Vacation Horror Stories: Even Travel Writers Make Mistakes

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

As part of our series "Vacation Horror Stories," host Robert Siegel review some favorite genres of past travel travails and get advice from Alison Bing, travel writer and Lonely Planet author.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

This summer, we've been scaring you with a feature we branded...


SIEGEL: Vacation...


SIEGEL: ...Horror Stories.

As with most misfortune, such tales are always more amusing in the telling years later, than they were in the actual experience. And we've presented Vacation Horror Stories in that vein, as cautionary entertainment. Well, now we're going to end the series with some news you can use - what you can do to avoid having your good times turn sour.

And here to help us do that is Alison Bing. She's a Lonely Planet author and travel writer. Welcome to the program.

ALISON BING: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And as a travel writer, you must always avoid your own horror stories, right?


BING: No. We make the same mistakes but we make them bigger. We intentionally take risks to blaze trails for other travelers. So, like Celeste Brash - who covers Guyana for Lonely Planet - after a long, hot ride through the jungle, she figured people might like a dip in the river. So she asked a local B&B owner if the river was safe to swim in. And he replied, yeah, but I'll have to watch you from ashore.

Now, for normal people that would raise a red flag but she went ahead and dove in, for the greater good of travelers, came out and afterwards was asked: So, did you like your swim with Sankar. And she said, I didn't meet Sankar. And they said: Oh, sure you did, he's the eight-foot alligator that hunts on this bend of the river.


SIEGEL: But she emerged intact from the experience.

BING: Yep, and lived to provide some very valuable travel advice.

SIEGEL: In our series of Vacation Horror Stories, the episodes seem to fall into several categories. And one that kept coming up was the surprisingly bad accommodations.

RACHEL SUMNER: Everything was great, except this bat kept coming into our hotel room. And so, we tried alerting the hotel staff. And they came and did the same thing, just trapped it and put it back outside. But that night, while I was asleep, I woke up and felt something on my leg.

MARK SMEDAL: The first sign that something might go wrong was when we went into the clerk's office and found that the desk was behind a bulletproof glass shield.

GABRIELLE PASCOE: We found a hotel. We kind of followed the proprietor into the hotel. And he's showing us around. And he points to the toilets and he says, be sure you don't flush anything down the toilet because the plumbing is very weak here. It'll just come right back up.

SIEGEL: That's never a good sign.


SIEGEL: Alison, first, how do you make sure that you don't get into a situation like that, at home or abroad? And then, if you do, how do you remedy it?

BING: Well, at the risk of stating the obvious, I would say always make your decisions with some expert input; not just the friend who was there on her honeymoon 10 years ago or that tweet from somebody you don't know who might actually be a bot or a beautiful photo of the hotel taken by a professional photographer for the hotel when it opened.

But also, when you get there, if there is an obvious problem - if there's something that was not as was promised in the booking information - assess the situation. Is it something you're going to be able to fix in an hour? Or is it some really grinding, awful plumbing problem or is there construction noise outside? If that's the case, go online, find another place to stay, check out, get your money back. It's much easier to spend an hour switching hotels than to lose sleep.

SIEGEL: OK, next genre of Vacation Horror Story. This is the one when the airline connection is missed or changed and that leads to a cascade of more trouble.

LINDA CAAMANO: We successfully got to Frankfurt. There, we needed to connect to Braunschweig, which is up in northern Germany. Unfortunately, the connecting tickets somehow were not changed. So when we got to Frankfurt, they wouldn't let us on the plane that was going to Braunschweig, because they said, well, your tickets say you're going to Munich.

SIEGEL: Just the mention of the Frankfurt airport makes my spine chill a little bit.


SIEGEL: Talk about vacation horrors, how often does this happen?

BING: It happens all the time and it happens to travel writers constantly. And, of course, but it does happen, we miss out on work. But there are a couple of things I've learned through painful experience. A couple of years ago, hundreds Lonely Planet authors or so were stranded when the volcano erupted in Iceland. And we found that if your phone wasn't fully charged to make the necessary phone calls, if you used it listening to music or games, you know, you were sorry. And those of us who had the Skype app were really happy 'cause we managed to avoid lots of roaming fees, as we were calling around trying to make alternate plans.

But also, there's something really critical. Which is, with any airline, try to be the calm one, the pleasant one, but also the dogged person who is the first person that a flight attendant or an airline representative is going to think of when a seat does open up on another flight.

SIEGEL: Now, speaking of airline horror stories, we had a couple who say that at the airport they accidentally picked up someone else's nearly identical watch and failed to recognize the mistake.

DEBORAH FORRESTER: These four airport police pointed to my husband and said, is that your watch.

SIEGEL: In this case, the police took them off, accused them of theft, and the couple spent the night in jail. I assume that's a rare, extreme situation.

BING: Yeah, being the victim of a robbery is much more likely; though, I should say that in my lifetime of travel, I've only had my wallet lifted twice. And to be honest, one of them was kind of my fault. It was at the end of a long day of wine tasting at Vinitaly. And I was interviewing a prosecco maker when I looked down, realized my bag was open, my wallet was taken. You know, you just have to hand it to a pickpocket. That was the opportune crime.

SIEGEL: Well, Alison, any other tips for travelers to avoid vacation horror stories?

Yeah, when you are a guidebook pay attention to the shortest phrases in there because when Celeste says don't swim in the river or I say watch your wallet, it's probably because we found out the hard way. So we're not being alarmist. It's our job to help you avoid vacation horror stories, just so that you can go ahead and enjoy your adventure.

Alison Bing, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Thank you.

Alison Bing is a Lonely Planet author and travel writer. And she was giving us some hints to avoid our own...


SIEGEL: Vacation...


SIEGEL: ...Horror Stories.


Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.