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Travel Writers On Their Best and Worst Moments

written by Penny Sadler

Travel writers share their best and worst moments.

In spite of the bad times, or perhaps because of them, we continue to travel. Making it through a tough time makes us stronger and feel a sense of accomplishment. It also creates a more interesting story, ones that people want to hear more than about your lovely time.

Of course, there are the good times, too, and if travel was all bad, why would we ever go again? We need the bad and the good to illuminate and to define each other – and to spur us on to the next travel moment.

I collaborated with several other travel bloggers and photographers to put together the best and the worst of 2013. All are seasoned travelers and writers, and have lots of stories, so you can be sure what they’ve shared is thoughtful and from the heart. I also asked if they had a photograph to illustrate the moment. Most said the best moment was easy, while the worst was more difficult.

I give you: Travel Writers on their best and worst moments.

Jessie Voigts, Wandering Educators


Our best travel moment of 2013 was on the 4th of July. Every year, we head to our cottage in northern Michigan, and celebrate the holiday with our family. And every year, we drive 15 miles to Manistee, to a beach on Lake Michigan, for the fireworks. This annual event is incredibly beautiful, with glorious sunsets, the lights from boats playing on the water, kayakers reflected against the waves and light, the lighthouse beaming intermittently, and the sounds of people playing. Each year, we dig a couch in the fine, clean sand, to better see the fireworks. It gets into our clothes (and hair), but it’s so worth it.

The last few years, people have been releasing Thai lanterns, which start with a whiff of flame and the snap of the paper lantern unfolding as it fills. The quick ascent (and gradual descent into Lake Michigan – don’t worry, the lanterns are biodegradable) fills the beach-goers with awe – every time one is lit, the crowd silences for a moment, as if to will the lantern up and away with the weight of our collective held breath.

Some years, Lake Michigan is warm enough to swim in already, and we dive under the waves, reveling in the beach, sunset, feel of the water on our skin, the wave-marked sand under our feet. This year, it was a bit chilly, so we settled for dipping our toes in as we walked the shore, waiting for dark to fall and the fireworks to begin.


thai lantern over lake michigan @wanderingeducators.com

Thai lantern over Lake Michigan

Worst moment:

Our worst travel moment was in Ireland, driving (this seems to be a common refrain from 100% of visitors to Ireland). We were on the Ring of Kerry, which is at times extremely narrow. We had a steep, rocky wall on one side (our side of the road), and a steeper dropoff on the other. What happens next, is, of course, a story told by many that drive in Ireland. In our tale, a tour bus came careering around a sharp bend, taking up 3/4 of the limited road. What to do? Where to go? Nowhere, really, to be honest. My husband squished the car as close as he could to the rock wall, which now seemed as if we were able to see the fossils embedded within, we were that close.

After breaking off our side view mirror on their side and denting the car, the bus went merrily on its way. We pulled off as soon as we could find a scenic overlook (where are they when you most need them?) to assess the damage and, frankly, breathe. Both mirrors were completely torn off; the hubcaps on each wheel facing the rocks were gone. We were shaken, our pulses racing, freaked out at our narrow squish. Now we refer to that as the time we were “in that scene from Star Wars, where the walls were closing in.” The rental car place didn’t even charge us for the damage – seems that happens all the time.


@narrow escape in Ireland @wanderingeductors.com

Narrow escape in Ireland

Larissa Milne – Changes in Longitude


In the world of hidden travel gems, Buffalo is an undiscovered gold mine. We thought it would be a quick stop on our way to Niagara Falls. Instead, we discovered a city filled with spectacular Art Deco architecture, gorgeous parks, world-class art, and a cool, funky vibe. Throw in a stunning lakefront setting and perhaps the best hot dogs in the country, and you’ve got enough to spend a week–which we did!

 Art museum niagra falls @Changesinlongitude

Admiring the 1952 Jackson Pollock masterpiece Convergence at the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY

Not so great moment:

Squabbling political parties in Washington did little for the US Tourism industry as the shutdown closed the country’s massive National Park System. We were driving across Texas as part of our cross-country road trip and got turned away at more than one landmark. At least we Americans might make it back there someday. But for the many foreigners hoping to see the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone on the trip of a lifetime, “sorry we’re closed” might be their only impression of the USA. Shameful.

Park Closed Texas @Changesinlongitude.com

Ft. Davis National Historic Site in Texas was one of over 400 US National Parks forced to turn away visitors during the 2013 government shutdown.

Talon Windwalker – 1Dad1Kid

Worst Travel Moment:

It’s always more fun to start off with the worst. We had a 15-hour bus ride from hell (that was only supposed to last 9 hours) that went from Guatemala to Honduras, which also included watching cockroaches walk in and out of the space between our seats. That day was capped off by staying in a horrid hotel in a scary area where the owner tried to swindle us on breakfast.

Our journey only improved when we were stuck inside a ferry appropriately nicknamed The Vomit Comet, for a bumpy, sweaty, hour-long ride to the island of Utila. And when we got there, the people we were supposed to meet were nowhere to be found. We finally found our Couchsurfing place, only to find out that she had not informed people we were coming, and she wouldn’t be back for 2 days. At that point we had only been traveling for a few months. I’m kind of surprised we even stayed.

@PennySadler 2013

Vomit Comet

Memorable happy moment:

However, we’ve had so many more lovely experiences that picking a best is tough. The first thing that comes to mind, though, is when I took my son up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was in this tower a few years previously that I had made the decision to adopt a child (http://1dad1kid.com/2013/02/06/our-adoption-story/). Bringing that child back to the spot where I had made my decision had me in tears as the circle closed. Paris remains both of our favorite places for various reasons, but the Eiffel Tower will always hold a special place in my heart.

1dad1kid at the Eiffel tower

Tigger at the Eiffel Tower

Debbie Robertson – Photos and Facets

2013 did not hold many trips for me, especially compared to 2012, but it definitely does represent one of my all time favorite trips. It was our family trip to Big Bend National Park.

24 years ago, Sweet Hubby, Son and I took a very spontaneous trip to Big Bend National Park in west Texas. After Son’s graduation from UT at Austin this past spring, we asked him where he wanted to go for a family vacation and of all places, his first choice was back to Big Bend National Park. So in July of this year (yes the HOTTEST month to travel to west Texas), we took that trip.

This photo represents my Best Moment on our trip to Big Bend National Park. This was our drive into the park on our way to spend time, once again after 24 years, in the Chisos Mountains Lodge:

Big Bend highway, Texas. @debbie Robertson photography

Highway to Big Bend


My Worst Travel Moment (and defining moment)? It was this sign!

After hiking a short 2 miles in 110 plus degree desert temperatures on a sand path amongst large boulders and hiding mountain lions (seriously), we approached this sign. This sign represented the goal to our hike. Only problem is the last quarter mile was up an extreme incline of nothing but rocks and boulders to reach the top of the Balanced Rock. It was the worst moment due to the realization that I may not make it (again, seriously!). I was out of shape, in tremendous high temperatures, sore muscles, racing heart rate with little water left. I just didn’t know if I could reach the goal. Long story short, I did! I took it slow and with much patience from Son guiding and Sweet Hubby supporting, I made it. Defining moment? Well, when we returned home, the first thing I did was join a gym.

Big Bend @Debbie Robertson Photography

Inside Big Bend. Loose rocks and 110 degrees in the shade.

Penny Sadler – Adventures of a Carry-on

My best travel moment was hard to define. After some thought, I decided that it had to be during my June trip to Italy this year.
After a rather stressful start to 2013, I decided the only way to unwind and get a new perspective on life was to escape to Italy. This in spite of the fact that I really didn’t feel that I could fit it into my budget. But when a friend of a friend offered a place to stay, it didn’t take much to convince myself it was the right thing to do. It was not exactly a spontaneous decision, but once I made it, I left within two weeks time. There are times in life when the only thing to do is flee!

In my research on the area I was traveling to, Lombardia, I discovered a place called Lago di Orta. As it turned out, the friend of had never been there before either and was game to check it out. It was only an hour and half from Voghera, where I was staying.

There are several small towns around the lake and we decided on Orta San Giulio, as we only had about a half a day to explore. It was my last day in Italy and I feel I couldn’t have made a better choice. Orta San Giulio is one of most colorful, picturesque, and romantic places I’ve ever seen. When you park the car, you walk down a small hill, through a little car park and an archway and as you look to your right, you can just glimpse the lake shimmering like a jewel in the sun, framed by the ochre-colored buildings lining the the hillside. It’s really magical and tranquil and beautiful. My body immediately relaxed as my eyes sent happy messages to my brain. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time there. I can’t wait to go back – and this time, I will spend at least a week there exploring the island in the middle of the lake, sunbathing, relaxing, and just feasting on the natural beauty and mysticism of the lake.

Lago di Orta, Italy.

Orta San Giulio, Lago di Orta

Worst moment:

There were several moments that stood out for me as pretty bad during my most recent trip, but since I had to choose one I could illustrate photographically, that narrowed it down. I was in Rome, staying in a very chic apartment on Via del Corso, courtesy of a friend of a friend (again), and the owner of the apartment was out of town. Being a particular sort myself, I was quite clear that she would want to return to find her apartment in the same pristine condition in which she left it.

When the toilet stopped up and quit flushing properly, that in and of itself wasn’t so bad. But, I had to be there to meet the plumber therefore I was losing time when I could have been out exploring Rome.

In preparation for the plumber, I laid a old towel on the bathroom floor trying to keep everything as tidy as possible. It had rained that morning, so I anticipated wet shoes. What I did not anticipate was muddy wet shoes, and multiple trips in and out of the apartment, and two other people accompanying the plumber!

To make it worse, the first thing the plumber did was kick aside the towel I’d thoughtfully laid out on the floor for him. Of course, all of this would have been no big deal in my own house, par for the course, but as the guardian (so to speak) of this lovely apartment on Via del Corso, I was quite beside myself!

Bathroom repairs

the bathroom on Via del Corso

Do you have a travel memory to share? What kinds of things do you remember? The best or the worst?

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Jennifer Choban January 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I sympathize with Larissa. I made a cross the US roadtrip in a mini-motorhome back in the 90’s and for several weeks of all the National Parks and Monuments were closed because of a government shut down. And I still haven’t been back. Urgh!

Penny Sadler January 13, 2014 at 5:50 pm

That does suck.

Lauren Sadler January 11, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Oh man, some amazing memories and some they’d rather weren’t memories at all! I think I was quite lucky on my Asia trip, nothing too bad happened, just a lost camera battery due to an unruly horse and an argument with a fierce mongolian guide. The horse did also try to kill me but hey, it’s all water under the bridge now.

Penny Sadler January 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

Fierce Mongolian guide sounds like a good story? 🙂

Laurel- Capturing la Vita January 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Paper lanterns, life-changing moments on the Eiffel Tower, long drives, and small villages in Italy… *sigh*

Driving into cliffs, riding in a bus called the Vomit Comet, closed parks, and icky toilets… They make for great stories!

Best moment for me- Snorkeling in Giglio Island, Italy, with all three of my kids, all of us holding hands as we swam through that beautiful water.

Worst- Throwing my back out in Italy and being immobile for 3 days.

Penny Sadler January 8, 2014 at 9:31 pm

That does sound awful. I think being ill or incapacitated in any way when traveling might be the worst, or at least close to it!

Micki January 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Oh gosh, these are fantastic travel moments. I had to laugh out loud at Talon’s take on their ride on the Vomit Comet. We’ve been on a few ferry rides that deserved a similar nickname.

Terry at Overnight New York January 4, 2014 at 5:08 pm

lol, Wandering Eds — my husband and I had our car mirror snapped of in Ireland, too, though by a car, not a bus. It was like a clap of thunder in my ear as we passed. Great round-up, and as so often the case, the worst experiences are the most entertaining.

Penny Sadler January 4, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for stopping in Terry.

Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com January 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Talon’s story is so touching! Great contributions, Penny!

Penny Sadler January 3, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Thanks to some great writers!

Mary @ Green Global Travel January 1, 2014 at 2:03 pm

I thought it was interesting to read the good stuff about traveling followed by the bad. Travel is not always pleasant, but it’s always an adventure!

Penny Sadler January 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I really had several incidents that could have been worst moment for various reasons. Those were the hardest to illustrate though.

noel morata December 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm

great stories I enjoyed reading them, sorry I didn’t get to join in…Happy travel New Years Penny.

Penny Sadler December 30, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Thanks Noel. Same to you!

Jennifer December 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Haha, Penny! One thing I’ve learned living in Italy is you hurry up and wait. And then, it is never a one person job and they WILL make a total mess.

Penny Sadler December 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm

So I learned! Now I know who to call for the 411. 🙂

Nora December 30, 2013 at 11:27 am

My best moment: A fast-paced but brilliant month-long European Tour with Club Carlson.
My worst moment: Being in a near-fatal accident in Grenada.

I try to remember/focus on the good moments more, because that’s what propels us ahead in life. But sometimes the bad stuff makes for a really good yarn…and possibly a learning experience for others! 😉

Penny Sadler December 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Agreed! Thanks for commenting and sharing Nora!

Maria December 30, 2013 at 10:54 am

Penny, this is a great post – one I’ll bookmark and return to again and again.

Penny Sadler December 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Thanks Maria. I think we can all relate!

wanderingeducators December 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm

What great travel tales – and a reminder to keep traveling!! Thanks for including us.

Penny Sadler December 29, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Thanks Jessie. Loved your stories!

Cathy Sweeney December 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Really enjoyed the stories about the good and not-so-good. I can totally relate to Jessie’s Ireland driving experience — scary driving over there! In my 2013 travels, the good outweighed the bad by so much that the bad times ended up far in the back of my mind — lucky, I guess. Besides the usual transportation troubles, occasional rude people, & few embarrassing mishaps my travel year was pretty darn amazing.

Penny Sadler December 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for commenting Cathy. I have some good travel memories with you in Emilia Romagna! 🙂

Larissa December 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

Wonderful post, Penny! It’s always fun to reflect on the highs and lows of any journey. Often it’s the “worst moments” that make for the best stories ;). Thanks for inviting me to participate. Happy new year, and happy travels in 2014!

Penny Sadler December 29, 2013 at 11:54 am

Thanks for participating. Love the story about the closed park.


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