Last week, I shared my travel highlights over the past 12 months, but I know what you’re really dying to read is my lowlights post!
Sharing the bad things that happen to me each year is one of my favourite things to do. I receive a lot of emails telling me I’m living the perfect life, but at times, it feels like I stumble from one near-death experience to the next. This life of travel isn’t always amazing, and I have far more unfortunate experiences on the road than any other backpacker I’ve met. I think it’s important to talk about them in order to give a more realistic view of travel than the beach and sunset photos. 2015, in particular, has been a tough one.
Here, then, are my worst moments from the past 12 months!
I Rediscovered Hayfever and Had My Eye Swell Shut
Let’s start with an attractive photo of me!
I used to struggle every year with hayfever, but when I left the UK, my allergies faded away. I almost managed to forget they existed for a while. Well, that is until I returned to Cornwall at the height of summer and spent two weeks sneezing my way through our road trip.
The worst attack had to be the day I went for a walk along the coast outside of Perranporth. After an hour of explorations, Dave and I came across an amazing patch of grass that was thick and cloud-like. I dove straight in and spent the next hour sunbathing in my soft little grass mattress. By the time we returned back to our apartment, I couldn’t see out of one eye and it had swollen to epic proportions. It took almost 24 hours for it to calm back down again.
I Got Bed Bugs in Estonia
I’ve been fortunate to have spent the past four years travelling full-time and not yet come up against bed bugs. Until Tallinn, that is.
At first, I thought it was mosquito bites. I awoke on my first morning in the city with a dozen itchy red bites all over my legs and thought I must have slept outside of the covers. No big deal.
On the second morning, I awoke with 132. They were big and red and itchy and clustered into groups of three. One quick google search told me all I needed to know: I had bed bugs. And so began a 48 hour quest to rid myself of them.
Did you know that to kill bedbugs you have to subject them to temperatures greater than 45 degrees Celsius, or lower than -20 for a minimum of 48 hours? I found myself lost in reports of people who accidentally brought bed bugs into their home after a trip abroad and ended up spending $15,000 to fumigate their entire house because nothing else will kill them all. I read about how, if the bugs can’t find a way into your bed at night, they’ll crawl up onto the ceiling and parachute down to feed. Bed bugs are the WORST and they’re so hard to get rid of.
I took the ferry to Helsinki on the morning of my discovery and spent my first day doing everything I could to make sure the bugs were well and truly gone. I had every item of clothing I owned washed and dried by my hotel. I soaked everything else in the bathroom sink, using the kettle to make sure the water was hot enough. I used the hairdryer to blast anything that I couldn’t get wet, including every page of the three books I was travelling with.
Oh, and the bites were so itchy (especially the one on the bottom of my foot!) that I could barely walk around Helsinki and saw so little of it.
Two Nights of Vomit in a Row
I awoke in Riga to the sound of a girl throwing up in the middle of the dorm. It was 2 a.m. and she had just returned from the hostel’s pub crawl. The sound. The smell. She refused to go to the bathroom and instead spent the next hour loudly retching in the bunk below mine. I didn’t sleep well that night.
I checked out the following day and took the bus to Tallinn. On my first night there, I awoke to the violent rattling of my bed as this enormous Russian man struggled to clamber into the top bunk. Three minutes later, I heard an almighty retch and that same splattering sound again.
I ran to the light switch. The man was covered in splatters of dark purple vomit and was staring at me in bewilderment. He blinked twice, and then he fell asleep in it. By the way, THIS WAS ALSO THE HOSTEL WITH THE BED BUGS.
I Sliced the Top of My Finger Off
I still don’t know what happened.
It was in the middle of our Cornwall road trip, and I was rummaging in my backpack for something. As I rifled around inside, I felt an intensely sharp pain in the tip of finger, like how I imagine it would feel to have an electric shock. I whipped back my arm and was horrified to discover my entire hand was covered in blood. What had just happened?
I ran to the bathroom and grimaced as I washed my finger under the tap. Squinting through the crimson, I noticed that the top of my finger had been sliced clean off. That serves me right for leaving (I think) razor blades loose in the bottom of my pack.
I Forgot to Apply for My Australian Visa. Again
It was twelve hours before my flight to Melbourne when Dave asked if I had remembered to apply for my visa.
That would be no.
And maybe it would be excusable if I hadn’t done the exact same thing the last time I flew into Australia.
Cue 12 hours of panic as I attempted to get my visa in time. While friends told me it was instantly approved for them, my eVisitor visa still wasn’t in my inbox by the time we headed to the airport in Taipei. At the check-in desks, they told me I didn’t have a visa and wouldn’t be allowed on the plane. They said the eVisitor visa takes ten working days to be approved and I should apply for an ETA instead.
But on the Australian ETA website, it said that British passport holders weren’t entitled to apply for it online and I had to do so in person at a travel agent. Panicked and flustered, I checked-in for the first half of my flight — to Manila — and figured I’d work something out there. Or end up spending Christmas alone in the Philippines. When I landed at the airport, my visa still hadn’t been approved.
I crossed my fingers and found a dodgy sounding website called Easy ETA that promised to apply for it and approve the visa within 20 minutes. I paid the $60 fee and wondered if I’d just given my money away to scammers.
But, it worked! My visa was in my inbox in 18 minutes and I made my flight to Melbourne!
I can’t write about my worst moments of the year without mentioning my breakdown. Writing and editing my book in just three months was a big mistake. My tight deadline had me powering through 18 hour work days with little sleep, unable to even justify showering or stepping outside. It was no wonder I emerged feeling broken.
At first, I struggled with small things, overwhelmed with social anxiety after spending three straight months inside. Then it progressed into full-blown panic attacks. From then, things got even worse. I cancelled on friends. I stopped replying to emails. I stopped going outside. I stopped eating. I had panic attacks over seeing other people, and when I did see them, I struggled to even think of something to say.
I struggled to leave my comfort zone. I struggled with everything. I cancelled my dream trip to the Seychelles, Mauritius, and the Maldives, losing thousands of dollars in the process because I was too anxious to get on the plane. I’m not sure I’ve had a single day this year where I haven’t cried.
The good news is: I’m slowly getting better, and it’s made me feel more normal to talk to author friends and discover they went through something similar and it took them well over a year to recover. I’m about half-way back to my non-anxious self.
I Had to Cancel My Scandinavia Trip
I knew exactly when I would need to hand in the final-final-final draft of How Not to Travel the World, so planned an action-packed solo travel adventure through Scandinavia as a celebratory treat. I booked myself into first-class carriages on trains, splashed out on private rooms, and then suddenly, I couldn’t go.
There had been a month-long delay in receiving some edits back from my publisher, and then I had taken just as long to go through them. I should have learned by that point that publishing a book never goes smoothly. Frustratingly, I had to start work on the final edit of my manuscript just as I was due to leave for Copenhagen.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to spend any time exploring when I had so much to do, so I cancelled everything, lost a lot of money, and flew home to work on my book instead.
A Week of Rain in Norway
Norway looks like one of the prettiest countries in the world, but you wouldn’t know it from my photos: they’re all so grey and rainy. We visited Norway during one of its wettest summers ever and cursed ourselves for choosing to visit Bergen, the rainiest city in Europe. We even had hailstones! In June!
I try not to let the weather affect my opinion of a place, but it was tough in Norway. It rained every single day, we couldn’t do any of the hikes we’d planned, our fjord trip was all about the cold and clouds, and even our train ride — supposedly the prettiest in the world — was washed out and dull.
I can’t believe I left feeling so ambivalent about a country I was expecting to fall in love with.
The Crappy Airbnb Host in Cornwall
My parents generously treated me to a stay in a fancy hotel in St Ives this summer and, after Dave and I fell in love with the town, we decided to stay a little longer. We found a cute shepherd’s hut on Airbnb and booked ourselves in.
And then, the most annoying day.
We checked out of our hotel at 10 and had two hours to kill until we could check in to the hut. We waited it out in a restaurant, then drove to meet the owner.
Nobody was there. Everything was locked and there was no sign of life. It started to rain.
Dave and I sat in the car trying and failing to get hold of our host. When we finally got through to him, after half an hour of trying, he told us he’d forgotten we were moving in, was three hours away, and his cleaner was sick. He then told us to go explore St Ives and return three hours later. Despite having seen everything there was to see in the town and having zero desire to explore in the rain, we drove back and spent our time in a pub.
We returned an hour later than asked, met the owner, and he told us he hadn’t even started cleaning our hut yet, so why don’t we go for a walk in the fields for an hour until he’s done? We did as he suggested and trudged miserably through the countryside, drenched and frustrated. An hour later, we returned and he still hadn’t started. We spent the next hour waiting in the car.
And when we finally got inside? I tried to fill up a hot water bottle from the kettle and poured boiling water all over my hand instead. Fabulous.
I Was Far Too Ambitious in the Baltics
I always do it: when faced with the prospect of a fixed-length trip, I start panicking that I won’t be able to see enough and immediately plan an exhausting trip that goes to as many places as possible.
I originally planned to spend two weeks in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, but when I had such bad and vomity luck in the first two countries, I fled to Finland instead.
While in Helsinki, I decided to fly to Stockholm to try and make up for cancelling my trip there earlier this year. After spending a couple of days there, I had three days left until I was due to fly out of Warsaw. I should have spent them all in Stockholm. Instead I flew to Vilnius, rushed around for two days, and took a bus to Warsaw, leaving having not seen much of, well, anywhere.
Bangkok Airways Ripped a Hole in My Backpack
I landed at Trat Airport and pulled my backpack onto my shoulders. I began to walk away and stood on a nail polish bottle. That was weird. I bent over to take a closer look and realised it was my nail polish. As I picked it up, a bottle of sunscreen fell to my feet. That was really weird.
I reached around to see if one of my zips was undone and put my hand through the gaping hole in my pack. Somehow, someone had managed to tear a hole in the side of my bag and all of my belongings were currently clattering onto the ground beside me. Bangkok Airways were useless — they offered me $30 to buy a replacement pack[!] and tried to stick it back together with sellotape.
Fortunately, I always travel with Osprey backpacks, which come with a lifetime guarantee — they’ll replace or repair their packs for any reason at any time. I duct taped up the hole and when I got to Melbourne a few months later, got it repaired with just a few days’ turnaround.
Battling Eating Issues in Porto
When I arrived in Porto, a month before my book was due to launch, my anxiety was through the roof. And one really cool side effect of having panic attacks multiple times a day? Not being able to eat.
I spent my week in Porto panicking over mealtimes instead of strolling happily around the city. Dinners involved me ordering the smallest dish on the menu, taking a couple of tiny mouthfuls, then handing it to Dave to finish. There were so many Portuguese dishes I wanted to try, but the thought of food turned my stomach until I couldn’t face even putting anything in my mouth.
Fortunately, these eating issues were short-lived and passed when I moved on to Madrid. Praise the jamon!
I Left My Passport Behind in Brixton
Like applying for my Australian visa, this wasn’t the first time I’d done this. I’d just spent a wonderful month in Brixton and was back at my parents, packing my bags in preparation for my early morning flight the next day.
Just before going to sleep, I checked my phone and found a series of frantic messages from my Airbnb host. I’d left my passport behind in the apartment.
I’ll forever be grateful to my mum for getting in her car and taking two hours out of her evening to drive me to the apartment so I could collect it.
I Smashed a Hole in the Wall of My Airbnb Apartment in Granada
Our bedroom in Granada had these big wooden shutters over the windows that opened up on the inside of the room. One morning, I was crouched beneath one and forgot it was there. I stood up and watched in horror as it flew in a graceful arc across the room and into the wall.
“What was that?” Dave yelled from downstairs.
“Nothing,” I called back.
He ran upstairs and found me covered from head to toe in plaster with a gaping hole in the wall and the shutter resting beside my feet.
The good news? Nothing happens quickly in Spain — or at all! — and after explaining what had happened to our apartment owner and offering to pay to have the hole fixed, he did nothing. He never came to look at it and I wasn’t out of pocket. Score!
Dave Fell on My Head and Gave Me Concussion
Haha! Dave and I were half-way through our 5 km obstacle race when it happened. We were running across a giant inflatable section, which was covered things to climb over and around. I lost my footing as I scrambled over one of the obstacles and landed sprawled out on the ground. Unfortunately, Dave did exactly the same. He came flying over the top and landed elbow-first onto my head.
I screamed, dragged myself to my feet, and continued running. Except, I kind of really needed to vomit. And when I looked at the ground, it was spinning around and looking as though it was heading up to meet my face. I had to walk the final third of the course because I felt so terrible.
And that was the year! 2015 has been an odd one for me, but I’m ready to move on and I’m looking forward to making some positive changes that’ll hopefully lessen the bad luck next year.