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The Worst Vacations We’ve Ever Been On

Even travel writers have the occasional less-than-perfect getaway.

A vacation gives you a chance to get away from the office, spend time with family, friends, and loved ones, and live by the motto “it’s five o’clock somewhere.” It’s that thing that we look forward to all year and the moment it ends starting planning for another, but that doesn’t mean that it always goes as planned.

Being home-bound for what’s going on a month had us thinking of our past vacations, and while there are many (most) we loved, it was hard not to talk about the bad trips–even the most wonderful vacations in the most beautiful places that, overall offered a once in a lifetime experience, can have a moment that makes you wish for the comfort of your own bed. For some it’s a bad hotel, for others, it’s an unplanned trip to the emergency room. These are the things that made for our worst vacations.

1 OF 7

That Visit to Budapest That Ended With a Touch of Appendicitis

My bestie and I had just rolled into Budapest and were ready to hit up all the history, architecture, and of course, bars in town. Nothing could keep us down–except the horrific, unidentifiable, stabbing pain that shot suddenly and violently through my BFF’s side, requiring a trip to the emergency room. While she dealt with doctors who didn’t speak English or wear gloves (or even closed-toed shoes), I spent the day frantically trying to prepare for what I assumed would be a bagillion dollar hospital visit.

From a Friends (the television show)-themed cafe down the street (it was even called “Central Perk” and featured headshots of the cast on the wall), I tried to get in touch with her parents to wire her money and the U.S. embassy to organize a translator. I failed on both accounts. But it all worked out when the doctor printed out a Google Translation of her diagnosis (“appendicitis”), gave her antibiotics (we think?), and discharged her in just two nights. I’ll never forget the look on her face when she grabbed my arm and begged, “Don’t let them operate on me.” But her hospital bill was under $75–socialized medicine for the win!

We high-tailed it out of Hungary and never looked back. Budapest, are you a cool city? I’ll never know. Did my bestie have appendicitis? Probably not.

Rachael Levitt

2 OF 7

That Time I Thought I Was Going to Die at a Remote Hotel in the Jungle

I have to preface this story by saying that my trip to Sri Lanka in 2017 was wonderful. It truly is the perfect vacation destination, with hidden temples carved into rocks, beautiful beaches, stunning scenery, and incredible food. But there was one part of our trip where things got a little…weird. After exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Sites near Anuradhapura and Kandy, we decided to spend two nights at a remote eco-lodge near Yala National Park.

We arrived a bit later than we were supposed to, right as the sun was setting. Our “room” was actually a houseboat shaped like an elephant that was floating in a murky, swamp-like river. The houseboat was painted orange and pink with a distinctly circus-y flair. That first night right after we arrived, I started to feel sick. I was achy and tired and a bit nauseous, so I skipped dinner and went straight to bed inside our elephant, where I stayed for the next 36 hours, sweating through a flu-like delirium that felt like the really scary dream sequence in Dumbo (inspired, of course, by our psychedelic lodgings). I thought I might die inside that strange hotel room. Meanwhile, my sisters and mom were gallivanting around the property, going on hikes, eating fresh fish caught from the river, exploring ruined temples, and taking mud baths. By day two, I felt almost 100% better. My mysterious illness disappeared as suddenly as it showed up–right in time to check out of the hotel and move on to our next stop.

I can remember almost nothing about my experience there except for the weird paint-and-bug-spray smell of the elephant room and the gentle rocking of the houseboat that lulled me in and out of my fever dreams. Somehow, even the really scary and horrible things that happen during a vacation can turn into a funny story (like that time I found an actual stranger under my hotel bed) and the story of my two delirious days trapped inside a floating pink elephant while I thought I was dying has also somehow become a story that my sisters and I laugh about all the time.

Teddy Minford

3 OF 7

The Abstract Non-Vacation I Never Asked For (Now)

The worst vacation I’ve ever been on wasn’t even one I took. It wasn’t even MY damn vacation. It’s been about three weeks since the world took a vacation from ME, and I have no idea when it’s coming back–there’s no specific end date, I guess? It just left one day, and, bam, I was stuck inside my apartment. Sometimes I walk outside searching for the world, but it’s not out there, and I become frustrated, sometimes tearing up a little bit. I miss the world–I like the world. Historically I complain about stuff (this usually happens 1-2 million times a day), but the truth is, I am a big fan of this world, despite how dumb it can be at times.

One aspect of this vacation that isn’t mine that I’m experiencing is that I’m not the only one experiencing it–everyone else is, too. So, in a way, we’re all, currently, experiencing the worst vacation, and the vacation isn’t any of ours, it’s the world’s stupid vacation and all we can do is not be stupid and wait for it to be over.

Audrey Farnsworth

4 OF 7

The Flat Tire That Started Our Horror Movie

About four months into our relationship, my boyfriend and I were set to spend a weekend away from Los Angeles in the northernmost parts of central coast California. Just an easy, weekend road trip. We had left late Friday night and were just north of Santa Barbara on the 101 when one of the tires on his car blew. By the time AAA came, it was well after 11:30 at night. The driver put on a temporary tire but advised us that we shouldn’t drive for more than an hour on it–we had been expecting to spend four more hours on the road. The driver gave us the business card for a mechanic buddy of his in Santa Barbara and promised he’d give us a fair price on a new tire.

Exhausted and cold, we started calling around for a place to stay until the buddy’s shop opened at 8:30 the next morning. Only it turned out that there was some kind of festival in Santa Barbara that weekend and the whole town was booked solid. The only room we could find was at an ominous-sounding inn that was going for $250 bucks. Without a lot of other options, we made our way to the inn where the Stephen King vibe was compounded by the unfriendly clerk sporting what appeared to be an open head-wound at the front desk. Explaining our situation and the fact that we planned to check out as soon as the mechanic’s shop opened, we asked if they’d consider knocking a few bucks off the rate considering we’d be there for a grand total of seven or so hours.

But this is supposed to be a “worst vacation” story so rest assured we were not met with a shred of sympathy. On the plus side, though, those $250 got us what I would definitely describe as a sub-rundown motel experience.

Chantel Delulio

5 OF 7

An Unexpectedly Frigid Beach Trip

My family and I took a spring break vacation to Myrtle Beach when I was 8 years old. The year was 1998, so while we did have meteorologists, we did not have a bevy of apps that predicted accurate weather weeks ahead of time. The forecast just the week before had called for mild-to-warm, sunny weather. We couldn’t wait any longer to escape the cold West Virginia air (from where I hail), so we ran out of town toward the end of March, thinking we would ring in springtime by basking in the sun.

To our surprise, we mostly ended up basking in the extremely unfortunate fluorescent lights of our hotel lobby in winter coats, watching snow fall on the sand outside. Obviously, there are bigger problems in the world, but being a child and not being able to access a pool and/or the ocean mere feet away from you is upsetting!

At least we had the hot tub, right? Well, everyone staying at the property had that same idea, so the already compact jacuzzi was packed from the time we arrived to the time we departed. And the intense wind chill meant that you couldn’t even enjoy the (cloudy) mornings from your hotel balcony for more than five minutes. As such, everybody had their cranky pants fastened securely, including the hotel employees who clearly did not want to be there (and, in retrospect, I don’t blame them). We slept in thermal pajamas and tried our best to avoid busy areas; though, as with the jacuzzi, everyone flocked to malls and indoor tourist attractions so if we wanted to try to entertain ourselves outside of the hotel, obnoxious crowds were unavoidable. Needless to say, we checked out of our week-long trip two days early. Ah, memories.

Jesse Tabit

6 OF 7

Bear-Proof Lid vs. My Daughter’s Finger

My husband has a thing for the National Parks, and he has declared that every summer, our family vacation should be spent visiting a different National Park. As a travel editor and a lover of travel, I’m a big supporter of the idea because it’s helping us see some of the most amazing parts of our country. As Alexis, I’m torn, because while I want to see the parks, these vacations involve camping, and I’m not a huge fan of camping for numerous reasons. But surprisingly, the camping part is not why this was the worst trip. In fact, it was a great vacation: We had a beautiful campsite in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we hiked, we saw amazing wildlife, we explored Cades Cove, we saw Laurel Falls, we made it to Clingmans Dome, (which is the highest point in Tennessee), we stood on the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina, we spent time in Gatlinburg, we went river tubing, and we even spent an entire day at Dollywood (a personal highlight).

The worst part comes in when we were packing up to head home. Packing up is always the worst part of the trip–right?–because that means vacation is over. And, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to packing the car, which means I’m also a stress ball, especially after a week of camping and driving all of our food and toiletries around because you can’t leave anything at the campsite that bears might be attracted to. And, therein lies part of the rub.

There are an estimated 1,500 bears living in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and because of this, there are bear-proof garbage cans everywhere; these cans are difficult to open (even for adults) and have ridiculously heavy lids. My children were tasked with throwing out our campsite garbage–mommy-fail because they fought the whole time and somehow my daughter’s finger got stuck between the lid and the can. What proceeded was a lot of screaming and crying–both from me and my daughter–and throwing everything into the car without the aforementioned plan–because we were not coming back–and driving as fast as possible to the nearest urgent care–which was over an hour away–because the top portion of my daughter’s finger was now perpendicular to the bottom half of said finger.

I spent the entire urgent care “visit” in a full body wrap around my daughter who screamed and thrashed and cursed like someone much older than her age of 5–I felt so bad for this otherwise quiet local urgent care as my daughter screamed repeatedly, “DO NOT TOUCH ME!!” After a few hours, we were finally on the road–with five new stitches and a well-bandaged finger–and ready to face the 11-hour drive home. Three years later, my daughter still can’t talk about the trip or her finger without weeping…we think she’s destined for the stage.

Alexis Kelly

7 OF 7

SeaWorld’s Worst Guest

This is a vacation I cannot remember but is one my family will never let me live down. Every summer my dad’s entire family (us, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, second cousins, I mean ENTIRE) headed down to St. Pete Beach, Florida for a week-long trip. We all stayed in the same pink hotel across the street from the beach, per tradition, and spent mornings at the beach, afternoons inside (so as not to burn), and night at one of the two ice cream places within walking distance. When I was three, the family attempted to add a new tradition to the mix: a day-trip to SeaWorld and, because of my reaction to the whole thing, it didn’t stick.

My family describes the day like this: We arrived at the park, Kaelin in a stroller, and from the moment we entered to the moment we left, she never stopped crying. Apparently, I chose that day to be the world’s biggest brat. No one was allowed to push the stroller but my mother, and if they tried they were greeted with a “You’re not my mom!” surely setting off alarms throughout the park about a little girl being abducted. I had no interest in the animals, no interest in anything but going back to the pool at the condo.

While everyone complains that I ruined their one trip to SeaWorld, perhaps we should look back and acknowledge that I saved us from a yearly visit to a company we would soon learn to be abusing their animals. Parents: Just take your kids to Disney.

Kaelin Dodge

Subsrosa April 15, 2020


They advertise "modern luxury" and all sorts of bells and whistles. Our experience was miserable.. from accomodations, promised "perks" that were never delivered, to rudeness beyond belief by Celebrity management. Buyer beware.