Ten Real-Life Travel Fails You Should Try To Avoid

Missing a flight, ignoring a travel advisory, road-tripping with a handgun in your glove box... Don't do these things, please.

Brought to you by Visa

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There’s plenty that can go wrong when you travel, so we’ve teamed up with Visa (because Visa cards are basically money you can’t lose) to bring you a series of travel tips, dos, don’ts, and epic fails that will hopefully make your next journey abroad hassle-free.

Travel is a rite of passage for young Australians, and while the big bad world might seem a bit daunting, thankfully there have been many travellers before you who have made dumb mistakes, so you don’t have to. Thanks, dumb mistake-makers!

1. Pull your head in!

Perpetrator: Dawn Fraser

Punishment: Arrested, banned from the Australian swimming team

This advice can be taken both figuratively and literally:

Seriously, though, you’re on someone else’s turf, so take your cues in acceptable behaviour from the locals. Have fun, but heed the warning of Dawn ‘Our Dawn’ Fraser, who went down in larrikin history when she stole a Japanese flag from the emperor’s palace during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. She was arrested as she attempted to escape on a bicycle, but was soon released on account of being a national treasure. Are you a national treasure, friend? No? Then put the flag down.


Olympian, larrikin, hardened criminal. [source]

Then again, trying too hard to blend in isn’t a great look either. Isn’t that right, Rihanna?


Ahem. [source]

2. Don’t faux pas your way into prison

Perpetrator: Harry Nicolaides

Punishment: Prison. Thai prison

Besides boogie boards, there are plenty of innocuous ways to fall foul of the various laws of the various lands that you might find yourself in. Love a bit of the old chug-a-lug? Go for it, just not during Ramadan in a Muslim country. Feel like going anywhere without official documentation in Japan, even down to the local video store? Don’t. Feel like saying something sassy about the Thai royal family? Ask Harry Nicolaides what he thinks of that idea.

He wrote a self-published novel, which spent all of one paragraph discussing the love-life of an unnamed, fictitious prince. This was enough to get him arrested under the country’s infamous ‘lèse majesté’ laws, and denied bail. After six months in the apparently not-so-nice Thai prison system, Nicolaides was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to three years’ jail, only to be royally pardoned two days later.

So yeah, don’t do that. And, of course, give Indian cows the widest berth possible.

3. Don’t drink from the bucket

Perpetrator: ‘John’

Punishment: Reduced to a gibbering wreck in a hostel shower

If you’re leaving Australia for the first time as a young adult, there’s a roughly one-in-two chance that you’ll end up at a Koh Phangan ‘full moon’ party. Cool, have fun there, but beware of the bucket. I know, I know: it’s so cheap, right? Half-a-cent for that whole bucket, wow! Except that, yeah, moonshine and/or bathtub whiskey is pretty cheap, and you get what you pay for, which is blurry good times, quickly followed by blurry bad times, segueing nicely into oblivion. And sometimes, cheap whiskey is the least of your worries. ‘John’ found this out the hard way when an unknown bucket additive cut his party short, leaving him naked and foetal in the shower at his hostel, raving about unspecified matters.

Full moon parties are a rite of passage: it’s something you do so you can act all world-weary around others who haven’t yet had the pleasure. They can be a hell of a good time, too: for instance, this group of English backpackers are having the most English backpacker-ish time ever. Be like them, but beware the bucket! And while you’re at it, beware the flaming rope, too.

4. Relax, there’s a whole world of tummy bugs out there waiting for you

Perpetrator: The bacteria and parasites of the world

Punishment: Um, discomfort

Everyone knows about ‘Delhi Belly’ and its cousin ‘Bali Belly’, but what about ‘’Stanbul Stomach’? Yep, that’s a thing, as is ‘Tripoli Tummy’, ‘Lima Loins’, ‘Dhaka Digestive Tract’ and ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’. Australia has some of the cleanest water and most stringent food hygiene standards in the world, and as a result, the stomachs of its residents are some of the most pampered, mollycoddled, spoon-fed, white-bread… you get the point.

It can be a baptism of fire out there. Take every practical precaution — research your destination, carry bottled water, maintain a healthy scepticism regarding raw produce of unknown provenance — but don’t live in a state of permanent fear, clutching your Imodium like a protective amulet. Shit happens, as they say, and a sleepless night or two spent in the loo is something that just about every traveller will go through at some point. If you absolutely must read an incredibly disgusting firsthand account, you can find it here.

On a semi-related note…

5. Just eat it!

Perpetrator: Shane Warne

Punishment: Ridicule, missed culinary opportunities

If you’re a not-so-adventurous eater, you might be surprised when you find out that Chinese cuisine has a lot going on other than sweet ‘n’ sour pork. Rather than moaning about the sheer injustice of it all, the opportunity to eat snake heart, goat testicles and tarantulas should be embraced wholeheartedly; for instance, if I hadn’t eaten fried pig’s ear in Hiroshima, I never would have ended up making friends with the (extremely) generous owners of a local whiskey bar. I can’t promise that exact result for you, but eating weird stuff is definitely the key to building a repertoire of self-aggrandising stories that give your friends the shits and make them jealous at the same time.

No, after you…

No, after you… [source]

Besides, you’re not Shane Warne — no one’s gonna airlift your favourite treat to your present location if you get homesick. What’s the worst thing that can happen, anyway? Correct, the worst thing that can happen is that deep-fried scorpion turns out to be delicious.

6. There’s such a thing as too much adventure

Perpetrator: Valerie Khoo

Punishment: Being scared out of her wits

Searching for adventure? Broadening one’s horizons? These are noble impulses. Ignoring a travel advisory to hit up some politically unstable locale, though, might be taking things a bit too far. Last year’s protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square started as an objection to a proposed redevelopment, and spiralled into a full-blown civic crisis within a week. Barry Yourgrau is a pro, and he documented the tense, violent situation in both words and images; he even makes enduring riot police and a tear gas assault sound totes glamorous:

It was lovely by the water, with its milky sheen at that hour. My attention was then caught by what appeared to be the sight of people running south down the road… shouting, panicked, as if in a disaster film.

Valerie Khoo, on the other hand, is not a pro, and upon walking right into the Taksim Square riots and the noxious sting of tear gas, she freaked right out. Khoo managed to escape the drama, but freaked out all over again when her taxi driver opted for a ‘shortcut’ that took her right out of Istanbul and into a secluded forest. You’ll be pleased to know that Valerie is fine, but her example illustrates the point: ‘unstable’ means exactly that.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square, pre-tear gas (and pre-freakout) [source]

7. Whoops! Wrong country

Perpetrator: Tatiana McEwan

Punishment: Arrested, fined, banned from Canada

Luckily, Australia is an island, so it’s pretty much impossible to set out on a road trip, get lost, find yourself at the Canadian border, realise you can’t just turn around and go back, panic, lie about the handgun in your glove box, and get arrested for gun-smuggling. Luckily!

Tatiana McEwan and her friend set off from Utah on a road trip. They headed to Washington State and went looking for a mall (we’re in America, remember), only to miss the last turn-off before the Canadian border. No worries, just explain the mistake and turn around, right? Problem is, her friend’s boyfriend stashed a handgun in the glove box for protection (we’re in America, remember), and McEwan, in a panic, lied rather unconvincingly about it. End result? Arrested, fined, and banned from entering Canada (not that she even wanted to enter Canada in the first place, but still…).

If you have a terrible sense of direction and find yourself on a road trip in a foreign land, avoid poor Tatiana’s predicament by following these simple rules:

  1. Don’t lie! I don’t know you, but you’re probably a terrible liar.
  2. Don’t drive around with a handgun in your glove box.
  3. Don’t drive around with a big pile of drugs, either.
  4. No corpses! Never corpses.
  5. Avoid this man.

Sometimes you really ought to judge a book by its cover.

8. Don’t believe your own hype

Perpetrator: We’ve all met them

Punishment: Shunned by friends and family

Travel is tremendously exciting: you can go wherever you want, and you can be whoever you want, at least temporarily. But it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that your wanderings have given you some special, super-secret insights into the mysteries of the world, insights that no one else has ever dreamed of. ‘Traveller’s Condescension’ is a real condition, and it’s important to learn how to self-diagnose. Here are some common symptoms:

– Getting competitive with someone over how many countries you’ve visited
– Huffily correcting someone when they mistakenly refer to you as a ‘tourist’
– Questioning the motives and/or integrity of other travellers, who are only interested in superficial things like ‘fun’ and ‘sight-seeing’
– Displaying pity and/or scorn for anyone unfortunate enough to have a regular job

Broadening one’s horizons is awesome, but there’s no need to flaunt it like you’re some well-travelled, broad-horizoned peacock. In short, don’t be this guy.

9. Put down the iPhone/GoPro

Perpetrator: The guy with the iPad, SLR, GoPro, etc

Punishment: Stuck with a thousand photos of a holiday he doesn’t remember

Your first big trip away is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so don’t forget to actually experience it. Of course, document to your heart’s content — the photographic evidence will be invaluable when your memories start to blur somewhat — but don’t put the whole thing in cloud storage. If you spend your entire trip plotting the shortest point between photo ops, you’ll miss out on…well, who knows what you’ll miss out on? This guy certainly doesn’t:

Also, think of some original photo ops.

Leaning tower fail

Oh, very clever. [source]

10. Don’t miss your flight home

Perpetrator: Anonymous

Punishment: No punishment! She got to finish The Lion King

There are lots of ways to miss a flight: there’s the ‘Baldwin’; the ‘Avalon’ (also known as the ‘Stansted’); the ‘24-Hour Time’ (I particularly like how this guy talks like he’s a secret agent or something); and of course the ‘Early Flight No Worries I’ll Just Pull An All-Nighter Oh Damn I Slept In’ (self-explanatory). These are all understandable excuses for missing a flight, which is more than I can say for the woman who simply had to find out what happened at the end of The Lion King.

You will probably miss a flight at some point in your travel career, but please, delay that point for as long as possible. You mightn’t want to come home just yet, but you also don’t want to mope around some foreign airport for 14 hours while you wait for the money transfer to come through so you can book another flight. Unlike most other stuff that goes wrong when you’re travelling, missing a flight doesn’t even make for a particularly interesting story. Besides, your family misses you. Probably.

 Edward Sharp-Paul is a writer from Melbourne. He mostly likes talking about music, politics and the sportz, and his words can be found at FasterLouder,Mess+Noise, Beat and The Brag. He runs his mouth off under the cunning alias @e_sharppaul.

[feature image via Flickr]

Have you got a travel fail that rivals any of the above? Tell Visa how you lost cash travelling overseas, and you could win one of three ‘Holiday Replays‘, valued at $20,000 each.