10 Nasty Surprises That Could Ruin Your Next Vacation

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but sometimes things go very wrong.
Updated April 11, 2024
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angry couple complaining on a cloudy vacation

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A great way to recharge, explore new places, and connect with loved ones (or yourself) is to go on vacation. The average American gets somewhere between 10 to 19 paid vacation days per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With so little time to recharge, it’s important to soak up each minute.

A vacation is something you put your hard-earned money into it so you want it to go smoothly.  Planning for potential issues can help you avoid anxiety, but it’s challenging to be ready for every scenario. Here are some common, but unfavorable things that could happen — plus ideas on how to best deal with any of these nasty surprises.

Food poisoning

New Africa/Adobe man suffering from nausea on bed at home

Eating new foods at different restaurants is all part of the excitement of going on vacation. Unfortunately, getting sick to your stomach sometimes happens when you’re introducing foods you may have never had before. And worse, there’s always a chance of food poisoning even at the most well-intentioned eateries.

Though most cases of food poisoning go away on their own, symptoms can last a few days. Take steps to prevent food poisoning by being mindful about where and what you eat, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding street food until you become acclimated.

Transportation delays

captblack76/Adobe bored woman waiting for the train

Flight, bus, and train cancellations are a major source of stress for business and leisure travelers alike. Along with missing potential connections, you may also have to wait in an airport, train, or bus station before being able to board the next flight or transport service.

Passengers may also have to pay for another flight or mode of transport if they truly need to get from one point to the next by a certain time. Though there’s no way to get around some delays — and there are a lot of reasons for flight delays — you can try to prevent these by flying or taking a bus early, and checking with your carrier on these options.

You might also consider being extra prepared by purchasing travel insurance or using one of the credit cards that provides it as a perk. Deep breaths to de-stress during a situation that is out of your control may also help.

Tourist scams

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe stylish blonde woman showing smartphone to the taxi driver

Scammers often prey on tourists who are taking in the sites of a new place. Fake souvenirs, pickpocketing, or “broken taxi meters” are just some of the more common tourist scams. Having your bag stolen or your credit card bill run up by a stranger could really derail what’s supposed to be an enjoyable vacation.

Do your best to familiarize yourself with your destination, stay alert, and think twice before sharing any information with a stranger.

Getting hurt or injured

Rawpixel.com/Adobe man putting bandage on his partner knee in the jungle

Dealing with pain, an injury, or a health issue can not only ruin your vacation, it can also cause stress if dealing with an unknown healthcare system. Adventurers, hikers, and those who enjoy physical activity may be especially prone to dealing with injuries or accidents during a vacation. Don’t let that stop you, just be prepared for the possibility.

Accidents are just that — accidents. Even the most cautious person can hurt themselves sometimes. Be sure you have travel insurance with medical coverage in case you need to visit a doctor or hospital.

Inclement weather

Shcherbyna/Adobe driving in snow storm on bad winter road

Bad weather can make even the best plans go haywire. From light rain to more serious storms, inclement weather can affect your vacation time, lower your morale, and even put you in immediate danger. Since you’re away from home, you also have the added stress of not knowing where local shelters are or where to get the latest updates if there is an emergency.

To prepare, keep track of forecasts before going, pack for that “just in case” weather, and gather vital information on what to do if there is a hurricane or situation where you could be in danger. For minor weather events, go with the flow if you need to change plans. On the upside, light rain may mean there are fewer tourists in popular areas. Not all bad weather has to mean your trip won't be as much fun.

Visa or passport issues

photobyphotoboy/Adobe hand for tourist holding passport to authorities

Many countries around the world allow U.S. citizens to enter without a visa or to apply for one upon arrival. You can also book a trip to certain islands that don’t require a passport. If paperwork is needed, however, issues could arise if the information gathered is wrong or it’s expired.

Be sure to check expiration dates way ahead of your travel date to allow for time to update if needed. Avoid visa issues by asking questions of your local consulate, taking advice only from people who are qualified to give it, and only staying for the length of time approved in your visa application.


Animaflora PicsStock/Adobe pickpocketing

Like being scammed, falling victim to theft can add major stress. Many of us travel with laptops, cameras, and other expensive devices that are sometimes left in hotel rooms.

You can take steps to protect yourself from theft by using lockbox services or a safe within your hotel, if it’s offered. As always, keep an eye on your belongings when in public.

Noisy neighbors

Pixel-Shot/Adobe young woman suffering from loud noise on color background

Whether you stay in a hotel, hostel, or vacation rental, noisy neighbors can quickly become a nuisance during a vacation. Arguments, parties, loud music, and other annoying habits can cause you to lose sleep and deprive you of energy you need to take advantage of the next day.

Thankfully there are many steps you can take to prevent noise from getting in your way. Earplugs, white noise apps, and even breathing exercises may help. Many hotels and resorts have quiet hours, and may be able to book a room for you away from hotel bars so you can get better sleep.

Payment issues

fizkes/Adobe female customer holding credit card

It can be aggravating to get to your vacation spot only to find out that your credit or debit cards don’t work. Whether your card’s chip is ruined or isn’t recognized by local banks, this can become a nuisance.

Try preventing payment issues by notifying your bank of your travel dates and locations beforehand and double checking that your cards function properly. You might consider taking some cash in U.S. dollars or using your best travel credit card.

Bad Wi-Fi or cell reception

Alliance/Adobe unhappy housewife having wifi low signal issue on smartphone

We all go on vacation to get some rest from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but bad Wi-Fi or cell reception can quickly dampen your plans. Solo travelers and people who aren’t fluent in a local language may find themselves in a bind if cell reception or Wi-Fi strength isn’t to their liking. It can be frustrating not to be able to access translation apps or communicate whereabouts with loved ones who want to make sure you’re safe.

Along with being inconvenient and potentially unsafe, you may miss out on important travel updates such as changes to your flight, bus, or tour itinerary. While bad Wi-Fi or phone reception may be out of your control, you can pay for an international phone plan or learn to toggle your phone’s settings to optimize battery life and cell phone reception.

Bottom line

Monkey Business/Adobe business passengers sitting in train commuting to work using mobile phones

Inconveniences and nasty surprises can take a toll on your vacation and cause you to lose precious time, especially if you’ve dipped into your savings account to make the trip of your dreams happen.

You can do your best to plan ahead to prepare yourself. Life is full of surprises and sometimes even challenging ones can bring forth new learnings and valuable experiences. Sometimes even the worst times allow you to reflect soon after with reverence and a stronger sense of self.

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Ingrid Cruz Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer who covers mental health, personal finance, and pop culture. Her work has been published in The Lily, Business Insider, and CivilEats.

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