Just 14 hours into the trip of a lifetime with six weeks and eight countries planned, Emma Bens was already phoning home with an embarrassing call for help.

Mortified, the Australian backpacker had only taken one plane so far - and it was to the wrong country.

This costly mistake was only realised when she went to catch the connection at Denver airport - expecting for it to be to San Jose, Costa Rica - but instead she arrived at the gate for a much shorter flight to San Jose . . . in California.

It took her some time to summon the courage to admit the mistake to the United Airlines staff, Bens explained in article for Escape magazine, which was followed by the most embarrassing words of her life:


"I'm so sorry, but I need your help. I've booked my plane ticket to the wrong San Jose."

By this time her bags were well on their way to the San Francisco Bay Area without her.

Bens spend the next few hours "between tears on the waiting seats, on the phone to my travel agent and wanting to pummel my fists into the desk of the airline booth," she told Escape.

What's in a name? The two places share little apart from their moniker. Photo / Ruben Ramirez, Andreii Ganzevych, Unsplash
What's in a name? The two places share little apart from their moniker. Photo / Ruben Ramirez, Andreii Ganzevych, Unsplash

However there was still not response from home in Australia, who were presumably sound asleep.

After several hours on the United helpline, $200 worth of roaming fees and three changeover shifts from the airline desk - she finally found a way out.

This came in the form of a $1200 flight and a 12-hour stopover in Houston Texas.

United kindly arranged to forwarded Bens' backpack from California, which arrived to meet her in Costa Rica - three days later.

Now booked onto the flight to the 'right' San Jose, she heard from her dad who had few words for his daughter.


The message came in the form of a single SMS link to the Dionne Warwick hit "Do you know the way to San Jose."

At least Bens' family saw the funny side of the situation.

It's not an uncommon mistake to confuse San Joses. In February, two backpackers from the UK booked a connection from Medellin, Colombia to a San Jose 5000km in the wrong direction.

Similarly in 2018 a Swedish attendee to a social media conference in California was delayed after booking tickets to the wrong airport. Can you guess where she ended up?

There are 1716 " San Josés" in the world.

It's the most common place name on Earth, according to the US GEOnet name server database which stores 5.6 million cities for SatNav systems.


The almost 2000 San Joses are liberally sprinkled between Europe, South America and the Pacific. There are even 13 San Joses in the Philippines.

Although you might think to check your tickets before booking.

The top fifteen most common place names are all Spanish or Portuguese. One presumes this is because Conquistadores had too little time left from all that conquering to come up with novel names.

Statistically, if someone asks "are you going to San Francisco" the answer is: yes. There are 1017 cities with that name.

Other unoriginal names include Alexandrovka - or Александровка - of which there are 571 throughout the Russian speaking world.

Or the Persian name Hoseynabad, of which there are 542 places with the name between Europe and central Asia.


Bens' one takeaway she would share from the experience " wearing the same clothes for 72 sticky, uncomfortable hours"?

"always carry a spare pair of underwear in your carry-on luggage. If you can fit extra leggings, T-shirt and jumper in there too, DO THAT."

World's most common place names

1. San José (or San Jose) 1,716

2. San Antonio 1,691

3. Santa Maria (or Santa María) 1,246

4. Santa Rosa 1,212


5. San Pedro 1,191

6. San Juan 1,166

7. San Francisco 1,017

8. San Miguel 989

9. San Isidro 892

10. Esperanza (or La Esperanza) 852


Source: geonames.nga.mil/gns/html/