Our room has ants, I think I've got a sunburn, and don't look now, the kids are turning green.
Old Motel Sign
Credit: Eddie Ostrowski/EyeEm/Getty Images

I so relate to that Booking.com commercial—the one where a family looks completely undone by the travel experience, but then the door to their hotel room opens and —WOW!—paradise awaits. More often than not, I have done the opposite.

It all began in my childhood, with parents who didn't believe in making hotel reservations—actually, motel reservations. That's where we usually stayed—in little mom-and-pops. Our budget dictated no more than a three-night stay, and on one trip, we had to pack up and move every night because we couldn't find anyplace that had the same room available for three nights in a row. That might also be the year we all went home with heinous sunburns, and each of my parents spent the return trip trying to persuade the other My sunburn is worse than yours, so you should drive.

My dad's brother was just as bad. He once drove his family all the way from Alabama to a Florida beach—at the height of summer, with no reservations. After a fruitless search on the beachfront, you would think he might opt for something a little farther inland and resign himself to a short drive to the waves each day. But no. He turned around, came back home, checked into the local Holiday Inn for a few days, and told his girls to go have a big time in the swimming pool.

One more from the parents: They thought I would love all the big fish tanks at Gulf World. But apparently, my childhood motion sickness was such that I could turn green just watching water move . . .

Brief Public Service Announcement: If sleeping comfortably in your vacation rental requires the purchase of insecticide, you could be experiencing a vacation disaster.

When my husband and I first married, he could not accept my inability to read a map. Surely, with the proper instruction, he insisted, I could navigate with that migraine-inducing document. I can't remember how long we aimlessly wandered the mountains of north Georgia before he accepted defeat and embraced GPS technology (for me, anyway).

As vacation downers go, nothing's worse than a transportation malfunction—cancelled flights, flat tires, etc. Once, on our way to Cruisin' the Coast in Mississippi, an electrical problem made the windshield wipers on our '53 hotrod flap back and forth so fast that they flew off the car, never to be seen again.

The bright side of vacations gone bad? You meet interesting people—like Worm and Frank, two mechanics who helped a carload of us—six cousins and friends en route to Disney World—get back under way when we blew a radiator. And I will always adore the kind soul who took pity on my husband when his beloved hotrod wouldn't start in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. "Sir," this gentleman said, "I think I can get your car started for you. Right now, I've got to hold my wife's purse—but as soon as she gets back, I'll help you." He did, too.