Five Years Since the Shipwreck That Changed My Life

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Every March 28, I’m reminded of the night when the boat went down.

Falling asleep on a bench and woke up with a jerk at 2:00 AM, scrambling on the floor before a crew member came in and said, “Everybody, get your lifejackets on.” The night I cried and panicked on the same bench, holding on to a Canadian friend. The night I balanced myself on the deck as it slanted more and more, then vaulted myself overboard into the surprisingly warm water as rain poured down. The night I slammed into the black volcanic rocks on shore and climbed my way to safety.

I was shipwrecked on an overnight trip to Komodo Island in Indonesia.

I don’t look back on it so much as I live. The shipwreck is part of me. I think about it daily.

Now that that five years have passed, I thought it would be an opportunity to look back and talk about how this event impacted my life.

On Gratitude

“You realize that as far as shipwrecks go, you had it good, didn’t you?” a friend asked me at one point.

Yep. He was right. I pretty much had the best case scenario.

In 2014, there was another sinking on a similar journey from Lombok to Komodo. It was far worse than my experience and my heart goes out to everyone involved. It was another reminder that we were fortunate in so many ways.

I am grateful that none of us were killed or severely injured in the wreck.

I am grateful that we were close enough to shore that the crew was able to speed to land before we had to abandon ship.

I am grateful that there were enough lifejackets for everyone on board, even though there weren’t enough for a full boat.

I am grateful that I was sleeping next to a dry bag with my debit card, phone, and camera, and that I was able to put on my sports sandals before jumping.

I am grateful that one crew member kept us calm and helped us as we jumped from the boat.

I am grateful that we landed in the rain on a part of an island where there weren’t any komodo dragons.

I am grateful that a nearby dive boat sent their dinghy to rescue us from the island after only about 30 minutes of climbing the rocks.

I am grateful (and shocked) that my passport was recovered from the wreckage.

I am grateful to my parents for supporting me and accepting my decision to continue traveling, even though they wanted me to come home.

I am grateful to the friends, family, and readers who sent me donations to replace my belongings in Asia.

On Boats and Fear

I still struggle on boats today, five years later. I tend to think about the boat wrecking the entire time I’m on board. No matter how safe and professional the boat is, my default mindset is still WHAT IF IT GOES DOWN? until we’re back on dry land.

And it can get very bad — like on the “small ferry” from Ometepe back to the mainland in Nicaragua, where it creaked loudly and pitched so hard that it had to be bailed out constantly. I was frozen in fear, squeezing my eyes shut as people vomited around me.

And on my wild overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland in Scotland, the North Sea was pitching violently and I maybe got two hours of sleep. Being in an inside cabin with no escape, scenes from Titanic played in my head all night long. I was able to sleep on the ferry back only because I had partied until 8:00 AM at Up Helly Aa the night before and decided to just push through until the night.

There were all those longtail boat rides in Thailand where I fixated on the bottom of the wooden boat and the water that would leak in, slowly, slowly, waiting until it caught the attention of the drivers.

And on my first tour in Guatemala, taking a fully loaded lancha (small boat) across Lake Atitlan from Jaibalito to San Pedro. I felt like the boat was a bit overloaded with all 14 of us and our bags. Frozen in fear once again, I closed my eyes and put my head down the whole time, to the alarm of one of my guests (“Kate. What’s going on? ARE WE OKAY? WHAT’S GOING ON?” “I’M FINE, WE’RE FINE, I’VE BEEN SHIPWRECKED BEFORE”) and then vomited in the privacy of the guesthouse bathroom.

After five years, this is something that I think I’m going to have to live with for the long haul.

That said, there have also been times where I’ve improved. Sailing in Belize was a huge step in my healing process — it was a catamaran (and therefore more stable than a sailboat), we were in calm waters, we sailed during the day only, and we slept on dry land. That, plus the fact that it was insanely fun, made it an overall fantastic experience. It even made me want to sail more!

On Crowdfunding

Once I realized I was safe on shore, reality set in. I had lost all of my clothes except four items, all of my toiletries, my expensive orthodontic mouthpiece, and all my electronics and work gear (save phone and camera) were ruined, including my laptop, which I needed in order to make money. I didn’t even have a single pair of underwear.

And I was extremely low on cash. A travel insurance payment wasn’t guaranteed and it would take time.

As soon as I announced the shipwreck on Facebook, lots of friends came forward asking if they could send me money. I sent them Paypal donation links, and they contributed generously.

Then came the tough decision: would I ask my readers to do the same? Would I actively solicit donations?

I wrestled with whether or not to do this. I was in a position of privilege, traveling the world, even if I was low on cash at the moment. By no means was anyone obligated to donate to me. But a lot of people loved my site and had been reading it regularly and they wanted to help me in my time of need.

Back in early 2011, GoFundMe and similar sites weren’t the powerhouses that they are today. The way to collect donations back then was through a Paypal button. So I put it up, and also asked readers if they could donate, making it clear that just $5 would be very much appreciated (most people donated more), it was absolutely no obligation, and it would not impact our friendship whatsoever whether they did or didn’t donate.

It worked. I raised enough money to buy new tech gear, new clothes, new toiletries, and keep me afloat until I got home a month later. The first things I bought were some awful cheap dresses. Then a laptop. Then underwear. (Priorities.)

Everyone who donated got a long, heartfelt, personalized email from me. (Except for the one who donated 17 cents. My email to him was equally thankful but significantly shorter.) Later, I was able to get a travel insurance settlement, but it only covered a small amount of what I had lost.

Months later, a blogger friend was robbed of $3000 worth of photography equipment while traveling. He sought out my advice and decided to go about it the same way I did. He also had the advantage of having lots of merchandise for sale, and he encouraged people to buy that stuff if they wanted to support him.

My intention was always to pay it forward — and I have and continue to do so. I have two regular charities I support on a monthly basis (Planned Parenthood and Doctors Without Borders), I have a few hundred dollars constantly being lended out on Kiva, and I make one-off donations to other charities, but today I also contribute to friends’ fundraising endeavors. Friend running a marathon for AIDS research? I donate. Cousin looking to adopt a new baby? I donate. Friend of a friend’s husband dies suddenly, leaving her with two very young children? I donate.

And, more recently, another blogger friend was in a similar situation, robbed of her laptop while traveling and wondering whether to ask for donations. I donated. And even after the laptop was found and returned to her, I told her to keep the cash and spend it on backup software like Crashplan.

Now…how does this play into a world where people try to crowdfund their vacations?

That’s a completely different subject and one that could be its own post. If someone is soliciting donations so they can take a trip, I don’t donate to that. If someone is soliciting donations for a service trip, I don’t do that, either. I feel like money goes further if you donate to an actual organization, not for an unskilled worker to volunteer there.

I feel like my position after the shipwreck was different because 1) I had been providing my readers with free, valuable content for quite some time and 2) I had been hit by an unexpected disaster and has lost nearly all of my belongings.

I’m sure some people will read this as justification, as “do as I say, not as I do.” That’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Even so, if this exact situation happened today, I wouldn’t ask for donations. I’m more financially secure and my site now earns passive income in the background, so I would have survived far more easily.

On Disaster and Solo Travel

As soon as we washed up on the island, I realized that solo travelers were at a disadvantage — we had nobody looking for us. At that point, I started calling out for the other solo travelers, making sure that all of us had made it. We all had.

This is something that I keep in mind to this day. When I’m on a day tour or doing an adventure event, I make an effort to get to know the other participants, not just the guide. Even though I’m an introvert and would be happy sticking in the background, I know that this adds to my safety, just in case the worst happens.

On Visiting Komodo Island Safely

Since the shipwreck, I’ve had around a dozen people emailing me to say that they took the same trip with Perama Tours and it was fine, so people should do it anyway.

I roll my eyes at those emails. Obviously, the boat is not going to wreck every single time! What my trip proved is that Perama Tours is not prepared if anything goes wrong. They had been navigating by flashlight. Neither of the lifeboats were in working order. The lifejackets were tangled and knotted and there were only enough because our boat was at half capacity. There was nothing for the baby — or children, for that matter. And we were robbed on top of it.

The worst part of this trip is that it involved night sailing in rough, volcanic, reef-filled waters. When we arrived in Labuanbajo, Flores, the local fishermen were dismayed that our boat had been sailing through that area at night in the first place.

If you want to visit Komodo Island safely, don’t take an overnight sailing trip and absolutely don’t travel with Perama Tours. Instead, do a day trip from the town of Labuanbajo, Flores. This way you won’t be sailing at night and you won’t have all of your belongings on the boat with you.

I’m not going to recommend any company in particular, as I haven’t experienced them myself; this list on TripAdvisor is a place to start your research.

Now, how should you get to Labuanbajo? You could fly direct from Bali or elsewhere in Indonesia, but I know some people express trepidation about flying an Indonesian airline. The decision is yours. If you don’t want to fly, you can take a series of buses and ferries across Bali, then Lombok, then Sumbawa, then to Labuanbajo on the island of Flores.

Be sure to avoid the “fast ferries” and don’t take any boats at night. See below for more on boat safety.

On the Crew

I was incensed that the crew robbed us after the sinking and even angrier that the police refused to give us a report (which we needed for insurance purposes) unless we said that the crew did nothing wrong, even though I understood why they did it.

Today, I feel a lot more sympathy for them. Working on a tourist boat is a great job, and wrecking the boat is a way to lose that great job. They were likely about to lose the best job they would ever have and did what they had to do to take care of their families. Besides, we were incredibly rich compared to them and could afford to replace our belongings eventually.

And they recovered my passport, which sank with the ship. They didn’t have to do that.

On Healing After Trauma

After the shipwreck, I splurged on a $100 flight back to Bali and checked into a crappy guesthouse in Kuta. I spent my days inside, only leaving to replenish my belongings and eat. (That said, I was without appetite for a long time after the wreck — I could only take two bites and then be full.)

Then I got a kind offer from the Alam Sari, a boutique resort outside Ubud, who offered to put me up for free until I felt better. I spent about a week there, much of it just spent hiding out and getting room service. What I appreciated the most was that the offer came open-ended, without any conditions or stipulations attached. It was low season, so they had plenty of open rooms anyway. I thanked them by providing them with content.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to be with friends until I got back to Bangkok and ran into my buds Ste and Darren during the Songkran celebrations. They were dear friends with whom I had traveled for about a month in Vietnam and Cambodia, and I finally felt somewhat normal once I tearfully hugged them.

I don’t have nightmares. The boat fears are as bad as it gets. And when I was sailing through Croatia, I couldn’t bring myself to jump off the boat with the others. It brought back too many memories.

I don’t take as many risks as I used to anymore. Yes, that might make me lame (I cannot tell you how often I hear “but you’re not adveeeeeeenturous!“), but you know what? I’d much rather skip out on a cool-but-risky activity than die and completely destroy my family’s lives in the process.

All things considered, I’m grateful that I don’t have any lingering trauma.

On Indonesia

When I arrived in Indonesia in 2011, I was several months into my Southeast Asia travels and was already feeling a bit burned out. For that reason, I didn’t explore Bali and Lombok as thoroughly as I could have, and I wasn’t as captivated by these islands as I was by other places in Southeast Asia.

Today, I don’t have much of a desire to return to Indonesia. Which is fine. I’m well aware that Indonesia has some beautiful and fascinating regions to explore, places that I would love, but I don’t feel a pressing need to return at this time.

What did leave an impression on me was the kindness of the Balinese people. Everyone was so open and friendly and interested in my life story and eager to talk for hours. It was a pure and unquestioning kindness, one that is so special when you find it, and I left the island with several new friends. (And at 5’4″, I towered over nearly all of them!)

On My Fellow Shipwreckees

We stayed in touch for a bit over email, but we haven’t talked to each other in quite a long time. I’ve lost touch with all of them, in part because some of them weren’t on Facebook and the whole internet situation in Labuanbajo was limited back then. We mostly used desktops in internet cafes, which meant impromptu friending didn’t happen. I’m glad the option is there if I need to email them.

Still, I think about them a lot. I’ve always remembered Juan and Meri’s offer to look them up if I ever come to Cordoba, Argentina.

I did recently hear from the mother of the baby on board! She commented on my Facebook page. Little Elin is doing well in Denmark. She should be almost six now.

On Boat Safety in Developing Countries

It’s important for you to know that nothing is ever 100% safe. Boat safety isn’t merely an issue in developing countries, as recent tragedies in South Korea and Italy have shown.

But traveling by boat the developing world requires extra vigilance, as countries often don’t have as stringent regulations as in developed countries. It’s not uncommon for boats to be filled past capacity or for old, rundown boats to continue to take passengers.

Boat safety is hard in particular because unless you know boats well, you don’t know what to look for. How can you tell the difference between a safe but old-looking boat and an unsafe boat? I still don’t know.

But here are tips that will help you:

Learn how to swim well before you start traveling. I was surprised at how many of my friends, especially Brits, described themselves as “not a strong swimmer” and didn’t go beyond shallow water. There is no shame in taking swimming lessons as an adult. Seriously. It could save your life.

And for my readers who are parents, teach your kids to swim from a young age. Get them into lessons if you’re not a strong swimmer yourself. Please prioritize this; it will be more difficult once they’re older.

Bring a dry bag. Today I travel with two dry bags: a small one for when I need somewhere to stash my camera and phone (5-10 liters is good), and a large one (20-30 liters) big enough to cover my day bag.

If you’re a longtime reader, you know that I always encourage you to keep your valuables (electronics, passport, medication, credit cards, cash, etc.) in your day bag, on your person at all times while in transit (excluding the backup cash and credit card hidden somewhere random in your luggage). That goes for boats as well as anywhere else. Check your luggage in the hold but hang onto your valuables as well as the big dry bag.

Avoid fast ferries; take larger, slower ferries. I’m speaking anecdotally as it’s hard to find data — but in my experience, when you hear about sinkings of tourist boats around Bali and Lombok, it’s often the fast ferries, sometimes the popular fast ferry from Bali to the Gili Islands. Also anecdotally, I’ve found that larger boats tend to be more stable, though keep in mind that anything can happen.

Stick to high season and avoid sailing in bad weather. If you’re planning a trip to a part of the developing world with lots of ferries, like Indonesia or the Philippines, you may want to time your trip to high season, when it rains less often.

Avoid night sailings. Stick to daytime sailing. (You may feel fine sailing at night in the developed world, but for the developing world I urge you to only take day sailings.)

Invest in your safety. Don’t let money be a major factor in choosing a less safe method of transport. If there’s a big difference in the quality of boats, take the nicer boat, even if it costs more or takes much longer. Be aware if you’re paying more for a quality trip or a faster trip.

If you’re taking a tour or trip, read reviews first. TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree are good places to search. The Thorn Tree is also good if you have follow-up questions. Local and regional sites are good too, like Travelfish for Southeast Asia, as well as local Couchsurfing groups for destinations.

Find a lifejacket and sit on it like a cushion. Grab it as soon as you get on the boat. If the worst happens, you’ll be prepared.

Familiarize yourself with all exit routes from the boat. This is good advice for wherever you go, but it’s especially important on boats.

On the Legacy of My Original Post

My original post had quite an impact. Years after the shipwreck, one of my readers emailed me and said that she was in an internet cafe in Bali and several people had my site pulled up and were debating whether or not to do the cruise.

I hear it all the time — “I almost did that trip and your post convinced me not to do it.” And the opposite, on occasion. Since I know the people who actually email me are a small minority, I can only imagine how many people this post has directly affected.

It also got a fair amount of press. Lonely Planet Indonesia used to refer to a “well-documented March 2011 shipwreck.” Now they briefly refer to a 2011 sinking. I actually make a regular habit of browsing Indonesia guidebooks just to see what they say about cruising to Komodo Island. Even five years later.

I will say this — prior to the shipwreck, Lonely Planet referred to Perama’s cruise as “one of the safer options.” Nowadays, they say nothing about safety and instead refer to my past sinking.

To be totally honest, the shipwreck was hugely beneficial to my career as a travel blogger. The post got widely shared in the early days of 2011 (I can only imagine what it would have been like today!). It grew my audience and also gave me credibility as a traveler. And it’s a hell of a story to tell. I honestly think that this was the point when I went from being a decently known blogger to one of the best known travel bloggers.

If the shipwreck had ended tragically, I would be carrying around quite a bit of guilt over my resulting success.

Looking Forward

Now that I’ve opined for more than 3000 words on this defining moment in my life, what’s the message I want you to take away?

Please take safety seriously. I know a lot gets said about “Don’t let fear keep you from traveling the world!” and “You could be hit by a drunk driver if you don’t travel!” and “It’s even safer than being at home!” and “Most of the time it’s totally safe!”

I get the purpose of those statements, but they’re overly simplistic. Travel can be risky. It can often be more risky than staying at home. And when you add traveling by boat in the developing world, you’re adding even more risks.

You could luck out and have nothing happen to you, like most people. Or something could go wrong while you’re traveling with a company like Perama Tours that is completely unprepared for any mishaps.

Please follow the safety advice I listed above. And if your intuition is screaming at you, that’s a sign to just say no. Even if you already paid.

If you want to visit Komodo Island, don’t take an overnight sailing trip. Do a day trip from Labuanbajo like I mentioned above. I’ve made it a mission to spread this information and I hope the overnight budget sailings eventually become obsolete.

Were you a reader back when this happened to me? What do you think now? Share away!

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62 thoughts on “Five Years Since the Shipwreck That Changed My Life”

  1. Wow, yes, I remember that post! It’s interesting to see the long term impact it had on you and on others. I did learn from it at the time – taking all of my safety measures when travelling is a must, so thank you, Kate, for raising awareness that travel is not just rainbows and unicorns!

  2. I’m so sorry you had to go through an experience like that.

    I really admire your honesty and authenticity, especially at the end of this post. I think it’s sometimes very easy to get caught up in the rhetoric that bad things can happen anywhere. But there’s a difference between not letting fear dictate your actions and actively putting yourself in harm’s way.

    Thanks for being so open, and for sharing your thoughts and emotions.

  3. I was not yet a reader back then but you’ve mentioned it since, so I was able to read up on what happened. So scary! I find it interesting that you say you don’t have any lingering trauma, yet it seems very clear that you do. PTSD comes in many forms, and the fears that return to you when you’re on boats is one of them. As someone who’s seen this in military personnel, it’s important that you address it and call it what it is — this is post traumatic stress and it’s very real and could (and likely will) impact you for the rest of your life.

    1. Wow. Thank you, Katie.

      I didn’t consider the possibility that I have PTSD — it didn’t seem severe enough. Then again, I also didn’t realize I was in an abusive relationship until after I got out of it, so I have a history of downplaying things.

      I wonder if I should go see someone for that.

      1. I’m not a mental health professional but when you describe panic on boats and even physical illness (when you didn’t suffer from those ailments prior to the wreck), it sounds very much like PTSD. A professional — especially someone who specializes in that — could possibly help you cope with it. Hell, even acknowledging it can help you cope with it. As I’m sure you learned from that relationship, your health (both mental and physical) is too important to ignore or downplay. Don’t do that. 🙂

  4. I was not a reader at the time when this happened, but I do remember seeing a glimpse of this story which lead me to your site. It was one of the most eye-opening, frightening stories I have ever read but I totally fell in love with your writing style! I remember reading it at work, hung up on every word your wrote and I totally felt like I was right there with you (note: I’m never going on that boat tour. Ever.). I remember being totally drawn to your website and I check it EVERY SINGLE DAY. You totally won me over with your ping pong story though, I laughed so hard, I cried! Keep up the amazing work, you are my favorite blogger and such a fun, fearless female! Looking forward to reading more! 🙂

  5. Really great post Kate! Thank you so much for sharing the impacts of the shipwreck, the lingering effects, as well as all these safety tips!

  6. Interesting read! We did one of these boats to Komodo and were terrified it was going to capsize as the weather was so bad. Now I know we had reason to be worried! Glad you were all ok, must have been very scary for you all. Great post x

  7. I practically grew up on a boat in New York. So I feel like if a shipwreck ever happened to me, I would be taking charge, counting heads, distributing life jackets, and THEN getting myself to safety. It’d be scary, but a bit more “my territory” than other situations.

    I did have an experience traveling in Bali that I felt less prepared for, though – that was when a huge rip current off Nusa Lembongan in Bali nearly swept me, my dive buddy, and our dive guide out to sea. It came through very suddenly and we all had to hold onto chunks of coral for dear life.

    VERY SCARY when the current was so strong it nearly ripped my mouthpiece right out. I had to tell myself to breathe normal or go through my air too quickly. We managed to wait it out long enough that it died down for a few seconds. We took advantage of those moments to crawl our way into a cavern and out of it.

    Luckily, we all got out of it. But from your story and my experience, I am convinced the waters around Bali are simply NOT to be messed with!!

  8. Thanks for sharing your story so openly – what a terrifying experience! I like to live life on the more adventurous side but agree that there are some things that just aren’t worth the risk! We were gutted to miss out on caving in the depths of Guatemala but having read some reviews, decided it was just too remote should something go wrong. Better to keep safe huh x

    1. I went into some caves in Guatemala around Semuc Champey. Honestly, it was one of the most fun things I have ever done — but there were NO safety regulations whatsoever. People were even jumping into rocky pools in the dark with no helmets or equipment! It was a huge contrast from caving in Belize next door, where safety was a major priority.

  9. This was an interesting read, thanks for sharing everything you did. I am probably one of the few jokers in Singapore of a non-nature/ Scientific background who wants to visit Komodo Island for the longest time and I’m a pretty gutsy and gungho gal when it comes to tasting new sights and sounds (in all senses)… Thank Ü for the tips, and keep up with all the good you have been doing!

  10. That sounds absolutely horrific and I must say we were very cautious about what boats we would take in Asia because you hear a lot of stories of sinking ships (not to mention pirates!)

  11. This is one of my biggest fears, specifically because i’m traveling an Island for 2 months. I make me feel better and safe knowing that a bad experience hasn’t stopped you. All the power to you!!

  12. Your safety tips are equally valid for land travel. Another blogger I know recently took her family with 2 children on a harrowing bus trip in Nepal because her husband wanted to save the money flying would have cost. I recall a bus trip in Costa Rica where our small bus was so overloaded with luggage on top that we felt as though the driver barely had control because of swaying and that the bus was going to tip over. Even though I speak Spanish and I and the other passengers were terrified, I didn’t say anything about stopping and reloading the bus. In retrospect, I probably should have spoken up. I have not read your first post about this horrific experience, but I will do so now.

  13. Kate, understandably this event has left you with issues and it is a testament to your spirit of travel that you kept going and even used this tragic event to spur you on to become the successful travel blogger you are. Well done and maybe one day Indonesia will come calling again.

    1. First of all, nobody was in a normal state of mind while this was happening; I doubt most people can even remember what was going through their minds once we landed. I was so relieved, I was almost hysterical with laughter. I didn’t take photos while we were sinking; I didn’t do anything until we had made it to shore. The other photos are from the rescue boat.

      And second, I took these photos for documentation purposes. For my site, yes, to warn people about this tour (and because even during the fray, I knew I had to get photos of it), but also for insurance purposes. I sent these photos to everyone and they sent them to their insurance companies. These photos were also in publications including the Bali Times. It’s rare for instances like these to be photographed, so I was sure to get images, even though they turned out to be crappy ones.

  14. The shipwreck post was something I made sure to go back and read before heading to Komodo Island. It’s a crazy story, thankfully the sinkings are few and far between. Our boat with Kakaban Tours provided a wicked as experience!

    The gratitudes you listed was awesome 🙂

  15. Thanks for sharing your story with us Kate.
    I didn’t really know anything about blogs back in 2011 but I did read your Thailand and Cambodia post in 2013, which led me to the ship-wreck story.

    It’s been five years and I still can’t fanthom how you felt or feel. It’s something that even if, on the surface you’ve managed to move on, you’ll never forget.

    I travel to a lot of developing countries and I know well how easy it is to get hurt due to a lack of facilties, equipment, or training. That is why I don’t bungee jump, zipglide or do extreme sport activities unless it’s done in a highly indutrialised country, with strict laws ans regulations.

    I fell off the ski lift into the forest in the Czech Republic about 20 years ago, and I still don’t know how lucky I was not to have a broken arm or leg!

  16. I really respect and appreciate the courage you displayed in surviving this shipwreck and how you’ve been able to share it as a warning for others and hopefully a bit of healing for yourself.

    Take care Kate and happy travels.

  17. what a life changing experience. i can’t even imagine what it must have been like. I believe that things happen for a reason and you sharing your story is something we can all take a lesson from. i am so grateful to have found your blog, i find it very enriching =o)

    stay safe and I look forward to hearing about your next travels

  18. I’ve wanted to learn how to swim for ages, but it has never been a bigger priority than running or work or many other things in my life. This post has convinced me to change that. I will be signing up for swimming lessons today. Thank you.

  19. Dang! I was not a reader back in 2011, but have been for about a year now and I’m so glad your “resurfaced” this experience! I don’t even know how to begin thinking about how scary that must have been for you. I am so glad you and the rest of the passengers were mostly safe AND that you kept traveling and kept writing about it.

  20. We haven’t been your readers back then, but we bumped into your shipwreck post somewhere earlier. Reading your reflections on it now gave us a lot of WOW-s… We really appreciate your openness and honesty and that you are able to see this not only from your view, but from other viewpoints as well. Thank you for sharing! We wish you safe and happy travels in the future!

  21. Wow Kate…I can only imagine how harrowing that must have been. This is such a useful post and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the impression from reading this one. Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s very useful to us other travel bloggers. I haven’t yet planned a journey in this region but I’m sure it’ll come next year, and I’ll carry this advice with me. Have a lovely day!


  22. I’m in Labuan Bajo now! I’m doing my divemaster training, so I’ll be here about 10 weeks. I really love Komodo National Park and I would hope that people aren’t put off coming here. The diving is among the best in the world (I frequently swim with 20-30 mantas in one dive!), and the dragons are very cool as well. I mentioned this article to two customers on the dive boat today and they said they’d read your article and decided to get the boat anyway, but it’s definitely making people think twice about whether they might be better off flying!

  23. I really am sorry you had to go through that – I’m not sure I’d EVER get back on a boat if it was me, so *highfive* to you. I’m considerably older than you, so trite as it sounds, these types of things do shape us and make us grateful. Here’s to more adventures – less scary, more fun!

    We are traveling for the first time out of the country to Costa Rica in June. I’ve read a lot about you keeping your passport on you, etc, and have checked your links for recommendations for dry bags, etc (thank you!). I think at this point I’m a little confused – while it is a developing country, we are going to stay in very nice hotels, and only go with guides. Do the same rules/recs apply? Is it not safe to leave stuff in my hotel safe in CR the same way it is safe to leave it in Las Vegas (for example)? And if we do carry, what do you do for example like when on a zipline tour, or waterfall hike? Wouldn’t tossing it aside, or leaving in the tour van pose a worse risk than leaving in hotel? I guess I can’t seem to decide if we’ll be subjected to much more likely theft/loss, or if considering our circumstances, we should use just the same precautions/expectations we use when traveling in US. THANKS! I enjoy your blog and your Snaps!

  24. wow – i didnt know about this story! what an experience! I always wondered if i had a near miss in a plane if i would suddenly not be capable of getting on another,,,, i think theres every chance!

  25. Thanks for sharing your experience again. It is the stuff of nightmares but I’m so glad you were all safe in the end. Years ago, I jumped on so many boats in the developing world; sometimes with genuine concerns, and now I question my judgement about whether it was all worth the risk. There is so much sensible advice in this post. Everyone take note!

    1. There were only enough for our passengers, but the boat was at half capacity. Many of the life jackets were knotted together. There was nothing for the baby. The water was warm.

  26. Hi Kate,
    What an extremely powerful story. I cannot begin to imagine what you went through, it sounds like it really was awful experience!

    I was just wondering, is there anything someone like me can take with me on my sea adventures? Like, would getting a walkie talkie, or a gps alarm be valuable? I found a decent walkie talkie here: and was wondering if something like that would be worth the price when it could potentially save lives.


    1. You know, I’m not familiar with either of those and I hadn’t thought about it — in case of disaster, that’s something your crew should have, but as my experience proved, they very often aren’t prepared for situations like these.

  27. What a nightmare – so glad it wasn’t even more of a disaster. I’ve wanted to go to Komodo Island for years but always say that I won’t be taking any Indonesian ferries because they must have the worst travel record for sinking of anywhere in the world. You are so right that people need to know how to swim – and to swim enough to save their lives not enough to play in a pool. I’m a strong swimmer and huge fan of the water but adamantly agree that if your intuition is telling you a ship doesn’t seen safe don’t get on it. I obeyed my intuition on that in Panama a couple months ago even though it meant I didn’t get to go on a snorkeling trip I’d traveled 2 hours by van to get to. I figured better pissed off than dead. Maybe that will be my new motto – not very uplifting though!

  28. i have to admit that is a hell of a story 🙂 I bet it has had a major impact on you . I remember being stranded underneath a dingy on a river in Ecuador and I still remember it to this day. That was a major traumatic experience for you! congrats on being so fearless! Keep up the good work.


  29. Your advice for traveling on larger slow ferries definitely applies to the Philippines as well. I was there in the summer when some rough weather cancelled all the fast ferries. The worst ones by far are the small dive boat ferries though.

    I was actually on the tiny island Malapascua when a small typhoon hit and we almost didn’t make it off the island. The only ferry available is a dive boat with the long wooden poles on either side. There were a few times I thought our boat was going to snap in half, and all of the locals were grabbing their life vests praying. While my friend and I awkwardly joked about sinking, we knew that if we capsized we would probably die since we were nowhere near land. Thankfully we didn’t!

    I definitely agree with your dry bag advice too. I was on a dive boat in the Philippines just a few months ago and the waves got so rough we had to jump out and swim to a smaller boat that could take us to shore. The boat crew started throwing our stuff to the small boat about 20 feet away. My friend and I had our DSLRs and were freaking out! Thankfully he had to dry bags that we were able to hold over out heads as we swam through the crazy waves to the other boat. I immediately purchased a set of dry bags the next day!

  30. Wow! I did not know about this shipwreck, what an experience to go through, I could never even imagine. I wanted to post a comment but don’t really know what to say! All your points about boat safety and some travel safety are things I never really thought about and will definitely remember now. Thanks for the post. xx

  31. Hi Kate, I feel a little sick when I first see that photo of you in a life vest (Sorry, that sounds really mean!!!) but it brings back the fear of my own terrifying shipwreck this December just gone. I can totally relate to the fear in your faces.
    Weirdly enough I pushed out half a smile in my photos from that terrifying night … at least i now know i can still smile when faced with death by shipwreck. 😉 … I’ve been travelling for around 7 years but only started writing and joining in the with crazyness of social media about about 6 months ago. I just wanted to say you’re one of my biggest inspirations (i don’t say that too lightly either!) Love your caring uplifting, honest and fun spirit! keep rockin’ it 🙂

    1. Oh my God, Emma. I am so sorry that happened to you. How terrifying.

      After my shipwreck, I decided that I would never do the Panama to Colombia sailing. You’ve given me yet another reason why not to do that. Good luck and thank you so much!

      1. Yeah, i tried to write something new about it yesterday and despite fancying myself as not much of a cryer, i just kept bursting into tears. its CRAZY how these things effect you for life. anyways, you’re so right DONT do that crossing, i’m going to be putting together a warning soon. The whole thing could have been avoided and turned into a massive scammy cover up so they can keep raking it in

  32. wow, so much respect, couldn’t imagine how awful it must have felt to lose everything of your stuff. So amazing that there were so many people helping you out!

  33. I remember reading your original post on the shipwreck and being floored by it, very interesting to get your perspective now on it as you think back to that night. I loved how you weren’t afraid to speak up about a tragic travel experience – it’s not all tequila shots and sunsets! It’s only natural for people to tell you after a bad travel experience that you should stop or cut back, or not travel anywhere ‘risky’ – my parents tell me that often!

    I am still recovering from my last trip to Hawaii, 4 weeks ago. We had had such an amazing time on the ‘Big Island’ , until I somehow managed to forget which side of the road I was meant to be on (I’m from Australia) and ended up having a head on collision with another car that nearly killed me and my partner and completely wrote off our hire car. Miraculously we walked away with no internal injuries and just nasty cuts and bruises that are still healing.

    I completely get how grateful you felt after the shipwreck, I have had similar feelings about the seat belts and airbags that saved us, all the people who were so helpful, and that our expensive trip to the hospital was covered by travel insurance. Unlucky for me I didn’t have all the necessary insurances on the car so it looks like I could be up for a hefty fee to replace the hire car. But again, lucky to be alive.

    Just like the shipwreck my recovery has also been emotional. I had flashbacks that brought me to tears for a while, less common now. I regularly dream about car crashes, and I don’t like my chances of ever driving on the opposite side of the road again. Even driving here is still a bit stressful. But will it stop me from travelling? No way! But I think I will now be a bit more cautious when using transport of any kind, even boats and ferries! And despite the extra costs, I will always get all necessary insurance.

    Thanks as always Kate for being so honest in your posts 🙂

  34. Hi Kate,

    I just wanted to say that your post on your shipwreck was so helpful when I was looking into planning our Indonesian Itinerary. I’d visited the Komodo Island on a cruise ship tour and I was so keen to go back and explore it properly. Reading your post not only stopped me from planning this into our tour but it also changed our whole itinerary. We did take a tour from Labuan Bajo but we camped overnight instead of sleeping on the boat and I was much more assertive about checking safety precautions put in place. It cost more but the peace of mind was worth every penny.

    I have a lot of anxiety about being in the water generally and your post really underlined to me that this just was NOT worth the risk- I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it properly for the fear, even if nothing had happened. It is okay to be scared and it is okay to be anxious. I allowed my fear to be valid. Travel isn’t always about having the craziest time and wildest time, it’s about experiencing things at a pace you feel comfortable with.

    I’m currently blogging about our trip and will definitely be linking to your posts- your story was invaluable to me.

    I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that, but be assured that you sharing your story has had a great effect so THANK YOU for sharing.

  35. Not a conventional anniversary post!
    I read your original post about your shipwreck and every time I board a boat in South East Asia I make sure I grab a life jacket just in case! You can never be too careful and while most people are never effected, your story goes to show that! Glad that you and everyone on board was safe!

  36. This is really an emotional read, and I am so sorry this happened to you. I came across your blog only recently, as I have just been in Indonesia and had terrible experiences with the fast ferries from the Gilis, although nowhere near as terrible as yours. I plan to write about mine, I am also a travel blogger and freelancer, and find that just the act of writing can be very cathartic. On the islands, I did see a lot of live abroad sailing trips to Komodo being advertised, so they are definitely still very popular… Thanks again for sharing, you have a great blog!

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