I often refer to myself as the unluckiest traveler in the world.
Over the past four years, I’ve been scammed, robbed and sexually assaulted, attacked by monkeys and been caught up in a tsunami. I’ve had my brakes fail as I rode down a mountain on a scooter, sat next to a dead woman, and fell in a rice paddy. I had a boat start to sink with me on board and experienced a very unhappy ending in Thailand.
But I’m still travelling.
I want to show you that travel isn’t always rainbows and sunsets and beaches and wonderful experiences. It can be challenging and stressful and bad things can happen.
These are some of my biggest and best incidents:
Back when I had been travelling solo for just a few months, I flew to Shanghai and was scammed on my very first day. The infamous Shanghai Tea Scam is well-known — I’d even read about it in my hostel, but my scammers were so sneaky that they had me fooled from the second they approached me. What followed was an extremely expensive cup of tea, an attempt to rob me and my hand flailing in one of the girls’ faces.
My lovely friend Ally allowed me to stay in her Hong Kong apartment for the week that I was there and how did I repay her? By snapping the only key to her apartment in half, trying to explain to the Chinese doorman that I needed a locksmith, by paying for a new lock and realising I didn’t have enough money – and when I went to the ATM realising that my card had been blocked.
I had been shopping in Bangkok with my friend Jen when we decided it would be a great idea to get an oil massage. We went with the cheapest place we could find and ended up in a shady room with some elderly women who insisted we were totally naked for the massage. Unsure if this was the protocol for Thai massages, we obliged. Half-way through the massage I found myself having a ten minute long, extremely awkward, boob massage, which was followed up with a, um, poke. Was it an accident? Did she slip? Had I just been violated? The massage ended soon afterwards
This was by far the scariest moment of my entire life, and it’s something that I still haven’t completely recovered from. I was due to be leaving Phuket that afternoon and as I entered the airport I was met with a huge crowd of terrified faces sprinting towards me. After much chaos and panic, I realised that there had been another enormous earthquake in Indonesia (in the same place as the devastating 2004 earthquake/tsunami) and that a tsunami alert had been issued. We were being evacuated. Over the next four hours there were tears, panic attacks, terror and a belief that I was truly about to die.
I’d just spent a week road tripping on a scooter around remote areas of Northern Thailand and we were 50 kilometres away from finishing. After fighting to reach the top of a ridiculously steep mountain, I was horrified to see that the descent was going to be even steeper. We lasted just five minutes before a horrible smell filled my nostrils and we started careering down the side of a mountain at terrifyingly high speeds. Our brakes had failed.
After spending a day cycling through the gorgeous Balinese countryside, I ended my bike ride with a walk through the rice paddies. There had been heavy rain all morning and so the combination of thick, slippery mud and my flip flops were a recipe for disaster. Within a few minutes I was screaming and falling backwards into a rice paddy.
The monkeys of Monkey Forest may look cute but they are evil, evil creatures. After picking up some drinks at a nearby shop, I happily skipped through the forest only to have monkeys leap at me and steal my drinks. When I tried to retrieve them, these hardened beasts came charging at me with determination in their eyes and a desire to sink their teeth into my leg.
The two day slow boat through Northern Laos is supposed to be one of the most relaxing things you can ever do. When I’m on it though? That’s when a Laotian woman dies of malaria and is placed at the back of the boat, which just happened to be where I was sitting. For the next six hours I found myself sitting next to both a dead body and her grieving husband.
Shortly after my slow boat experience, I ended up checking into what is quite possibly the worst hostel in the world. First, I was locked out of my room and had to watch the owner hack off the door handle with a machete. Once I got into my room, the door locked behind me and I realised I had no way of getting out – I was locked inside for two hours. When somebody could finally let me out, I was moved to a room filled with hundreds of cockroaches, mosquitos, bed bugs and spiders. When a cockroach ran over my face, I chose to sleep outside on the ground instead. When a couple of backpackers arrived at the hostel at 2am and said I could stay in their room that night, I didn’t expect to end up back in the room that can’t be opened from the inside, and I didn’t expect them to try and grope me while I was sleeping.
To get to the Sahara Desert, you must first spend a day driving through the crazy roads of the Atlas Mountains, which are regularly said to be one of the top five most dangerous roads. My tour guide drove like an absolute maniac and I spent much of the day screaming and praying as he swerved wildly around corners with no barriers and regularly attempted to overtake trucks when there was no room to do so.
Over the space of one month I managed to contract food poisoning, get attacked by jellyfish, had my entire body covered in pus-filled sandfly bites, caught a fish in my bikini bottoms and fell off a kerb, spraining my ankle and ripping half the skin off my knee, which then became infected. And then I poured a margarita over my brand new laptop. It was not a good month.
Given my terrible luck as a traveler, you’d expect me to have visited my fair share of hospitals. Fortunately, I’ve only been hospitalised once but it came at a time when I was convinced that something was seriously wrong. It was in the town of Selcuk when I woke up with the room spinning around my head. I thought I was drunk, I thought I was dizzy, and then I thought I was dying. I couldn’t see straight, I couldn’t stop throwing up, and my eyes were spinning uncontrollably in their sockets. The Turkish hospital I was sent to didn’t have anyone who could speak English, nobody could tell me what was wrong with me, and they scammed me for my travel insurance excess.
I’ve visited dozens of countries that have an onward ticket listed as an entry requirement, but had never been asked for mine. I stopped buying them, just as I was asked for mine on a flight to the Philippines.
Tuk-tuk drivers are some of the shadiest people you’ll encounter on the road, but this driver in Sri Lanka took it to the extreme. After trying to convince me to get in his car with me, he then pulled over in the middle of nowhere and refused to take me to my guesthouse. When he finally agreed to drive me there, he snatched all of my money from my hand and drove off with it!
It was my final day in the Maldives when my guesthouse owner decided to suddenly double the price of a ferry transfer I’d taken with him a few days prior. Because I was due to leave, I didn’t have the money he was asking for…
I was sat in the back of a pickup truck in Myanmar when I realised I’d left my passport behind in my guesthouse. What followed was one of the most stressful travel experiences of my life. How, then, did I manage to do the exact same thing two months later?