Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Wed February 17 2016

My Top 4 Travel Screwups (And What I Learned from Them)

Features & Advice | John Roberts | February 17, 2016

My Top 4 Travel Screwups (And What I Learned from Them)

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

OK, I'm not perfect.

Apparently my mom has been lying to me all these years.

While my travel expertise stacks up fairly well with most people, I have made a few boneheaded decisions or suffered general lapses that have led to periods of distress, discomfort or full-on panic.

Here are my Top 4 travel screwups and what I learned from them.

1) The screwup: Stayed out in the sun too long in Aruba.

The details: My wife and I cruised to the Southern Caribbean with two friends on an itinerary that included the ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. All was going great. The waters are amazingly clear and warm, and we were thrilled to be out snorkeling and exploring. Now, being experienced travelers to such warm and sunny climates, we knew well enough to apply good sunscreen, and we slathered it on often that day on the beach in Aruba.

READ MORE: How to Pack Like a Pro

But sunscreen, no matter the SPF and how often it is applied, can only give so much protection when you play in the open sun, snorkeling shirtless, back exposed in the midday for hours, that close to the equator. Ow! The burn set in later that day for all four of us, and much to our astonishment. At least we had been keeping properly hydrated throughout the day. Cold beers count, right?

With our screaming sunburns, sleeping and moving became difficult for the next couple of days, and we made it our mission to buy a big bottle of soothing aloe vera once we got to port in Curacao.  

What I learned: Respect the sun at all times, especially that close to the equator. We never swim without proper cover now. I am bald and wear a hat, and we quickly purchased rash guards (swimming shirts with SPF) to wear whenever we're in the waters. A few hours exposed in the severe sun can ruin a couple of vacation days — or worse if you get sunstroke.

2) The screwup: I dropped my wallet on the shuttle bus in Rome.

The details: After being dropped off at my terminal at Fiumicino-Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, I exited the shuttle and went through security. During a stop in the bathroom, I checked through my bags for my wallet so I could buy a meal and drink while I waited for the flight. Panic immediately set in as I couldn't find it. I had gone through security with my passport in my pocket, but I had left my wallet with all my credit cards and more than 1,000 euros in my bag. I could clearly remember double-checking it while on the shuttle. I realized that I must have missed the bag when I thought I was putting it back.

Fortunately, I was traveling with a group of people on the shuttle that I knew. I had to get in touch with them ASAP! But I couldn't get any connectivity, and I didn’t remember that I should be using the country code before dialing their numbers. Texting wasn't working. I was freaking out. On my way to a 12-day trip in Greece, and I had nothing but my clothes, camera equipment and a passport.

My phone finally rang. One of my traveling companions had found my wallet. But he was through security in his terminal and his flight was about to depart. I tried to get to him, but it wasn't allowed because I didn't have a boarding pass to be going into that area.

Incredibly, he got an employee from Alitalia to help. She was coming over to my gate area during her lunch break and agreed to bring me my wallet. Still, I had to wait another hour before her break, and I can only hope she appeared. What a relief when I met her just 15 minutes before I was due to depart on my flight. I still don't know what I would have been able to do if not for a bit of luck and kindness during that crisis.

What I learned: Always check your seat area and double-check and triple-check when using public transportation. If I hadn't been traveling with people I knew, I really would have been screwed.

3) The screwup: I got on the wrong bus in Cancun.

The details: I like to use the local transportation in Cancun's Hotel Zone, and the bus system is very cheap and easy (usually) to use. You can ride any bus, but I tend to stick to the R1 and R2 routes because these handle the most tourists and the drivers speak the best English. However, I jumped on a bus with my buddy in Cancun after hailing it at an unfamiliar bus stop along Kulkulkan Boulevard.

I can't remember the route number listed on the bus, but that shouldn't have mattered. On these buses, you get on, pay the driver, tell him your intended stop and then take a seat. I figured the driver did not understand English well when we zoomed past our hotel, which was on the opposite side of the road.

Oh well, I said. The bus routes loop around, and we'll catch it on the way back. The ride will just be a little longer than expected.

As all other passengers got off before the end of the line, the driver asked where we had wanted to go (I assume). I told him our hotel name again. He gestured that it was back a ways. (Yeah, I realized that!) Before making the loop back, he stopped the bus, got up and approached us, demanding another fare. I obstinately told him he missed our stop and he should just continue on. He refused to budge without more money.

Now, I was mad. I said we'll get off instead. I figured the walk wasn't that far to the hotel. I calculated wrong. It was a bit of a hike. And in the midday heat. While carrying out shopping sacks full of beers. At least the beers were cold. Those bottles also were getting drained during our walk. "Well, at least this will be a funny story someday," I said to Matt.

What I learned: Just suck it up and pay the extra dollar, and learn more Spanish.

4) The screwup: I overslept (by three hours) in Lisbon.

The details: Talk about an epic case of jetlag. Our trip to Lisbon for a cruise put us in the city around noon on the day before departure. After a late night flying and the time change, we were unable to check into our room to get our usual freshen up nap that we like when we arrive overseas. So we went touring before heading back to the hotel. Then, we checked in, grabbed a meal and couple beers and finally put our heads to the pillows around midnight, expecting to wake for a little more sightseeing at 8 a.m. before our car service arrived to take us to the port at 11:30 a.m. to start the cruise.

Well, we slept waaaay past 8, and finally woke up at 11 a.m. "No way!" Colleen and I simultaneously exclaimed. We were feeling amazingly refreshed, but we had to rush to pack and get down to the car. We stuffed away the few things we had unpacked for our overnight stay and got down in time to meet our driver. At the port, though, I didn't have my tablet computer when I looked for it while passing through the security scanners. I remembered pulling it out to charge at the hotel. D'oh!

READ MORE: The 8 Craziest Items Guests Left Behind in Hotels in 2015

When I called the hotel, they had already gathered up my tablet — and the pair of pants I had left in the closet, too. I had forgot about those, too. The hotel sent a driver with my possessions to meet me at port. I appreciated the above-and-beyond service and wrote a sparkling review for the hotel.

What I learned: Set a wake-up call or your alarm clock no matter how sure you are you'll rise on time. Oh, and make it a habit to check thoroughly that you aren't leaving anything behind.


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