Stranded and Afraid in Maupiti

Maupiti, French Polynesia

Something was wrong.

I had just landed in Maupiti and as far as I could tell, my airport pickup wasn’t here.

In most parts of the world, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d jump online to research how to get to my guesthouse using public transport or, if that wasn’t an option, grab a taxi to wherever I needed to go.

In Maupiti, however, it wouldn’t be quite so easy. Because the main island is essentially a giant volcano with little flat ground, Maupiti’s airport is located on a small strip of land on the outskirts of its lagoon. There isn’t much of anything there: no roads, no accommodation, no restaurants, nothing. To get to your guesthouse, you needed to travel across the water by boat.

A boat that was owned by your guesthouse owners.

Your guesthouse owners who were supposed to be here to pick you up.

After grabbing my luggage from one of the wooden benches that served as a baggage reclaim, I had begun my search for said guesthouse owners. I’d wandered around in circles for several minutes, hopefully scanning every hand-written sign, watching as the eight other people on my flight were met with hugs and fragrant flower leis then led towards a small line of boats. One by one, the owners had kicked their engines into gear, then roared off across the pristine turquoise waters and out of sight.

With a sigh, I turned back towards the airport, although to call it an airport felt like an exaggeration. In front of me was a tiny open-air shelter with just one check-in desk and a couple of benches.

And it was then that I realised the only people remaining on this island seemed to be the handful of tourists that were lining up for the next flight.

Road in Maupiti

A teenage boy sauntered up to me from behind a tree and said something in French.

“English?” I asked hopefully.

He shook his head and looked deep in thought. “You okay?”

I shook my head back at him. “My pension owner — not here.”

He asked for the name of my guesthouse, then looked around as I had done, frowning when he realised the owner wasn’t there. It wasn’t hard to see; there was now nobody in sight.

“Air Tahiti transfer,” he suddenly announced, leading me towards a small ferry. “Guesthouse there.”

He pointed at the main island and nodded.

I thanked him and clambered aboard, telling myself that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, but not really believing it. If I’d needed to take an Air Tahiti shuttle, wouldn’t my guesthouse owner have told me that in advance? 

Scenes from Maupiti Island, French Polynesia

We moored and I climbed up onto dry land. The other couple stepped up to join me and were greeted by their guesthouse owner.

“Pension Tereia?” I asked hopefully, but he shook his head.

With a shrug, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the main road; the only road on the island.

“They’re probably just late,” I whispered to myself. I’d read so many articles about the importance of optimism; that people who are pessimistic tend to attract bad luck, and although reading anything about *energy* or *laws of attraction* makes me want to cover myself in slugs, by this point, I’ll try anything.

Everything will be okay, I reminded myself. Everything always works out okay. I’m still alive, after all. 

I dropped my backpack by the side of the road and sat down on it. While I waited, I grabbed my phone in the hope there’d be an open Wi-Fi network, but there was nothing I could access.

A blonde girl was sat fifty feet away from me with a backpack, which gave me hope that someone was coming for me.

Surely somebody had to be coming for me? 

The one thing that struck me was the silence. It was unnerving. There were no engines, no music, no conversations, nothing to indicate there was any life on the island. Just the sound of the wind and the crunching of gravel beneath my flip-flops.

Beach on Maupiti, in French Polynesia

My ears pricked up as I heard the distant rumble of an engine. It was going to be okay! 

When I saw a pickup truck turn the corner and slow down to meet me, I stood up, my shoulders dropping when I realised he was here for me.

“Bonjour!” I called to the man.

“Bonjour Anna!” he called back.


The girl who had been waiting nearby jumped up, slung her bag over her shoulders, and jumped in the passenger seat.

I sat back down on my backpack and watched them disappear around a corner. I was alone again.

I couldn’t hear anything, see anyone, do anything. Maupiti is a tiny island of around 1,000 residents, most of whom have no need to speak any English. There aren’t any taxis and I didn’t have a map. I had no idea how to get to my guesthouse, or indeed any guesthouse.

I was stranded.

So what did I do to get myself out of this situation?

Cried, mostly.

flower in maupiti

A group of local men wandered up from behind and one of them uttered something in French to me.

“English?” I asked nervously, crossing my fingers tightly by my side.

They frowned, but one of them stepped forward. “All okay?”

I shook my head. “Pension Tereia? They should be here. A pickup?”

He looked confused and spoke to the other guys for a few minutes. Eventually, he pulled out his phone and started talking on it. I allowed my shoulders to relax slightly. This was a good sign.

“They will come for you,” he told me, pocketing his phone with a smile.

I thanked the men profusely, over and over and over and over and over. Because god knows what I would have done if they hadn’t stopped to help me out.

I waited alone on my backpack for twenty minutes until a pickup truck pulled up by the side of the road. There were two blonde girls inside. They didn’t speak any English, but they helped me into the back of their truck with my backpack and we slowly made our way around the island.

I let out a sigh and unfurled my fingers. Maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay.

Maupiti, French Polynesia

“Lauren!” a voice cried out, and I watched as a plump woman rushed across her garden to meet me in the driveway.

“Bonjour!” I called back to her with a grin, immediately forgetting everything that had gone wrong before.

It was all going to be okay. I was here now. I was in Maupiti.

“I am so very sorry,” she said, a look of concern etched across her face.

“Oh no, it’s okay,” I said, waving my hands dismissively. “I got here eventually! Don’t worry about it.”

“But we are fully booked,” she continued.

My smiled dropped.

“I do not know what happened but I lost your booking. We do not have any beds for you.”

“But…” I bit my bottom lip to stop it trembling.

A bird squawked overhead and I craned my neck to see if I could spot it. I needed a distraction to keep me from crying. All around me was jungle — I couldn’t see a single building. How was I going to find somewhere else to stay?

The owner placed her hand on my back and walked me back to the pickup truck. I clambered back up to sit with my backpack, unable to utter a single word.

“I am sorry” she said once more, and we started back the way we’d come.

Maupiti, French Polynesia

Ten agonising minutes later, we turned into a driveway and stopped. One of the girls turned around in her seat and motioned for me to climb off the back. They both helped me lift my backpack up onto my shoulders, then pointed at the building in front of me and waved their goodbyes.

“This is so weird,” I mumbled to myself, before taking a deep breath and stepping inside the house.

“You speak French?” a teenage guy yelled at from the sofa. At least he seemed to be expecting me. 

“A little,” I lied.

He took my bag from my back and led me into a small bedroom. There was a giant cagelike mosquito net contraption over the bed that looked like a cake topper and a ceiling fan spun uselessly overhead.

“Goodbye,” the guy said cheerfully and shut the door behind him.

I had no idea where I was.

I didn’t know what the name of this guesthouse was; or if it even was a guesthouse. I didn’t know where on the island it was. And — most terrifyingly of all — I had no idea how much it would cost to stay here.

Because I’d only spent 12 hours in Tahiti, I had only managed to withdraw $300 in cash to pay for my stay in Maupiti. The island didn’t have a single ATM and everything I’d read online said that the guesthouses didn’t have card readers. If my stay ended up totalling more than $300, I was going to be very, very screwed.

Ocean views in Maupiti, French Polynesia

If there’s one thing my dozens of travel disasters have taught me over the years, it’s that everything has a way of working itself out in the end. This situation was no different.

I didn’t run out of cash, because the owners of my new guesthouse charged me the original amount I was supposed to pay at the guesthouse that lost my booking. The guesthouse I ended up in was lovely. I made friends and the owners were kind. It was far nicer than the one I originally booked and bonus: it was located right on the only public beach on the island. I spent the rest of my time in Maupiti climbing mountains and avoiding rain; passing the time blissfully incident-free.

The journey to get there, it turned out, was just another travel disaster to add to my list; another ridiculous story to tell friends; another reason to remain optimistic.

Everything works itself out in the end.

When was the last time you were truly scared while travelling? Share your story in the comments below!

Related Articles on Travel in French Polynesia

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🇵🇫 What’s it Like to Travel in French Polynesia?
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🛫 Flying in French Polynesia is Spectacular
Meet Maupiti: the Bora Bora of 50 Years Ago
🏝 How Not to Travel Raiatea
💗 Huahine Travel Guide: My Favourite Island in the South Pacific

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. Ah! Such a scary story but I’m so glad it ended up ok!

  2. July 25, 2016

    The most antagonizing part of any trip for me is this part — the “How the hail do I get to my accommodation?” part!

    Traveling internationally constantly restores my faith in humanity. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

    I’m glad it all worked out!

    • July 25, 2016

      It definitely seems to be the part where things often go wrong for me! I nearly always end up lost on travel days… but the good thing is that in most places, you can usually grab a taxi or an Uber to get you out of a jam.

      And absolutely! I’ve lost count of the number of times a complete stranger has saved my ass when travelling! :-)

  3. July 25, 2016

    Wow! While that does sound a little nerve wracking good on you for keeping a positive attitude. It looks stunning there!

    • July 27, 2016

      I think after you’ve had as many disasters as I have, it’s easier to remain optimistic! Experience has shown me that nothing ends up being as bad as I think it is at the time.

  4. July 25, 2016

    Oh my goodness! I don’t know if I’d be able to keep such a calm demeanor in a situation like that. I’m glad you found a little “upgrade” in accommodations though :)

  5. Lulu
    July 25, 2016

    Wow,I’d be in a ball crying if this happened to me!

    Good job and hey,at least it all worked out!

    • July 27, 2016

      Yep! It was definitely tough to hold myself together when it happened! But yeah, these things normally work out fine, so now I can look back on it and be like, *shrug* no big deal!

  6. Atanas
    July 25, 2016

    Once I arrived in Marseille at about 11pm. Had a printed map from Google Maps to help me out, but just couldn`t figure out how to get to my hostel from Central Station. Only a handful of (and suspicious looking) people on the streets, plus I also don`t speak French, so nobody to really ask for directions. I got lost and was feeling like a bird in a cage. Eventually, somehow got to the hostel, which was in some crappy looking little street. Something else also scared the sh*t out of me. When I went to bed, someone was trying to open the door of my room (I had a single one) from outside. Maybe someone had just mistaken his door with mine, but at that time I thought someone was trying to get inside to rob me, kill me or something else. The reputation of Marseille as the most violent French city didn`t help, either.
    In other case, got really panicked when got lost in the medina of Tanjier in Morocco. And the medina is like a labyrinth. The only thing you see, while you`re inside, is the sky. I`ve read in advance, if you got lost, to simply follow the medina up or down and eventually you`ll get out of it. But totally forgot it due to the panic attack.
    Also in Tanjier, I hired a taxi to get me to the cave of Hercules outside the city, While we were driving, some kids were showing the driver the directions by pointing out with their fingers. “How did they know where we were going to”, I was thinking to myself? And just started thinking that the taxi driver will take me to some other place and I`ll get kidnapped. Nothing of this happened, of course (I hired the taxi through my hostel, after all, not just some random cab from the streets), but felt uncomfortable and insecure.
    By the way, you`re a very talented story teller, Lauren. Like the fact that you can describe even ordinary situations so interesting and with great details. Keep on the good work and have safe travels.

  7. Yup, I would have cried as well. That sounds so stressful! Thankfully everything worked out for the best!

    • July 26, 2016

      Yes! I couldn’t complain when I got to spend my time in a nicer place for much cheaper than it should have cost! :-)

  8. July 25, 2016

    I would probably do and think the same way you did when you were in that situation. I would be so frightened, and I would think people would have bad intentions. Ha, like you said though situation like these usually turn out fine! It adds to the experience ;)

    • July 27, 2016

      Yeah, it’s odd that I didn’t feel the same way (about people having bad intentions) in this situation — I didn’t feel that I was personally in any danger at any point. Maybe that was due to the fact that there was hardly anyone around!

      Maupiti’s a very safe island, though. Now that I’ve been there, I know that I wasn’t at risk.

  9. July 26, 2016

    Haven’t been sucked into a story like post like this in a while. Glad to hear it all worked out – would love to see some more photos!

  10. July 26, 2016

    Augh – nervewracking!

    Most scared I’ve been while travelling was getting separated from my partner in Paris – only one phone between us and with dusk approaching.

    • July 26, 2016

      Ah, I hate it when that happens! Especially as I’m never wearing my contact lenses, so know I have to rely on Dave to spot me!

  11. July 26, 2016

    “Everything works itself out in the end.” So very true. Have seen it time and time again over the last 5+ years. I think it’s been one of my most valuable lessons I’ve learned during long-term travel.

    • July 26, 2016

      Yes! It’s one of things that helped most with me overcoming anxiety — eventually I learned that whatever I was so anxious about would probably never happen. And that if it did happen, it would never be as bad as I thought it would be!

  12. July 27, 2016

    I have a similar story (though not as bad) about arriving in Dominica by ferry at midnight when no taxis were working and arriving at my eco-lodge that was closed and locked for the night.

    • July 27, 2016

      Argh! My worst nightmare. How did you get out of the situation?! I think I would have ended up just sleeping on the ground!

  13. July 27, 2016

    Another great post by you. I must say you have a knack of writing in this field. Thumbs up. Hey I’m also blogging about India from quite some time now.

    • July 27, 2016

      Thanks so much, Devesh! That means a lot :-)

  14. July 27, 2016

    Getting stranded with no means of transportation and communication is definitely scary !.. I cant stop wondering how careless they are to lose your booking and even after that not trying to help you out !… good it all ended well ☺

    • July 27, 2016

      Yeah, it was disappointing — I suspect that not being listed on Agoda, etc means that they keep track of all of their bookings by email, though that’s not really a valid excuse for leaving me stranded!

      It was them who arranged for me to stay at the new guesthouse at a discounted rate, so I do appreciate them doing that. With such a high language barrier, it was hard to figure out what was going on!

  15. July 28, 2016

    Ha! I always seem to end up crying on travel days — I’m definitely all about the destination rather than the journey! :-)

  16. July 28, 2016

    Wow! That sounds like quite a scare, but at least it turned out well!

    One time I have been scared, or at least anxious: I was heading to a 5 week study abroad. My plane was really delayed on my flight to Peru. I landed roughly 8-9 hours later than I was supposed to, with no idea if the driver that was supposed to be picking me up knew that I had been delayed.

    I also realized that I had no idea what the name of the hotel we were staying at the first night was, or how to contact anyone about it, since it was now the middle of the night. After some anxious discussion with the other girl who was attending the study abroad (we met on the plane), we went and gathered our things and set out in search of our driver.

    Thankfully, the study abroad had been notified and it had all been worked out. After some wandering we finally found our driver and got taken to our hotel. It could have been much worse. But there was that brief period of time where we weren’t sure if we were stranded in a country who’s language we couldn’t speak and with no way to contact our organizer.

    • July 29, 2016

      Oh man, I would have been so anxious as well! It always feels so much more daunting when you don’t speak the language and can’t communicate with anyone.

  17. July 28, 2016

    That’s really annoying! They should’ve called to inform you that they lost your booking in the first place. Secondly, an apology isn’t enough. But you’re still lucky that you’re safe.. that you didn’t land in the hands of some bad guys or something (especially you’re a tourist – and you’re alone!). Where are you now?

    • July 29, 2016

      How could they call me if they’d lost my booking, though? Maupiti is incredibly safe with basically no crime ever (I don’t think they even have any police), so I thankfully wasn’t in any danger!

      Currently in Lisbon, Portugal.

  18. July 29, 2016

    Hahaha poor girl! Isn’t it horrible when you have no way of communicating and don’t understand what is going on? Glad to read everything worked out in the end and that you had a nice time!

    • July 29, 2016

      Yes! It’s always a little scary whenever that happens.

  19. July 29, 2016

    Well, there wasn’t really much I could do to solve the problem. They’d lost my booking and were fully booked, so it’s not like I could demand that they kick someone else out instead of me! And really, everyone spoke so little English that getting angry and shouting wouldn’t have changed anything — I doubt anyone would have understood anything I said!

  20. July 29, 2016

    UGH, brings back bad memories of travel disasters. I hate those moments, alone, stranded. I all too clearly remember those “If I just sit down and cry maybe that will help moments”. I’m so sorry that happened to you, but glad it all worked out!

    • July 29, 2016

      It’s happened to me so many times on my travels!

  21. July 31, 2016

    I am glad everything worked out for you! It usually does when traveling and I love that about humanity!

    • August 3, 2016

      Same! It’s definitely stopped me from freaking out whenever something goes wrong :-)

  22. August 1, 2016

    Very well written ! I was reading every part of your post, waiting for the disaster to happen.
    Glad that everything turned out fine for you at the end.

    • June 3, 2017

      Thanks, Martina! Glad you enjoyed the post :-)

  23. Lulu
    August 5, 2016

    Hey Lauren,do you ever plan on seeing the Carribian?

    • August 5, 2016

      Yep! Just haven’t made it there yet — I’m just one person and can’t visit everywhere at once :-)

  24. Gina
    August 8, 2016

    I adore your braveness, Laureen. Even your too scared, but you still kept yourself calm. I hope you still enjoy your travel despite what happen.

    • August 9, 2016

      Always! I’m used to bad things happening on my travels, and there’s a reason why I’m still going. The good times always manage to outweigh the bad :-)

  25. Annie
    August 8, 2016

    I think most people have got stories like this. It’s part of travel. I, like you, used to lie awake at night worrying if I had to get a bus, or be at a certain place – travel changed all of that for me. Traveling around Cuba with no luggage – it was still at Gatwick- made me realize that I can actually deal with anything. All we had was a wallet and a passport. It was life changing for me. The only problem is, I now am constantly thinking about where’s next!!

    • August 8, 2016

      Oh, definitely! I make sure to showcase that side of travel regularly, because I think a lot of bloggers only show the positives of travel. When I started out and everything kept going wrong, I was convinced that things like this didn’t happen to anybody else, because I’d never read similar stories!

      And agree — I believe that having all of these things go wrong was the main thing that helped me overcome my anxiety disorder. It showed me that nothing was ever as bad as I’d thought it would be and that I was more than capable of dealing with stuff going wrong!

  26. August 8, 2016

    Hey Lauren, glad everything worked out! I am a strong believer that sh*t happens all the time and sometimes for good reasons!

    p.s. Good thing you kept your cool ;)

  27. August 12, 2016

    Thanks to God for keeping you safe Lauren.

  28. August 15, 2016

    Wow, very much impressed by your writing. Kept me on the edge all throughout. And really glad it works out well ?

  29. anita
    September 11, 2017

    Hi Lauren

    your blog is awesome. Im planning a trip to french polynesia and is so nice to read your suggestions and expieriences.

    Thanks for that


    • January 2, 2018

      No problem! Thanks for the compliment :-)

  30. Irati
    January 4, 2020


    I’m having the hardest time booking accommodation in Maupiti. It’s either no response from the pensions or they are fully booked. What is the name of the guesthouse you ended up staying at?

    Thank you

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