April Fool: travel’s embarrassing moments


It’s April Fool’s Day. And when it comes to making a fool of yourself, there are few things that provide more opportunities than travel. Pretty much every traveller has a story about his or her most embarrassing moments, like getting stumped by the high-tech shower in a European hotel, or putting the life jacket on backward. I’ve got a few myself.

So, in keeping with the occasion, I thought I’d relate a few of those embarrassing moments, collected from far and wide, starting with one of my own.

Back in 1994, I travelled between two of the Cook Islands on a small ship – the proverbial tramp steamer. And while mostsailboat detail of the passengers slept on deck, I splashed out $15 (pun intended) for a bunk down below. A deck hand showed me to my little steel cubicle, threw in a mattress, and said, “better shut the porthole, a big wave might come.”

Dutifully, I shut the porthole, but there were these little wing nuts around it – what were they for? I’d never been on a real ship before. Never mind, I thought, and drifted off to sleep – until a couple of hours later, when I awoke to a huge splash and several gallons of sea water hitting me in the face. So THAT’s what those wing nuts were for. I left the soaking-wet bedclothes behind and found an empty bunk.for the rest of the night.

That was a minor embarrassment, but there have been some bigger ones – much bigger.

Welcome to Sydney

In 2010 an Italian couple decided to take a trip to Australia. So they booked a flight to Sydney, at a good price, and boarded the plane with visions of kangaroos and koalas dancing in their heads. Problem was, they chose the wrong Sydney. A few hours later they found themselves landing in Sydney, Nova Scotia, where there are no kangaroos at all – though you might see a few puffins.

They weren’t the first to make that mistake, either. Two years earlier, an Argentinian woman spent a week in Sydney as an accidental tourist, and a few years before that, it was a British couple. Luckily, Nova Scotia is a friendly place, so they all got a warm welcome: the Italian couple even got free lobster.

Which way is Oakland?

The most legendary wrong-way traveller is Michael Lewis. As a Sacramento college student back in 1985, he took an Air Airport plane shotNew Zealand flight from London to Los Angeles, with a connection to Oakland. But he got confused at the L.A. airport, and when he got on the plane for the connecting flight, the crew asked him if he was going to Oakland. Yes, he said. But “Oakland” and “Auckland” sound a lot alike when spoken with a kiwi accent — and off he flew to New Zealand. At least he got to appear on the Tonight Show when he got back …

Dude, where’s my car?

A friend of mine — let’s all him Jimmy — once flew to Los Angeles, rented a car, and decided to spend the afternoon at the race track. When the action began to wind down, he figured it was time to go. Only one problem: not only couldn’t he remember where he parked his car, he couldn’t remember what kind of car it was, and there were thousands of them in the parking lot. Only thing to do was wait till everyone else went home, and drive home in the car that was left.

Quick turnaround

Getting the timing wrong on your air ticket can create an embarrassing moment, too. The blogger known as The Wise Traveller once carefully booked a trip online, and arrived at the airport ready for a nice vacation. The attendant looked at her ticket. “Oh, going on business, are you?” she said. What was the misunderstanding? The Wise one had booked her return flight for the same day: her vacation was going to last four hours. After some pleading, and a lot of laughter from the others in line, the ticket was rebooked and all turned out well

Continental wedding

Sometimes the screw-ups aren’t your fault, but you get the embarrassing moments anyway, free of charge. On a trip to Bali, I met an American girl who’d come to the island for her sister’s wedding at a tropical resort. That must have been romantic, I Bali scene (1) said. Not so much, she replied. A technical issue on the wedding day had forced them to move the ceremony to a tent beside the pool, where a lot of guests were sunbathing. And since there were a lot of Europeans at the hotel, most of the female guests were sunbathing topless. So most of her wedding pictures featured the bride, the groom, and a couple of topless women — probably better suited to Playboy than Brides magazine.

Caution, wide load

Travel companies aren’t immune from embarrassing moments – in fact, it takes a corporate budget to get really big embarrassing moments. In 2014, SNCF, the French railway operator, spent $20 billion U.S. for a whole fleet of shiny new trains. Just one hitch: the trains were too wide to fit into hundreds of stations across the country. Fixing the problem cost $68 million. Sacré bleu.

And a few words from your flight crew

Just to finish on a high note, we’ve all gotten a little tired of those boring, predictable announcements from the flight attendants every time we fly. But now and then they get a little wonky. Here are a few of the wonkiest, mostly gleaned from Flights and Frustration website:

  • “Please feel free to leave behind any of your items in the overhead compartment; I’m having a yard sale this weekend.”
  •  “How about that landing? Not bad for his first day.”
  • “We will be serving dinner on our flight this evening. And ice cream if everybody behaves themselves.”
  • “For those of you wondering about the weather at our destination, Honolulu is reporting sunny skies and temperatures of 86 degrees. Unfortunately, our destination is Nome, Alaska which is reporting 27 degrees below zero and blowing snow.
  • (After a bumpy landing) “We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.”
  • “We are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry. Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight.”
  •  “If you look to your right, that is the terminal we left an hour ago. I hope you enjoyed your tour of the airport.”
  • And heard on a WestJet flight: “If you are travelling with a child, put on your air mask before helping them with theirs. If you’re travelling with more than one child, pick a favourite.”

If you have an embarrassing moment that makes for a good story, leave a comment and share it — Heaven knows we can all use a good laugh these days.


About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

1 Comment

  1. Good stories Paul! I’m guilty myself of the “booking the wrong destination” error. Once I was trying to coordinate a trip with somebody in another country. We wanted to go to Panama, so I booked myself a flight to Panama City. Later that day I realized with horror that I had booked myself to Panama City… Florida! Fortunately I was able to cancel the flight with only a small penalty. Phew.
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