Your Shitty Vacation Actually Makes You a Better Traveler


When it comes to a vacation gone wrong, we’ve all been there. That time we planned the perfect getaway, saved all of our money, took off time from work, got someone to watch our pets/children who act like pets… and the trip ended up being a disaster. For one reason or another, your vacation ended up sucking, bad. But despite your epic travel fail, you actually just did yourself a huge favor.

You might be surprised to hear that I myself have had a couple of misadventures. (OMG WHAAATTT??? REALLY???)

There was the time my fiance (now husband) and I had our rental car broken into in Puerto Rico. And the time I missed my flight to Florida and ended up in the murder capital of the world. There was also that time an actual volcano erupted on my honeymoon. And then there was that mysterious stomach virus in Hungary that led to an EMT putting two strange vaccines in my butt.

And those are my more entertaining stories. There are also those frustrating stories that just suck so bad, they’re not even fun to tell. I’ve gotten airplane sickness, pickpocketed, sexually harassed, ripped off, endless bug bites and had more traveler’s “stomach aches” in a lifetime than I’m proud to admit.

But I’ve learned something every single time. And so do you, when the trip goes awry.

I’d be surprised to find someone who likes it when their trip goes bad (Kevin is convinced I love it because I love to tell a funny story – and, he’s not totally wrong there). But mistakes that come from travel, that are preventable or completely by chance, have the strongest impact in our memories. They help frame your identity into a stronger, wiser and better traveler.

I’m not saying that you don’t learn some wonderful lessons when things go right.

Like that magical time you met a local that totally just vibed with you and they invited you over for dinner and you said “totally, obvi” and you ate with them and their family and they told you about their life and you totally saw a glimpse of what it’s reallllly like there and you just totally had a moment that will stay with you forever and you’re so totally changed for the better. Totally.

But nothing impacts you like when something goes wrong. There might be that moment during your vacation that not only makes you feel like you wasted money, but makes you feel uncomfortable, unhappy or even unsafe.

It’s that particular moment that might just have been the most valuable thing you have gained from this vacation.

Because like anything else, it’s when you fail that you actually learn more about yourself. You learn what you could have done differently, you learn what you won’t do again in the future, and you learn how you personally handle failure and stress. (That last one is important!)

When something terrible happens during our vacations, whether that’s missing a connecting flight or having something stolen, we switch from passive tourists to active, hands-on travelers. Our brain registers these moments with panic and fear, especially because we’re so far away from home. The fight or flight response kicks in and our adrenaline starts to race. We scramble for a solution, whatever that may be at the time, and all we can think of in the moment is that we’ll never do this again.

When the trip is over, we feel so passionate about these mistakes. We may label that location as “never again” or “I would go back, but I wouldn’t do that again.” Those horrible feelings that made you so scared and upset eventually turn into funny stories that you tell around the dinner table.

And those funny stories eventually become your ultimate travel tales, starring you as the underdog who dared fight against the robber or run frantically after your missed train. Those understandably dramatic emotions fade away from fear and anger and become more settled into lessons we gained from our youth.

Winter Wonderland Lookbook; blonde girl in Europe Woolrich parka

It’s hard to separate these scary or weird experiences when they happen in the moment to lessons we will later be happy to understand. Especially when money and loved ones are on the line.

I often hear the phrase “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And this cliche line is true. You may be throwing money away on flights, hotels and even positive memories that will hang in frames around your home. But you’re also investing in your compassion, your resourcefulness and your ability to become a stronger, better traveler.

Just remember that being a traveler is much more than just vacationing, you’re learning to go with the flow. You may be taking the trip, but it’s the trip that is taking you. 

4 comments on “Your Shitty Vacation Actually Makes You a Better Traveler”

  1. I agree, some of my favorite travel stories are of when things didn’t go as planned. Like the time I read military time incorrectly and missed my train to Barcelona and had to get last minute flights back to Madrid on New Years Eve, whoops.

  2. Ah yes, no-one’s perfect and nobody’s travel is without problem.

    I actually find it’s the things that went wrong that make the best tales. Pretty much everyone can tell a story about how wonderful Paris/Berlin/London etc is, but what piques my friends’ interest isn’t that, its more ‘how I illegally entered Burkina Faso by mistake’, it’s ‘how I got stuck at the Togo/Benin border with no luggage’, it’s the 8-hour bus ride in Uzbekistan that ended up into the 20 hour ride from Hell … 🙂

    It’s got to the stage where I like it when things go wrong, as it wouldn’t feel quite the same sort of holiday otherwise … 😉

    Hills. I never manage to climb or descend a hill without incident. Sheep. Broken sandals. Fog. Something goes wrong! 🙂

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