I have always loved travelling, and as the end of my time at university drew to a close I knew that settling straight into a job, sat behind a desk, wasn’t for me. Fast forward a few months and here I am, just a few weeks away from moving to Beijing to spend a year teaching English, whilst experiencing and exploring the fascinating culture and history that China has to offer.
Travelling isn’t always hassle-free. Sometimes, you make silly mistakes, get yourself hurt or take a risk that you really shouldn’t even consider, but that’s all part of the experience of seeing new places. Similarly, when you have these experiences you shouldn’t shy away from them or pretend they never happened: learn from them instead.
It can be hard to admit that you ‘failed’ in some way, but writing about these experiences helps others to realise they’re not alone in making mistakes when abroad. Travel writing itself should always be as honest as possible; why feed someone a load of meaningless rubbish about how beautiful a place is, if really it’s not that great? What’s the point of telling someone your trip went without a hitch when the bumps in the road are the things that are often the most interesting to hear about? There’s no shame in admitting you were violently sick, put yourself in a dangerous situation or maybe didn’t even really enjoy yourself at all.
So, in order to make a point of this, I asked five of the internet’s favourite travel bloggers the following question:
‘What is your most mortifying travel hiccup?’
They’re a friendly bunch, so don’t giggle too much at their misfortunes: this is what seeing the world is all about!
Travel Freak (Jeremy Scott Foster: @travelfreak_)
I feel like my travels are often filled with mortifying travel hiccups, but they always make the best stories.
One in particular comes to mind, which happened when I was living in Xi’an, China. I had an appointment that was quite far out of town and to get there I had to take an hour-long taxi ride.
Getting there wasn’t the problem. I hailed a taxi and off we went. Coming back, however, proved to be a very different experience.
After we had driven about a quarter of the way, my taxi driver pulled over and motioned for me to get out. We had gone as far as he would take me. Not speaking the local language well enough to understand what was going on, I shouted back in English. We weren’t getting anywhere. It turns out that the taxis had city limits. They weren’t permitted to drive past a certain point, and he was taking me as far as he could go.
He dropped me on the side of the road in some dusty corner of the outer limits of the city. I didn’t have a clue where I was and most of the taxi drivers avoided me — I’m white, and they know better than anyone that, due to language barriers, it wouldn’t be easy figuring out where I wanted to go.
On the side of the road, a swath of about 20 locals surrounded me, trying to figure out what on earth I was doing there. I don’t think any of them had seen a foreigner before. They began shouting at me, screaming instructions, taking photos, trying to pull me in seven different directions at once. I think they only wanted to help, but I can’t really be sure.
I was in the middle of nowhere, with no phone service, no friends, and not even the right native language. Before freaking out, I took a deep breath, and reminded myself that, with a bit of perseverance, I would somehow make it home. It could be an hour from now, or it could be tomorrow. Even if I had to walk, I would make it. I was lost, but I wasn’t on the verge of dying.
Frankly, that’s a good thing to remember whenever anything goes wrong. I pushed on through, and a few more taxi rides later, I made it home, just in time for dinner.
Neverending Footsteps (Lauren Juliff: @NEFootsteps)
It was on a lagoon cruise in the Cook Islands when I experienced my most mortifying travel hiccup.
At the first snorkelling stop of the day, I wobbled my way to the side of our boat, watching as everyone slid overboard. I followed suit, clambering up onto the wooden bench and balancing on the hot side of the boat.
I watched the ocean swell beneath me as I contemplated the swarm of circling fish and how they looked just like piranhas in my overly-anxious mind. I took a deep breath and then pushed off the side.
And then I stopped.
Something yanked at my crotch and I paused mid-fall. I was submerged up to my knees but the rest of me was still above water.
I let out a perplexed “ack!” as I tried to figure out how I had suddenly learned how to levitate. The pain in my groin shook me out of my confusion and I flung my arms behind me to secure myself on the boat with my elbows. A sharp pain shot through my arms, just as it became clear what had happened.
As I’d pushed myself into the water, my bikini bottoms had become snagged on a hook and left me dangling over the side of the boat, desperately thrashing my legs around in the water.
I kicked my legs like a frog once more, attempting to pull myself back on board, noticing my tour group watching on in horror from the water. I forced a grimace in their direction and squeaked out, “I’m… o…kay!”
I channelled my embarrassment into physical strength. With one final push, I manage to hoist myself up from my elbows to my hands, and then slide back onto the boat.
And that was when I decided I would never snorkel again.
Jones Around the World (Dave Anderson: @Jones_y)
Whenever I get questions like this, I always like to choose the first thing that pops into my mind because that seems to be the most honest. So, let me tell you about one of the scariest travel moments I ever had.
I rented a moto on Cebu Island in the Philippines, and rode down from Moalboal all the way to the south of the island, and then over to Oslob. If you look at the map, you’ll see that the route is almost like a hook. It was an amazing and easy ride, beautiful scenery, and not busy at all.
After an incredible time in Oslob swimming with whale sharks and exploring the stunning Tumalog waterfalls, I was ready to make the journey back to Moalboal. I pulled up the route on Google Maps, and it gave me two options.
- To return the same way I came from.
- To cut through the middle of the island.
With the urge of seeing and experiencing something new, I decided on option two — and it’s one of the biggest travel mistakes I’ve ever made. This was not my fault though — Google Maps failed me.
As I steadily climbed up and up this mountain, I kept thinking that surely I would need to start heading back down soon. After 2-3 hours though, I just kept getting further into the mountain. I repeatedly asked locals if I could continue with this route, and they assured me everything would be fine.
When I finally reached the peak of the mountain and saw the road would start to descend, I realised that this “road” should definitely not be mentioned on Google Maps. It would be better classified as an intense hiking trail. I was riding a pretty awful Honda 100cc scooter, and it was not suitable for the road ahead.
The road down was steep, with massive jagged rocks, and not a single other person was coming up or down on this trail. I had to turn off the scooter, and very carefully maneuver down this path. I had to stop every few minutes just to swear as loud as I could. If a tyre had popped, or I had hurt myself I would have been completely stranded. It was absolutely terrifying.
Fortunately, I managed to make it down the mountain with just a few minor scratches, and had the night to relax. What started off as an incredible day, turned into one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve had abroad.
Looking back on it though, it’s a good story, and now I know never to trust Google Maps again.
Karolina & Patryk (@KarolinaPatryk)
Malaysia is our worst travel hiccup. We just can’t understand the local culture, even though we have spent a few months there. Malaysian people love to hang out and spend time with each other. We are introverts, so we try to avoid long meetings. When we say no to spending time with them, it is kind of offensive.
On the other hand, we’ve been offended many times by them. For Malays, punctuality doesn’t really matter, so they were often more than 30 minutes late. In our culture, behaviour like this is disrespectful.
The other thing is language. Most Malaysian people speak English very well but they have an accent that we can’t understand. They often mix Malaysian and English words in one sentence, so we usually had to ask them twice to repeat what they were saying.
An example of our worst travel hiccup in Malaysia? We were renting an apartment in Penang. The owner was very friendly and helpful but she was too much for us. She wanted to come to the apartment almost every day to spend time with us. We hated this and avoided seeing her. We work online and we don’t really have time to sit and talk with a stranger. For an entire month we felt trapped. We left this apartment with a sense of relief, happy that nobody would bother us anymore.
Mapping Megan (Megan Jerrard: @MappingMegan)
My most embarrassing travel hiccup was the time I became a burn victim in the Galapagos Islands.
Upon our arrival in the Galapagos Islands we instantly hit the beach. We snorkelled close enough to touch enormous sea turtles, were slapped around under water by playful sea lions, and swam through schools of sharks. At the end of the day we collapsed onto the beach next to an equally exhausted sea lion, enjoying an afternoon nap under the warmth of the fierce Equatorial sun.
That day I made one tragic error in judgement which left me with severe burns. I wore a hat, applied suntan lotion twice hourly, and was safely covered from head to toe in a wetsuit to safeguard me from the sun. Well, not exactly from head to toe.
The sun is something I am incredibly conscious about while travelling. I have light skin, and I harbour a hatred for those who can spend all day in the sun and walk away with nothing more than a glorious tan.
I took every precaution I could think of while we were in the Galapagos, including a full body wetsuit and umbrellas for shade. But I forgot to apply suntan lotion to my feet. And the results were pretty catastrophic.
The next morning the island of San Cristobal awoke to the blood-curdling screams of me in excruciating pain. My skin was so tight and swollen that I instantly collapsed as soon as I attempted to get out of bed and walk. The pain was agonising. I couldn’t walk for days.
I’ll save you from the pictures once the peeling began. It was a level of disgusting that I wouldn’t wish upon even those who tan.
Moral of the story: Stay sun-smart while travelling. Be aware that when travelling internationally you may be entering a country with UV rays more fierce than you are used to at home. Act accordingly to protect yourself and your health. And DON’T FORGET YOUR FEET!!
Featured image © Addison YC