2009 Travel in Review: Worst Experience

by Chris on December 31, 2009

My worst travel experience of 2009: being pickpocketed in Barcelona

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Frequent flyer tickets to Spain donated by a generous friend – check. Three bedroom rental apartment with deck views of Sagrada Familia – check. An itinerary that would please the foodies and the culture vultures of the group – check.

As the details fell into place for our June trip to Barcelona, only one worry remained. I had foiled pickpockets in Rome and Nice before, but the sheer number of complaints I had read about Barcelona petty crime were a little daunting. “Make sure you are careful,” I cautioned my husband, Don. With the confidence of a tall man unused to being accosted, he assured me that he would be fine. I still took precautions, giving him a minimum of cash every day and storing the passport back at the apartment.

And boy, I’m glad I did. Our robbery took place at the Liceu Metro station on the lower portion of Las Ramblas, in the middle of the afternoon. As we attempted to enter the train, a bunch of guys blocked us at the doors. Concerned that we would be separated, Don pushed us both through the doors. As the gang got off, passengers motioned for us to check out wallets. My purse worn across my body was fine; I had clung to it tightly. But Don had kept his wallet in his front pocket – and it was gone.

Because I had limited our cash, the crooks only got away with 50 euro. We did have to cancel a credit card or two, and Don had to get a replacement drivers license when we returned home. We didn’t let the experience ruin our trip and otherwise enjoyed Barcelona with our friends. I would encourage anyone to go. Just watch out for your belongings.

What was your worst travel experience on 2009? Tell me below!

Most surprising destination of 2009

Best bargain of 2009

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Steven Roll December 31, 2009 at 8:46 am

A Walk Down the Time Share Echo Chamber

People worry about being robbed or swindled during a vacation. But our biggest problem during our trip in Mexico last summer was trying to prevent people from paying for our snorkeling excursion and other activities.

Why would we stop someone from doing this? The “catch” was having to listen to a 90-minute sales pitch about buying a time share.

The saga began within minutes after my wife and kids and I set off for our maiden walk to the town’s scenic boardwalk or “Malecon.” We made it about 30 feet from the hotel when this man popped up out of nowhere and greeted me with a hearty welcome to Puerto Vallarta and a handshake. After exchanging pleasantries, he ushered us into his office directly off the sidewalk. How long were we planning to stay? he asked. Had we signed up for any excursions yet?

They seemed like harmless questions, so I told him we were in town for about five days and we were interested in going snorkeling among other things. He then described a boat tour that included breakfast, lunch, free drinks, snorkeling, and a visit to a remote beach. This was just what I was after. Even better, he said this trip would only cost us $35 per adult and half of that for our kids.

As good as it sounded, I told him I wanted to sleep on it. He then reduced the price to $25 and offered to pay half the cost of having my kids swim with dolphins if I signed up on the spot.

But, I told him I’d still rather wait.

Responding to my apparent skepticism, he explained that he represented a resort that sold time shares. The resort was willing to reimburse half the cost of a number of our activities in exchange for our promise to listen to a 90 minute sales pitch on purchasing a time share.

I told him I still wasn’t interested and we continued on our walk down the street.

After walking a few blocks, we went into a tequila store. My wife and I accepted the salesman’s invitation to try a shot of coffee-flavored tequila. But even before the burning sensation left my throat, he started asking me if we had signed up for any excursions yet. He was also looking to help subsidize our excursions in exchange for a time-share sales pitch.

Leaving the store somewhat exasperated, we pressed on. By this time, we simply ignored all the inquiries about the length of our stay etc.

On our way back, we stopped at an ice cream shop. After I placed my order, a young man started asking me about our trip to Mexico. I told him how much we enjoyed Guadalajara and some of the sights we saw there.

Eventually, he asked me how I liked Puerto Vallarta. Pointing to a fairly large plastic name tag on his shirt, he explained that he was with the Mexican Tourism Board. “We specialize in complaints,” he said. “Let me know if there’s anything that’s bothering you.” How do you like your hotel? he asked.

“The hotel is fine,” I said. “But there is one thing I’d like to complain about: all of these time share sales pitches are driving us crazy.”

After acknowledging that he had heard others mention that problem, he asked me about our plans. “Well, we’d like to go snorkeling,” I said.

“That’s great,” he exclaimed. “It just so happens, that we offer that trip for free.” It turned out that he was representing a resort selling time shares too.

Back at the hotel, my kids noticed that I seemed a bit despondent after our experience. “Are you still going to blog about Latin America?” they asked. “Maybe it’s time I started a blog about Germany,” I said.

The next day we paid the full price of our excursions with the hotel’s travel agent. After having been solicited by everyone in town the night before, we walked down the Malecon in peace.

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Miss Expatria December 31, 2009 at 9:34 am

Mine was a tale so epic, I had to tell it in three parts on my blog. Long story short, it took me 7 hours to get across the border from Spain (landed at BCN) to my home in France. Highlights included a surly bartender, a taxi sherpa and hoping someone would find my mangled remains at the bottom of the Med.

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Christine December 31, 2009 at 11:39 am

I will never fly Spirit Airlines again.

This experience happened in December 2008, but it was so close to 2009 that I think it counts. Last Christmas, my boyfriend and I flew down to Cancun. His parents had rented a nice house on the beach near Tulum for a week and invited us to come along. Looking to save money, we decided to go el-cheapo with the plane tickets and book with Spirit. I have really never had a bad experience with airlines like Air Tran and Southwest. Those two airlines have gotten me to places all over the country. Southwest is actually my favorite airline because the people are amazingly friendly and accommodating, and there are no baggage fees. My first trip to Hawaii was actually on Southwest/ATA, and the long flight was enjoyable. So when we found an inexpensive flight on Spirit, I had no qualms about booking it.

Big mistake.

My first clue should have been that we’d be charged for pre-booking our seats. We’re not the type of couple who need to be with the other at all times, so we chose not to pre-book. We did end up getting seats beside each other anyway, so I assume most people also choose not to pay and pre-book. We also chose to not check baggage and just stick with carry-ons because we wanted to avoid the fee. While we were getting seated, one of the flight attendants got on the intercom and said that everyone should hurry up and rush to get settled because if we don’t take off in a few minutes, we may not get to take off for a few hours. To me, that sounded like a threat. The flight attendant did not have a friendly tone. She could have said the same thing and not made everyone agitated by rephrasing: “Welcome to Spirit Airlines. Please take your seats as quickly as possible so we can be on our way to sunny Mexico as soon as possible!” for example.

After take-off, the seat belt signs turned off and we were told we were free to move about in the cabin. Some people thought that meant they could get up and use the restroom. Unfortunately, cabin service was just starting just as people were getting up to use the restrooms. One flight attendant got on the intercom and said that if people didn’t sit down, the flight attendants would not serve drinks. I was looking forward to getting a cup of water, as I hadn’t packed my own bottle knowing that it would be confiscated, so I was happy when people returned to their seats. Did you know that a cup of water costs money? Really? Just a cup? You can’t even give me a cup and let me fill up with water from the restroom sink? Ugh. I decided to go thirsty for a few hours and get a bottle during our layover in Detroit.

Our flight left me in a sour mood, but we made it to Mexico and enjoyed our stay.

The return trip was just as bad. We chose to check our carry-ons because we had bought some souvenirs, and they made our luggage so bulky, we didn’t feel like dealing with them. So we handed over the cash and waved good-bye to the bags on the belt. I would like to say that when we got back to La Guardia, we picked up our bags and went on our merry way, but that’d be lying. My boyfriend’s bag showed up; mine was nowhere to be found, and the Spirit rep at baggage claim couldn’t tell me where it was or could be. He just gave me a slip and told me someone would call me to arrange a drop-off once it showed up. The next day, I headed to Philly to see some friends while Matt stayed behind hoping that my bag would show up. The airline called to tell him that my bag would show up sometime between noon and 8 p.m. Now, at the time, we lived in Astoria, Queens, which was basically about a 15-minute drive to La Guardia. Had we known that my bag would not show up until almost midnight, Matt would have just taken a bus to the airport and picked it up, rather than having to wait at home all day for it.

So that was our experience. Maybe it was a fluke, and Spirit is a wonderful airline. But our trip was just so bad that I will not risk having to go through that again. We’re flying Delta to Australia in February, so I’m crossing my fingers that everything will go smoothly on our long flight.

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Matt (Geeky Traveler) December 31, 2009 at 11:47 am

As luck would have it, the final post of the year for my blog was on my worst experience traveling. We took a cab in Durban, South Africa that was totaled by a drunk driver. There were no working seat belts in the cab and I ended up going to the hospital.

It’s a quick read here: http://tinyurl.com/DurbanCab

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Chris January 1, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Steven – The time share industry is all about the hard sell, isn’t it? I’ve never gone to one of those presentations but I know a few people who have done them in exchange for the freebies. Not me -those are hours of your life that you never get back.

MissExpatria – I read some of your ordeal on your blog. It sounded like a biatch and a half, the type of travel that makes you want to bang your head (or someone else’s) against the wall. Glad you made it back to Europe. Hope I can catch up with you again there sometime this year.

Christine – Ugh. That trip sounds extremely tedious. Did I know you were going to Australia? Exciting! What’s your itinerary?

Matt – What a scary story! You are so lucky you or your wife didn’t suffer worse injuries.

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Miss Expatria January 2, 2010 at 7:46 am

We better catch up again, now that you’re free to travel wherever the heck you want! Ha! I’ll be here in Montpel most of the year, in Italy April through June-ish, in the States late June-July. You should think about going to the TBEX event in NYC.

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