The Worst Travel Blunders of 2010

What’s almost as bad as getting deported while on a trip? Almost getting deported while on a trip.

Going to the latter situation, Monika Lutz was on her way to London to do an internship earlier this year. A dual citizen, she was traveling on her American passport – her new German one was still being processed – and Lutz felt secure knowing that as a German citizen, she didn’t need a work visa for her internship. Problem was, as an American citizen she did need that visa, and was “informed that I was to be deported early the next morning,” recalling that “the next 17 hours included six hours of detainment and questioning by multiple UK Immigration officials, a ten block sprint in the pouring rain at midnight to get to the closed German Embassy in London [and] two wrong buses.” She also managed to lock herself out of her hotel.

Fortunately, Lutz was able to convince “London immigration to let me stay” and was able to do her internship. The moral of her story? “Next year,” she says, “I won't get on a plane without all documentation in hand, the embassy's phone number on speed dial, and a charged cell phone battery. Oh, and an umbrella.”

Sometimes it’s literally the little things that’ll almost doom a trip. “On my first trip to Australia earlier this year, I almost burned down the tiny apartment hotel I was staying in,” relates Lonely Planet commissioning editor Suki Gear. “Apparently you need not only a voltage converter but also a heat adapter when you plug in your curling iron and set it on a plastic toilet seat.”

What did other travelers learn from their blunders this year? Buckle up and enjoy some more teachable moments from 2010.

A suit of armor isn’t the only travel outfit that’ll invite a pat-down

Just back from a business trip to Manila, self-described road warriotte Sarah turned right around and was back at the airport less than a day later, heading for her sister’s bachelorette party in Chicago. “I was harried, exhausted, and running very late,” Sarah says. “In anticipation of going to dinner straight from the airport, I had put on my favorite party shirt for the plane ride. A long sleeve black V-neck…with a metal brooch sewn in. Yes, I literally wore a shirt made of metal and tried to walk through the metal detector.” You can probably see this one coming, but Sarah indeed set off the detector and watched her plane board as she submitted to a pat-down. She did make her flight, though with only a couple minutes to spare. “I’ve decided to blame sleep deprivation from the Manila trip for the whole debacle,” she says, “but I have learned my lesson. No more wearing metal shirts on the plane.”

Watch that first step, it’s a doozy

One winter night in March while on a train to Gossau in eastern Switzerland, longtime rail traveler and tour guide Ann Lombardi of The Trip Chicks was surprised to discover that “doors on both sides of the train car swung wide open at my stop. Of course I assumed that meant exiting through either door would be just fine so I choose the side with no waiting passengers.” Turns out she “had picked the ‘wrong side of the track’ and I plummeted into a snow drift up to my Southern neck. The shock wore off after several Swiss rail employees started shrieking at me, and my red hot embarrassment spared me any frostbite.”

Always have a few extra forints handy

On her way home from backpacking in Eastern Europe, Katie Christie “decided to take the subway to the Budapest airport, rather than pay for cab fare. The end of the metro dropped me off at a train station, with a little bus parking lot that said ‘to airport.’ I was out of Hungarian forints and Euros, so I went to find an ATM. Nope. I had 200 American dollars in reserve, just in case, so I went to find an exchange. Nope. I had to go up and beg from people in the station, sweating in August heat under my huge backpack, offering $200 in exchange for bus fare, which was worth about $3.50, while my departure time creeps closer and closer. Finally, a young mother gave me a 1000 forint bill -- about $5 -- and waved off my money.”

VIP treatment at immigration sometimes has a catch

Smitten with Chile during her travels last year, blogger Ashley Ambirge decided to linger for a few months there this year. After an overnight flight she got to Santiago “more disheveled than ever, eye makeup smeared, hair in a big messy jumble, and anxious to get to my final destination--a hostel I’d be staying in while I performed an apartment search. However, upon arrival, I couldn’t find the immigration line for non-Chilean citizens, and decided to approach one of the friendly-looking immigration officers, who was standing nearby. He proceeded to ask me several questions, such as what my origin destination was, what brought me to Chile, and where I’d be staying.”

Before she knew it the officer had whisked her to the front of the line and Ambirge didn’t think anything of it until a couple days later, when the officer appeared in the doorway of her hostel’s cafeteria “holding a bottle of wine, about to approach. It freaked me out so much that my gut reaction was to get up and run to my room -- which is exactly what I did. Finally, when I felt it was safe, I creeped back downstairs, and by then, he was gone. He had left the wine, with a note attached with his phone number. Needless to say, I didn’t call, but it just goes to show that you’ve got to be careful [about] to whom you give your information -- even someone as unsuspecting as an immigration officer, who would be within his right to ask.”

Run for the gate, no matter what

Despite having more than 140,000 air miles under his belt in 2010, founder John E. DiScala wasn’t immune to blunders, such as when he was flying in May from LAX to Aspen via Denver International Airport. His flight was almost diverted to Vail because a tornado had touched down in Denver and closed the airport, though “after circling for a while we landed at 2:44 p.m.,” says DiScala, who was confident that his 3:04 p.m. flight to Aspen wasn’t leaving on time since the Denver airport had only been closed moments before “so I didn't rush. That turned into a big mistake because I missed the flight by just a few minutes.” After being rebooked on later flights that were subsequently cancelled, DiScala “barely got the last flight out of Denver at 10:15 p.m.,” missing a mountaintop dinner that had been awaiting him in Aspen. DiScala’s lesson from this episode? “Always rush to the connecting gate. When going to a destination for important functions leave plenty of time -- I should’ve gone in the night before -- and find out your other backup options, such as renting car, before leaving home.”

What happens in Vegas…you know

Due in Las Vegas on a Monday to give a convention keynote speech, Barry Maher decided to arrive the night before, making the 275-mile drive from his California home to his Vegas hotel. Eager to use the men’s room upon his arrival, he “popped open the trunk for the bellman, tossed the keys to the valet, and dashed for the lobby. Later, once I'd checked in and was in the room, a different bellman arrived with the books I'd be signing after the [speech] and my computer bag,” though no suitcase. When questioned, the bellman said he hadn’t seen any sign of a suitcase, so Maher had the valet retrieve his car. His bag wasn’t there and the original bellman had no luck tracking it down either. “That's when it occurred to me to call home,” Maher says, “and of course the suitcase was sitting right in the middle of the living room floor where I'd left it. One of the reasons I always get to a speaking engagement early is to ensure that I have plenty of time to take care of any issues that might come up. Three hours and hundreds of dollars later, I'd replaced everything in the suitcase. The keynote went off without a hitch [and] I drove to the airport in plenty of time to make the flight to my next gig.”

“When I arrived in Chicago,” Maher added, “the airline had of course lost the new suitcase, leaving me to shop for everything once again.”