Overseas travel can be a dangerous business. Casting yourself out into the wide world — into a foreign culture, possibly alone and thousands of miles from home — is always going to present challenges and perils aplenty.
Sometimes everything goes all right, or almost — sure, you lose your hat at the beach, or your taxi driver struggles to find the right address; but otherwise, everything is fine.
And then there are those moments when something goes terribly amiss — and your stomach feels like it’s dropped into your shoes!
This post is devoted to those H-O-R-R-I-F-Y-I-N-G moments…beginning with five of mine, hand picked from dozens. And I’d like you all to share yours!
1) Your accommodation is not as described.
Now this is a common enough problem. As a broke backpacker, I’ve stayed in some seriously nasty places, but there was one that took the biscuit — or would have, had I dared to eat it in there. I refer to the last two beds left anywhere in Perth — which served my sister and I right for waiting till we arrived to arrange a place to stay. It was coming up to Christmas, and the place looked okay on the Web site. Cheap and cheerful, just like us! Only the rooms stank. They were knee deep in the occupants’ clothes, and it was clear some of them had been hanging out in there for a while. My room, bizarrely, was all girls apart from me — with sarongs hanging from the top bunks as privacy screens. That seemed like a good idea, as I certainly didn’t want to see what was going on — not judging by what I could hear…
Yep, you guessed it. Turned out that place was being used as a brothel, with the owner taking a cut to look the other way. We lasted two nights before thankfully finding more salubrious accommodation. I guess I should have been grateful that our beds weren’t charged by the hour…
2) Your money is suddenly all gone.
Been there, done that! Haven’t we all? When living on a small island in Thailand, I discovered to my horror one day that my bank account was almost empty. A closer inspection revealed a series of withdrawals — always the maximum amount possible, all transacted on the mainland over five hours away by boat.
Something didn’t add up. I got in touch with my bank and took the last of my cash out — only to have it stolen in a bungalow break in the following night! Luckily, I’d made a lot of friends, and they supported me until the bank agreed I’d been defrauded, and gave me all the money back.
(Interestingly enough, years later, it occurred to me that around the time of those withdrawals I’d been buying a lot of diving gear for cash…and of course, my island was too small to process its own transactions, so they all showed up as being made on the mainland…)
3) You drop your camera.
People get very attached to their photos — and we travelers more so than most. Hardly a week goes by without some friend pleading on Facebook for pictures of a night out that got inexplicably wiped from memory. So dropping your camera is potentially a huge disaster — and one that, thankfully, I’ve never done. No, I’ve never owned a camera, because I am death to gadgets. I’m terminally clumsy, which is why no one trusts me — except my poor wife, who paid the ultimate price. She handed her camera to me for safekeeping only for a minute, while she went back to lock the door of our traditional Fijian hut. Now I never thought of concrete as traditionally Fijian, but that is what the path was made of. So when I fumbled and dropped the camera, it shattered into about a thousand pieces.
We were able to claim it on insurance — not ours, as we hadn’t bought any, but my mother’s, since she was kind enough to pretend it was her camera I’d destroyed.
The photos, however, were gone for good. And seeing as how I was wearing a bikini in some of them, maybe that’s for the best…
4) You eat a dodgy curry!
Eating something that doesn’t agree with you and developing a pain, quite literally, in the backside only gets worse when you’re miles from home. And unfortunately, it also gets way more likely. Especially if, like me, you have a habit of eating food from wherever is cheapest! I never found out what caused my illness in Ecuador, but it resulted in my own Night of the Living Dead, in which I, zombie like, spent twelve hours weaving between my bed in a crummy hostel dorm and the nearest toilet two floors away — where (ignore the rest of this sentence if you’re squeamish) I was vomiting more blood than I’d ever seen outside my body. I honestly thought I was going to die that night — a good thing I was already dead!
And last but by no means least:
5) You discover there is no toilet paper…
Whether it’s electronically controlled and plays music at you, or a rough wooden plank over a hole in the ground, you know you’ll have to use the facilities at some point, and when that moment comes, will adapt somehow — you haven’t really got a choice. In one extreme case I’d left it as long as humanly possible — by which point there was no thought in my head beyond getting out of the restaurant in time! Once I’d made it to the toilet round the back, I felt much better. Until, that is, I felt in my pocket and remembered I was wearing new jeans — and hadn’t transferred over the stash of TP…
I won’t go into any more detail, apart from to say that for the rest of that meal, I adopted the local practice of only eating with my right hand.
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So, now it’s your turn! Travel horror stories, if you please! And as always, you can catch me and the rest of the crew on Twitter: @TonyJamesSlater +/or @displacednation.
Thanks for reading!
STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, an interview with a displaced author of a violent romance!
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Images (clockwise, left to right): Horror image from Tony’s personal collection: fooling around with an abandoned vehicle near Wolfe Creek, Northern Territory (2007); sexy woman, pawn shop and Canon camera all from MorgueFile; Tony’s “undead” photo from a Halloween in Perth, Australia (2008); toilet paper and travel boot from MorgueFile.
Hey, TJS! I think you’re onto something with the toilet paper one (#5). When I lived in Japan, I lived in fear of having to use the the traditional (squat-style) toilets — this even though I was told they were more sanitary. I think it was because I hadn’t yet developed the requisite thigh muscles! I adjusted much more readily to the toilet-cum-bidet — the one that’s in the Guinness book as the world’s most sophisticated.
That said, I also had a habit of terrorizing Japanese men at their most vulnerable — I kept charging into the men’s room by mistake because I hadn’t yet learned the kanji for men (男) vs women (女) and not every public restroom in Japan has English. With my strawberry-blonde hair, I was the epitome of the foreign devil in Japanese children’s books: one can only imagine their discomfiture!