The bad stuff.
It suddenly dawned on me that although I had always been honest and transparent in recounting my experiences, I also hadn’t shared many of my less-glamorous stories: the ones where something went wrong, I made a mistake, I was massively underwhelmed, or I found myself in a dangerous situation. While I have been incredibly fortunate on the whole – and this blog is full of highlights – there have also been plenty of moments that were disappointing, frustrating, or even downright scary.
To be fair, many of those moments occurred long before I started Full Life, Full Passport, back in my early 20’s when I was backpacking through places like South America and Southeast Asia. Traveling on a bare-bones budget through developing nations comes with its own set of quirks, risks, and discomforts, and we certainly had some adventures as a result. My travels since launching FLFP have generally been smoother and more comfortable, so there also haven’t been as many negative stories to tell lately.
But I never want to appear disingenuous, and I don’t want to give the impression that life on the road is always rosy and stress-free. Thus, I set out to share some of my worst moments and memories. In the end, there were enough for two full blog posts! This is the second; if you haven’t read the first you can find it here. Otherwise, please enjoy this peek behind the curtain at some of my less Instagram-worthy travel memories!
My Worst Travel Moments: Part II
The Argentinian Car-Flipping Fiasco
I wrote about this particular episode in another post, but I’ll tease it here. While driving a rental car in remote southern Argentina, I fishtailed on some loose gravel, hit an embankment, and flipped the vehicle up onto its side. I’ll never forget the stomach-dropping sensation as those tires lifted into the air, nor the lonely, desperate feeling of being sixty kilometers from the nearest town with no way to get help.
Thankfully, however, no one was hurt, and thanks to the kindness of some passers-by we eventually got the car back on four wheels and operational. Although we drove it for another week before returning to the rental agency, they declared it to be totaled. Paying that bill – and the nightmare of challenging extra charges in a foreign country – added insult to injury and was not an experience I’d like to repeat.
The Terrifying Taxi
Our three-month backpacking adventure was nearly over as we piled into a taxi bound for the airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil… and it very nearly ended before we arrived. At first, I thought our driver’s inability to maintain a constant speed and general disregard for red lights were just another quirk of South American driving, especially since it was 3:00 in the morning. By the time we reached the highway, however, he was swerving erratically, narrowly missing concrete barriers and alternating between blazing speed and what could be considered a crawl. He was hunched over the steering wheel, mouth opening and closing like a gaping fish, blinking hard and completely unresponsive to anything we tried to say to him. If the roads hadn’t been nearly empty due to the pre-dawn hour, I’m convinced we never would have made it to the airport.
Thankfully, we eventually got him to stop once we were within walking distance of the terminals and dragged our things the rest of the way to the building. It was the most terrifying car ride of my life, and I can only pray that he – and anyone else in his path on the roads that morning – made it home safely.
The Hostel Rat
Staying in hostels and cheap guesthouses opens you up to a world of new experiences, both good and bad. Nothing, however, prepared me for the night in Hanoi, Vietnam, when I came face to face with the biggest rat I’ve ever seen. We had booked a room on one of the upper floors of a multi-storied guesthouse, and I was sitting on the steps outside our door when a massive rat came bounding up the stairs like he was headed back to his own room for the night. He paused on the landing, looked at me occupying the next flight he had to climb, considered a minute, and then turned around and scurried back downstairs. I, on the other hand, returned to my room and checked out the next morning.
The Missed Bus Mishap
While visiting Prague, Czech Republic, M and I decided to take a day trip to visit the storybook town of Český Krumlov. We spent a fantastic day wandering the cobbled streets, taking in the lovely architecture and beautiful views from the castle tower. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding about the bus schedules very nearly stranded us in the quaint little city and jeopardized our train ride to Budapest the next morning. Having no understanding of the Czech language or Český Krumlov’s geography, we had disembarked from our morning bus at the wrong station and thus arrived back in the late afternoon to see our return bus pulling away. We thought we were early to meet it, but the time we had been aiming for was the time that the bus would be arriving at the next station, the one we were supposed to have used in the first place.
It was a Sunday afternoon and the bus depot was completely deserted. We had no cell service, the station building was completely empty, and we were out of Czech koruna because we were supposed to leave the country the next morning. After much distress (on my part), much frustration (on M’s part), and a panicked run up the road to get cash from an ATM, we were eventually able to plead our way onto a later bus bound for the larger city of České Budějovice. There, after more confusion (the Czech language is impossible!), we were finally able to catch a late-night train to Prague and make our Budapest train in the morning.
The Washed Out Wonder of the World
Another disappointment on our South American backpacking trip was that, despite it being a major point in our itinerary, we never made it to Machu Picchu in Peru. A couple of weeks before we arrived in Cusco, heavy rain and massive flooding spurred landslides that washed out roads and rail lines near Machu Picchu. Thousands of tourists were stranded in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and on the Inca Trail, many of whom had to be airlifted out by helicopter. Machu Picchu was rendered inaccessible, and we had to move on without crossing this wonder of the world off our lists.
Thankfully, I had been able to visit Machu Picchu a couple of years before during my study abroad trip, and we did end up having a great time in Cusco anyway. But it was still massively disappointing to be so close and miss the chance to see the mountaintop citadel again, and I felt terrible for my traveling companions who had so looked forward to seeing the ruins for themselves.
The Stranding in the Slum
In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I spent some time volunteering at my dad’s cousin’s humanitarian center in Cite Soleil, a city within the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Known as one of the most impoverished and dangerous neighborhoods in the western hemisphere, Cite Soleil is filled with wonderful people by day, but unfortunately it is riddled with violence and gang activity after dark. Thus, each day we would drive into the city in the morning, work as long as we could, and then return to our hotel near the airport well before dusk.
One day, however, our driver failed to arrive at the appointed time and we soon learned that his van had broken down. We were stranded, and darkness was beginning to fall. None of our Haitian friends and center employees owned a vehicle, and there were no tap-taps (painted buses that serve as public transportation/shared taxis) to be found. Soon, the people would retreat into their homes, the gang members would emerge, and anyone who could be held for ransom – particularly foreigners – would be at risk of being kidnapped… or worse.
Thankfully, a Brazilian peacekeeping force from the United Nations showed up just as it truly started to get dark, and soldiers posted up at each of the five entrances to the square where the organization’s buildings were located. They stayed there, watching the streets, high five-ing with curious kids, and good-naturedly tolerating my horrible Portuguese until we were finally able to be smuggled out in the back of a box truck.
The Ex Factor
I’ll keep this one brief and vague, for everyone’s benefit and privacy, but suffice it to say that I once chose to go on a trip as part of a group that included an ex-boyfriend. I say “boyfriend,” but our relationship status had never really been clear and all in all it was a really confusing and heartrending relationship. An otherwise excellent trip was marred by this emotional baggage, and it was no fun watching him flirt and hook up with other girls as we traveled along. A word of advice: be very, very selective about who you choose to travel with, because it can make a huge difference in how much you enjoy your trip and how fondly you look back upon it.
The Unexpected Shower
While exploring ancient ruins outside the Peruvian city of Trujillo, I was peed on by the world’s ugliest dog. It sought me out specifically, lifted a leg, and doused my pants before I even realized what was happening. Although our guide sprayed me down with something I hope was disinfectant, I still had to walk around for the rest of the day covered in dog urine that was steaming in the hot desert sun.
The Bad News from Home
I was just starting my second season as a tour director in Alaska when I got the call that my grandfather had passed away. Although his health had been declining for a while, it was still a huge blow made even worse by the fact that I was thousands of miles away from home and family. It wasn’t possible for me to go home for the services, so instead I spent that week putting on a smile I didn’t feel and helping a new group of guests have a wonderful, stress-free vacation to Alaska. Luckily, I had a great group of guests that week, but it was still really challenging to have to be upbeat and positive when inside I was grieving, lonely, and frequently on the verge of tears.
The Oversharing B&B Hostess
When my best friend, Molly, and I embarked on our long weekend trip to Iowa and Nebraska, we were excited to spend the first night in a cute bed and breakfast in pretty Dubuque, Iowa. Upon arrival, however, we discovered a worn out old house groaning under layers of dust and cat hair, with a proprietress who was quick to inquire about our opinions on Donald Trump and reminisce fondly about her time doing LSD with frat boys in college. My allergic reactions to the B&B’s feline inhabitants were only slightly stronger than my discomfort at the amount of detail our hostess shared about her rowdy past and current political opinions, and I’ve rarely been more happy to leave a night’s accommodations in the (literal) dust.
The Unwelcome Bedfellows
With my bare-bones backpacking budget, it was bound to happen sooner or later… I just didn’t expect it to happen less than two weeks into our three-month South America trip. We had just checked into a nice-looking hostel in Cuenca, Ecuador, which boasted a great location and a stunning view of the city’s famous New Cathedral. That night, I turned down my covers and absent-mindedly flicked a bug off my sheets. I didn’t think much of it; everyone gets the occasional insect in their room once in a while. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just one bug, and it wasn’t just any old insect. I had encountered my first bedbug infestation. Thankfully, we were soon on our way out of town, and I was tremendously fortunate that the little buggers didn’t seem to hitch a ride with me over the border into Peru.
Well, there they are: the second half of my worst experiences on the road. Do you have any crazy travel stories? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
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