The traveler’s journey is never perfect, and if it is it’s probably not mine. I wouldn’t say I’m accident prone, but after writing this blog about travel nightmares, I’m definitely accident prone. Read on for my travel nightmares and leave a comment below. For every amazing travel story, there are always a few bumps in the road.
Belize: Love at First Bite
Honeymoons are always memorable but ours was unforgettable for a very different reason. After traveling what felt like halfway around the world from Bend to Belize (it had to have been four stops since we were serious budget travelers back then), we made the 2.5 hour drive to Hopkins, Belize, a picturesque fishing village. We arrived at our slice of paradise, a vacation rental right on the beach. We brushed our teeth with bottled water out of precaution (after all this was our honeymoon, we’d better not get sick), and laid down for a nap. The next thing we knew, we’d slept 14+ hours and it was 6:00am.
We were hungry, the sun was up, and we were eager to explore Hopkins and find a bite to eat. We wandered down the dirt road a couple of blocks into town and realized it was probably still too early for most restaurants to open. The town was smaller than we expected and aside from a few stray dogs, felt deserted.
We were thrilled when we found a shop that was open, and Marlon the shop owner, chatted us up. After buying a couple of handmade items, he pointed us toward a breakfast spot on the beach. It was four more blocks down the dirt road and two blocks down to the beach.
Easy enough, right?
Well. Something went terribly wrong because as we made our way down to the beach, we walked passed a group of sleeping stray dogs who we not only startled but upset. It had to have been six or eight dogs who jumped to their feet, snarling and barking at us, and before I knew it, one had my calf in its jaws and clenched down so hard I had to shake him off. Blood dripped out from bite marks on both sides of my leg - I’d been bit hard by a stray dog. I can still feel it now as I recount this story five years later. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to breakfast.
We stumbled back the way we came, up to the main street where Marlon was still hanging out on his store’s stoop. When he realized what happened he sprung into action, taking us down to the doctors office in town. It was a colorful cement block of a building with a line of older women waiting to step on the scale. Marlon pushed passed them and shared what had happened, pulling me to the front of the line.
Before long, the doctor assured me that there had been no rabies in Hopkins for seven years, and she was going to give me a shot for the pain. I remember at that moment feeling completely helpless. I was worried about rabies, I was worried about the shot, I was worried about the pain. The doctor sent me off with a bottle of antibiotics and said the entire thing was free of charge.
As we walked out the door Marlon was waiting for us along with a police officer. He introduced us and the officer asked us to follow him to the station to file a report. The station was the next colorful cement block over, this one larger but with only a single desk inside. “What did the dog look like,” the officer asked. The pain killers hadn’t kicked in yet or I might have laughed.
On our walk down the final few blocks back to our casita, we stopped at a corner store for some gatorade and snacks. We walked past a few more shops and one woman came out to say, “Poor girl, are you okay? I heard you got bit.” News travels fast in Hopkins, Belize.
If you’re curious to read how the rest of our honeymoon in Belize went, here’s the full story (spoiler alert: the rest of the trip was a lot more fun). And if you’re wondering about my rabies diagnosis, let’s just say you don’t want to get me angry. All kidding aside, when we returned home two weeks later, my doctor sent me directly to the ER and I was given a full round of rabies vaccinations over the next month - something like eight shots total). PSA: If you or someone you know has been bit, take it seriously. Rabies can take weeks, months, or even years to show up in the body.
Hawaii Without ID (& On The Wrong Day)
Do you double check your flights before booking to make sure your name is spelled correctly and you’ve added your frequent flyer number properly? I’m about 90% accurate except when I’m not. When it came to booking our trip to Kauai I was all mixed up. Not only did I think we were leaving a day later than we were, but I’d booked our rental car and our hotel for a day after we arrived. Thankfully we made it to Kauai, even though I wasn’t traveling with any form of photo ID. Yes, this is a true story. Yes, I still call myself a travel blogger.
Thankfully, when we flew out of Redmond airport, our hometown airport, I was told an extra pat down would suffice in lieu of photo ID. Kind of odd but I did what I needed to do to get on the plane. My stepdaughter FedEx-ed my ID to the hotel we’d be checking into a few nights later. Until then, I was ID-less and fancy free. That is until we got to the next hiccup.
Not only had I reserved the rental car in my name and had no ID to show, I’d also reserved it for the day after we arrived. After a lot of shuffling, name changes, and filling out forms, we rented a car in my husband’s name. Finally, we were on the road to the North Shore.
We had the windows down, music jamming, and we pulled off the road to dig our feet into golden sand at the first chance we got. We noshed on fish tacos and agreed we’d drive the rest of the way to Hanalei Bay and check into our Airbnb for the night.
But as the saying goes, bad things tend to happen in threes, right? As we left the taco shop, I reviewed our reservation only to realize that I’d once again screwed up our arrival date. I contacted the Airbnb host but our place was booked for that night. I started looking around for hotels and vacation rentals and everyone was booked. Finally, I downloaded Hotels Tonight (#notsponsored #notrecommended either), and found a couple of options, all within the $300 range closer to Princeville than Hanalei Bay, but we had no choice. With taxes and fees spent $375 to book a last minute room at Hanalei Bay Resort for the evening. After a long day of one mistake after the next, we finally paid the price of a day’s worth of mistakes.
Since we booked through a third party, we were relegated to a very low end room located behind the resort’s dumpster and delivery area, down two flights of sticky stairs. We checked in around 4pm and had to be out by 11am. Our trip had barely begun and we felt defeated. I have more to say about third party bookings, also known as OTAs, but that’s for another blog post.
Lost & Found in Lanzarote
Sometimes you travel halfway across the world and with nothing but the clothes on your back. That was us in the Canary Islands, before we knew that it was possible to lose your luggage for a full week. Although the gate agent in Redmond said we could check our bags all the way through to Gran Canaria, it was my fault for booking a multi-airline flight across continents. We went from Redmond to Seattle to Madrid to Gran Canaria on three different airlines, a recipe for disaster, or at the very least for lost luggage.
Suffice to say our bags, which included my thyroid medication, my contact solution, my lactaid pills, my hair supplies, curling iron, five pairs of shoes and some of Steven’s stuff too, didn’t make it to the Canaries until day seven, the day we were heading back to the airport to fly back to mainland Spain. Thankfully, we were reunited with our luggage before boarding, just long enough to be charged an exorbitant fee by Ryan Air to check said luggage, but I digress. The point was, we were naked and afraid in the Canaries for seven long nights. Okay fine, we weren’t naked or afraid, but we were a little crusty.
The first night, we found a Desiligual shop and assuming our luggage would arrive the next day, we each purchased a pair of pants and two shirts to supplement our flying outfits which we’d turn inside out to wear to dinner that evening.
The next day, our luggage still hadn’t arrived, so I convinced a pharmacist in broken Spanish to fill my thyroid prescription. My hair would have to air dry, and I’d find four different ways to wear two pairs of pants (one of them yoga pants) and two shirts over the next week.
But then something magical happened. We got up in the morning and I was ready for adventure in ten minutes flat. At night, I’d spend ten minutes getting ready for dinner with my accidental capsule wardrobe and lack of grooming supplies. My shoes? Well, I had the Nikes I’d worn on the flight and a cheap pair of flip flops we’d purchased on the beach in Maspalomas. They’d do.
And my mood? The happiest I’d been in years. There was nothing to fuss over, my hair was a mess but it didn’t matter. My husband still thought I looked beautiful. The warm sun tanned my cheeks. We soaked up every moment in the sun by the sea and realized our material possessions didn’t matter that much. It was experiences not things we needed.
By the time we were reunited with our luggage, reality set in that we’d completely overpacked and that we were happier with so much less. From that trip forward, we never travelled with more than a carry on no matter how far flung or how long we’d be gone. It wasn’t until our baby was born that we dusted off those giant suitcases that would have to be checked again. But that’s another story for another time.
Losing our luggage in the Canaries was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me. It completely changed my relationship to my possessions and set in motion a new way of living and consuming in our every day lives. To read more about the Canaries, here’s my Gran Canaria blog post, and my post about Lanzarote.
Sewage in Sayulita (Crisis Averted)
Traveling with a baby changes everything. We pack more, we do less, and the baby comes first. But wanderlust still gets the best of me. I’ve been known to plan some grueling itineraries and I’ve been resistant to admit that traveling with a baby really does change everything. My son took his passport photo at three months old, and crossed international lines into Bermuda at seven months old. Before his first birthday, we planned another international adventure to Mexico.
A week in Sayulita was next on the docket — golden sand beaches, delicious Mexican food, warm Pacific waters, maybe even some island-hopping. I was dreaming about horseback riding on the beach with Reu neatly tucked into my Ergobaby carrier when my husband snapped me back into reality, “No guide is going to let you get on a horse while carrying a baby.” He had a point.
Then came the TripAdvisor forums. I was innocently searching for the best places to stay with a baby, when I was confronted with one word that changed everything: norovirus. Sayulita, originally a fishing village that has been inundated with American tourists seeking out surf and the sand, has added a third “s” to its list of attributes: sewage. It’s something we as tourists don’t think about enough: our impact on the places we visit. Like the mega cruise ships practically sinking Florence and being turned away from once picturesque places like Dubrovnik, overtourism has created very real problems around the world.
In Sayulita, sewage is a major issue. There’s too much of it, and nowhere to put it. Inevitably, it ends up on the streets, in the water, and as the hotel guest services agent put it to me, “I can’t tell you that you won’t get sick, because you could. It’s not just in the water. It’s in the air. It’s in the food. It’s everywhere.”
Traveling with a baby changes everything although I would’ve seriously considered cancelling our trip even if the baby wasn’t part of the equation. Some estimate that 50% of tourists visiting Sayulita get sick. We weren’t going to put our baby at risk of contracting norovirus at 11 months old. Mexico would have to wait for a few more years when our son was passed the eating sand phase and with any luck Sayulita would find a solution to it’s sewage problem. Our consolation prize was San Diego. We spent a week exploring the sites and the sounds, we learned even more about traveling with a baby, and we arrived home healthy and happy.
The Light At The End of My Travel Nightmares
If bad things really do come in threes, then let’s hope I can put travel nightmares behind me for a while. I’ve certainly learned from our missteps. I’ve learned not to take our travel plans too seriously. I’ve learned that the more pressure I put on something the more likely it will go wrong. There’s always a silver lining even when things don’t go as planned. The truth is, things rarely go exactly as planned and maybe that’s the beauty of traveling to new places. No matter how much we read, prepare and plan, staying open to new experiences and surprises makes exploring the world that much more interesting. So cheers to new adventures and bumpy roads less traveled.
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