A Cautionary Travel Tale

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas

The Atlantis Resort, where we had planned to vacation

Travel horror stories: we all have them. As much as I’d like to say every trip has been planned to perfection, that would be a lie. But winter break 2011 definitely takes the prize for worst vacation ever, at least in the beginning. Here’s what happened…

Once upon a time, our family decided to take a fun vacation to the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The kids were pumped because, hello – waterslides galore!

At that time, my kids didn’t have passports and mine had expired. I was surprised to find that the State Department now offered a lower cost ID option for travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Even though I lamented the fact that we wouldn’t get the cool country stamps that come with the traditional booklet, I love to save money. So we got ourselves some of these fancy new passport cards, packed our bags and headed off on a late-night flight across the country.

The first leg of the trip was uneventful. We flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta on a red eye, catching very little shut eye on the way. But lack of sleep did nothing to dampen our excitement and we were in high spirits as we prepared to board the plane for the last flight of our trip.

passport vs passport cardJust like in Los Angeles, the gate attendants asked everyone to pull out their passports along with their boarding passes. I handed the correct documents to each person and we got in line.

And that was when the unthinkable happened: they pulled us to the side and told us we couldn’t get on the plane.

I was sure I had heard them wrong. Right up until the moment when the plane pulled away from the jetway I thought someone would admit that this had been a cruel joke, that they’d made a mistake, anything to keep this dream vacation from slipping away.

But, no. We were stranded in Atlanta. All because we had the wrong type of passport. #Travelfail

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

In front of the Three Broomsticks at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

(Note to future travelers: passport cards are only good for travel by boat or car, not by plane. This would have been good information to have when we APPLIED for the passports, not when we were trying to board the plane!)

Representatives from the airline apologized profusely and said they shouldn’t have let us board in Los Angeles when they saw our passports and our final destination. They told us to pick another spot and they’d fly us there, as well as give us vouchers to fly again within the year. We got doubly lucky when we were able to transfer our resort reservation to the only place that could be better to a seven and ten-year-old than a week of waterslide heaven: Orlando, Florida.

Despite the horrible start, we wound up having a wonderful vacation. Who can resist the Magic Kingdom, Kennedy Space Center, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Enjoying Kennedy Space Center

We made it to Atlantis the following year, but it took a LONG time for the shock to wear off from that aborted vacation. (Side note to the lady at the post office who “helped” us get those awesome passport cards: next time people tell you that they are going from California to the Bahamas, maybe you could assume that they aren’t taking a boat through the Panama Canal to get there and point out that a passport card won’t work for air travel!)

Lesson learned: ALWAYS do your research. Thoroughly! I will never again be caught with the wrong documentation when I travel. For some people a passport card might make sense. For our family it was a waste of money.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made when planning a vacation? Share your #travelfail in the comments below.

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  • Tiffany 17 November 2017 at 8:34 am

    Wow. That seems super stressful. So glad it did at least all work out in the end! Those sorts of things happen to us all at one point or another. #flyawayfriday

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:09 am

      Definitely stressful! But yes, chalk it up to a tough learning experience.

  • katherinefenech2017 17 November 2017 at 9:00 am

    You handled that so well, I would have freaked out right there! It was lovely of the airline to be so accommodating and I’m glad that you had a great time in Florida instead. What a nightmare though. I had a similar (but not nearly as bad) thing happen on my way to Vancouver. Everything I read online said I didn’t need to buy a visa to get into Canada on my Aussie passport. We were checking into our flight and the airline wouldn’t check me in unless I had a visa. Apparently there was a new rule? Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to buy the visa online and was allowed to board the plane. #FlyAwayFriday

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:03 am

      Omigosh, figuring out visas can be a pain! You’d think the passport would be enough but so often you need both. Lucky you could get one online that quickly!

  • Esther 17 November 2017 at 9:51 am

    I only have a passport for ID and that is what I travel with, I try to make my life as fool proof as possible ad I am a terrible chaot 😉 In The Netherlands we get a letter from the government 3 months before a document expires, so that’s a good way to remember to renew. My travel horror story? My husband needing an accute hernia surgery in Valencia Spain, where no one (absolutely NO ONE spoke any English, not even the highly trained surgeons!) and we had to rely on my 2 year language study from the beginning of the century… yikes!

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:05 am

      Wow! I can’t imagine having to deal with a medical emergency in a foreign country. That would have to be the worst! I hope the surgery went well…?

  • Wanderlusting Liz 17 November 2017 at 10:17 am

    Oh wow, I can’t imagine how you – and especially your kids – must’ve felt when they told you you were not able to board your flight to the Bahamas! Glad you got to go there eventually, and also thaht you were lucky enough to change your tickets and take your kids to Disney. I’m sure they loved that too! #FlyAwayFriday

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:06 am

      Yes, we were lucky enough to salvage the vacation, but I never want to go through that experience again. Watching the plane leave without us was heartbreaking!

  • Bhushavali 17 November 2017 at 10:49 am

    OMG! That’s horror. To be stranded half way through is just horrible. I haven’t heard of passport cards though. At least good to know that it had a happy ending!

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:07 am

      Well, needless to say, I’m not a fan of the passport cards! Sticking with the reliable passport from now on 🙂

  • wingingtheworld 17 November 2017 at 12:39 pm

    This sounds like a nightmare! So many of my travel experiences have ended up being nightmares…I have no regrets though. I have learned loads from my travel failures and I am sure I will continue to make them. That is sadly a side effect of winging it! #flyawayfriday

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:11 am

      A lot of our travel is a combination of planning and winging. But you’re right, everything is a learning experience.

  • Swati Sam 17 November 2017 at 4:22 pm

    That’s quite sane advise. As we have an Indian passport, we can completely agree to it as we go through a lot of documentation at the airport as well as while applying for a visa to a country.

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:12 am

      I’m definitely better with my documentation these days!

  • Lisa 18 November 2017 at 2:38 am

    I nearly lost my passport when travelling through Frankfurt airport early in the morning! I’m glad you could still make the most of your trip! Just shows we should do our research before travelling.

    • Sherrie 18 November 2017 at 11:08 am

      Oh no, that would be terrible to lose your passport — glad you found it!

  • Joanna 18 November 2017 at 11:41 am

    That must have been so stressful and tiring! And indeed the airline shouldn’t have let you board seeing your passports and your final destinations. My worst travel fail was when the airline lost my luggage, I got denied boarding because the airline overbooked the flight and when finally at the destination, the hotel oculdn’t find my reservation. :))

  • Jen C. 18 November 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Oh no, that must have been horrible, more so that you have kids with you. I’m glad it turned out to have a good ending at the Orlando theme parks. We also had countless travelfails but the worst might be in Iceland. We followed google maps and ended up on an isolated off-road not suitable for cars. It was scary!

  • Thewanderingdarlings 18 November 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Omg you must have been in a right state when they said that. I can imagine it would be such disbelief! Lucky it turned out ok in the end and great you’ve shared with others so they don’t have the same issue! Don’t get why it’s ok for boat or train but not plane? Random!

  • thetravellingslacker 18 November 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing it. Goofups can always happen but it is important to accept it and learn. Glad that you decided to talk about it openly. A lot of people hesitate to share such instances and only talk about bright and shiny things.

  • Raghav 19 November 2017 at 2:14 am

    I’m glad you were able to make the most of your travel even after it changed so drastically at the very last second. We had a similar issue a while back when going for a cruise in the Caribbean. No one was sure if we need a visa or not. Even the Embassy wouldn’t help us. Finally as a precaution we took the visa and the airline at the time of check-in said they wouldn’t have let us board had we not taken it. Close call… but yes always a good idea to check from multiple sources.

  • Ami Bhat 19 November 2017 at 10:24 pm

    Ouch, to have been so close and yet not be able to go. I wish they would not keep such things as fine prints. Glad you shared it so that the others don’t miss out on this. And I am also, glad to know you had fun despite it. Cheers

  • Abhinav Singh 21 November 2017 at 11:44 am

    True. I have my own set of travel horror stories which I enjoy talking about. What happened to you is indeed distressing. Didn’t know that bit about the passport card! Glad that you alerted through this blog.

  • Kana Imamura 29 November 2017 at 9:32 am

    Yikes! That sounds all too stressful. I think you handled it really well, though! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you again this week! xo

  • fillmypassportblog 30 November 2017 at 7:50 am

    What a terrible ordeal. I am so glad though that you looked for the silver lining and had an enjoyable vacation in the USA. You handled that stress so well. I don’t know how I would react. Good on you! Hope to see you at Fly away friday this week!


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