dear Massachusetts — you need to get your shit together when it comes to PCR testing. There is no reason that nearly two years into COVID in the US, that you still don’t know whether a PCR test is going to come back within 48 hours.
There is no reason why people need to panic, make a million phone calls, and drive to New Hampshire to get a reliable PCR test when Massachusetts results might be late when they’re sent to the “slow lab.” Results that you paid $99 for and need in order to get into Canada.
At least New Hampshire tells the truth. Swabbity swab in the Mall of New Hampshire parking lot, $197 and 26 minutes later (26 MINUTES!!!) and you’re good to fly.
Have I mentioned that the Czech Republic gives locals two free PCR tests per month and you get the results by midnight the next day at the latest? Welp, now you know.
Airbnb Discontinuing Their Affiliate Program
I can’t even count how many times in my business I’ve crawled out of a disaster — then getting kicked down again almost immediately. The latest example? Crawling out of COVID wreckage and Airbnb choosing to end their affiliate program earlier this year.
Airbnb’s affiliate program — where you link to Airbnbs on your site and get a commission if someone ends up staying there — was one of my biggest income streams in a time when everything had been upended. Then it, too, disappeared.
Airbnb does a lot of shady things, and I’ve talked about this. They need to take more responsibility for wrecking the housing market in various locations around the world. (Local governments share this responsibility, though Airbnb often does not follow local laws.) And there ARE ways they can do better and still make insane money.
At the end of the day, a huge chunk of my audience would rather stay in an Airbnb than a hotel. Maybe they have lots of food allergies and need access to a kitchen. Maybe they have kids and want an affordable way to have multiple bedrooms. Or they like feeling like a local.
So what do I do about this? Eh. For people who still want to rent homes, so I’m adding in home rental options on Booking.com and home rental listings from VRBO.
And I’m ever-wary of large companies who exist to please their shareholders while knocking down the people who make them money. Airbnb could afford to get rid of their affiliate program because they dominate the industry.
I fully expect Amazon to end their affiliate program in the next few years for the same reason. Be ready for that, bloggers.
That fucking Dutch lady in Croatia
People on the Adventurous Kate Patreon know what I’m talking about. That was the most commented story I’ve ever posted.
Getting Caught in a Torrential Rainstorm in New Hampshire
And let’s end it with a funny one! I was planning to do a day trip from Massachusetts up to the Dartmouth-Sunapee region of New Hampshire — a BIT too far for a day trip, but I had no other option. My dad warned me that it was going to rain and to be careful. I thanked him and of course forgot to pack an umbrella.
Most of the day seemed fine. I visited Lake Sunapee, Saint-Gaudens, and photographed several covered bridges. I dropped into Hanover for some Nepalese food and the excellent Hood Museum, where Dartmouth students curate thought-provoking connections.
By the time I emerged from the museum, rain was coming down in sheets. My car was a few blocks away. And my parking was about to expire.
They really wouldn’t be out ticketing right now, would they? I thought to myself. You could make a run for it.
I ran from the entrance of the museum to a covered passageway. In those eight seconds, I was soaked through to the bone. Two Dartmouth students eyed me as I squeegeed my face and arms.
Then a girl with an umbrella walked through the passageway. “Hey!” I yelled. “Can I please share your umbrella?”
“Sure!” She let me join her and we set off toward my car. She was a sweet girl — an art history major.
She dropped me off close to my car and I spent another 10 seconds getting drenched before making it into the car.
I then took off my leopard-print shirt, wrang it out, and drove two hours home in just my bra. HOPE YOU ENJOYED IT, YA PERVS!
All in all, if it’s going to rain, bring an umbrella. Otherwise you could end up driving down the highway in a flesh-colored bra that looks suspiciously like you’re naked.
What were your worst travel moments of the year? Share away!
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