Lessons Learned From Travel Nightmares

Traveling full time for the past two years has given me a ridiculous number of crazy travel stories, but I’ll start this post off with a little tale from my recent flight to the Philippines from Cambodia….

What I thought would be a semi-sleepless night, but not the worst travel day, became quite a nightmare. But to be expected in Southeast Asia, right?

The saga begins… I had a flight from Siem Reap at 10:50 p.m. to arrive in Manila at 2:45 a.m., then another flight to Cebu at 6:00 a.m. What could go wrong? Well, my flight was delayed for two hours out of Siem Reap, and I ended up landing in Manila just after 4:30. That meant I had 45 minutes to deplane, get through customs, get my bag from baggage claim, find out which terminal my next flight is at, get there, and check my bag before the cut-off time.

As soon as we landed, I rushed through the airport as quickly as I could, cut a few lines, and made it out of baggage claim by 5:00, where I was greeted by a seemingly nice “airport official” **scam alert**, who helped me figure out that my flight was actually in Terminal 4. Manila happens to have quite a massive airport with four terminals very spread out from each other, and where I needed to go required a taxi to get me 4 km there. Apparently, airport shuttles don’t run before 7:00 a.m., so I was forced to follow this man to a sketchy looking taxi. At that point, I didn’t care what it cost, I just needed to get to that terminal in the next 15 minutes (traffic is also crazy there). The driver showed me a sign that said I needed to pay 1700 pesos, which is equivalent to $40 U.S.!!! I was in absolute shock and the two men acted like I was the crazy one and said that is the normal price. To give you some perspective, that’s more than I paid for my flight to Cebu! Panic started to set in because I was running out of time, but I haggled them down to paying $10 U.S., since I didn’t even have any pesos yet. It was unfortunate, but could’ve been worse.

After practically jumping in the backseat the whole ride, I arrived at the terminal and cut in line to get through the initial security checkpoint, putting me at the check-in desk at 5:17 a.m., two minutes after the cut-off. I looked up to read “CHECK-IN CLOSED” in big, red letters on the board, and my heart sank. After begging a few employees to let me check my bag, I got through security just as they were calling for the last passengers on the Cebu flight. Miracles do happen!

After an easy hour flight, I excitedly took a taxi to the hostel I was going to stay at for a night in Cebu City, only to realize there is quite literally nothing to do there (it’s mostly just a stopover point to get to the cool places) and my hostel was empty. As I was checking in at 9:00 a.m., all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I would be sitting around by myself all day and wasting a day I could be at the beach. Here’s how I know traveling these past two years has changed me: I was spontaneous and decisive right at that moment. I decided not to stay there and took a taxi to the bus station to find my way to Moalboal, a random location I picked on the map (but knew I wanted to go to at some point), which was three hours south.




Although the bus ride was lacking air conditioning and I was the only westerner on board, the wind was plentiful from the open windows and I enjoyed incredible views the entire ride (See photo above). I picked a great hostel when I got there and ended up spending the afternoon at the famous “White Beach” after signing up for my open water Scuba course for the following three days. Finally, I was doing exactly what I came to the Philippines for! I was rewarded with this incredible sunset for my first night:




After experiencing a whirlwind of 18 hours on a nightmare travel day/night (surprisingly not the worst I’ve had though…), I have gotten a chance to reflect on what I’ve learned from travel experiences like this one:

  • Stay calm and use humor to get you through it: This always helps me. I’m usually cracking sarcastic jokes to people around me whenever we encounter a delay or when something ridiculous happens. It puts me at ease and seems to help others as well. Staying calm and keeping your mind at ease is so important in any difficult situation, however you choose to do it.


  • Don’t stress about things you can’t change: At the airport, I was sitting next to a British couple who had a flight to catch from Manila as well, and they were getting into panic mode as soon as the flight got delayed. They were both frantically researching how much it would cost to change their next flight if they missed it, what the status of the incoming plane was, and discussing all of the scenarios the delayed flight could lead to. They even talked to the airport employees to tell them how important it is that they get to Manila as soon as possible. Even though my flight was 30 minutes before theirs and their conversations could’ve gotten me more stressed out, I kept reminding myself that I shouldn’t stress about something I cannot change. Could I make the plane get there faster? No. Could I complain enough to get them to realize how important my flight was? No. So I sat and read my book in peace :).


  • Feel the fear and do it anyway: I read this quote in Cambodia on a decorated sign above a trash can, and it really stuck with me. This is a mantra that I realized I try to live by- do things that challenge and push you, even when it scares the hell out of you. Book a one way flight to Thailand with no plans? Sure. Show up to a new city with no accommodation? Why not. Go cliff jumping? Duh. I think back to the moments in my life that I’ve grown the most, and they usually are situations that were difficult, scary, or uncomfortable at the time. Travel is the same way. We wouldn’t have crazy stories or develop a sense of confidence and problem solving skills without these tribulations that come with the territory. Travel is not always easy- EMBRACE IT!




  • Be willing to stand up for yourself: In the story above, I mentioned that I ran through security and customs, cut a few lines, and talked to several employees, all who helped me just a little bit along the way. Before asking for help or special treatment, it is important to think through what you’d like the outcome to be. When talking to the security guard at customs in Manila, I made sure that I was clear about my ideal outcome (that I got to cut the line), not just to tell someone how stressed out I was or that I was going to miss my flight. In situations like that one, every minute counts, so it is up to you to speak up when you need help, especially as a solo traveler. If I made one decision differently that day, I would’ve most likely missed my flight. It’s okay to speak up when you need it, just be sure to give those people running through the airport cutting lines grace when it happens to someone else :).


  • Have faith that things will always work out: Have you ever gone through a difficult situation and not gotten through it? Since you are here reading this, the answer is no. If you keep that in mind, no matter what the situation is, life becomes SO much easier. Even when it seems like there is no way out of it, I always remind myself that it WILL be okay and I will look back with a funny story to tell. (E.g. When my motorbike broke down on the side of the mountain in the rain, I remember thinking “Hmm, I wonder how this will all work out” instead of “I’m totally screwed right now!”) It’s difficult to change your mindset with this, but when you do, you virtually eliminate the majority of unnecessary stress in your life. Try it!


Whether it’s a terrible travel day or just a plain old awful experience, sometimes it takes a difficult situation or what seems like the worst scenario possible to realize how lucky you really are when it works out in the end. It puts things into perspective and also better prepares you to handle anything that comes your way in the future. Instead of looking at a challenge as a negative thing, I have been consciously trying to look at is as a way to build character, as well as my confidence for future experiences. If you didn’t know this already, traveling is not always easy! Life is not always easy. But it can always be fun and a constant learning experience.

Thanks for reading :). I’d love to hear your feedback or any crazy travel stories you have too!

And to the couple running from baggage claim who I yelled “Youuuuu can do ittttt” at: I hope you made your flight to England!

One comment

  1. As the guy in the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” put It: It will all work out in the end and if it isn’t working out, it’s not yet the end!!” It sounds like you have adopted that philosophy, Brooke. It’s serving you well After all, you were looking for an adventure. I guess you found it in spades!! I love hearing about it!

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