My most embarrassing travel story

According to the results from my latest survey, two-thirds of my readers want to see more personal stories on the blog. (By the way, it’s not too late to fill out the survey if you haven’t already – I’m trying to know more about you.)

At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to share today’s story because, well, it is my most embarrassing travel story after all, and I still cringe a bit when I think about it. But then I realized perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I had only been travelling internationally for five years when this occurred. This kind of misadventure can happen to anybody, especially when you’re feeling too sure of yourself.

I don’t know about you, but my worst travel mishaps always seem to happen during what I anticipate will be “easy” travel. Travel that looks so straightforward you can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong. Until it does. I guess when you’re too confident you tend not to prepare as much, or not to pay attention to what’s around you to the same level as when you’re in a very unfamiliar or foreign situation.

Few people have heard this story. Unless you’re a very close friend, or signed up for my newsletter when it first went out in September 2013, this will be a new tale!

In the summer of 1997, I went to Europe to complete a previously aborted “round-the-world-trip”. (That’s another story.) By then I had been travelling internationally for five years, including three trips to Europe, two trips to Latin America, and a total of almost six months in Asia. I felt pretty “seasoned”.

I started my trip with a week in England to visit a friend. England feels pretty comfortable to a Canadian. Except for people driving on the “wrong” side of the road, nothing feels overly exotic. In fact I felt so confident that I forgot to get a proper map and got lost the first time I tried returning to my friend’s place on the bus! But that’s nothing compared to what was to come.

One morning, I boarded the ferry in Dover to cross the Channel and get to Calais in France. The ferry was so massive, it felt like a floating hotel. I wandered in, and found an empty lounge area where I settled down and cracked open a book. Nobody came by, and I didn’t talk to anyone. I’m sure there were dozens of similar sitting areas all over the boat.

When the announcement came that we were arriving in Calais, I got up and looked around for the exit. At this point I wasn’t sure which way I had walked in, and felt rather disoriented. Right across from me was a door marked “Exit” and a line-up of people, so I joined them. We went down a couple of levels on a narrow metal staircase, and all of a sudden, just like that, we were inside a bus.

I was somewhat puzzled. This looked like a coach bus. A shuttle? Something wasn’t right. People were settling in all around me, speaking a language that sounded a little like German. Then the bus started moving. Slightly panicked, I asked someone where this bus was going, and he answered: “This is a tour bus. We’re going back to Amsterdam.” Not good. Not good.

I rushed to the front and told the conductor that I wasn’t supposed to be on this bus, and could he please let me out. He looked a little startled but complied. And then I found myself in the middle of a large tarmac area, similar to an airport’s, completely disoriented. I was rescued by an employee driving a small golf cart who graciously gave me a ride to the terminal and was nice enough not to ask too many questions!

So, no harm done. But I have never felt so stupid. It would be another five years before I actually got to visit Amsterdam. 🙂

If you enjoyed this story, you’ll probably also like reading about my scariest travel story!

Are you ready to share an embarrassing travel story with the rest of us? Come on, I did it! 


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