travel stories: when things go wrong

I'm a planner. and when things don't go according to my plan... I don't always take it very well. I might maybe have a small tendency to be dramatic sometimes. traveling always throws you some curve balls, but during our three-week trip to New Zealand it felt like every day some minor disaster was occurring.

but enough time has passed that I can look at these misfortunes from our travels as just stories to tell. I could probably write a book on this trip alone. instead, I'm going to attempt to share three of the more entertaining of those stories. with a bit of humor and humility, and some pictures.

the rental car saga

as I mentioned in my recap of our itinerary, we went through several rental cars on our south island road trip. only a few hours after we picked up our first rental, we discovered the GPS would not turn on. thankfully I had picked up a card for my phone and we were able to navigate back to the rental agency. the fuse which powers the outlet in the car was blown, and after a short wait the car was fixed and we were back on our way.

the next morning we woke to a surprise. one of the rear windows on the vehicle had been smashed in. someone had seen the camp gear in the trunk and decided to steal our lantern and a sleeping roll, getting glass all over the car and gear in the process. after several phone calls to the police, camp gear rental, and car agency, we drove back out to get a new vehicle. we had opted for the full insurance on the car, so our only responsibility was for the stolen camp gear. given that none of our actual luggage or possessions were in the car [and therefore were not taken] things could have been a lot worse. no one gave us any hassle about the car or the gear, and we managed to get on the road with only a few hours delay.

but the next day we realized the car was making some strange noises. we were out in the middle of nowhere, so really had no choice but to keep driving and wait until we made it to Queenstown. a few days later we were able to take it in to the rental location there - and apparently just in time. the noise we were hearing was actually a belt issue. one that could have been dangerous or stranded us somewhere. so we were given our third rental car. it was older, with over 100,000 miles on it and some creepy coffee stains the ceiling, but it managed to make it through the rest of our road trip without issue.

upside: even the views from the car rental locations were gorgeous.

a long ride down

while in Queenstown, we decided to take the gondola up and enjoy the stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. the views definitely did not disappoint. the ride back down however... we had only gone about 1/4 of the way back down the mountain when the gondola stopped. we waited for a few minutes. it started up again... and then stopped. it started, and stopped. and then stayed stopped.

after ten minutes of waiting, we started to get nervous. Husband and I were alone in one gondola, with our friends in the one ahead of us. we noticed a sign with a phone number posted to call for information, so I dialed it. "thank you for calling. the gondola has stopped and we are working to resolve the issue. the gondola may stop for any number of reasons, to unload freight or assist passengers with special needs. do not panic, remain calm. we will have you moving again shortly. please call back in ten minutes for an update with more information. thank you for your patience."

so we waited. it was starting to get dark. and windy. our cab was blowing in the breeze and the drop to the ground was pretty significant. for some reason I decided it was time for a selfie. we did our best not to move around and wait patiently. exactly ten minutes later, I called again. the recording was slightly different, but no more informative. waited another ten minutes, called back. exact same recording.

and then we spotted a worker in a safety vest making his way down the narrow trail that ran underneath the gondolas. he stopped to yell up to the people in the cab just up the mountain from us. no, he didn't no what the problem was. no, he didn't know how long we would be there. he asked them not to panic and informed them there was a box under one of the seats with some lights, blankets, and a rope. "DO NOT CLIMB DOWN" was the order.

he walked down to our cab and yelled up the same story to us. then moved down the mountain to our friends and beyond. we weren't happy, but what could we do? we watched the sun set over Queenstown and waited. thankfully we weren't stuck up there all night. the line started moving again [after a few false starts] and we made it off the gondola 2 hours after we had gotten on.

upside: I had a bottle of wine waiting at the apartment when we got back.

a very blustery night

we had high hopes for our stay at Mount Cook. we arrived in the late afternoon and pitched our tents with the most perfect view - the mountain rising up above a glacial lake. it seemed a strange place for a campground. just an open field. but the unimpeded views were so stunning we didn't think much of it.

night fell and the weather turned colder. we layered on everything we had and it wasn't unbearable. Husband and I went out to shoot the stars before settling into our tent, excited for the day of hiking we had planned ahead. we had just snuggled into our sleeping bags when we realized it seemed just a little too quiet. and then we heard it: the wind.

the best way I can think of to describe it, is that scene in the Lion King when the stampede of wildebeest flood the canyon. there was a sound, loud and harsh, yet distant. it rushed towards us down the mountains, unstoppable. and slammed into our tent.

sleep was impossible. the tent would shake in the force of the wind for minutes on end, while I shivered and feared we might fly away a la Dorothy. then blessed silence would descend for just long enough to hope it might be over, before the distant roaring started again.

through the night, Husband and I took turns going out to check the tent stakes. the wind was so strong they kept pulling out the the ground, several of them even bending. we tied the rain fly to the main poles to ensure we wouldn't lose it [after one moment where we almost did.] sometime just before dawn, we heard a pole snap.

our initial thought was to move the tent to a more sheltered area. we rushed out, woke our friends, and dragged it over to a copse of trees. the wind was so strong we couldn't get the tent set back up, even though it was light enough now to see what we were doing. it was then that I looked across the lake to Mount Cook. or rather - to where it should have been. all I could see was a massive storm, heading our way.

so we decided to bail.

we broke camp, possibly the fastest that anyone has ever done so, shoved everything in the car and made for the camp lodge. we knew we couldn't camp there another night. not when the gale force winds were set to continue and snow was in the forecast.

upside: after a shower and breakfast, we started our stay in Queenstown a night early.

often, we only share the perfect and pretty parts of our travels. but I find these moments where it all goes wrong - the missed connections, flipped kayaks, and food poisoning - to be just as memorable, and just as important. maybe not always in the moment, but... eventually.

what is the worst travel mishap you've encountered? how long before you were able to laugh about it?

linking up with Bonnie, Amanda, Caity, Michelle, and Marcella for travel tuesday


  1. I love this! I was mugged on our honeymoon, then developed vertigo and was viciously ill for 36 hours. I like to think that we just squeezed every drop out of that trip, good and bad. ;) In the moment i was frustrated (and um, scared) but it was the best trip because it was such an adventure.

  2. I love this! I was mugged on our honeymoon, then developed vertigo and was viciously ill for 36 hours. I like to think that we just squeezed every drop out of that trip, good and bad. ;) In the moment i was frustrated (and um, scared) but it was the best trip because it was such an adventure.


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