Anyone who has traveled for any length of time knows that travel is definitely NOT unicorns and rainbows all the time. Sure, it's fun and life-changing and can be amazing. But, as with any situation where complete control is out of your hands, things can easily go wrong when it comes to travel.
Whether it's canceled flights, bad weather, sickness, scams, or something much worse, bad travel days are inevitable the more often you travel.
In honor of the release of my friend Lauren Juliff's book about travel mishaps (called “How Not to Travel the World“), I asked a bunch of travel bloggers to talk about some of their WORST travel days and experiences on the road.
Oh, and one of MY worst travel days? Probably the day I almost died in Iceland. But this post isn't about me. Check out all these other unfortunate stories!
Jeremy from Travel Freak
It was a beautiful morning in Quito, Ecuador when I decided to hike the Pichincha Volcano. This 15,000-foot monstrosity, most notably known as an acclimatization hike, would take the majority of the day, but with good weather on hand, I would be able to take my time and fully appreciate the wondrous landscape.
In typical fashion, I was running later than expected. I should have gotten a start at around 8am, but instead it was 10 by the time I finally began my ascent. What I didn’t realize is that, at this altitude, and in this particular region, weather conditions can change in the blink of an eye.
I was nearly to the summit when it happened: thick pellets of hail began to stream from the sky. A thick fog enveloped the entire volcano, and I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me. The rain was intense, and huge strokes of lightning cracked through the bleak, dark sky.
Being within 30 minutes from completing the hike, I vowed to finish, no matter the weather conditions. But I just couldn’t shake the thought of the headlines:“American Tourist Struck by Lightning During Massive Hailstorm on the Side of a Volcano in Ecuador.” And what’s more, I was still going to have to climb down!
I returned only mildly injured, with a few scrapes and bruises, and covered in mud. I was soaked head to toe, and had received a veritable beating from the ice bullets. And since my camera died at the summit, I only had moderate proof of my experience that day. But the story still remains! (Click here to read the full story)
Gun Fights and Drug Busts
Heather from Conversant Traveller
Maybe it was because the birds had stopped singing. Maybe it was because we were alone in no-man’s land. Or maybe it was the gunshots ricocheting off the valley walls that told us something was wrong up ahead. Hubbie and I were tackling the notorious Sani Pass between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. A road famed for its dramatic hairpins, we’d planned for plunging drops and treacherous weather, not bad guys and shoot-em-ups!
Skidding to a halt, our driver raised his substantial eyebrows in question. Did we want to venture on? It was a long way back to the border, and there were a couple of quad bikes with our names on at the top, so really we had no option but to continue. Besides, we wanted to know what was going on.
After the exchange of fire had ceased, we inched cautiously around the corner and I slid down into the foot well, wishing I’d packed spare underpants.
A lone policeman was standing in a cloud of lingering gun smoke beside an abandoned vehicle, his weapon trained at a pleading figure on the ground who was watching his accomplices flee the scene. Curiosity soon got the better of hubbie, who jumped out to assist the poor cop who had apparently forgotten his handcuffs. I played the girl card and stayed safe in my foot well. Had he taken leave of his senses? The bushes beside the road rustled and I felt sure the bad guys were there, ready to pick us off, one by one.
It turned out to be a couple of bemused goats!
In lieu of proper restraints, our driver sat on the captive until backup arrived, whilst hubbie went to examine the truck. The cocaine inside would have fetched millions, but the drug smuggler who had the misfortune to be caught was just the driver. A guy simply trying to feed his family with the small cut he would have made, and I couldn’t help but have some sympathy for him despite the crime.
We eventually continued our journey, both shaken and stirred, and I really could’ve done with those spare pants!
A Kitty Scorned
Laurel Robbins from Monkeys and Mountains
My flight into Barcelona was supposed to arrive at 12:30 am, but instead it arrived at 2:30 am. I was tired and cranky and eager to get to my hotel. As I picked up my bag from the baggage carousel, I noticed that it was wet. Damn airline, can’t even keep my bag dry, I mumbled to myself as I hopped in a cab to my hotel.
As I started unpacking, I noticed a smell, then realized it wasn’t just my suitcase that was wet, but that it was all my clothes too. It slowly dawned on me that this wasn’t the fault of a careless airline. but the work of a spurned cat that was giving me a clear sign that he was not happy that I was leaving him! Yep, my cat peed inside my suitcase, over all my clothes!
At 3:00 am I proceeded to hand wash my clothes in a tiny hotel sink using a combination of hotel soap and shampoo. For the record, it’s not very effective! The next morning I met my tour group in slightly damp clothes with a still faint smell of cat urine which I vainly attempted to cover by over perfuming myself!
Rachel Elizabeth from Blond Wayfarer
The Smurfs danced on the screen in front of me. I remember choosing the Smurfs, because this older Boeing had seven in-flight entertainment channels.
As my eyelids drooped, my butt flew inches from my seat. I grabbed the armrests. If I hadn't been strapped in, the flight crew would've had to peel me off the ceiling.
Next to me, my mom gasped in disgust. Spilled wine stained her shirt. Her bottle struck the floor. Above her, overhead compartments flung open. My stomach churned as the plane plummeted again. The neverending falling sensation caused unfamiliar panic to rise inside my chest.
Then the dreaded announcement came:
“Cabin crew return to your seats.”
Flight attendants buzzed in the aisles. “And to think it's gonna get worse,” I overheard one of them not so subtly whisper.
“I'm stupid for traveling. Never again,” I thought, my mouth now dryer than paper.
Lights flickered. A passenger screamed. I closed my eyes, anticipating the next drop.
All was quiet a grueling fifteen minutes later.
After we arrived in London, the pilot apologized for the unexpected rough air, and admitted it was the worst he'd flown through in ages.
My flying fear hasn't gone away three years later.
A Bad, Bloody Day
Amber from With Husband in Tow
After a miserable press trip to an island that will remain nameless and an 11 hour bus ride, we were fried. We were living on nearby Bali and were trying to make a decision on whether to change our flight home, or to try to make the most of our time away by sticking it out the two nights we had left. We made the decision to stick it out and found a cheap room on points at the Sheraton. At the time, a lot of personal stuff had been going on, and we were making some big changes. I thought we could use the few days of resort living to smooth things out.
Part of the “let's make the most of a bad trip” involved making our way into the warm water from our comfy lounge chairs. Eric got a head start and was floating in the water as I made my way in. The sandy bottom quickly gave way to the sharpest coral on the earth, in some very shallow water. Eric realized where he was and tried to stand up to wave me off.
When he waved me off, though, off came his wedding ring. Immediately I tried to join him so we could try to find the ring. But it was a lost cause. The coral was deep and sharp. We tried to feel around with our hands, while the tiny waves kept making us lose our balance. After a few minutes, we knew it was no use.
We carefully walked back out and realized what had happened. We were bloody from the coral – my knuckles and hands, feet, and knees. It was a mess. The security guards were helpful, at least. They helped me clean my wounds, reported the incident, and helped to look for the ring on the beach.
When we were firmly out of danger, and with bactine on our wounds, I sat down on the lounge chair and cried. I was not all that sad about the ring, per se. After all, we expected Eric would lose it in the first year, and instead he lasted 13 years with it. That alone was an accomplishment. It was just a sign to us when we were trying to make some big decisions about living in Bali, about friendships unraveling. This was the last straw. It was certainly a sign, and one of our recent bad travel days. (Read more here.)
Becky from The Girl and Globe
After a few weeks of mentally exhausting travel, I set off on an overnight tour known as the Vang Vieng Challenge looking for some fun. With two days of nonstop activities like hiking, abseiling, ziplining, camping, and a via ferrata (assisted rock climbing), I thought I was in for a treat. I love the outdoors and physical adventure and this one was jam-packed with excitement! Unfortunately, the experience was nothing like the description.
We bushwhacked through overgrown trails, tackling mud slides and leeches as we went. Trees sprung up out of nowhere in the middle of our zipline course and falling rocks were common while climbing on the via ferrata. In short, nothing went right. The appetizer to our dinner – fried maggots – was one of the best parts of the trip, which says a lot about the tour.
This trip was supposed to be nonstop thrill and instead it was one hour of fun buried under thirty hours of frustration. But, hey, you can’t win them all.
Melissa Shearer from The Mellyboo Project
When most people think of spending 3 nights in a beach hut on the shores of Lake Malawi in the famed Kandi Beach area, you would think it would be wonderful and that nothing could possibly go wrong. That’s what I thought… and then I came down with malaria. I woke up a few short hours after falling asleep to waves of severe nausea, hot and cold sweats, and general achiness. After several attempts at trying to vomit to make myself feel better, I finally managed to make a complete mess of the bathroom – at about 4am.
I found myself sleeping for the entire 9-hour truck ride from Kande Beach to Lilongwe, only to find my tour guides shipping me off to a private clinic in a taxi (that they had arranged and negotiated the price for), getting the news of my malaria diagnosis (and a number of bottles of pills), followed by getting extorted by the taxi driver – resulting in me having to pay nearly double the negotiated price!
And to top it all off, I’d been guaranteed by my tour guides that the campsite in Lilongwe had strong internet – good enough to Skype – only for me to arrive and find out the network was down and the Skype date I had arranged with my boyfriend 6 days prior was not going to happen. Cue the tears!
An Awful First Day
Stephen from A Backpacker's Tale
The first day I ever traveled solo became an extremely bad travel day. I landed in Rome, my head buzzing with all the possibilities of traveling in Europe for the next two months. Little did I know, my excitement was going to be short lived.
I walked up to the ATM to get some cash and entered my pin. I stood waiting to get my cash. One minute went by, then another. After about five minutes and still no cash, panic set in and I knew I was in trouble.
I walked to another ATM and shakily inserted my card. After a moment a message appeared on the screen, “You have withdrawn your daily limit.”
I quickly exchanged what little cash I had, grabbed a cup of coffee to shake off the jet lag, and thought about my next move. I decided to grab a phone card and call my bank directly. I went through three phone cards before I found one that worked.
The bank representative tried to convince me that I had indeed withdrew money. In turn I tried to convince him that I most certainly had not and if they didn’t fix this I would spending the next 24 hours roaming the airport. They wished me well in my airport wanderings but left me penniless.
However, due to the kindness of strangers, this bad travel day worked out nicely in the end.
Nat from A Cook Not Mad
In 2012 we took off on a great train trip through Europe. One of our stops was Colmar, a real fairy tale town. Walking through town one night, we came upon a traditional dance troupe putting on a show. People were standing all around, and I was in the front, camera at the ready, when I heard something click. And as I brought the camera up to my face, my brand new wide angle lens came away from the camera and plummeted to the ground. This all happened in slow motion of course, and as I watched it happen I let out a screech, the crowd staring at me at this point gave me a look of empathy. I picked up the lens and we scurried to the hotel. The glass wasn’t broken but the attaching mechanism was badly damaged.
This story does have somewhat of a happy ending. Arriving at our next stop, Munich, after several beers, Tim got the courage to try and fix the lens and did a wonderful job. It’s still not 100% but it’s functional.
Sadie from Eclectic Trekker
I recently signed up to volunteer on a small island where the living conditions were rustic to say the least. On my third day there, my stomach decided to turn on me and called on a mass evacuation of my insides. It’s not nice when you have a proper toilet, but it’s even worse when you are using an outdoor toilet with a sheet door and tarp walls. Oh and there could be giant centipedes and huntsman spiders in there at any moment!
At night, there wasn’t any electricity, so you needed to wear a head torch in order to navigate. Of course I forgot mine when I had to make about the 10th mad dash to the toilet. On the way there, I stubbed my toe on a protruding root and ripped the tip wide open.
I was fine at first until the blood loss hit me. I broke out in a cold sweat and became very lightheaded. Then my stomach thought this would be a great time to release itself AGAIN!
I had to be helped to the toilet since my legs were too weak to hold myself up, AND someone had to stand outside and make sure I didn’t pass out. So embarrassing!
Neysha from Travelsuras
I lived in Panama when I was young, and over the years I’ve gone back to visit old friends. One summer I spent three weeks hanging out in the city with two of my girlfriends.
One of the few nights we decided to hit the town, one of the girls (the only one who still lived in Panama) decided to leave early. No problem, we thought; we could take care of ourselves. Until we found it nearly impossible to find a taxi to take us back to Fort Clayton (the old military base turned residential zone). Once we finally did, the shady guard at the front gate stopped us. He insisted we step out because we didn’t have our passports. The driver looked back us, noting that we were two oblivious young girls. After exchanging a few words with the guard, he hit the gas so hard it took our breath away. I’m not sure what the guard would have done if we had gotten out of the taxi, but I can’t imagine it would have been anything good. We made it to my friend’s house safe and sound, but I’ll never take that risk again.
A Long, Long Walk
Caitlin from A Girl Abroad
We'd just finished a few days in Capacobana in Bolivia, and were preparing ourselves to explore the Uros Islands in Peru. This meant a little border crossing and a short bus ride into Puno.
We left our hostel early one morning to a warning from the owner that the roads were closed while an industrial dispute took place. Thinking she was just trying to keep my group of 8 at the hostel an extra night, we decided to take our chances and headed out.
When we arrived in Illave, we discovered the main road (the only road) through the town had been covered with all sorts of rubbish from tyres, barbed wire and even entirely destroyed vehicles. Not a single car was capable of passing through. We had to walk.
Walking across the town took us about 2 hours.
My group and I love a good hike though, so didn't find that to be an issue.
What caused the real pain for us was the diarrhea.
It's a very unpleasant experience having to walk for 2 hours, carrying all your gear, and constantly feeling the need to rush to a toilet, even for those of us who hadn't caught the bug yet!
Brussels Biking Disaster
Alexandra from International Spooning
They told us not to go. “Steer clear of Brussels; it’s big, not very nice, and it’s horrible for biking.” We had every intention of heeding the advice of many, but the Beer Mecca of Cantillon was lulling us in too sweetly, like the Sirens who lured sailors to their doom.
The day started off pleasant enough – in fact, it was great. We had secretly been led to a Belgian chocolate dream filled with free tasters. But, when we got to the city, things took a turn for the worse.
As we cycled into Brussels, the bike lanes disappeared. On a narrow street, I pulled over to let a van go by but my shoe got stuck and I fell over. The street was busy and everyone stopped to see if I was okay. I would have cried from the pain if it wasn’t for all of the attention. A French-speaking Belgian woman pulled me into her apartment and doctored me. Neither of us shared a language, but I was overwhelmed by her kindness. I set off with wary but renewed hope.
Later we tried to navigate a very busy street and thought the sidewalk would be better. As I got onto the sidewalk, though, my bike slipped and I fell over again. My bandaging from earlier protected any new scrapes, but twice in one day was too much. I spent the next half-hour crying on the sidewalk. I eventually got back up. The next day we decided to train out of Brussels instead of riding.
Bad News on a Plane
Bryan from The Wandering Gourmand
I was half-asleep as I listened to my audiobook. Through a haze of knowledge by osmosis, something didn’t feel right. I leaned towards my wife and whispered, “I think the plane is turning around.”
“No,” she said. “I’ve been on a plane that had to turn around before, and we did not turn around.”
I leaned back in my seat only to be nudged by the passenger next to me. “Is it me, or did we just turn around?”
“We just turned around,” I said.
Moments later the captain yelled into the intercom. “Are you listening to me back there?”
The announcement that one of the plane’s engines was running low on oil pressure followed shortly. We were returning to Charlotte to await further news on if we’d make it to St Lucia for the first night of our brief babymoon.
As we approached CLT, the plane started to circle again. The captain came back on and said that the plane was too heavy to land. We were burning fuel until our landing weight was right.
The German pilot across the aisle confirmed that this was bad.
I was no longer concerned about missing the first night of our babymoon. I was concerned about living through the next hour.
After another thirty minutes, the captain announced that we would be landing and it would not be an emergency landing. We ended up arriving in St Lucia a day late, but at least we made it.
A Hawaiian Nightmare
Heather from Adventroverted
My friend and I took a trip to Oahu for six days and it turned into a slight disaster. First, she lost her credit cards before she got on the plane and we had to use my account for everything. Then, I was so tired when I got on the airport shuttle in Hawaii that I hit my head, HARD, on the door of the van. My head was throbbing for days, and on top of that I had the worst cramps of my life.
We also didn’t rent a car, so we took the bus around the island. We were shoved against sweaty, smelly people and almost got run over several times. Not to mention the bus missed our stop several times.
Hanauma Bay was a complete bust, and we wasted a lot of money for water that was impossible to snorkel in and our gear was non-refundable. My phone broke on the North Shore, nothing in our hotel room worked, and Waikiki tourists were the worst.
On top of everything, my friend and I discovered we wanted completely different things and were irritated with each other the whole time.
The Queen of Travel Misadventures
Lauren Juliff from Never-Ending Footsteps
It was the night before I was due to enter Laos when I ate my first cockroach. Accidentally, of course, because I was drunk.
Little did I know that what I’d assumed would be a fun anecdote to tell friends for years to come instead marked the start of my worst travel experience.
I crossed into Laos the following morning and clambered on to a slow boat; I was going to be riding it down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang over the next two days. On the final morning, I was taking a nap when an elderly Laotian woman died of malaria. I had to spend the next six hours sitting beside her body and listening to the sobs of her grieving husband.
My traumatising experience didn’t end there. After deciding to splash out on some fancy accommodation to recover, I ended up in the guesthouse from hell. First, I was locked out of my room and watched as the owner hacked off the doorknob with a machete. Then, I was locked inside my room because I no longer had a way of opening the door. Several hours later, after somebody finally heard my cries for help, I changed rooms to one that was filled with bugs. It was only available room left in the guesthouse and Luang Prabang has a curfew; this was my only option.
Cockroaches kept running over my face as I tried to sleep, so I ran outside and curled up in a ball on the ground. When two backpackers offered to let me sleep in their room, I was grateful for their generosity and agreed. I must have been out for an hour when I awoke to find one of them sexually assaulting me. I made to escape, only to discover they were staying in my old room: the one without a doorknob.
Somehow, I escaped unscathed, and the following morning, I checked in to one of the most expensive hotels I’ve ever stayed in.
Lauren's “incidents” are plentiful – she really *might* be the unluckiest traveler I know. But, her misfortunes come with a silver lining – she wrote a book about them (along with how travel helped her get over crippling anxiety and learn how to eat scary foods like rice)!
The book is a fun, easy, and funny read, and goes to show that, despite the bad days and misadventures, travel has the power to transform just about anyone.
You can buy How Not to Travel the World here.