My Worst Travel Moments of 2014
You’ve got to take the good with the bad. And just because I’m on the road most of the time, it doesn’t mean I’m immune to bad times. Far from it. No matter how much you travel, it can often be challenging and stressful.
I really enjoy writing about the crappy times on the road — I think it’s important to show you the full range of travel, not just the pretty, Pinterest-worthy times. More importantly, I want you to realize that experiencing tough times does not mean you’re a failure at travel. There will be times when you’re lonely. There will be times when you’re frustrated. There will be times when you’ll be second-guessing your decision to be wherever you are.
It’s part of the travel experience, and once you hit a low point, recognize that it’s normal and okay to feel that way. Do what you need to do to lift your spirits. Skype your family. Spend an afternoon alone in your room watching YouTube videos. Sign up for a pub crawl at the nearest party hostel. Go for a long hike. Pick up a hot stranger. Then get back to having the adventure of a lifetime.
As amazing as 2014 was, I had a lot of moments I’d rather forget. Some of them darker than others.
You’ve already heard my best travel moments of 2014 — here are the worst ones!
Rear-Ending a Car
I’m not going to divulge exactly where this incident took place (that photo is from New Mexico in 2008), but you can figure out from my travels that I rented cars in LOTS of places this year. Well, I rear-ended someone while driving one of those cars. Because I am a colossal idiot.
It was on the highway, but there was a lot of traffic and our collision was at a slow speed. I am extremely thankful that it wasn’t worse. There was definitely visible damage on my bumper but none on the car I hit, so they were happy to just go.
I dreaded returning the car to the rental company, wondering if they’d charge me $1000 or more for damage. I held my breath as they inspected it…
…and found no damage.
I couldn’t believe it. You bet I returned the forms and got out of there as soon as humanly possible.
Getting My Wallet Stolen in Colombo
As much as I loved riding the trains in Sri Lanka, the ride from Hikkaduwa to Colombo was rough. I got my ass groped early on the ride (“HEY. MOTHERF*CKER. Do not touch me. Do not touch me EVER,” I yelled at him; he shrugged and kept moving down the aisle).
Then when we landed in Colombo, suddenly there was a surge of people getting on and nobody would move out of the way to let us off. I yelled, “Hey!” and tried to push through. Colombo wasn’t the train’s final stop, despite being the capital and largest city; I was afraid my friends and I would end up stuck.
So I pushed through like crazy, just trying to get off the train, not holding my purse tightly to me like I usually do. And as soon as I got off, I realized my purse felt lighter and it had been unzipped. My wallet was gone.
The good news is that I was prepared. I didn’t carry much cash in my wallet and I had a backup credit card hidden in my main luggage, along with some cash. After getting to the hotel, I made calls to cancel my credit cards — none had been used — and turned my backup card into a debit card. I was all set for money until I got home to my new cards.
In the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather lose my wallet than my phone, camera, passport, or computer.
There was one thing I’d do differently next time, though — I’d keep my second debit card as one of the backups. I had it with me in my main wallet because some of the ATMs in Sri Lanka were finicky and wouldn’t accept my regular debit card; I should have moved it to my secret hiding place as soon as I returned from the ATM.
The Worst Jet Lag Ever in San Francisco
Flying from Asia to the Americas is always rough, but Hong Kong to San Francisco isn’t quite as bad — just an eight-hour difference.
Still, east to west tends to be rougher for me than west to east, and I ended up with the worst jet lag of my life. I was waking up at 4:00 AM every day and binge-watching the new season of House of Cards; I would then fall asleep in the middle of the day.
The worst part was when having dinner with some friends. My eyes kept fluttering shut, and I was convinced that Stamper was having dinner at the next table. Yes, I was so jet-lagged that I was mixing up House of Cards and real life.
Hello, Head Lice!
I first pulled a bug out of my hair in San Francisco. Even though my scalp was getting itchier and itchier, I was in a great state of denial, telling myself that it was just dandruff, the bug was a random fluke, and all I needed was some heavy-duty Head and Shoulders.
By the time I noticed more bugs in my hair in New Orleans, I had to face the truth — I was nearly 30 and had head lice. Thankfully, this is an issue easily solved: a trip to the pharmacy and a lice-killing shampoo, followed by a detangling come-through from root to tip (pro tip: leave a ton of conditioner on your ends while you do this!), a second shampoo and comb-through a week later, and I was lice-free.
Losing Berlin Bear
Berlin Bear had been my tiny traveling companion for more than a year, and I loved taking photos of him around the world. I even dreamed of making his adventures into a kids’ book someday. Then while I was back in Berlin after more than a year of travel with him, he went missing while on a train to Potsdam.
I was a lot more upset than I thought I’d be. I just hope he was picked up by a kid and off to a new Berlin home.
Mardi Gras Without the Drinks
If there’s anything I learned in the past year, it’s there are certain experiences you shouldn’t do — or, more accurately, I shouldn’t do — with a travel partner who very rarely drinks. Mardi Gras is one of them. Yes, you can enjoy Mardi Gras without drinking if you want to, but things really aren’t balanced if you want to have a drink, your partner doesn’t want to drink at all, and you’re feeling sick with guilt to the point that you have to rehearse asking permission to have a drink in your mind, lest you appear like the resident drunk.
On Fat Tuesday, I had exactly one drink: a purple voodoo daiquiri on Bourbon Street. Which I really enjoyed — it tasted like Dimetapp! And I loved Dimetapp when I was a kid! But I still felt guilty and awful about it.
Had I gone to Mardi Gras with different friends, it would have been a very different experience. Dancing on tables, dancing in the street, singing, making tons of new friends, drinking tons of purple voodoo daiquiris. Like my trips to Vegas used to be. That’s how I really wanted to celebrate, and now I think I need to go back to enjoy Mardi Gras without the guilt trip.
Getting Sick in Sri Lanka
I knew I was going to get sick in Sri Lanka — the combination of little sleep due to jet lag, a packed schedule, a completely different climate, and late nights with friends was the recipe for a nasty cold. First the sniffles arrived, and I hunkered down, knowing it was going to get worse.
Well, within a six-hour time span, I had gone from light sniffles to feeling tired and achey to having a high fever and chills so violent I couldn’t stop shaking. As hot as it was outside, I wrapped myself in fleeces and blankets, my teeth chattering.
I experimented with natural remedies this time — a lot of raw garlic, honey, and an entire raw red onion — and they really did the trick. My mystery illness left as quickly as it arrived, and I was back to normal within a few days.
I’ve only had chills that bad once in my life before, and it was a full decade ago. Let’s hope I can avoid them for ten more years.
When I arrived in New York in March, my sister’s apartment had no heat. There had been an explosion in her neighborhood the week before and all the apartment units had to have the heat turned off so they could check for gas issues. (It’s a good thing they did, because there was actually a leak in her apartment.)
But then they didn’t turn the heat back on. The building management kept coming up with reasons why they couldn’t. And this was March in New York — temperatures were below freezing most days. It was so bad, we were showering by microwaving bowls of water and splashing them on ourselves.
Altogether, the heat was out for a few weeks and wasn’t turned back on until the local news did a story on it. The building management was able to magically turn the heat back on just before the segment was broadcast, of course. But I was already out of New York by then and taking long showers at home in Massachusetts.
“You’re lucky we’re doing this for you.”
I won’t say where this took place, but I was working on a campaign this year and had a bit of an ugly confrontation. I was working with another blogger and we were presented with an issue that required us to pay money out of pocket for something that was supposed to be provided for us.
I know this sounds ambiguous; I don’t want to get into more detail than that. When we brought the issue up with the people responsible, their response was, “You’re lucky we’re doing this for you.”
That infuriated me.
As hard as I work, as many years as I’ve worked tirelessly building this audience, even the people hiring me to do paid work for them still think that I’m doing this for the travel perks. This is my job. I do it for the money because my student loan bills can’t be paid in the form of comped hotel rooms. And in most cases, travel bloggers are still grossly underpaid for the work they do, especially when it comes to content creation.
We did eventually come to an agreement, and things went smoothly for the rest of the campaign, but that confrontation was a bitter reminder that however much travel blogging grows as an industry, there will be people who don’t take our work seriously, even when they’re the ones hiring us.
Missing the Train to Paris
The day before, I had moved my belongings out of our flat before confronting my fiancé about what I knew and breaking up with him. I then proceeded to cry and get sh*tfaced with my friends at a pub and crashed on my friend Dylan’s couch.
The next day, I was supposed to take the train to Paris for my thirtieth birthday. I left Dylan’s place for King’s Cross, but I ended up on an overground train that shut down, resulting in me missing my train by minutes. A one-way ticket on the next train would cost more than $150 and I couldn’t use my miles for a same-day ticket.
I went up to the Eurostar counter, knowing that my tickets were nonrefundable and nontransferable, just to see what they would say.
“Is there anything, anything that you can do?” I asked an agent named Irshaad as my voice wavered, a tear dripping off my eyelashes.
He softened. “What’s wrong?”
I burst into sobs and revealed everything. How I had left him yesterday. How it was my thirtieth birthday tomorrow. How I was supposed to go to Paris with him for my birthday, and how I had paid for everything, as usual, because if I didn’t pay for it, nobody would pay for it. How I didn’t even want to go to Paris in the first place, I really wanted to go to Santorini or San Sebastian, but I chose Paris because it was the easiest option for my fiancé. How I’d just cancel the trip altogether but my friends who owned a rental company had comped me a flat for a few days and I didn’t want to let them down.
Irshaad, an incredibly kind man, listened to my story, brought me water and tissues, and booked me a business class ticket on the next train. For free. With a meal. And he left his desk to walk me through security to the business class lounge. I hugged him at the end, still crying.
“I’ve been in your position before,” he told me before giving me parting advice, saying goodbye, and going back to his desk.
I was so shocked and touched by Irshaad’s kindness. I spent my time in the lounge writing a long message to his supervisor, telling him what an amazing employee he had.
Paris was awful. My 30th was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. And being a blogger, I had to lie and pretend I was having a great time so as not to appear a complete mess. But Irshaad was a gentle candle in the darkness of my life, and I’ll never forget him for that.
Getting Dive-Bombed by a Seagull in Helsinki
And to end on an amusing note, I was walking through Helsinki with my friend Sami and enjoying a large soft serve ice cream when all of a sudden, a giant seagull dive-bombed me from behind, knocking the ice cream off my cone.
I shrieked (I’m absolutely terrified of birds), and it was over in an instant, ice cream splattered all over my legs. But it got better. I turned around to find a crowd of Chinese tourists snapping photo after photo.
So if you ever go to China and find random pictures of me in albums from Helsinki, now you know why.