Travel Disasters That You're Not Prepared for (but Should Be)

October 18th 2016

Laura Donovan

My fiance recently lost his bag on the way to the airport. We took a shuttle to Los Angeles International Airport, and by the time we arrived at our terminal, his black suitcase was nowhere to be found in the luggage compartment, which is located at the bottom of the bus and only accessible to passengers once they exit the vehicle.

Someone had gotten off at an earlier terminal and accidentally taken his bag, which contained everything he needed for the wedding we were flying out of the airport to attend.

By a stroke of luck, the person who mistakenly grabbed his bag returned it to us that day, and we got on a later flight with just enough time to freshen up and eat something before the wedding.

Because this was not a particularly well-known travel mishap — losing a checked bag from a flight, facing delays with connecting flights, and experiencing cancellations — we were at a loss when his stuff went missing. I joked that it's usually the airlines that are associated with travel drama, not the shuttles taking you to the airport.

I spoke with L.A.-based travel agent Natasha Lee Martin and learned that there are a lot more unusual travel disasters that people face during trips. Whether you're going out of the country or somewhere in the U.S., here are some unexpected travel problems to prepare for before your next flight.

1. Sex toy troubles.

Sex toy

If you want to travel with sex toys, Martin recommends researching the countries and cities that have banned such items prior to visiting these places. For a full list, read ATTN:'s previous post about countries that forbid the ownership of sex toys.

Martin told ATTN: that she knows of a woman who manages a sex toy shop and had a lot of issues at an airport for carrying sex toys in her luggage:

"She often travels with supplies, dildos and things of that nature, because sometimes she's doing sales or promoting something. She got taken through the baggage [area] because of her suitcase, and she ended up being strip-searched, thrown in a cell for about 10 hours, her belongings were taken away from her, like all of this horrific stuff happened to her just because of what she had in her suitcase, and everything she had was completely legal and completely justifiable. She missed her connecting flight, it completely screwed up her entire vacation, and they didn't seem to care. I remember hearing her story and thinking, 'Oh, my god, I can't believe this happen to her.' These are objects that are pretty clear, this is what this is."

The TSA has a feature on its website with the words, "When I fly can I bring my ..." that enables travelers to check whether an item they want to bring in a carry-on or checked bag is allowed. Vibrators are OK:


2. Leaving things in older hotel rooms or safes.

"The safes [in international hotels] are not always secure," Martin told ATTN:. "Clients have gotten things stolen from their hotel safe. I think because [hotels may not always] change the combination."

She added that older hotels in particular might not be as secure, because they're not up to date technologically.

"In the older hotels in Europe, you just get a key. You don't have a key fob that swipes you into the room. It's an old-fashioned key, and how many people have that key or have made copies of that key? It's very different than it is here, where they reprogram the key and give a new key fob to you."

3. Internet bundle packages that go awry.

Martin recommends using a travel agent for international flights or trips requiring multiple flights, as professionals are well-equipped to handle the domino effect of connecting flight complications.

"I think the biggest [issue] is when people try to purchase these packages through [certain travel booking sites]," Martin said. "I know people whose trips have been rerouted mid-trip. They're in, say, the U.K., waiting for their connecting flight, and they have maybe two flights to another country, and all [of a] sudden their connecting flight was canceled or overbooked by one of these cheap air sites, and now they're stuck in the U.K. And if they were to purchase a ticket, it's going to be three times the price, because the rates are skyrocketed, and now they're going to risk the rest of their vacation because of this one flight."

4. Rooms with bed bugs.

Martin advises people to be extra careful about staying at hotels with documented bed bug issues, noting that Airbnb residences could also have bed bugs if lots of travelers are coming and going, and the linens haven't been properly cleaned between stays. In fact, an Airbnb community user post published earlier this year confronts the issue of guests and bed bugs:


"You have people traveling a lot staying at the same person's apartment," Martin said. "Another friend of mine got bedbugs from staying in an Airbnb because that person had just changed the sheets from the person before and didn't check the mattress, didn't check the conditions of her apartment, and was gone six months out of the year. She didn't realize that the person who had [previously] stayed had brought bed bugs from their luggage. All it takes is one."

Earlier this year, New York City's Astor on the Park Hotel received a lot of negative press after one guest posted a viral video showing dozens of bed bugs in one of the hotel's rooms. The hotel offered no comment in response to the viral video when it was uploaded in January.

5. Hotels under construction.

Martin told ATTN: that a friend of hers once spent thousands of dollars on a remote Mexico resort that did not reveal before her trip that it was under major construction, creating a distressing travel experience for this woman:

"Her entire weeklong trip was a nightmare, because there was banging and jackhammering and machines. It was literally like sleeping on a construction site. She was miserable, and they would not refund her money. They wouldn't do anything for her. An agent would have gotten her a full refund, because they weren't forthright about the fact that they were doing construction, and that's something that they're supposed to put on their website and advertise. Here she spent thousands and thousands of dollars on her vacation, and she ended up with a migraine the whole time. She didn't know what to do. She was stuck in this resort that was very remote. Her flight was nonrefundable; there was nothing she could do."

Last year, Los Angeles Times travel editor Catharine Hamm wrote that hotels don't need to disclose construction to customers, but that "not doing so puts a business in greater peril than construction ever could."