Despite what instagram and Facebook might tell you, travelling is not always glamorous, exciting, or inspiring. Sometimes you get violently sick, or get precious stuff stolen, or you simply get disappointed when your high expectations are not met. So, in the spirit of sharing some “real” travel stories, I’ve (reluctantly) picked my Top 5 Worst Travel Experiences for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
1. Staying awake for almost 48 hours, ferrying around the Greek islands
Nope, not staying awake partying all night in Mykonos or Ios.
I was 16, and with my family on a three week vacation in Greece. During our trip, we were meant to travel from Santorini to Crete, on a small ferry that wouldn’t take more than a few hours to get there. Well, that plan was shattered by unusually rough seas, and we had the choice to either take another small ferry a day or two later, or to take a huge night ferry to Athens (!) and then a day ferry the next morning to Crete (!!). Instead of losing time in Crete, my dad decided to travel to Athens and then on to Crete.
The night ferry was awful – the seating was below deck, and it smelled like body odour and unwashed feet. Old Greek grannies were sleeping on mats on the floor, and the constant motion and rocking of the ship was unbearable. We finally made it to Athens in the morning, bought our next ferry ticket, and within 2 hours of stepping foot on the mainland, we were back on another ferry, for a day trip back across the ocean. By the time we reached Crete in the evening, I felt completely “drunk” – disoriented, euphoric, and no longer tired. I haven’t been that sleep deprived in a long time – I certainly try to avoid it after that experience!
2. The London trip that wasn’t – a very big visa fail!
Once I had my German Aufenthaltstitel (residence permit), I assumed that I would get free entry to all countries in the European Union. My husband and I had planned 10 days in London – he had business there, and I would do a bit of sightseeing – and I had already packed and was about to go to bed the night before when an ice-cold bolt of panic shot through me – did I need a visa? Would my residence permit be enough? What if I was stopped at check-in at the airport?
Since I have a South African passport, a UK visa is indeed required (this I found out after frantic Googling), and I remember waking hubby up and sobbing, saying that I actually couldn’t go with him. I ended up staying home, depressed as hell, and feeling incredibly foolish about not having double-checked every detail. I certainly learned my lesson – I now make sure that I have all the information, to avoid epic fails like my “London trip that Wasn’t”.
3. Getting diarrhoea in Egypt, whilst sightseeing.
I’m cringing even typing this, but yes, I got sick in Egypt – the North African version of “Dehli Belly”, as I called it. When travelling in Egypt, the golden rules for avoiding stomach viruses are 1. never eat fresh produce (vegetables, fruit, etc) as they may have been washed in the local water, 2. NEVER drink the tap water, only bottled water with a seal, 3. brush your teeth with bottled water, 5. only eat well-cooked meat and veggies. Well, I followed all these rules, but somehow – maybe I got watered-down juice at a restaurant, or slipped up in hand hygiene – it still got me.
I was one of the first, and shortly afterwards, almost everyone else on our Contiki trip got violently ill too. I was fortunate to only have one “episode” – running to the bathroom in the Aswan Botanical Gardens, crying my eyes out, and still having to pay the little boy at the door for toilet paper. After that I took the Imodium I always carry on me when travelling, and also bought some local Egyptian medicine on the way back to the hotel. Miraculously, it worked, and I only suffered a few stomach cramps afterwards.
Shit literally does happen when travelling, especially if you are travelling in places where the sanitation isn’t great, food hygiene laws are slack, and the local bacteria are foreign to your body. My tip – rather be overly cautious, with emergency medication packed, than having to make a mad dash to the loo when you’re seeing some of the world’s most beautiful and ancient sights.
4. Throwing a tantrum in public, and then getting lost in Paris.
Yes, this really did happen. I was in Paris with my husband (then boyfriend) over Valentine’s Day, and we had been out that night – up the Eiffel Tower, walking around, enjoying the sights. At the end of the night, for some reason we had an argument over directions. I was tired, with sore feet, and seriously grumpy – a VERY bad combination. Anyway, I decided that “I would navigate home myself” and simply hopped on the first train in the Paris Metro.
At first I expected him to follow me – I got off at the next station, satisfied that I had “proved my point”, and waited.
I have never quite felt such panic in my life, when I realised he wasn’t coming. I was sitting alone, in an unfamiliar Paris Metro station, with mice playing by my feet and strangers flooding past every few minutes. I backtracked to the last station I saw him at – nothing. Waited. Eventually I was so scared that I hailed a taxi and went back to the hotel, the name of which I thankfully remembered. My phone wasn’t set up for roaming, and I had his phone in my handbag for safekeeping, so it really was a most ridiculous situation.
I was freaking out and almost crying, the poor concierge was trying to console me, and then in walks my husband. Let’s just say that it will never happen again – we travel together, even when angry with each other. We just walk on opposite sides of the road 😉
5. Freaking out during the worst medication withdrawal of my life, at Castle Neuschwanstein, Germany
I take daily medication for my epilepsy, depression, and anxiety, and sometimes I forget to take it. Usually I only skip a day, and feel a bit tired or irritable until I take the next pill. In 2013 we were in Munich for a week, and I stupidly forgot to bring enough pills. I think it was Day 4 of being un-medicated when we took our day trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein (Castle Neuschwanstein). If you’ve never had drug withdrawal before, let me describe it briefly:
Extreme irritability, insomnia, strange physical sensations such as tactile hallucinations, “electricity” shooting through your limbs, visual hallucinations, and other equally strange and unpleasant phenomena.
Walking up to the famous German “Disney Castle” was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Every step was like a mild electric shock, the colours seemed weird, and nothing felt real. It was also awesome, as it felt like a trippy fairytale! I struggled to walk, but luckily on the tour indoors it was much better. On the train home, my withdrawal slipped into extreme depression and I literally crawled into bed, barely conscious. I got the medication when I got home, of course, but that was definitely one of the strangest experiences of my travel life.
I still shudder when thinking about these, but I also giggle (enough time has passed!) at the pretty ridiculous things that have happened to me when travelling. Sure, some moments are as perfect as they look in pictures – and others are random, awful, hilarious experiences that leave you going, “Did that REALLY happen?”. I could be scared of having worse things happen on future trips, but honestly, life is too short!
As the quote says – Better an *oops* than a what if!
Do you have any crazy/embarrassing/awful travel stories to tell? Feel free to share them in the Comments!