Bad Trip: My Childhood Vacation from Hell

There’s nothing worse than dishing out your savings for a vacation, only to have everything you planned go horribly wrong. Except when you are a child, it’s your second real vacation, and you have no control over what you’ll do when everything decides to go sideways.

An Exciting Prospect

When I was nine years old, my stepfather at the time decided to surprise us with a cruise for Christmas. I had been to Yellowstone once when I was five, but outside of that “vacation” mostly meant spending the summers at my grandmother’s house in Florida. So naturally, I was excited by the prospect of a change of scenery as we toured the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was also my first experience on a boat of that size, having only taken short rides by Ferry on weekend trips to New York City.

We packed our bags and in the early hours of the morning, we loaded into a cab and set out for the airport. After the hour-long trip, we unloaded our bags and worked on getting our things checked in. Once we made it through security, we realized we had not eaten yet. It was still early in the morning and given our flight left around 6 AM our food options were limited to what was open. Which happened to only be a lone Burger King.

The First Mistake

With little else by way of options, we decided to order. The Airport stall was dingy and dark, but given there were no other choices, my parents stepped up to the counter and ordered us a greasy, overcooked fast-food breakfast.

I had trouble forcing down the meal that morning, but hey: it was greasy, and I was sleep-deprived. I was sure that was all it was. So, I finished. And with breakfast out of the way, we could head to our gate.

The longer we sat, the worse I felt. As time went by, my stomach began churning. We loaded the plane and I rested my head against the window, hoping the nausea would pass and I would feel better as our flight took off.

No Turning Back

We were airborne, but the discomfort didn’t ease. And as we approached altitude, I rather abruptly relented to that ill feeling… all over my dress. As soon as this happened, I was handed the little white bag at the back of the seat, but the damage was done. Once my stomach had emptied itself, I was cleaned up to the best of my mother and the flight attendant’s ability with drink napkins and bottled water.

That was just the beginning though. We did not go on long trips like this often, especially ones where we were not driving. So, we did not think to pack any spare clothes in our carry-on luggage. 45 minutes into a 3 ½ hour flight, I was covered in vomit with nothing to change into.

More Bad News

The only saving grace I had to look forward to was the plane landing and gathering our checked baggage so I could put on some clean clothes. But on top of everything else, our plane was delayed so we had very little time between landing and boarding our ship so we could set sail. We rushed to the baggage carousel so we could quickly gather our luggage, get me cleaned up, and rush to catch our ship. But, as the once-crowded carousel began to clear of both baggage and passengers, we began to sense something was wrong. There were only a handful of bags left and virtually no people left to pick them up. Bags had stopped being added to the queue well over ten minutes ago. Where were ours?

After a heated discussion with the service desk, we realized that we weren’t getting our bags back today. They had been lost in transit, and now we were all our clothing short and running late for boarding. We decided it wasn’t worth throwing away our vacation my parents paid good money for, so we rushed to catch the tail end of boarding before the ship set sail.

While I had nothing left to be sick on, the nausea had not fully subsided and given how little time I had spent on boats, my body did not take well to the steady rocking of the ocean. It took me hours to fall asleep as I tried to ignore my agony.

Making the Best of It

The next morning we scoured the gift shop on the ship and bought a few articles of clothing we could wear until we at least made our way to the first island. By the time we did manage to reach our destination, I was beginning to feel better. We spent that entire first day trying to gather corny tourist shirts as we attempted to build a wardrobe from scratch.

Eventually, things settled into a proper vacation. We Snorkeled, we explored the islands, we spent far too much time on the beaches, and we wandered the towns. Eventually, we went home and settled back into daily life. Much of the vacation is lost on me 20 years later, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget those first few days.

As terrible as the experience was, I don’t think I will ever forget the lessons learned from this vacation. Rather than turning me off from travel altogether, I feel more of an urge to travel and explore on my own terms. That will largely exclude 6 AM trips to sketchy airport Burger King stalls.

Oh, and if you were wondering when we got those bags back: 3 months later. Bring spare clothes in your carry-on: You never know what might happen.

And get insurance. While things don’t always go wrong on vacation, you run the risk of losing something important, having your trip delayed, or getting injured every time you travel. Use my affiliate Safety Wing for affordable coverage on any vacation.

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K. Straub-Kuo

K has been writing since she was in middle school. She has always loved telling stories and loves to do research on topics that fascinate her even more. K developed an interest in cultures at an early age, but it wasn't until high school that she became fascinated with East Asia's rich cultural heritage that blends seamlessly with the rapid advancements that cause their cities to thrive. Her interest only grew more when she met her Taiwanese-Native husband, whose expansive travel experiences have encouraged her wanderlust. She takes every opportunity presented to her to try something new and is always thrilled to share her experiences with her readers.
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11 Day Back roads of Japan Tour with Project Expedition

***Note: meals are largely excluded on this tour and are the responsibility of tour members***

Days 1-2: Tokyo

There is no itinerary upon arrival until the welcome meeting which will take place in the evening. The first day will consist of learning more about your tour and meeting your guides. Day two is a walking tour of the fashion district of Harajuku. This eclectic district is popular for its eccentric fashion and youth culture. In the afternoon you will get a chance to visit Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, and the surrounding attractions. 

Day 3: Nagano

You will take Japan’s famed bullet train to Nagano before checking into your accommodations. The highlight of this trip is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you will get to observe Japan’s bathing snow monkeys enjoying a bath in the natural hot springs.

Day 4: Matsumoto/Nagano

Enjoy a day trip to visit one of Japan’s most beloved castles: Matsumoto Castle. Afterwards, return to Nagano to venture off to Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s last standing pilgrimage sties. 

Day 5: Ōtsu 

Travel in the morning to Ōtsu for some stunning views of Japan’s largest lake: Lake Biwa. Top off the night with a delicious ramen dinner. 

Day 6-7: Hagi

Enjoy a quick breakfast before an extended drive to Hagi. You will then check into your local homestay. Pack for two nights as your remaining luggage will be sent to the next destination by your tour company. Make sure you pack comfortably for outdoor activities. This is a chance to experience life like a local as you meet your host family and take part in a welcome ceremony and dinner. 

Day two is an active day as you take a guided cycle tour around Hagi Castle. Afterward, you will have time to participate in seasonal activities with the locals. You will enjoy a homecooked dinner with your host family.

Day 8-9: Tottori

After breakfast with your host family, take a scenic trip by train on your way to Mihomisumi. There, enjoy learning the art of Washi paper making before hopping on another train to Tottori. 

In the morning, explore the unusual Tottori Sand Dunes along the Sea of Japan’s coastline. After that, make your way to the local fish market for some fantastic seafood lunch options. End the day with a trip to Kyoto to check in to your accommodations. 

Days 10-11: Kyoto

Take a morning trip to the well-known Fushimi Inari-Taisha, one of Kyoto’s many beautiful local shrines. This is where you will find the mystical  trail of torii gates along its trails. After this, you will have free time to explore what Kyoto has to offer. Recommended sites include a walk through the geisha district of Gion, exploration of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion, and a visit to Kiyomizu Temple. 

The next day marks the end of the tour. Public transit is available to the airport, or you can speak to your guide to help find accommodations if you wish to extend your stay. 

Sample of an 11-Day Intrepid Tour

Days 1-2: Taipei City

Take the first day to relax and unwind after your travels before joining your group for dinner. After a good night’s sleep, enjoy learning about Taiwan’s love of sweet potatoes at Sweet Potato Mama for some spud-filled activities. Check out Shilin Night Market to enjoy Taipei’s variable food culture.

Days 2-3: Hualien

Enjoy nature at Danong Dafu Forest Park before spending the evening enjoying even more street food at the local night markets (you may have noticed a trend). Visit Qingshui cliff before venturing off to the famous Taroko Gorge.

Day 5: Yilan

Visit one of Yilan’s well-known onion farms to learn about the agriculture behind them before learning to make a Taiwanese favorite: scallion pancakes!

Day 6: Turtle Island and Jiufen

Set out on a 3-hour cruise around Turtle Island before travelling off to Jiufen, famed by Hayao Miyazaki as the inspiration for Spirited Away. You will be able to explore Old Street on your own. My suggestion: Eat everything ,try lots of samples, and make time for tea at the famous Teahouse.

Days 7-8: Sun Moon Lake

You’ll get to hike from the base of the mountainous area through the trails that snake up the mountain. You can then climb the Pagoda which marks the end of your trek for some incredible views. The next day you will get to explore the Chung Tai Chan Monastery for a unique, cross-cultural experience.

Day 9: Taichung

Visit Taiwan’s “Breadbasket”, where you can go oyster picking, bird watching, and exploring the water-life of the area. Try some incredible seafood and maybe even go out after returning to you accommodations near — Oh look, it’s near another night market!

Days 10-11: Taipei

Visit the Rainbow Village before heading back to the city you started in. You’ll get to see the massive collection of traditional art and artifacts contained within the National Palace Museum before taking the evening for yourself. After breakfast in the morning,  Your tour will end.