My 12 Worst Travel Moments of 2012

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Constant travel does not equal constant happiness.

Just because I’m nearly always on the road, it doesn’t mean it’s always easy or fun or exciting.  Travel, as life-fulfilling as it can be, can also be very challenging.  I try to show that darker side, but most of them time, those bad moments don’t make entertaining blog posts on their own.

But when I looked back at the worst moments of travel in 2012, I started giggling — and grimacing — and thought you’d like to hear them as well.  Here are the WORST travel moments of my year:

Driving my car into a ditch in the Faroe Islands.

After photographing the amazing cliffs and waterfall of Gasadalur on the island of Vagur, I backed my car up slowly along the dirt path — and felt my vehicle slide into the ditch that lined the road.  Soon I realized that I was completely stuck — and in a village with a population of SEVENTEEN.

Oh, and did I mention that the tourism board paid for my car rental?

I waved down the first car that drove by.  A kind man attempted to drive my car out of the ditch, but he couldn’t do it — so he ran to the town for help.  I stayed and worried like mad, wringing my hands, hoping that one of the seventeen would be around.

Success!  A man was in town, and he had a larger car and a rope.  After a few attempts, he actually pulled my car out of the ditch and drove it back to the well-paved road.  And best of all, there was absolutely no damage to my car!

These men were angels to me when I needed them.  They refused to accept any money and simply wished me a pleasant journey.

The sleepless night in Evora, Portugal.

My intuition had been going crazy since I arrived at my hostel in Evora — I hadn’t felt safe from the moment I checked in.

Perhaps it was the lax security or the overly optimistic attitude of the owner, but I had a horrible feeling creeping up about the place.  Something was just not right.

How did I deal with it?  I stayed awake until 5 AM and took an early bus out.  It’s too bad; I really loved the town.

Getting my credit cards hacked in Portugal and Spain.

First it was my Schwab Visa in Lisbon.  Then a few days later, it was my Amex in Sevilla.  They had been stolen online.

Having one other credit card on me kept me going, along with the fact that Schwab would turn on my card authorization long enough for me to make withdrawals at ATMs.  Still, it ended up costing me a lot of money on international phone calls (because I could only call when I was literally standing at an ATM, which didn’t work with Skype) and faxes because Schwab kept giving me different information each time, including the wrong numbers to fax.  (The fact that they require you to fax them, period, is a huge problem in itself.)

Finally, they got one of my half-dozen faxes and overnighted my new debit card to my friend Erin’s apartment in Madrid.

American Express, as usual, was wonderful to me in times of trouble.  It took only one phone call for them to cancel my card and ship out a new one.

Driving from Kotor to Tara Canyon and back.

Whitewater rafting at Tara Canyon was one of my favorite experiences in the Balkans — but I underestimated just what an ordeal it would be getting there!

In our case, the three of us from the hostel were driven the 2.5 hours to Tara Canyon by a crazy man from Ulcinj who WAS AN ABSOLUTELY INSANE DRIVER.  He was a lovely man — he let us stop for pictures of the stunning fjords en route — but by God, he would pass people who were passing people!  He would speed up right behind people to freak them out, then veer from side to side!

I spent much of the ride with my head in my hands, my eyes squeezed shut.  He eventually got us back in one piece.

Wiping out on the Blokart in Cape Town.

Speeding around a track in a go-kart powered by a giant sail, I was having a blast!  I had finally mastered the art of Blokarting and was doing laps around my friends, crowing in delight.

Until a rather strong gust of wind knocked me sideways.  I fell hard on my knee, ripping my favorite jeans from Bangkok and bleeding all over myself.  And while my inherent clumsiness ensues that I bash up my knees on a regular basis, this was different — this was a scrape that bled HARD.  It took forever to get it to stop.

The other bad part was that the wound took so long to heal that it kept me from shark cage diving in Knysna.  Turns out sharks like blood.  Eek.

Almost getting a firecracker dropped in my porta-potty at Las Fallas.

I was so close to being a one-woman Jackass episode.  This was my biggest nightmare.  I was using a porta-potty at Las Fallas in Valencia (out of necessity, as I hate porta-potties and would NEVER use one if I didn’t have to!), and I heard a few guys banging on the back of it, before a few of my friends yelled, “NO, NO, NO!”

It turns out they were about to throw a firecracker into my porta-potty.  THANK GOD my group intervened.  Could you imagine?!

Breaking up by email while hundreds of miles apart.

It didn’t matter that the breakup had to happen, that as good as we were together, we knew we couldn’t make it work long-term.  It was hurtful to have a once-wonderful relationship reduced to me sitting on a hostel bed in Girona, opening an email that began with, “I think you should look into finding a new place to live when you get back.”

Trying to sleep on the Shetland ferry.

This was my first big boat trip after the shipwreck, and I spent the entire night terrified.  The overnight ferry to Shetland is very rough in winter — so rough that you can’t walk straight — and our cabins were below deck with no window to the outside.

The ship pitched violently all night and I squeezed my eyes shut, begging for it to be over.  I didn’t get sleep that night.  (I did sleep on the ferry on the way back — mostly because I never went to bed the night before!)

…there was no toilet paper.  At the worst possible moment.

That is all that will be said.

Getting a pill stuck in my throat for days in South Africa.

Toward the end of the South Africa blog trip, I woke up with what I thought was heartburn.  Taking Tums or anything stronger didn’t help much.  I had a constant pain in the middle of my chest, and swallowing food felt like torture.  Even drinking water hurt.

I had been taking antibiotics at the time, and after doing some Google research, I realized that a pill had most likely become stuck in my esophagus and irritated it.  I had been swallowing my pills dry, which was a huge mistake.

For five days, I couldn’t swallow food without chewing it like crazy, and even that hurt  Thankfully, the pain eventually subsided, but those five days were awful.

My advice for you: ALWAYS take pills with a full glass of water.

Driving the terrifying roads of Eysturoy.

I loved driving through the Faroe Islands (ditch incident notwithstanding) — the roads were nearly empty and so well paved, and the scenery was absolutely marvelous.

Until I got to the rural island of Eysturoy.  As soon as I crossed the bridge, the roads became narrow, treacherous, and roughly paved.  As I made the journey to Gjov, there was a sharp drop on either side of the road, which was hardly wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.  And there were no barriers.  The wrong turn could send me off a cliff.

I drove the whole way at about 20 miles an hour.  That was scary stuff.

Being screamed at by a crazy man in Glasgow. 

I was walking and listening to Gangnam Style on my iPhone when a well-dressed middle-aged man on the street started talking to me.  I took off my headphones.

“Can you help me cross the street?”


“I want you to cross the street with me.”

All right.  That was a bit weird.  “Um, why?”

“Because I’m afraid.”

WHAT?  Maybe he did need help, but…no.  This didn’t feel right.  “Uh, no,” I said, turning away.

“F*************CK YOOOOOOOOOU!” he screamed as I turned away and continued walking.  Guess my instincts were correct.

What were your worst travel moments of the year?

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30 thoughts on “My 12 Worst Travel Moments of 2012”

  1. OMG I always dry swallow pills!! Now I’m scared.

    I like the idea of highlighting your worst travel moments instead of just your best- it shows that things aren’t always rainbows. From what I can see, at least your year is ending on a bright point!

  2. Out of all the crazy and scary things that can happen while traveling in this world, the toilet paper one is my biggest fear. You have my sympathies.

  3. As bad as all these moments were, the breakup had to hurt the worst. I know you were both coming to that point but to receive the news like you did had to be a horrible moment. Bummer about the credit cards too – in two of my favorite cities. However, you are right – American Express is awesome about that. They actually let me know my CC number had been stolen and used in southern California before I even knew about it.

    As for my worst moment, it was in Miami. I’m not going to talk about it as it was an emotional thing. But I burned out and broke down (I wrote about lessons learned from burnout but didn’t talk about the experience itself). I spent the entire day in my hotel room. Second would be a Sunday morning in Dublin. Again, another one I am not talking about 🙂

  4. You win some, you lose some 🙂
    Thankfully I’ve been pretty lucky this year in my travels apart from being sick the entire time from Porto until two months later. Let’s hope for better in 2013!

  5. Okay, I have to admit that some of these made me laugh! But some of them definitely don’t sound like much fun.

    Hopefully the good far outweighed the bad for you in 2012 though!

  6. Haha, what a great post. I love when travellers are honest about their journeys, good and bad. A lot of the time, the bad times make for more memorable stories, like these. Thanks for sharing, you gave me a good giggle (and a good dose of fear about credit card disasters!!)

  7. Ugh, some of these sound horrible. I actually had the same sort of thing happen with my credit cards too this year in Guatemala. Re: the heartburn that Tums doesn’t help, have you tried Eno? They don’t sell it in the states but I won’t travel with out it now. It’s a magic cure all. I order it off ebay or Amazon.

  8. Ugghh, I definitely would have been puking all night on that ferry. We were going to take one from Croatia to Italy but thought better of it because I get so seasick! And I definitely just LOLed at the crazy guy screaming at you! Weirdos.

  9. I always swallow my pills dry. Guess I better stop that!

    I had two bad travel moments of the year. The first was in May when I arrived at the airport to check in for my return flight to be told it didn’t exist. The second was sitting in the Porto airport to find out the US Ambassador to Libya had been killed and my husband was being sent home to pack a bag. I didn’t see him for another 8 weeks.

  10. There are only adventures or more interesting adventures, no bad 🙂


    “That was an interesting adventure” is usually past tense for “Oh shit oh shit we’re all going to die”

    Fun times!

  11. Hmm. Quite some moments. That with the toilet paper…. Yes, I know the feeling very well, a week is not that long ago… Will leave it there.

    But you win my sympathies especially for that break-up story. It’s never nice, especially not when you are helpless and on distance. Happy 2013!

  12. Wow it’s been quite a year for you!! I thought the crazy guy was hilarious but if I were you I would have been rather worried too… I think my worst experience this year was choosing to walk a long distance path in the UK in what must have been the wettest July since records began but that’s quite tame in comparison!

  13. I feel you on the toilet paper situation. I would say some of the worst intestinal illness I’ve ever had was on an island in Cambodia with NO PLUMBING! I will say that on the upside, any squeamishness I had left about hygiene is totally gone, which is helpful for a traveler.

  14. Hi Kate–aren’t the experiences we have in life that don’t kill us supposedly build character? You definitely developed some character in 2012.:)

    Do you know how the hacker got a hold of your info??? The online break-up situation was crummy–ug!!

    I hope 2013 has fewer mishaps!

  15. Enjoyed these as much as your BEST of 2012 in your posts. No that I enjoyed them at your expense but rather I received some lessons for the future. In my modo de transport, an RV, we also have many mishaps but they tend to make the trip interesting or at the very least memorable as seems to be the same for you. Enjoyed your post.

  16. I’m glad to read about your bad experiences! The last incident about the middle aged man was weird. I’m glad you went with your gut. However, I do admit, I ended up cracking up on some of your mishaps…just glad that you made it through!


  17. Great post, Kate! Loved hearing the background stories to some of your previous posts, although they are not all good experiences! Traveling is just not only about the pretty sides of life, right? Thanks for sharing!

  18. Lack of toilet paper – hands down, the worst ever experience. Particularly when you’ve got a nasty case of Delhi Belly and the only viable toilet options are a hole in a not-so-clean floor in the middle of India.. Too many occasions experiencing that exact moment this year!

  19. Kate, what a wild ride travel can be. As much as it was amazing, there are bound to be some bumps and blunders. I’d say my biggest one was running out of money in New Zealand with no job and no return ticket (kiwi packing saved my ass!). I had a few others like finding a naked Frenchman had snuck into my room and passed out on my bed after sizzling on everyone’s luggage. I was broken up with abroad too, on Valentines Day while stuck traveling with the girl another 2 weeks. But there are always better things to come, and surely more misadventures, but always worth it.

    Onward to a better 2013!

  20. I was sorry that i have laugh from begining to the end of your bad experiences. Anyway, i think that such experiences will make your experience precious and memorable.

  21. Wow, those all sound super stressful at the time, but most of them are funny in retrospect. I actually had a similar experience in Scotland, but it was in Stirling (a town pretty much in between Glasgow and Edinburgh).

    I love reading about the other side of travel. Happy new year, and happy travels in 2013!

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