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You’ve been hearing all about the awesomeness that was my friends and family’s trip to Thailand. It’s true, we had some amazing moments and days. But I have a confession: there were some serious disappointments, and I still feel a lot of guilt over them. I had so looked forward to this trip as my big chance to show off my new home and my new life and leave everyone impressed with how together I had it. In reality, things went wrong. The weather was crappy, one of the hotels was ridiculously bad and my scheduling was unrealistic. On top of it all, Mark and I were having some serious personal problems, mostly revolving around a landlord who seemed pretty hell-bent on ruining our lives (that is going to require a post of its own!) So, ready for a major confessional/vent?

Weather Woes

The weather during my friends and family’s visit was, in a word, devastating. I’ll simply say that it was the worst 10 day stretch of weather I have experienced in my roughly 9 combined months of time in Southeast Asia. To add the fun, the water levels were at an all time high, swallowing up almost all the beaches, while diving conditions were at an all time low, with miserable visibility and currents. I ran to the window every morning and my stomach sunk at yet another grey, overcast sky. Koh Tao isn’t a big city with museums and movie theatres to pass away a rainy day. It’s an outdoor island where diving, swimming and sunbathing are the big draws. Honestly, the only thing to do when it rains is watch movies in bed or head to the spa. I will say we had some great massages that week.

Beautiful Koh TaoNot enough days like this…

Koh Tao is a different island when the sun shines, and I had wanted so badly for my family and friends to fall in love with the island like I had. Mark could see me being eaten up over my anxiety about the continual bad weather and kept trying to reassure me by saying “no one can control the weather!” It’s true, but I also can’t seem to control my continual disappointment and even guilt over this aspect of the trip.

Ugly Koh Tao…and too many days like this

Hotel Horrors

Our apartment in Bangkok was amazing. Our resort in Koh Samui was a pleasant surprise. But my family’s hotel in Koh Tao? Disappointment.

Ban's Resort Koh TaoIt looks so pretty from the window…

For a myriad of reasons, many my fault, we booked hotels pretty late considering it was peak season in Thailand, a major tourist destination. So all my top choices in Koh Tao were sold out, which left me scrambling to find something both very nice and very near my apartment. We settled on Ban’s, which happens to be one of the largest dive resorts in all of Southeast Asia. While they have tons of cheap rooms for divers they also have some pricey upscale options as well.

Ban's Koh Tao

The booking was archaic and actually was completed by email, which should have tipped me off that this wouldn’t go smoothly. Since they don’t have a proper booking system or a very detailed website in that aspect, we booked based on the few pictures provided. Upon arrival I was shocked to see the rooms were NOTHING like the photos on the website. Laughably nothing like what we booked. I wish I had taken photos to show you all the bait and switch that happened here. This is Asia and things are run differently, so I was ready to move on and enjoy the fairly nice rooms that were provided (though not nearly as nice or luxe as those pictured). But then the ridiculousness kept on coming. When my mom’s bathroom had no hot water, the hotel gave her crazy excuses for days (“all of the water is heated by solar panels… and there has been no sun…”) before finally admitting her shower was broken and giving her the keys to a nearby room to use that shower. It was bizarre. And there were several other frustrating snafus anytime we dealt with reception. Suffice it to say I recommend anyone to stay far, far away from Ban’s Resort in Koh Tao. (And since I’m all riled up I’ll confess I think they are a terrible choice to dive with as well!)

This is not something I normally deal with. Mark and I stay in cheapo places so if the bed falls apart or the shower electrocutes us or we have to empty our own trash, we just kind of laugh and say we got what we paid for. But when you are paying top dollar in what is meant to be luxury accommodation…. you expect to get what you pay for.

Time Trials

While Mark and I had our hosting hats on for almost a month, our guests were on an overlapping basis and most were staying for less than 10 days each. Ten days! To explore this beautiful country? It’s not enough.

I made a mistake in this aspect. I just kept throwing out my favorite activities and asking everyone if they wanted to do them. I kept getting enthusiastic yeses, along with the caveat that everyone wanted to relax and have some downtime as well. And so like a delusional maniac I tried to create a vacation schedule that included showing off the highlights of what I’ve done in 9 months here all while scheduling adequate time for rest and relaxation! Yeah, I’m sure you can see where this is headed. That’s impossible. And instead of being honest and telling everyone (including myself) in the planning stages that this was unrealistic, I just bulldozed on ahead.

Relaxing in Thailand

Of course, when it came time for the trip to come to life I found myself feeling like some sort of vacation tyrant, even though I was only trying to get people to the activities that they had claimed they wanted to do.

What Went Right

Of course there was only one thing I was actually worried about before the trip, and that played out fine.

Family Travel

I’ve only really hinted at this on my blog, but I have a very nontraditional family situation. I’m sure my traffic would skyrocket if I started writing about that, but I’m not really ready to share those details with the world so forgive me for being vague. Here’s the short version: My family has been through life-altering tragedy and heartbreak and is still willing to fly across the world and vacation together for the benefit of my sister and me. I had a lot of anxiety leading up to their arrival but in the end, for the most part, everyone handled themselves with grace. I’m a lucky girl.

So… did I learn anything?

All in all, one positive thing to come of this was it made me deeply grateful for the slow long-term style that Mark and I have adopted. If the weather is bad, no stress, we’ll still be here next week. If everything is booked up, no problem, we’ll come back next month. Too much to fit in? That’s fine, we’ll stay a few more days.

I wish I could end this post with upbeat lesson about what I took away from these disasters but mostly I wanted to write this to find some closure over something I still feel a little sad about. If I really dig deep this is what I come up with:

1. Make a rain plan. I was so excited and optimistic about this trip I didn’t even stop to make a rainy day plan. We did end up spending a lot of time at the spa, which was pretty awesome, but when I think about it there were other alternatives like bringing everyone to a Muay Thai lesson that maybe they would have enjoyed had I planned ahead.

2. Book early! So, this is out of many people’s control. But if you are planning a short-term dream trip to a top vacation spot in peak season, you need to book yesterday.

3. Be realistic. If you want to relax on the beach all week, go for it. If you also want to dive/kayak/sightsee/hike/do it all/etc, be honest with yourself about how your trip is really going to be. Try to find your happy-place balance.

Have you ever experienced trip disappointments or travel guilt? How did you get over it? Please share in the comments below!

  • Dad
    March 20 2012

    Alex, you are way too hard on yourself. I thought it was the best vacation EVER! Number one, we were all together, two, we got to meet lots of your friends and see where you live in all kinds of weather and three, travel is an adventure…..and this was a great adventure for me.

    Thank you. You can plan my vacations anytime.

    • Alex
      March 20 2012

      Well I’m certainly glad to know that you look back with only the best memories! So do I… 95% of the time.

  • Kathryn
    March 20 2012

    True, the cold water situation at Bans was annoying…as was the jackhammer that seemed to be in constant use outside the bedroom window…but the room itself was beautiful, and I especially loved the covered deck overlooking the hills. The teeny downsides were vastly buried within an otherwise fantastic trip. I know the whole hostess guilt thing…every time I throw a party I lie in bed after thinking about all the ways I could have been a better hostess. But I’ve learned that people will have about as much fun as they set out to have, so I hope you can let it go…I loved Thailand and can’t wait to return.

    • Alex
      March 20 2012

      It’s true, it’s totally different when you feel like the trip is your “responsibility” whether people are visiting you or you just happened to be the planner.

  • Diane Cameron
    March 20 2012

    Alex–This was one of your best! I think its wonderful to read about the realities of travel and the realities of life…it’s that diff between being a tourist and a traveler–we learn from our messy stuff and we love to learn from other people’s messy stuff too.

    Here’s to real life!

    • Alex
      March 20 2012

      Thank you Diane! I definitely think it’s important to “keep it real.” My only worry is looking too negative as I start to get honest about some rough things!

  • Fidel
    March 21 2012

    I see your dad sporting the cool GoPro on his helmet. He gets cooler and cooler every time I see him or read about him, lol.

    I like what you said about trying to cram in a week the fun you’ve experienced in nine months. Man, I have been there myself. When I lived in Los Angeles, any time a friend or family member visited, I tried to give them the ultimate So Cal tour without realizing that I’ve been living there for years and all the places I love seeing, I’ve seen them over the years not within a week.

    Cloudy days suck! Seems like I never get those picture perfect postcard days all the time when I travel either. While I was in Koh Ngai, most of the mornings were gray and the tide was too high. In Florence, it rained every morning, only to clear up and turn sunny in the afternoon. I guess its different when you are playing hosts and want people to see the same beauty you’ve been telling them about.

    I think this has been one of your best written post.

    • Alex
      March 21 2012

      Thank you Fidel, that compliment means a lot coming from you! Your comments basically hit the nail on the head. We have such a beautiful luxury of exploring when we get to live somewhere and we want people to see that same side when they come to visit… but in reality, they are on a short-term vacation!

      And yes, my Dad is pretty cool. We rented that GoPro and now I NEED one!

  • Stacey
    March 21 2012

    Aw it’s sad that the trip didn’t go as planned, but I’m sure that your family was most excited to see you. It’s horrible when you want to show someone the best parts of a place and they only see the worst. Looks like you learned some good lessons though so thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Alex
      March 22 2012

      I’m so glad you got something from it, Stacey! I got a lot of closure from writing this and overall have always looked back on the trip with fond memories.

  • Jenna
    March 22 2012

    I loved this post as well, it helped remind me that we don’t have the time to do and see everything while we are there.

    I’m sorry about the tough thing your family is going through :(. I’m glad you get to be home right now to spend time with them!

    • Alex
      March 22 2012

      Hey Jenna! I’m glad you got something from this 🙂 It was very therapeutic to write and helped me let go of some nagging regrets and I’m really glad to hear it helped another traveler as well.

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