Not every trip you take is going to be an amazing one. They might all be unforgettable, but some for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, trips get started off on the wrong foot, like our trip to Ireland. Other times, unforeseen circumstances will conspire against you to create problems you didn’t think were even possible. Here’s how to avoid vacation trouble from the get-go so that your trip is much more enjoyable.
A Lesson in Poor Planning
One of the more excruciating trips we’ve ever taken was our excursion to England. All of the vacation troubles we faced on that trip were self-inflicted. This happens, even to the most experienced travelers. But we still should have known better.
Although I’d been fortunate enough to do some international traveling for work before our jaunt to England, it was Tiffany’s first time out of the country so she didn’t quite know what to expect. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, the result of an impulsive streak that dates back decades. This is not usually a good thing. Tiffany, on the other hand, is a planner. While she can enjoy the occasional spur-of-the-moment decision, she thrives on setting a schedule and sticking to it as best she can. What happened in England didn’t quite fit into her expectations.
It Wasn’t a Disaster, But it Wasn’t Good
The vacation troubles we faced in England were multiple: we tacked it on to the tail end of our Ireland trip, thinking that it would be an easy addition; we severely underestimated the time it would take to get from Dublin to the London area via ferry and train; and, perhaps most frustrating of all, we didn’t quite budget enough money for everything we wanted to do. Nothing dims the luster of a vacation like running out of money. Trust us on this one.
Take this as a cautionary tale. Hopefully our mistakes will help you avoid your own if you find yourself in a similar situation. If you follow even some of these tips, your vacation troubles will be a thing of the past.
Vacation Trouble: Trying to do too Much
Not everyone has several weeks of vacation saved up. Even if you do, it’s difficult to take all of your days off at the same time. Most of us have limited openings in which to explore the world, so our natural instincts are to try and squeeze in every experience we possibly can. This works for some, but it can also lead to frustration while you’re away and utter exhaustion when you get home. The saying “I need a vacation from my vacation” can come directly from trying to do too much.
While we were planning (and I use that word loosely) our Ireland/England adventure, we subscribed to the above theory. We wanted to see and do everything we possibly could during our time away from home. Naturally, since we were going to be in Europe, we figured that leaving Ireland and heading to England was a great idea. My childhood friend Karen and her husband Andy were gracious enough to offer up their house as a place to stay when we got there; however, she was eight months pregnant and probably should have told us to get a hotel. That being said, we had a bed to sleep in so we figured everything would be just fine.
The plan seemed simple enough. We’d hop on the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead and then catch a series of trains into High Wycombe, outside of London, where Karen and Andy lived. For some still unknown reason, we estimated the entire trip would only take several hours. A cursory search of this route now shows that, if everything went perfectly, it would still have taken upwards of ten hours. I’m not sure how we misread that, but we did. I wanted to blame my color-blindness, but Tiffany said I blame everything on my inability to see colors properly, so it was a poor excuse. I still believe it was a major factor, rather than my nonchalant attitude towards anything having to do with planning.
While we were sitting on one of trains, slowly coming to the realization that we would arrive hours after we said we would, a feeling of dread set in. Neither of us had an international plan for our cell phones, and we had no idea what time we would actually get there. Throw in the fact that my (very) pregnant friend was expecting us, nothing about this felt good or right. We instantly regretted the entire decision to visit England because of one simple reason: we tried to do too much.
Vacation Trouble: Not Doing Your Research
The whole John & Tiffany ferry/train debacle of 2014 could have been avoided had we done more research. We would have learned, for instance, that the train we planned on taking into High Wycombe didn’t run past a certain time at night. That might have been some useful information at the time. I, for one, would loved to have known that.
As it stood, this is what happened.
After several hours on the ferry, and several more switching trains we ended up in Birmingham. And by switching trains, I mean sprinting up and down stairs trying not to miss departures. We were sweaty, anxious, and hours behind schedule. Aside from knowing it’s the birthplace of Ozzy Osbourne, I can only tell you this much about the city: the train station was nice enough, but the people working there were most certainly not.
This Was Our Own Fault
Look, I get it. We were two tourists in over our heads, stranded in a place we weren’t supposed to be. We had very little money on us, and no idea what to do. But the “helpful” employees of the National Tube and Rail essentially told us to go hire one of the taxis outside. They couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help us.
By this point, it was nearly midnight and we were still almost 100 miles away. We decided we needed to get in touch with Karen to give her the great news. I had her phone number, found a payphone, and attempted to tell her about our predicament. That’s when we ran out of coins and the phone shut off. This was the first, and only, time I’d used a payphone in 15 years.
The Taxi Ride from Hell
Okay, so that subheading might be a little misleading. Our taxi driver ended up being a very nice and very helpful guy. However, it was past midnight and we had a 90-minute ride ahead of us. It felt like we’d been traveling for a month. Also, do you know how much a cab ride from Birmingham to High Wycombe costs? Let’s just say that one wasn’t in the budget. The worst part was knowing that Karen and Andy were waiting up for us and that one of them carried a human baby in their body.
Weary and frustrated, we sat in silence in the back of the taxi. I blamed myself. Tiffany also blamed me…as she should have. In the course of planning this trip, I did the bare minimum. Which is my usual. Essentially, I said “Hey, we can stay with Karen and Andy. Let’s go to England.” And that was that. The lesson here, as always, is to double-check my work. (Tiffany, I assume you’re reading this.)
Eventually, we made our way into High Wycombe. It was roughly two in the morning. We had the address, and when we turned onto the street, we were met with a wonderful sight. Every single house looked exactly the same. It was so dark we couldn’t see the house numbers. Our friendly taxi driver brought out a flashlight, and the three of us walked up and down the street, no doubt startling anyone who would have been awake at that hour. After some searching, the taxi driver gave up and handed me his phone and told me to call Karen. She came outside and let us into the house.
Finally, we were there.
Vacation Trouble: Not Budgeting Properly
We finally solved the first set of problems that we faced. We’d made it to our destination alive. The plan was to spend a few days there and hitch the train into London every morning. Then we looked at our budget—or what was left of it. The round-trip tickets every day were more expensive than we thought. The entry fees to everywhere we wanted to go were more expensive than we’d planned. So was the food. And the drinks. We lived in Vermont at the time, which itself is a fairly expensive place. But neither of us realized how much we spent in Ireland and how costly London was going to be. This was a recipe for discontentment.
Here’s the easy way to avoid this issue: set yourself a budget, stick to it, and then set aside even more money. This way, all your entertainment, all your meals, and any unforeseen expenses will be covered. Exorbitant taxi fares included. We didn’t do this and we paid for it. Both literally and figuratively.
Just Getting By
The end result was extremely depressing. We did make it into London one day, but toured the city as a pauper might. Big Ben. Westminster Abbey. Buckingham Palace. We saw them. From the “free” distances. If we’d had the money, we surely would have explored the city further and spent more than one day there. As it happened, we made the decision to simply enjoy High Wycombe instead. Unfortunately, even that came at a cost.
In bed one night, we checked our bank accounts and credit card balances. Things got real and we knew we were pushing the limits of our finances. We investigated how much it might cost to change our flights to leave from London a few days early. No dice. Oh, and did I mention that we still had to get back to Dublin to fly home? I didn’t? Well, that was a super fun return trip. Eventually, we decided to cash in some hotel points and reserve a hotel in Dublin a day earlier than planned. It would actually save us some money and ensure we wouldn’t miss the flight back home.
Vacation Trouble: Letting Me be in Charge of Anything
The positive takeaway from this misadventure was the we learned what not to do: too much. At the end of the trip, we were overwhelmed and disillusioned by our mistakes. Between the rental car wreck in Ireland and the aborted London day trips, we encountered any number of easily preventable vacation problems. The good news was that we caused many of them, and we quickly figured out how to move forward.
Step one was to let Tiffany do the planning. Rather than wing it and hope for the best, all of our trips from then on have been very enjoyable and easily managed thanks to her preparation. Step two was to do a lot more research about our destination, from the cost of food and beverages to the unexpected costs that don’t always show up as line items in a spreadsheet—things such as taxi fares or impromptu outings. Google is your friend, here. Take advantage of it. Step three was to essentially take me out of the planning process altogether. Aside from input on upcoming destinations, Tiffany takes care of the rest.
That’s why I get to do all the fun stuff, such as the website, the writing, and the photography.
Sometimes we make a good team. Just not in the United Kingdom, apparently.