Travel is supposed to fun. Depending on who you are, that time can be exciting, relaxing, chill, and anything in between. But travel can go wrong. And when travel goes wrong, additional challenges can turn the unfortunate events into incredible travel horror stories. From being in remote destinations, lack of common languages, differences in health care levels, to administrative hurdles, and other inherent travel elements, all these challenges can make the actual problem even worse. We asked fellow travel bloggers to share their own true stories. Some will make you laugh, some will make you cry. Be ready for bone-chilling reading!
Long Bus Ride to Laos
This happened during a bus trip from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Laos. We were told it would be a 12-hour trip. I settled in with a book on my iPad.
We stopped at a side-of-the-road place that looked like a picnic shelter. Mealtime, one hour break. Stretch the legs, get some lunch… later on, I see three locals with black, greasy hands working on the bus with the hood up. Not a good look.
Hours passed. We’re under shelter and there’s plenty of food and water, so it’s just annoying at this point. What was supposed to be a 12-hour trip was quickly turning into a thing that might end up arriving in the middle of the night…
The bus eventually got fixed a few hours after lunch, and we were back on the road. After hours of being on a bumpy dirt road, we come to a stop — a tree has fallen, and a dozen men from vehicles on both sides are hacking at it with machetes… They eventually chopped it into movable pieces and moved them off the road.
We arrived after nearly 17 hours, around 2 am, and chose the first-world, one-hour flight back to Vientiane.
One Night in a Tijuana Jail
It was Halloween, 1995. A group of friends and I decided to travel to Mexico for some boozing and fun. Midway through the night, the team decided to locate some illegal substances. After successfully finding and partaking in these substances we were accosted by a local store security guard who called the local Tijuana police.
Upon arrival 2 out of the 4 of us (including me) were arrested and taken to a local holding facility to be processed. After a brief appearance before what we think was a magistrate, we were whisked away to a local jail. While waiting to be processed at the jail, we, being the only two white people, were informed by a friendly prisoner that they were going to put the gringos in women’s part of the jail so we wouldn’t get raped and killed. Wait…what!?
We were in full on panic mode and fully sober now. But he was right. We were placed in a private cell in the women’s part of the jail where we were to spend the night. Our wing mates, in adjacent cells, where hookers and transvestites.
At this point, we did not know what the future held. Would we be released the next day? Ever? We could do nothing so we just waited. A few hours later we were escorted from our cell to be released and were greeted by our other two friends who’d NOT been arrested. They’d went back to the States, found someone who spoke Spanish, got some cash and had been driving around TJ looking for us. After spending several hundred dollars and a gold watch, they were able to find us and get us released.
We were overjoyed and literally kissed the ground after crossing the border into the US. Haven’t been back since. And don’t plan to. The moral of this story? Don’t do illegal stuff – especially in a foreign country. This travel story could have been a lot worse than the terrifying night it was. We were fortunate to come away with what is now a funny story and not much worse.
My Mother Falling an 8-Foot Cliff in Jamaica
I screamed a noise I didn’t think I was capable of making as I watched my 65-year-old mother from an 8-foot cliff.
We were in Jamaica on a mother-daughter trip celebrating my 40th-birthday. The place we were staying was a bit off the beaten path, but had everything we wanted – including being waterfront. However, this waterfront property didn’t have a sandy beach, but instead a cliff where you could scramble down the rocks into the water. Since there was little else around, we decided to walk along the cliff (it was all field on the other side, so it didn’t seem dangerous), to find new swimming spots.
At one point, the rock wall that was the cliff disappeared and there was a small-ish gap of a few feet you either had to take a very big step across – almost a jump – or climb down and then climb back up.
Oh yeah, my mom also had a broken collar bone, so climbing wasn’t the best option for her.
Once I was on the other side, I helped her across the gap, no problem. However, on the way back, the angle was different. I quickly realized she wasn’t going to make it across so I let her drop onto what I presumed would be sharp rocks and her inevitable death.
Fortunately, she happened to land in the only patch of water that could safely catch her. She had some scratches and a broken finger, but by some miracle didn’t hit her head or have any super serious injuries. Despite this traumatic experience, she is still keen on traveling – albeit with fewer risk-taking adventures.,
Robbed at Knife Point in Pamplona
My travel horror story happened several years ago. I went to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. I was backpacking and going wherever my mood took me, so I didn’t make an accommodation reservation. Pamplona is not that big, and thousands of people descend upon it for the weeklong festival. Needless to say, all of the accommodations were fully booked months in advance. They did have an enormous room for storing luggage at the train station, so I decided to do what plenty of others were doing and leave my luggage there and sleep in a park. The city had their own plans and watered the parks with sprinklers throughout the night to prevent people getting too settled.
After two nights of almost no sleep, I decided to try a park a short walk away from the center of town. I managed to get a few hours’ sleep, but when I was on my way back into town around 5:00am, walking along an empty street, a group of young people came up to me out nowhere. I immediately had a bad feeling. They quickly surrounded me, one of them pulled a knife out and demanded that I give them my money. This was in Spanish, but it was very clear what they were saying. Stupidly I started shouting for help (in English) and tried to run away. A guy grabbed my fanny pack and slit the strap with the knife, then they all ran away. They got my cheap camera and a train ticket. Fortunately, they didn’t get my passport, cards or most of my money because that was all stashed in a money belt hidden inside my pants.
There are most definitely some lessons that I learned: book accommodations in advance for popular events, don’t sleep in a park, don’t walk the streets alone late at night or early in the morning and always keep your valuables hidden underneath your clothes (and get travel insurance – I was able to claim for my stolen camera)!
Sea Sick in Panama
I had been in Panama for more than a month. I was on a long term backpacking trip across Central and South America and I was ready to move on to the next country, Colombia. There is no land border between Panama and Colombia, so unless I’d take a flight, the only way to cross would be by boat. I had heard that the San Blas islands were marvelous, and the Kuna Yala one of the last remaining indigenous communities in the area, so I was keen on doing the boat crossing. Besides, I thought of myself as a real adventurer.
Pity that I had not considered the possibility of getting seasick on the boat.
The minute I got on, I knew the experience wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful as it was described to be. There were 10 of us on a 12 meters boat. Too many, if you ask me. The space was constrained to say the least. But I decided I wouldn’t mind.
After all, as soon as the boat started moving I had to mind on something completely different: my terrible seasickness. It was so bad that I could not stand. It was so bad that when the others put on sunblock, I’d get sick. It was so bad that I couldn’t take the smell of their tuna and tomato sandwiches without having to relieve my stomach. It was so bad that even on a sunny, hot Caribbean day I shivered as I was so cold, covered as I was with my sleeping bag.
It took us 12 hours to get from Portobelo, our departure point, to the first protected bay, near the island of Porvenir, in the San Blas archipelago. 12 hours of hell. Although it was pitch black, I announced that I’d get off there and then. I asked the captain to please take me to shore on the dingy and I’d look for a room in one of the two hostels he said there were.
As soon as we made it to shore, two or three locals came towards us. One of them was the Chief of the island. He said we didn’t have permission to land. I told him it was an emergency as I was sick, and could I please sleep at the hostel. He said I had to leave, all hostels were full. I begged him to let me pitch my tent under a tree somewhere. He started quoting articles of the Kuna Yala Constitution I had been breaking. I asked him whether there was not an article that stated that you should help those in need.
I finally got through to him.
He made me pitch my tent. It was dark, I could barely stand on my feet, but I did it in no time and crawled inside. Nothing else would bother me. I was safe then.
Then it started raining.
The day after, I caught a speed boat to Carti and a 4×4 back to Panama City, where I boarded a flight to Cartagena. I never set foot on a sailboat since then. The only thing I have left from that trip is a sunrise photo that I managed to take before fleeing.
Our 3-Year Old Wandering in Uruguay
We were exploring the town of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It was a picture-perfect day. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze blowing off of the ocean, artisans were selling their wares in the town square, and from the Street of Sighs, a Spanish guitar was strumming tunes that perfectly matched the glorious day. As my family wandered into a sandwich shop for some lunch, we noticed things were a little quiet. D, our 3-year-old, was no longer with us.
Annoyed at first (he is a bit of a wanderer), stepped outside to call to him. But there was no answer. So I walked around the building, and still, there was no sign of him. That is when the panic started to hit me. Through 10 countries we had never had an issue with our kids wandering off for more than a minute. But this time seemed different.
I called to my wife Christina and my 5-year-old, C. Together we began calling out and running through the town square searching wildly. Nothing.
I went over to the artisan market and began showing people a photo and asking, in my broken Spanish, if anyone had seen him. They all came to look at the photo, and one by one, they all left their stalls to help look. Christina and I separated to search through different alleys. For 15-minutes, seemingly everyone in the town was wildly calling his name.
By this time, I was feeling crushed. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for how completely empty I felt as thoughts of the worst situations began creeping into my mind. It was then that I saw Christina and one of the artisans walking toward me. Beside them was a tiny little man with a great big smile on his face.
He had heard that Spanish guitar and walked two blocks to hear him play. I grabbed D and pulled him into my arms. I’ve never held onto someone as tight as I held on to him.
Forced Solo Trip in Morocco
Everyone probably knows the situation when you start planning a holiday with friends and one after another, all of them drop out. This happened to me – but unfortunately only a week before our scheduled and booked trip to Marrakech Morocco! All of my friends suddenly came up with last-minute university work, however, I couldn’t cancel my flights anymore and I was actually looking forward to the trip. For a few days, I was pretty desperate and didn’t know what to do. Until I finally decided to move ahead with the trip, even if it’s by myself. At this point, I never travelled solo before and I was very anxious and scared about the situation, but I just didn’t want to miss out on it just because of the unreliability of my friends. Long story short, I boarded the plane to Morocco all by myself, had a great time with fun people I met at the hostel and never felt lonely just for a minute. Right after the trip, I booked my first longer solo-backpacking trip (Southeast Asia for 2 months), and until this point, dozens of solo adventures followed and ultimately led me to the start of my travel blog!
Scombroid Poisoning in Bali
It’s been a real blessing to never had allergies. I always brushed it off as something not so serious. My thinking completely changed when I was in staying in Bali and got a terrible reaction. Scombroid poisoning is a weird word that I had never heard of in my life before. It occurs when you eat fresh, canned or smoked fish that has a high level of histamine after improper processing or storage. Basically if fish is frozen and unfrozen several times, it goes really bad. Particularly the black part by the center. My travel horror story in Bali started out as a romantic sunset barbecue with my wife on Bingin beach. We went over to select our fish, it was barbecued to perfection and we washed it all down with a Bintang beer.
As we left I started feeling itchy and flushed. We got back to our villa and it got a little worse, we narrowed it down to sunburn. My wife took a shower and on the return she found me on the floor – skin red as a tomato, eyes totally bloodshot. It’s the same as having an allergic reaction even though you’re not allergic to anything. The villa reception luckily offered us a ride to a hospital in Nusa Dua where I was put on a drip for around an hour.
After this scare, we understood how important it is when traveling to know where your nearest hospital is and how to get there. Even though we had the right medication in our medical kit, we didn’t know what to take, so the hospital was the only option. If the villa staff refused to drive us, we would have been screwed because we were staying really off the beaten track. Another tip, keep the receipts for insurance.
Witnessing a Knife Attack in Chile
About 15 hours out of a 24-hour ferry ride from Puerto Chacabuco to the beautiful island of Chiloe, Chile, we headed to the restaurant to meet with the other backpackers after an afternoon on the deck admiring the beautiful the Chilean fjords and looking for marine mammals.
A few games of cards later, a movement of panic filled up the room instantly. One of the girls was standing with a guy behind her, his hands around her neck. He was choking her. After a brief moment of incomprehension, a few men jumped up and managed to free the girl while also attempting to restrain the attacker. It’s only then, we noticed him twirling a knife in the air trying to reach anyone close enough but fortunately, they managed to kick the weapon away.
While a group of men attached the attacker to a pillar, a couple of girls and I ran to find the victim and see if she needed any help. As I found her, I asked if she was hurt. She mumbled she didn’t think but as she raised her shirt we saw blood dripping from the side of her chest. One of our friends held her and applied a piece of clothing to the wound and the rest of us went looking for help asking passengers and crew to find a doctor.
Throughout all this confusion, the crew behaved very badly, shouting at us insults and accusing “the foreigners” of drinking on the boat and causing the fight… The crew and captain finally understood that we had nothing to do with the fight except trying to save our friend from that man nobody knew. He had sat there for a while, staring at the card game and not talking.
Thankfully for the girl, the attack happened only 1 hour away from the town Melinda situated on an island. At the harbour, the police boarded the boat and arrested the attacker. Two doctors transported our friend to the clinic on the island where she was cared for. The attacker was judged a few days later in Chiloe and placed in prison immediately.
This was a very moving event which reminded us to be a bit more aware of our surroundings – something we had kind of forgotten in Patagonia where we felt so safe.
Breaking my Leg in Thailand
On our last trip to Phuket, Thailand, I slipped down a small step into the shower stall and managed to break my leg! Not that I knew it was broken at the time but the horrific ripping sound I heard and the fact I couldn’t move even a millimeter without intense pain told me something major was wrong.
This happened in the evening so my husband talked to the hotel reception about getting a doctor. Due to the nature of the injury, they recommended going straight to the hospital instead. As I have young children who were in bed and I couldn’t get myself to the hospital alone, I had a long night lying in bed trying not to move at all.
The next morning, we headed to the international hospital in Phuket. They took an x-ray but it was difficult to do right as I couldn’t straighten my leg at all. I needed an MRI but couldn’t get in.
We rung our travel insurance who put us on the next flight back home to Australia for more tests. They were great. I was able to speak to an Australian doctor for advice and they flew me in business class home so I could be more comfortable. Back home, I found out I had broken a bone in my knee and caused ligament and other damage too.
This completely ruined our trip, although the pain of that was eased by travel insurance. Seven months later I am still recovering but it has not stopped us travelling at all. Don’t ever travel without travel insurance! Freak accidents can happen!
Bus Crash in Myanmar
Recently I jumped on an overnight bus from Yangon to Mandalay in Myanmar. I paid for the most expensive bus in hopes that this meant a more comfortable and overall safer bus journey, but it didn’t matter in the end. Around 4 am, I woke up to the bus hitting something hard and then steering out of control. The front right side of the bus hit the back of a large pickup truck and then went out of control crossing three lanes of tracks as well as the median and a steel barrier.
When we tried to exit the bus it was clear that the entire front corner of the bus was crushed inwards. Unfortunately, there was a person sitting in this place and he was also crushed.
The rest of us were fine (minus a couple of bruises) and we exited the bus through the emergency exit. A few people tried to pry the man out, but it was no use. We had no choice but to wait for emergency services to arrive. When they did (over an hour later) it was too late and the man had passed. It was a hard situation to be a part of.
This made the rest of my trip in Myanmar extremely hard as I had a fear of traveling by bus. Bus travel is the main way to get around in Myanmar so I found myself heading to locations I could reach by train instead.
The truth is, accidents happen. They can happen anywhere in the world – but they are more common in countries where strict safety rules are not enforced. Taking buses during the day (as opposed to the night) minimizes risks as it is less likely the driver will be fatigued and visibility is better. And the best advice of all, book a bus that has seatbelts whenever possible and WEAR IT!
My Not-So-Great Camel Trek into the Sahara Desert
Wait until you get to Chinguetti in Mauritania, the overnight camel trek in the Sahara will be so much more authentic.
That’s what I said. To myself. Because I didn’t want to be one of those people who go glamping and then hollowly proclaim how a comfy trek into the desert changed my life.
Besides that, glamping in Morocco was out of the budget range.
First off, the camel driver spoke no English, and barely any French. So communication was nil.
At our stop for lunch, he tossed a baguette at me, and a small can of tuna. Then he made a lazy-ass version of nomad tea. I mention the lazy tea because I know the foam code and he was making it pretty obvious that he didn’t like me.
In this grand scheme, I hadn’t realized that the distance to the nomad camp was almost 10 miles each way.
When my back started hurting, I’d get off the camel. When my legs grew exhausted from walking in the sand, I got back on the camel.
Back and forth, until we finally arrived at the nomad camp.
After a babbling, exhausted introduction to a family that didn’t understand a word I was saying, I collapsed in my tent. (The white one on the right in the picture.)
Dinner was a flavorless plate of rice, and with no communications, I could do nothing more than observe. I didn’t mind that. I like to learn.
However, bedding down at 8:30pm ultimately led to me seeing a bazillion stars – as I was hiking out to pee on the side of a sand dune at 2:00am in the very cold desert night.
The ride back the next morning was equally grueling.
Yes, I got my truly authentic camel-trekking-overnight-in-a-nomad-camp experience in the Sahara Desert. It didn’t change my life. There were no revelations. The universe did not tell me its secrets.
But I do have one piece of advice – take the short camel ride.
Photo Caption: The white tent was mine, the dark one was akin to the family’s living room.
Moneyless in Thailand
No money, no problem. That’s what they said.
While I was traveling in South East Asia starting with Thailand, my bank suddenly changed their procedure to access money abroad. And now, it didn’t spit cash in the time I needed it most.
In the previous years, I had no problem withdrawing money from my ATM whenever I’m abroad. I tried it in India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and had no problems getting money. I’ve long accepted the fact that I’m a magnet of mishaps and have tried all possible ways to counter act it.
So I know beforehand that this might happen to me. Good thing I bought a spare ATM/Debit Card from another bank. At a time where people just stare (or laugh) at you on your misfortunes, the spare card was my saving grace.
To those who are about to embark on that big dream travel destination, make sure you have multiple ATMs and a few friends who will bail you out in case something horrible happens.
By Grasya at Grasya.com
Rough Cruise in New York City
We went on a cruise near the end of the year that departed from New York City. The weather was less than ideal, being that it was in the middle of the winter, but that was the only time we could travel that year. During the trip, the wind was so strong and rocked the cruise ship so much that we could barely walk straight. People were getting seasick, including my husband, which made eating the gourmet French cuisine that we craved so much prior to the cruise an impossibility. During the night when the cruise was cruising at full speed, the waves were so big that we felt like we were on one of those drop tower thrill rides. At one moment, we would be lifted up by the wave, and then without any warning, the ship would drop and hit the ocean. Therefore, nobody was getting any sleep. After this experience, I definitely will think twice and check the weather conditions before I book another cruise. Oh, and pack lots of motion sickness remedies.
A Nightmare of a Hotel Stay in Pittsburg, USA
My husband and I were traveling with our 4-month-old son. It was our first time traveling with a baby, so we were stressed and tired. We traveled by plane all day to get from California to Pennsylvania. Because of flight delays, we ended up arriving at the Pittsburgh airport in the middle of the night. Once we arrived at the hotel, we checked in. I had verified that the hotel had a pack-n-play available, so we didn’t bring ours. However, the person working overnight didn’t have access to the room where the pack-n-plays were stored. We were told tough luck on getting on that night. By this time it was about 2 am, so we ended up putting our son to sleep on the floor with a play mat under him. Thankfully, he was still young enough that we didn’t have to worry about him rolling or crawling away.
Well if that wasn’t stressful enough, we woke in the morning to the sound of rain. Rain isn’t unusual in Pennsylvania, but what seemed odd was that we were hearing it from our hotel room door which opened into a hallway. Curious we opened our door to find it raining into the indoor hallway right outside our room. Upon further investigation, we discovered that it was also raining in the closet and the bathroom ceiling was leaking. We didn’t stay around long enough to find out what it was raining inside.
There wasn’t much we could do to avoid the ceiling leak besides choosing higher quality hotels. However, I now always call the hotel the day of arrival to verify that there will be a pack-n-play in the room for us which has prevented this problem from occurring again. I use a Family Travel Planner to make sure that I don’t forget again.
Passports Stolen (and Food Poisoning) in Tenerife
It was our first day in Tenerife, we’d hired a car and had grand plans to explore the island. We’d just been up Mount Teide in the cable car and were falling in love with the incredible volcanic landscapes. It was a short while later, during a quick stop in a layby at Montana Blanca to take some photos, that it happened. Our car was broken into, and all our belongings stolen from the locked boot, including cameras, money and our passports. It was broad daylight and there were lots of other cars and tourists around. Yet nobody saw anything, these thieves were professionals. It was only possessions they took, no-one was hurt, yet we felt violated. And then the panic set in as we realised we couldn’t get home without our passports. So we spent the rest of our trip making reports at the police station, filling out applications and driving all the way up to the British Consulate in Santa Cruz to collect our emergency documents a few days later. It was touch and go whether they’d process them in time for our flight home (and if we missed that, we wouldn’t be able to head out to Kenya as planned a couple of days later). Oh, and we both had food poisoning on top of all this. We eventually made it home (and to Kenya after a frantic dash to the UK passport office in Glasgow to pick up new passports at great expense), but that wasn’t the end. Filling out the insurance claim was a nightmare, and disappointingly we only received a fraction of what our losses were worth, resulting in us being out of pocket by about £1500. Not a trip we’ll forget in a hurry, and we’re never going to leave anything in the boot of our car again.
Train Ride in India
A few years back when I was new to travel, I faced a bad situation on a train journey in South India. I had a very annoying man sitting right opposite to my seat and had to interact with him inevitably. He started out doing harmless pun like gulping down my entire water, having food from someone else’s plate, laughing while listening to songs and such silly things. But at night, he started bugging me by asking personal questions. When I did not respond kindly, he started telling me about himself. I was so scared that night as he was right next to me in the middle berth. I could not sleep even a wink. The next day as soon as the train stopped at my destination, I literally ran away. This is a reserved compartment and you usually have to stick to your seat for the entire journey. Unfortunately, as a solo female traveler you will need to be very careful in public transportation because even though most men are decent, some rowdy elements make the entire journey horrible. If you have the option, try to book in a ladies coach. Or even try to swap seats with a generous soul so that you can sit with other women.
An Allergic Reaction Left Me Looking Like I’d Been Beaten Up
Back in 2008, my new boyfriend asked me if I’d be interested in going to Silverstone to watch the Grand Prix with him. Formula 1 and motorsport in general weren’t my idea of fun, but I liked the sound of a weekend away, so I agreed.
It was July, and very hot when we arrived at the track. I caught the sun during the day, but wasn’t burnt as such. That evening, we arrived at our hotel, and ate in the hotel restaurant.
We went to bed as normal, but when i woke up on Monday, my face was swollen beyond recognition. I literally looked like I had been attacked in the night. My eye was swollen shut, and so red it looked bruised.
The looks we got from the hotel staff as we checked out were awful. They were looking from me to my boyfriend as if he had beaten me up. I found myself explaining that thought I’d had an allergic reaction to the bedding as I assumed they used biological detergent. The hotel receptionist slipped me a note asking me to text her if I wanted her to call the police as we were leaving. I was mortified, as was my poor boyfriend.
Once we got home, I went to the GP who agreed it was a severe reaction. I was prescribed strong antihistamines which left me too tired to drive for a week. Thankfully the swelling and redness went down within a few days, and I am happy to report my then boyfriend has been my husband since 2010! Needless to say, I always pack my own pillow cases when we travel now!
Our first family overseas holiday was to Hong Kong, the kids were 5, 7 and 9 years old. We were about a week into our holiday and I had started to relax and get use to local people approaching the kids and wanting to talk to them. We were at Ocean Park, a massive theme park on Hong Kong Island. Keira my 7 year old was walking on the edging of a garden bed. I saw an Asian male run upside her and lift her down, I was about to apologise for her walking on the garden when he turned and ran off with my child.
Keira was stunned and was looking at me over his shoulder, I was panicking as we were walking at the rear of our group and it was noisy and I wasn’t sure I had got my husbands attention. In a split second I decided to ran after Keira, the man ran for about 80m and handed her to a group of mainland Chinese tourists who wanted to take some photos with her.
Once I realised what has happening I started to settle down, I was relieved they only wanted photos as it could have been much worse. When my husband realised what was going on he wasn’t as forgiving. While we were trying to get Keira back from the ‘just one more please’ ladies, I turned around to see they had grabbed my son and were taking more photos.
Unfortunately we had to be a bit aggressive with them as they had frightened the kids but they didn’t seem to notice that and were following us and taking more photos. My husband eventually politely but firmly asked them to stop taking photos. It was all harmless in the end but I for one, got the fright of my life.
Stay tuned for more adventures
from our travel around the world!
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