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mottarone italyI’ve made plenty of mistakes while traveling. I’ve forgotten everything from a computer charger to a camera, and I’ve scheduled flights so close together that more than once I’ve pulled what I call “the ‘Home Alone’ run,” in which I scurry through the airport like the McCallisters, just barely making it to the gate before it closes.

On a recent trip to Italy, I made one of my biggest mistakes yet — but it led to one of my fondest travel memories to date.

During a trip to Lake Maggiore, a newfound friend and I decided to take a cable car to the top of Mottarone, a mountain that overlooks the lake and the town of Stresa. The experience had been recommended to us by a few locals, though one woman warned us not to miss the last ride down the mountain.

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Once there, we were rewarded with hiking trails and spectacular views (we could see seven different lakes and even a bit of Switzerland in the distance). We enjoyed ourselves so much that time flew quickly, and guess what? We missed the last ride down.

After we got past the initial “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” we found our way to the nearest business — actually, the only business; the restaurant was the only sign of civilization nearby. The owner, who barely spoke English, made a quick call, then told us it would be an hour before we could even get a taxi; after that, it would be at least a 45-minute drive and 60 euros back to our hotel. We were supposed to meet a group of friends for our last dinner together in Italy in an hour. We’d never make it.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

My friend ordered a beer and started chatting with the owner. Still in a state of panic, I grabbed a beer too, and, at her order, sat down to “try to relax.”

The owner kindly offered us plates of meat, cheese and bread on the house, and began to tell us about himself. It turned out he was the former mayor of Stresa, and he planned to run for office again. The restaurant he owned dated back several generations, and his mother, who also spoke to us, still cooked up some of the area’s best dishes (“People like the meatballs,” she said). The family also owned a hotel (adjacent to the restaurant) that was popular during ski season.

Caught up in conversation, it was actually disappointing to leave when the taxi driver finally arrived. As he whisked the car down hairpin turns, my friend and I agreed: this unexpected conversation with the locals was travel at its best, and an experience neither of us would forget.

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What’s the best travel mistake you ever made?

— written by Amanda Geronikos

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5 Responses to “The Best Travel Mistake I Ever Made”

  1. Margie Carr says:

    A few friends and I were planning to go on a cruise to the Mediterranean so when another friend heard about our trip she started to tell me about a trip she had taken and mentioned that she had gone to the bone church. As soon as I could I googled the bone church and very quickly decided that we would have to tack Prague onto our itinerary so that we could see the bone church – it was wonderful.

    On our return the same friend was looking at my photographs and asked what made us go to Prague – so my reply that she had was met with a surprised “but I meant the bone church in Rome”. None of us were sorry that we had spent a few days in Prague.

  2. Kim says:

    I like the home alone run. Now I have a name for it !

  3. Paula Reynolds says:

    Great story! Some of my most memorable moments during travel were the result off mistakes! Some of our best Italian friends came about due to an unplanned wine tour taken at the last minute when my attempts to rent a car in Siena fell through. Never would’ve happened if my “plans” had gone accordingly! So salute to wrong turns, failed plans, getting lost, and missed gondolas!

  4. my tours in rome says:

    There are may other mistakes when people travel to europe from the US. For example, doing a tour after having landed, disregarding the jet lag issues. Or not practicing to drive before driving on the roads of England and Ireland.

  5. Kathy TJ says:

    Oliver, a guy I’d met in a hostel, and I were traveling in Norway together for a couple days. We took a ferry across a fjord and then did the dumbest thing—we browsed the gift store before heading to the road to hitch a ride. Problem? All the cars had driven off the ferry and on their way, so there was no one left to GIVE us a ride! Three hours later, after trudging along the (granted, picturesque) lonely road, Oliver spotted some huts in the growing darkness and thought he might ask the people in the nearby farmhouse if we could rent one for the night. Just as he was going, we saw . . headlights. Screaming and jumping up and down and waving our arms, we managed to be seen, and the driver said of course he’d give us a ride right to our hostel. Yay! Not only that, the full moon was rising and warmly lit the road as we traveled right over a lovely waterfall—AND they were still serving dinner when we arrived at the hostel. Whew!

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