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24 of the Worst Real-Life Vacation Disasters

There's a reason psychologists say that vacationing is among the most stressful of life events, right alongside changing jobs, moving residences, and divorcing. In fact, we've got 24 of them.

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Woman cleaning floor with mop

It had to pee you

“In the middle of my first night in a hostel in Amsterdam, I heard a loud, gushing sound,” Jamie Zipfel tells Reader’s Digest. “I chalked it up to faulty pipes until I smelled it: one of the drunken guests had peed all over the floor. All my belongings except my phone and notebook were soaked.” To make matters worse, she had nothing to wear the next day to take her peed-on belongings to the laundromat, so she ended up going al fresco, but for a windbreaker she borrowed from a generous Chelsea footballer. These travel secrets practically guarantee a stress-free trip.

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Spider monkey on a tree

Bungle in the jungle

On a family vacation in Mombassa, Kenya, Alexandra Allred’s family was having dinner on the balcony of their hotel room when a group of spider monkeys swooped in to partake. It was dark by the time they managed to get rid of all the monkeys, at which point they were descended upon by a swarm of giant mountain moths—thousands upon thousands of them. After Allred’s father sprayed and killed all the moths, and they lay scattered thickly over every surface of the room, Dad insisted they all just go to sleep. Alexandra and her sister were, shall we say, not impressed.

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Knife on rustic kitchen table with copy space

Slaughterhouse dive

But wait, Allred tells us, there’s more. “Another time we drove and drove into the night to find a cheap motel in Colorado, only to wake at 4:45 a.m. to the most indescribable stench and learned that our cheap motel was across the street from a slaughterhouse,” she recounts. “We fled, retching and choking.”

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Two skydivers in freefall on a sunny day
Joggie Botma/Shutterstock

Another one for the meat wagon

Speaking of meat, Maryann Karnich tells Reader’s Digest about the time she went skydiving. Sure, it’s risky, but with proper guides and training, it should be a “controlled” risk. Nuh-uh. On this one occasion, another skydiver cut Karnich off on a landing… and she ended up literally corkscrewing to the ground. “Someone get the meat wagon,” she heard someone say. P.S. Karnich is perfectly fine today. Read on for secrets of people who successfully crossed items of their bucket list.

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Ronnie Howard/Shutterstock

Maybe these jungle vacations aren’t such a good idea after all?

But back to world traveler, Allred. One time she went on a family vacation with her husband and kids to Belize. Their rental car ended up breaking down in… a jaguar sanctuary. With no choice but to push the car out of the danger zone, the entire family got out and started pushing. That’s when a bare-footed machete-carrying man emerged from the jungle. Luckily, he was just looking to hitch a ride.

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traffic jam with row of car on express way
All About Space/Shutterstock

Why do they call it a highway, if you end up parked for hours?

Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities, recalls the time that what should have been a two-hour trip to a Busch Gardens amusement park for a work party took her family six hours because of terrible, gridlocked traffic. If that wasn’t bad enough, her baby son screamed the entire ride, his diaper leaked all over his car seat, and by the time they finally arrived at the park, everyone was gone. Don’t leave on your next vacation before reading our road trip survival guide.

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Dying cockroach Blattodea crawling around the kitchen, isolated,
YewLoon Lam/Shutterstock

Hey, I think this room is bugged

Andrea Cordts tells Reader’s Digest about the time she was with her family at a really nice resort in Mexico. While chatting before bed, her sister started scratching at her neck. “What’d you throw at me?” she demanded. But it turned out it was a massive cockroach that had fallen from the ceiling. She grabbed it and threw it across the room. But that’s not where the story ends: the cockroach landed in one of the suitcases… alive.

8 / 24

He felt the earth move under his feet, and not in a good way

Author Bailey Gaddis tells Reader’s Digest of the time his vacation in Roatan, Honduras was rocked by an earthquake so large (it was 7.6 on the Richter scale), his beachside hotel was evacuated due to tsunami warnings. Although the tsunami never came, the ocean groaned for hours, and the aftermath left the area a disaster zone.

9 / 24
golf ball on lip of cup

Not up to par

It was supposed to be a fun three-day golf outing for eight of Jim Zamichielli‘s buddies, but their connecting flight didn’t connect, and their luggage went missing. Not willing to give up, they drove to their destination only to discover their hotel had only a one bedroom waiting for them when they’d booked a three. Still trying to make the best of it, the buddies rented clubs and played two holes… before getting rained out for the rest of their stay.

10 / 24
Back Umbrella in the rain in vintage tone

When you knowingly travel during the rainy season

“On a whim, I decided to travel solo to Tonga during the rainy season,” Lauren Juliff, travel blogger at Never Ending Footsteps, tells Reader’s Digest. “When I arrived at my guesthouse, I discovered I was the only person staying there. It was too rainy for me to go outside, the storms brought the Internet down, and the local grocery stores offered shelves full of… corned beef. Then my flight home was canceled due to, what else? Rain!”

11 / 24
Close-up Of A Person Stealing Purse From Handbag

The first rule of vacation: location, location, location

Ville Salminen planned a lovely trip to Budapest, Hungary with friends for spring break. The plan was to spend a week relaxing in the sunny European city. But it turned out the hotel they’d booked was in the most dangerous part of the city. And over the course of the week, two of their cell phones and one of their wallets went missing. They spent the bulk of their trip negotiating with insurance companies. Despite Saminen’s unfortunate experience, Budapest is ranked as one of the most honest cities in the world.

12 / 24
Man holding ticket and passport

The nightmare before Christmas

It could easily have been the story that inspired the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal: actor and comedian Jim Dailakis was on his way to Aruba for a cruise ship gig when the TSA agent took the wrong part of his work visa out of his passport, and his airplane sat on the tarmac for so long, by the time he arrived in Aruba, the cruise ship had sailed. Adding insult to injury, back at the airport, the gate agent took a look at the ruined passport/visa and informed Jim that as things stood, Jim was not eligible to return to the United States. P.S. He’s home now!

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Overhead shot of young mother strolling a carriage. Hands holding stroller handle.
Hrecheniuk Oleksii/Shutterstock

The happiest place on earth? Ummm…

Mom and education blogger, Rachelle Bowman recalls the time that the Magic Kingdom was not the “Happiest Place on Earth.” “Someone stole our stroller with everything in it: lunch, diaper bag, etc,” Bowman said. And this happened while they were on a ride! But hey, Disney is still worth a trip, especially if you know these insider secrets to making the most of a Disney vacation.

14 / 24
New electric oven in kitchen
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Restaurants everywhere, not a crumb to eat

Travel blogger Gareth O’Sullivan recounted this Airbnb disaster to Reader’s Digest: “On my very first Airbnb stay ever, I booked what was supposed to be a sweet house in a remote village in Germany.” Instead, it was filled with spiders and moths. The next day, he discovered there were no grocery stores in town, which wouldn’t have mattered anyway since the oven was broken. To make matters worse, there were no restaurants, not even a bakery. Yet somehow, O’Sullivan tells us, this inspired him to make a career out of travel! Looking for a unique vacation rental? Start with these wacky places you can rent on Airbnb.

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Guest at hotel reception paying with check during check-in
Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock

“Oops, I knew there was something we forgot.”

“I went on a short weekend trip out of state with a friend,” Sarah Hancock tells Reader’s Digest, “and we showed up to our AirBnB only to discover it was locked and completely dark. We waited an hour, tried to contact the homeowner, searched for hidden keys… nothing.” Turned out the homeowner had forgotten all about having booked the house. Hancock and her friend ended up shelling out $450 per night for what turned out to be a terrible hotel in a bad part of town.

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Denys Kurbatov/Shutterstock

When long-dead villainous historical figures attack

Business-owner David Pressler had quite the experience when he tried to visit the Buffalo Bill Cody grave site outside of Denver. “It was a brisk day in September, so brisk there were icicles hanging from the trees. But I didn’t see the black ice on the asphalt in the parking lot, and I fell, tearing my rotator cuff,” he tells Reader’s Digest. He never did see Buffalo Bill’s resting place. Find out the 22 most haunted places in America.

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Jozef Sowa/Shutterstock

“Your experience may differ greatly from what’s described in the brochure.”

The worst vacation Colin Guest, author, ever took involved a resort in the Philippines where the entire room looked as if it had survived a terrible flood… barely. After complaining, he tells Reader’s Digest he was given another room. Only this was even worse. And this continued until it became clear that there was nothing in the resort that even vaguely resembled its marketing materials. Le sigh.

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Back view of a young african man drinking water out of glass during coffee break at cafe
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Just when you think it can’t get worse

Tom Siebert’s worst-vacation story is kind of gross, so brace yourself. Just out of college, he traveled to Morocco and “foolishly” (his words) drank the water. Naturally, he caught dysentery. “It hit me like a truck while I was deep in the old city of Fez. I couldn’t keep my feet, and lay there vomiting, with explosive diarrhea and a terrible sense of dismay,” he tells Reader’s Digest. It gets worse: a group of schoolchildren came upon Siebert and mocked him mercilessly.

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Blue sea and a jet ski floating on sea,
Timofeev Vladimir/Shutterstock

Murphy’s vacation

Adoptive-mom-blogger, Angie Elliston tells Reader’s Digest of the vacation where everything that could go wrong did: “The vehicle we chose to take wouldn’t start so we had to repack everything into a smaller vehicle. Within a day, our 17-year-old son had a jet-ski accident, which took months to pay off. And the next day, our 16-year-old daughter had a horrible allergic reaction to a bee sting and spent two days in the hospital.”

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Young black woman listening music travelling by bus looking outdoor the window, pensive - thoughtful, thinking future, music concept
Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

If only they’d left one day earlier

Travel blogger Astrid Vinje had an amazing honeymoon in Costa Rica until the very last day when she and her new hubby were robbed at a bus stop. “My husband’s DSLR camera was stolen, along with his wallet and journal. To top it off, we missed the express bus back to the capital city and had to endure an eight-hour ride on a local bus through windy mountain roads. We barely made it to the airport for our flight.”

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Retro camera photographer close up. Midsection of female photographer

Nowhere to stay, but something for the photo album

Author Lynda Filler survived deadly Hurricane Kenna in 2002 when it struck Puerta Vallarta, but the hotel where she was staying was completely destroyed. At least she was able to photograph the whole thing, she tells Reader’s Digest! Here’s how to avoid scams after a natural disaster like a hurricane.

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Broken DSLR camera lens filter glass
A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock

Somewhere to stay but nothing for the photo albums

Travel blogger Jamie Harper spent seven days photographing an exciting vacation. Then her camera broke. Then her spare camera broke. Then her iPod, then her laptop. “We came home from our seven-day trip with exactly zero photos,” she tells Reader’s Digest.

23 / 24

luxury motor boat, rio yachts italian shipyard

Ding, ding, ding! We have a trifecta here!

Food poisoning. Altitude sickness. Motion sickness. That’s what hit licensed mental health counselor Heidi McBain and her family on a boat trip in Peru. Making matters worse, there was no running water on the boat. “I somehow made it back to the hotel room later that day without my whole body exploding, and stayed there for the rest of the trip,” McBain tells Reader’s Digest.

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Cruise voyage

Well, at least there was running water?

“As a graduation gift, my family sent me on a cruise to the Bahamas. On the first day, I got food poisoning and was stuck on a moving boat for seven days,” marketing professional Ciara Hautau tells Reader’s Digest. “I was throwing up for three days from the food poisoning (on top of being seasick).” Next, don’t miss the 10 travel mistakes that make your trip unnecessarily stressful.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren has covered knowledge, history, the British royal family, true crime and riddles for Reader's Digest since 2017. She sharpened her research skills as an attorney in the 1990s, became an early HuffPost blogger in the 2000s, then began reporting local news in the 2010s. She's been writing news, features and celebrity interviews for a variety of publications since and values being a source of trusted information on the topics her readers care about. In addition to Reader's Digest, her byline appears in The Healthy, Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Mashed, Tasting Table, Eat This, Not That!, Grown and Flown, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Insider and Business Insider.