Travel horror stories: What not to do

Three students studying at NYU Florence share their travel disasters, and offer tips for how to avoid making the same mistakes.


Victoria Liu

(Illustration by Victoria Liu)

Josie Leach, Staff Writer

One of the most appealing aspects of studying abroad is the ability to constantly travel. While some dislike the pressure to travel, weekend excursions and day trips make the average study abroad experience even more memorable for many students. But traveling while abroad is not always as simple as it seems. In fact, a seamless travel experience is typically the exception and not the norm. Sometimes there are avoidable mishaps and other times, it is merely the travel gods we have to blame. Whether you’re studying in Florence or another study abroad site like London or Buenos Aires, it’s difficult to escape a travel mishap. To avoid having a minor issue snowball into a full-blown travel disaster, take some advice from those who had to learn the hard way. 

Lesson 1: Avoid overnight layovers at all costs

Katherine Simon, a first-year in the Liberal Studies program, considers herself an experienced traveler, and rarely runs into issues on her trips. But she recalls one trip from last December that still haunts her.

“We had a 13-hour layover in the Zurich Airport,” Simon said. “Who booked the flight? We don’t know, but I just went along with it.”

Perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue had Simon decided to book a hotel room or sleeping capsule as some of her friends did. But, hoping to save on cash, she opted to bunker down in the airport terminal overnight. She knew she wouldn’t be dozing in luxury, but she also wasn’t prepared for the nightmare that lay ahead. 

“The windows were open and birds were coming in,” she said. “They started playing Christmas tunes at 4 a.m. and that woke me up. I was so cold.”

Simon struggled for ways to stay warm in the chilly temperatures, attempting to use her puffer and scarf as blankets. Like any other major airport, flights and their passengers operated on schedules that respected nobody’s sleep cycle people were eating, talking and queuing up in every corner of the terminal throughout the night.

After recounting her sleepless night in the airport, Simon said that even if the prices were good, she would not put herself through the experience again, and does not recommend that anyone else does either. Saving some money with a long layover may seem enticing, but it’s never worth the sleep deprivation.

Lesson 2: Between flights, give yourself more time than you think you’ll need

Denver International Airport was LS first-year Ashtyn Laraby’s first stop on her journey back to Florence after she returned home for winter break. When she arrived at the airport, she was struck by the winding, seemingly never-ending line for security, which foreshadowed the difficulties ahead.

Due to a small delay in her flight takeoff time, Laraby found that she had limited time to get onto her next flight at the Boston Logan International Airport, which was in a completely different terminal than the one in which she arrived. To her dismay, the shuttle driver to the other terminal was in no rush. When the bus eventually dropped her off, Laraby ran to the gate, making it just as the flight was boarding. 

After all the stress of rushing to make her flight on time, Laraby found out that due to the need for defrosting, the flight would not be taking off immediately. 

“This was horrible news because I had an hour-long layover in [Paris],” Laraby said.

Though the flight did eventually depart, Laraby found that, upon landing, she would once again be racing against the clock.

“I was like, I have to just go, go, go, so I got off and I was running,” Laraby said. “I was on the move and I was like, I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna make it.” 

Spoiler alert: She did not make it. After a long wait in the airport customer service line, Laraby was told the next available flight to Florence would be taking off the following morning. Faced with the possibility of spending the night alone in the airport — which we have already learned is not ideal — Laraby decided to instead book a flight to Rome and then hop on a train. 

“At this point, I was crying in the terminal,” she said. “I just hadn’t slept in so long and bad things were happening.” 

Unfortunately, the delays, short layovers and missed flights also led to another problem for Laraby. According to the AirTag tracker she placed in her suitcase, while she was in Paris, her luggage was in Dublin. There was no possibility of her bag making it back with her to Florence, so she would have to have it shipped, a process that left her without her belongings for a week. While the delays were unavoidable, Laraby noted that a lot of stress could have been avoided had she given herself longer layovers. Sure, an extra boost of cardio in between flights might sound tempting, but take it from Laraby –- more time and less stress is the way to go.

Lesson 3: Check you have everything … and then check again

Everyone has a dream vacation location — the place they are just dying to visit during their time studying abroad. For LS first-year Sofia Mercado, this was Paris. During her first semester of the year she was spending at NYU Florence, she finally booked the trip, planning a whole weekend with her friends.

“It was amazing, I was so excited,” Mercado said. “I packed like the best of the best. I was ready to pop off in Paris.”

To save money, Mercado and her friends decided to book a flight through the Milan Malpensa Airport, as the flights from the small airport in Florence tend to be more expensive. This meant that the group would have to take a two-hour-long train ride to Milan. It was on this train that Mercado had a sudden realization: She had forgotten her passport.

While most would be alarmed, Mercado wasn’t concerned, believing her new Italian residence card would suffice. However, when she made it to immigration in Milan and admitted that she did not have her passport, the customs agent laughed in her face. After a couple of minutes of back and forth, she realized would not, after all, be getting on the plane to Paris.

“In that moment my heart sank and I began to hyperventilate,” she said.

Not only would she not be going on the trip she had so meticulously planned, but she had no idea how she would get back to campus. 

“I just started bawling, crying,” she said. “I called my parents and I was like ‘What do I do?’”

With no trains or flights available due to costs and strikes, her only option was a night bus.

“As a girl in a foreign country, taking a bus at night, alone — not the best mixture of things you want to do all at once,” she said. “It was, I think, the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do.” 

Mercado made it back to campus early the next morning, though any hope for her dream trip to Paris had all but faded. After this, she always checks twice for her passport and has learned to stay calm when things go awry.

Contact Josie Leach at [email protected].