Travel horror stories: we all have them. As much as I’d like to say I have planned every trip to perfection, that would be a lie. But winter break 2011 definitely takes the prize for worst vacation ever, at least in the beginning. Here’s what happened…

Once upon a time, our family decided to visit Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. The kids were pumped because, hello – waterslides galore!

At that time, my kids didn’t have passports and mine had expired. I was surprised to find that the State Department now offered a lower cost ID option for travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. Even though I lamented the fact that we wouldn’t get the cool country stamps that come with the traditional booklet, I love to save money. So we got ourselves some of these fancy new passport cards, packed our bags and headed off on a late-night flight across the country.

The first leg of the trip was uneventful. We flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta on a red eye, catching very little shut-eye on the way. But lack of sleep did nothing to dampen our excitement. We were in high spirits as we prepared to board the plane for the last flight of our trip.

having the wrong passpost brought about the worst vacation ever

Just like in Los Angeles, the gate attendants asked everyone to pull out their passports along with their boarding passes. I handed the correct documents to each person and we got in line.

And that was when the unthinkable happened: they pulled us to the side and told us we couldn’t get on the plane.

I was sure I had heard them wrong. Right up until the moment when the plane pulled away from the jetway. I kept waiting for someone to admit that this had been a cruel joke, that they’d made a mistake, anything to keep this dream vacation from slipping away.

But, no. We were stranded in Atlanta. All because we had the wrong type of passport. #Travelfail

Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter changed our vacation from worst ever to very awesome
In front of the Three Broomsticks at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

(Note to future travelers: passport cards are only good for travel by boat or car, NOT by plane. This would have been good information to have when we APPLIED for the passports, not when we were trying to board the plane!)

Representatives from the airline apologized profusely and said they shouldn’t have let us board in Los Angeles when they saw our passports and our final destination. They told us to pick another spot and they’d fly us there, as well as give us vouchers to fly again within the year. Even better, we transferred our resort reservation to the only place that could make a seven and ten-year-old happier than waterslides: Orlando, Florida.

Despite the horrible start, we wound up having a wonderful vacation. Because who can resist the Magic Kingdom, Kennedy Space Center, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

quick rescheduling to the Kennedy Space Center helped make the worst vacation ever into fun for all
Enjoying Kennedy Space Center

We made it to Atlantis the following year, but it took a LONG time for the shock to wear off from that aborted vacation. (Side note to the lady at the post office who “helped” us get those awesome passport cards: next time people tell you that they are going from California to the Bahamas, maybe you could assume that they aren’t taking a boat through the Panama Canal to get there and point out that a passport card won’t work for air travel!)

Lesson learned: ALWAYS do your research. Thoroughly! I will never again be caught with the wrong documentation when I travel. For some people a passport card might make sense. For our family it was a waste of money.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made when planning a trip? What was your worst vacation? Share your #travelfail in the comments below.

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