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All Ages

12 Embarrassing Family Travel Mishaps (and How to Survive Them)

See recent posts by Amanda Norcross

There’s the family vacations you see in photos—parents happily frolicking on the beach with their kids or climbing a mountain with way too much ease—and then there’s real family vacations, when someone forgets their passport or your kid tosses her cookies at the worst. possible. time. Here, family travel experts and parents like you share their most embarrassing (and hilarious) moments while traveling with kids—and how they survived.

1. “My backpack triggered the drug sniffing dogs at the airport. I got pulled out of the line and was interrogated by security while they searched my backpack. Turns out I had some old bacon (yes, bacon) in my backpack and I guess the dog was just hungry.” – Montoya Webb, The Spring Break Family

2. “While trying to find our way to Chaco Culture National Historical Park in the New Mexico desert, we took a wrong turn and got our car stuck in a rut on a dirt road. Everyone except me (the driver) had to get out to push the car. Then it happened again. After we finally got on the right road, I drove over a cattle guard that punctured a tire. We never made it to Chaco Culture Park, but, thankfully, we made it to a tire shop before it closed for the night. And my almost-16-year-old son got a hands-on lesson on how to change a tire.” – Terri Weeks, Travel 50 States With Kids

3. A couple years back, we were at Universal Studios Hollywood. When we got on the tram for the backlot studio tour, our youngest who was complaining about a tummy ache fell right asleep on my lap. As we emerged out of the collapsing bridge part of the ride, she woke up and threw up all over herself and me! It was such a mess that they had to stop the entire tour, radio for another tram, unload all the other passengers who were all looking very green. Then they escorted our family away to the restroom to clean up while everyone starred at us. The only shirt we had to change into was a Trekaroo T-shirt. Not exactly our finest travel moment, but certainly memorable.– LiLing Pang, Trekaroo

4. I was so excited to take the family to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon since my middle kid had done the One Act version at school that year. I totally goofed and bought tickets for a month before our visit. We didn’t discover this until we tried to find our seats and someone else was in them. So, we dejectedly left since the show was a sell out, and there were no available tickets. My oldest kid then decided to use the toilet on the way out. He mistook the Emergency Pull Cord for the the flushing mechanism. The lights started flashing and an alarm went off. Theatre personnel came around the hallway corner as he emerged from the loo. We ran out the door and headed straight to a Tesco so I could drown my sorrows in chocolate cake.” – Michele Chan-Thomson, Malaysian Meanders

5. “We were still at our local airport, but on our way to vacation. My hands tested positive for explosives at the airport (after being randomly selected to go in the short line for the special screening). Thought we’d get a faster pass through security, but I got a special bypass through the line to go to a room for a much thorough search. Not only that, it happened right in front of a parent of a child in my daughter’s class who was on the security team, who thought it was hilarious! It was all from spray paint residue under my nails from a craft project earlier.” – Jen Nwmom

6. “My son (3 at the time) threw up in the main pool at Hilton Waikiki Village in Honolulu, which shut down the pool for the rest of the afternoon/evening, and if I recall correctly, into the next day. Us being the stellar parents that we are thought it would be okay to feed him nachos right before swimming. Oops.” – Kate Kristian Spille, Wild Tales Of

7. “We were getting ready to check in online the day we were to leave for Mexico for a big family vacation (some 20 people total), and realized that our oldest daughter’s passport had expired. Wah-wah…” – Chaz Chesak

8. “We left the bag with our checkbook (long time ago) sitting on the bench at the car park waiting area. We didn’t figure it out until three days into our trip. After a somewhat explosive conversation, we expected to come home to a financial nightmare. Turns out, some kind soul turned the bag in to the airline, and they kept it in a locker at the check-in kiosk. As we boarded the plane for our flight home, we were told to report there to get a lost item. AMAZING!” – Karen Presley Dawkins, Family Travels on a Budget

9. “I had a total and complete “Mommy Meltdown” right in front of Cinderella’s Castle. It was a fit of family legend that makes children snap to attention and puts the fear of God into 75 year old war veterans. I don’t remember too much between the tears and sobs other than the threat to “never, EVER, take my family ANYWHERE on vacation TOGETHER again!” I kept true to my promise and over the next few years, I took each of my three children on “separate” family vacations.  This allowed me to focus, enjoy and celebrate each of my children’s unique qualities, interests and personalities. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually brought our family closer together, as we shared stories and adventures after each of these trips. I learned there is no written rule that says everyone needs to go on every family vacation.” – Sally Black, Vacation Kids

10. “In Prague, we checked-in for a return flight to Canada via the United States and discovered that when the airline re-issued our tickets (we had changed the return date), they issued two tickets in one son’s name. Even though we had four seats on the airplane, my youngest child wasn’t able to check-in. The North American airlines help desks were closed because of the time change. Serious stress! We ended up purchasing another ticket to get him as far as Chicago where we were able to resolve the issue. The airline eventually reimbursed us. Lesson learned — always review flight details. Even an incorrect middle name can cause problems.” – Nancy Besharah, Luxury Family Travel

11. “On a multi-generational trip to Miami, my mom had the horrible experience of watching me get out of the passenger door of the mini-van (in which we had been stuck for over 20 minutes), open the sliding door to the back of the van where everyone else sat, and lose my mind. There was spittle and a cracking voice involved. We heard later there was construction or something, we never found out what, but traffic was not moving and we sat trapped in our car with my 10-year-old son badgering and hitting my 8-year-old, whose spirit leaked out in a steady stream of whines and complaints. Sure, there are mothers who could have ignored this, but I am not one of them. I swore off family travel, promised it would be the last trip we would ever take together and that I was now shifting my writing focus to solo female travel. My husband coaxed me back into the car and managed to turn the car into some side streets. We were late and the boys had to do a time-out and skip the next activity. My mom soothed me back to sanity and I resolved to never let them sit close to each other on a car ride again.” – Rina Nehdar, LA Family Travel

12. “Does Teen loosing iPhone on hiking trail count? We’re living it right now and will be heading back to redo the trail tomorrow to try and find it.” – Kristin Reinhard, Simple Family Travel

Update: “We found it!”

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