1. Run out of money
If you’ve got a credit card you can always spend more money than you actually have! However, if your credit cards are maxed out and you’ve run out of cash, then you’re out of luck, my friend.
You can try calling mom and dad or your best friend. Chances are they’re already sick of digging you out of your own messes, but no harm in asking again. If all else fails, you better hope that you’ve got pretty good busking skills (you’d make a great mime, right?).
Not having a place to sleep or food to eat is a pretty good way to ruin a vacation.
2. Get really sick
Hopefully you’ve gotten your flu shot. Even so, it isn’t always effective, and if you’re taking any sort of public transportation in the winter you’ll be exposed.
Also, don’t get malaria. There are a couple different kinds of malarial preventatives, depending on what country you’re traveling to. Get all your immunizations before you leave. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, etc. They might seem unnecessary, but you don’t want to end up with a liver disease, so just get the shot. Ok?
If there’s a chance of getting a horrible stomach bug, take the recommended prescription with you. When I went to a country with inadequate water filtration, I didn’t get a Cipro prescription because I thought I wouldn’t need it. But when I came down with a wicked case of E.coli, I was happy that one of my travel mates had extra. Be prepared.
3. Break up with your significant other while on the trip
Sure, you can claim that this situation is unpredictable, but you might know ahead of time how solid your relationship is. In other words, if you and your significant other have hit a rocky patch, you should postpone or cancel the vacation until a) things are better or b) you’ve acknowledged that despite your shared love for sky diving, you’re not falling for his charm any more (get it?).
If you know that there’s a slight chance that your relationship is ending soon and you still decide to go, well, it’s your own fault when your vacation is ruined. Have a backup plan. Buy flight insurance or bring enough money that you can get your own hotel room.
4. Get robbed
You really can’t plan whether or not you’ll get robbed, but you can take some precautions. As I mentioned in my blog post about staying safe while traveling alone, make sure to leave your valuables locked up, use chest straps to secure your backpack to your body, and don’t explore strange dark alleys by yourself.
However, pickpockets are clever, and you might not notice your wallet is gone until you reach for it to buy a scoop of ice cream after taking selfies in front of the London Bridge. There are some really nerdy, but effective, under-the-shirt pouches and wallets that prevent pickpockets from stealing your cash. They’re only awkward when you pull them out of your shirt to buy that ice cream, but a little awkwardness is nothing compared to being broke in London.
5. Do something illegal
Some travelers choose to partake in illegal activities abroad, taking risks they wouldn’t take at home. You feel free! Uninhibited! So why shouldn’t you do something crazy? Because you don’t want to end up in a foreign jail. Ever.
While taking illegal drugs, exploring an abandoned building, or defacing the Colosseum because you think it will be cool to have your name etched on one of the oldest and greatest architectural structures in the world might seem like a good idea, it’s not.
Save your illegal behavior for home, where you know your Miranda rights and can ask a friend to go down to Dale’s 24/7 Bail Bonds and Pawn Shop to bail you out.
6. Miss your flight
This isn’t the end of the world, but it can definitely ruin your vacation. If you only have a few days off of work to explore Miami, and there’s only one flight a day from Sioux City that will get you there, then you have that much less time to spend on the beach.
While it might not ruin your actual vacation, missing your return flight can add a ton of unnecessary anxiety. You don’t want your last memory of Prague to be of you frantically pacing the airport, wishing you could get home in time to pick your dog up from the kennel.
7. Get on the wrong bus
You’ve seen Romancing the Stone, right? If you’re headed to Colombia to save your sister, you better hope that Michael Douglas is there to protect you in the jungle when you get on the wrong bus. There’s a pretty good chance he won’t be. Maybe 60/40.
Just like missing a flight, getting on the wrong bus won’t necessarily destroy your vacation, but if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, you could end up lost and confused, and it could take you quite a bit of money and time to get back to where you need to go. Triple check your bus number and route, and if you have any doubts, check again.
8. Explore a war zone
To most people it’s common sense to avoid a war zone. As mentioned before, I was in Nepal during the civil war in 2001. Not a terribly smart move. However, I steered clear of the areas of the country where fighting was most intense, and I stuck primarily to Kathmandu.
Journalists, aid workers, and curious travelers have gone to parts of the world wracked with violence, and sometimes these travel experiences end horribly. If you’re a saint and willing to risk your life to aid others, then that’s a different story. If you’re going for the thrill of war tourism, then you must hate your mother.