Worst vacation ever? Here’s how to snap back

What’s your worst vacation experience ever? Was it a delayed flight, a missing hotel reservation, or maybe terrible weather that ruined everything? Or maybe it was someone who ruined it for you?

My “someone” was a horseback riding guide who bungled a tour so badly that my kids will probably never saddle up again. If there were a Fawlty Towers spinoff with horses, we would have all had starring roles in it.

Vacations can go wrong, but when they head south with your kids, you have a lot to answer for. The children will be disappointed, you’ll be kicking yourself, and everyone will probably just want to go home.

No one knows what ruins vacations the most, but we have a few ideas. A recent survey by McAfee, for example, suggested too much device time on vacation can affect your trip. I second that. Ask me sometime about how I got all these pictures.

How to recover from the worst vacation ever.
A trail similar to the one we rode down. Not much to see here.

Worst vacation ever: the horseback riding tour from hell

Our horseback ride from hell started with our guide pushing a four-page legal contract in my hands. Just a few moments later he would boast about the operator’s positive reviews, and I knew why. The agreement contained a non-disparagement clause that promised I wouldn’t say anything negative about the tour. After a little back and forth, our guide reluctantly agreed to let me “X” out the offending paragraph and sign the rest. I should have walked away then, but we’d come all this way.

Maybe that explains what followed next. Our guide, who fancied himself as a Jack Palance-type character from the movie “City Slickers,” managed to hurl several insults at us before we ever got out of the barn (he was angry at liberals, the nanny state, Oprah Winfrey, and a local Indian tribe for building a casino nearby). He never bothered to ask us about our political beliefs, but it didn’t matter because we had bigger things to worry about.

The horses shared our guide’s hostile attitude. My daughter’s mare refused to move; mine wouldn’t stop. No matter how hard I pulled back the reins, the horse went whichever way it pleased. It plowed into our guide’s horse several times. I apologized for something I hadn’t done. Cowboy Jack glared at me but remained silent.

Things took a turn for the worse when we encountered a cow with two young calves along an otherwise unmemorable path. Our guide badly misread the situation. He tried to chase away the cows, but they returned and charged at my daughter and her horse. She managed to stay in the saddle but was visibly shaken.

Our tour was almost over. But just a short distance from the barn, Cowboy Jack came to an abrupt stop, blocking the path. I tugged on the reins. And of course, my horse rammed right into his horse.

He exploded.

“Do you think you can control your horse, SIR?” he demanded. “I’ve told you before, you have to control your horse. Can you do that? CAN YOU, SIR?”

I was speechless. So were my kids. We ended the ride and walked away in stunned silence. In the safety of our car, all three kids told me they never wanted to go horseback riding again. But now, looking back on this riding fiasco, I’m happy I had an opportunity to talk to them about the importance of mental health and good customer service. Cowboy Jack probably hadn’t taken his meds that morning and he’d paired us with horses that weren’t fit for riding.

Kayaking in Washington in 2017. The currents were so strong, we almost couldn't get back to shore.
Kayaking in Washington in 2017. The currents were so strong, we almost couldn’t get back to shore.

What to do when you’ve had the worst vacation ever

Our horseback ride with Cowboy Jack wasn’t our only worst-vacation-ever story. There was the kayaking tour in Washington where we almost got swept out to sea. Our guide demanded a tip after we returned to shore. I gave him one: “Don’t take your guests into dangerous waters.” And there was the ziplining tour where we almost froze to death while our guide told us jokes that weren’t funny. Lesson learned: Personal comfort is no laughing matter. But if you’re going to make light of it, be sure you have some good material

Here’s how to snap back.

Failure can be funny. Actually, laughter is the best medicine when something goes terribly wrong. We’ve always found a way to crack a joke about a situation with vacation-ruining potential. “If the sharks eat us, they’ll start with you,” my middle son told my daughter after a rough kayak ride. “They loooooove 11-year-old girls!” Or, as my oldest son said, “Maybe Cowboy Jack lost all of his money in an Indian casino?”

Adversity builds character. It’s almost become a punchline in our family, that when something’s hard, it’s “character-building.” But honestly, if everything were easy, then life wouldn’t be as interesting. So, whether you’re being chewed out by an angry cowboy or chased down the road by a kayaking guide who almost got you pulled out into the Pacific, it’s an adventure.

Do better next time. Snapping back from a bad vacation means avoiding future screw-ups. I agree with my kids. Maybe we’re not horse people. And after a few close calls on a kayak, maybe we aren’t boat people, either. Like other travelers, we probably know this after the first or second time, but we persist because we want to give the thing another chance. But I think now we know. No more horses, no more boats.

You probably have your list, born from personal experience or just personal tastes. Take it from me — heed it. If you’re not a beach person, please don’t let anyone talk you into taking a beach vacation. If you don’t like to ski, stay away from ski resorts during high season. And if for some reason you aren’t fond of horses, stay away from characters like Cowboy Jack and his stable of misbehavin’ steeds. It could mean the difference between a good vacation — and the worst vacation ever.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.