Sometimes travel isn’t all fun and games.
I think we all tend to visualise travel as if it’s pulled straight from a glossy magazine with constant sunshine, swimming pools, picture perfect townships, and whatnot. But in reality, there will be many moments during your travels that will be just plain shit.
I planned to write about my worst travel moments a few weeks ago, but some of these events have been difficult for me to put into words. Even though they happened months or years in the past, they make my stomach tense up and my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
In no way do I want to scare you away from travel – life is full of ups and downs and the bad experiences should make us appreciate the good ones even more. Sometimes we can laugh about them later and sometimes we can’t, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just the good moments that shape us into who we are.
So without further adieu, here are my worst travel moments and the ways in which they’ve affected me.
Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
One of the activities on our Thailand 2012 itinerary was attend the full moon party at Koh Pha Ngan.
I knew of the event’s crazy and rowdy reputation so I did some research online before we departed, thinking that it should all go smoothly as long as I knew what to expect, but Koh Pha Ngan was a disaster from start to finish.
We checked out of our hotel in Koh Samui at 11am. A hotel staff member asked us where we were heading next, and we told her we were about to catch the ferry to Koh Pha Ngan. “Oh no,” she said, “the last ferry has already left!”
Apparently the ferry timetable I had found online was non-existent. She was a local who lived and worked on the island so I took her word for it and started to worry about how we’d get there. The staff member made a few phone calls and found us a private (and much pricier) ferry that left at 4pm.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Koh Pha Ngan after a very bumpy catamaran trip, on which I had my eyes closed the entire 45 minute journey in an effort to avoid seasickness. We took a taxi to our pre-booked hotel and got ready for the party.
Online research had warned me of the risk of pickpocketing at the full moon party but I still wanted to take photos, so I had my new DSLR camera hidden safely in my bag as we made our way down the road to the beach where the party would take place.
We danced on an elevated wooden stage and ordered some of the notorious buckets of alcohol to shake off our mood from the ferry debacle and get ourselves into the party. Moving along the beach to check out some other areas required us to squeeze through a crowd of people, and as we made our way through I suddenly felt my bag get lighter.
I spun around quickly to see one of Thailand’s infamous Ladyboys holding my camera. She spotted me turning around and hastily dropped it in the sand.
I ran up to grab it off the beach and angrily yelled at her for 5 minutes straight as she feigned ignorance, with a crowd of people watching, before she managed to run away and escape my wrath.
It wasn’t one of my finest moments, I’ll admit, but I was absolutely fuming. My camera had been a joint gift from my family members for my birthday 2 months prior, so the idea of someone trying to steal something special to me was too much for me to deal with. We left the party right away. I had tears running down my face the entire walk back.
The next day we discovered what an unpleasant place Koh Pha Ngan was. The local Thai people, who had been so lovely and friendly in Koh Samui, were rude and unsmiling. We could tell they disliked the tourists even though they provided their main source of income.
The island was an absolute mess after last night’s party. There were people passed out on the beach and trash everywhere.
We also walked by a different ferry terminal to the one we’d arrived at, only to find that it listed the very timetable I had found online, meaning that the hotel staff member in Koh Samui had given us false information and made us pay for a more expensive and less convenient ferry.
By this stage, I’d had it. I was well and truly ready to get the hell off Koh Pha Ngan.
Las Vegas, USA
Back in 2009 I travelled to USA with my now ex-boyfriend. We were on a 10 day tour of the West Coast which included a visit to Las Vegas.
One night we grabbed a taxi from the strip back to our hotel. There had been a short downpour of torrential desert rain about 10 minutes prior. The taxi was cruising along a 4 lane highway, and all of a sudden we were spinning. I don’t remember how it happened – there wasn’t any swerving and we didn’t hit anything, the road must have just been super slippery from the dust and rain.
I grabbed onto the door handle and silently freaked out, not really knowing what was happening. After the car had done a few 360s, we came to a halt – facing the headlights of 4 lanes of oncoming cars.
We were all in shock, and no one said anything for a few seconds. I vaguely remember looking at my partner in surprise, then the driver made some sort of exclamation before turning the taxi around to face the correct direction. Upon continuing our drive, he then shook his head and told us “That’s never happened before.”
Well, I guess it was a relief that our taxi driver didn’t regularly spin out with passengers in his car on 4 lane highways, but we were still blown away by the fact that it just happened. It was incredibly lucky that we didn’t hit any other cars and were all in one piece. I sure was thankful for the fact that we were in the habit of wearing seatbelts.
When we finally made it to our destination, he didn’t even offer us a cheaper fare. Surely endangering our lives was worth a discount!
I’d been to Paris once before and had’t thought much of it, but I was willing to give it a second chance as Robert hadn’t yet visited.
There were some lovely areas of Paris that we really enjoyed – Luxembourg Gardens and Saint Germain were some of our favourites. But with Paris being such a popular destination, the major sites were crowded with both tourists and people trying to take advantage of tourists which made the city somewhat disappointing.
On the second last day of our three month trip we went to check out Montmartre, which features a popular church on a hill which apparently had a great view of the city.
A curved pedestrian road led our way up the hill. Half way up, we came across a group of about 7 or 8 French-African men who were waiting for tourists to walk by.
They attempted to tie a friendship bracelet around our wrists, a common scam where the unsuspecting tourists are then demanded money for the bracelet or pick-pocketed while the person is distracted. As we were well aware of this scam already, we attempted to politely but sternly decline and move past.
The group must have been upset that we knew their game as we were suddenly surrounded on all sides. A few of them started kicking at the backs of our legs, presumably in an attempt to get us on the ground or maybe just to intimidate us.
I didn’t know if Robert was still beside me or whether they were doing the same thing to him, so in my frightened state I very loudly yelled “Fuck off!” in the hopes that any surrounding people might help us. Nobody came, but I saw the leader of the gang motion to his mates to leave us be.
We walked very quickly away from the group and stopped near the top of the hill, then I burst into tears. I didn’t even want to continue to the church as I was so upset. Finding an alternate route back down the hill, we walked to the metro station and spied a policeman helping a shopkeeper. After explaining what happened, he called on a few other police officers nearby and they planned a sting operation to surround the group of men.
It was successful and they lined them up in front of us and asked if we could identify anyone in particular. Unfortunately I hadn’t looked closely at their faces as I was too caught up in what was happening, so I had to say no.
At the very least, I hoped that being caught and searched by the police might have deterred them from physically abusing other tourists. The policeman tried to cheer us up by lightheartedly telling us “The worst thing about France is the French.”
I look back on my worst travel moments and while they certainly weren’t pleasant experiences, I feel as though they’ve helped shape me into the person I am today.
I’ve learnt that no matter how much I prepare and research beforehand, things will still go wrong. I’ve noticed how I handle stressful situations, and how I might be able to grow from them. And I’ve realised that I probably won’t ever go back to Paris or Koh Pha Ngan, but I won’t stop travelling just because I had a few bad experiences.
It’s just as easy to be scared of things happening in your own city as it is in a foreign one. Being afraid of something that might happen certainly shouldn’t stop you getting out there and experiencing other parts of the world.
This has been a rather depressing post, so here’s an adorable wallaby to brighten the mood. And if you want to read more of my travel stories, see my 3 strangest travel moments.
Some of my favourite travel bloggers have also written posts on their worst travel experiences:
- My 3 scariest moments when traveling the world by Kelly of Travel Tips Girl
- Disappointing travel experiences: When globetrotting becomes a façade by Jen of Thrifty Nomads.