I don’t put a filter on my travels.
And while my most recent post had me naming 2017 the best year of my life, that doesn’t mean the previous 12 months brought nothing but plain sailing. In fact, 2017 was full of just as many misadventures and disasters as my previous five years of travel.
Here are my worst travel moments of 2017.
I Experienced Chronic Pain Flare-Ups Throughout the Year
Something I’ve been relatively vague about this year is the pain disorder I’ve been battling for almost two years. In 2015, I was under a tremendous amount of stress when I attempted to balance running a business with writing a travel memoir and unfortunately, that stress led to me developing a disorder that’s chronic, incurable, debilitating and extremely painful, sometimes scoring up to a 35 on the McGill pain index. Only half of sufferers are even able to work a full-time job.
I’m extremely fortunate that I can keep the pain and inflammation under control with a Whole30-style diet. On top of that, my passive income allows me to take time off work without losing income if I find myself in excruciating pain. And my symptoms are milder than many other sufferers’. However, there have been several times this year where it has affected my travels.
I almost cancelled my trip to Mozambique and Swaziland because I was in so much agony on the day of my flight that I couldn’t even sit down. I couldn’t see how I’d even be able to make it through the flight when I was in that much pain. Throughout my time in the country, I experienced frequent searing pain, which led to higher levels of stress, which then led to even higher levels of pain.
In Zanzibar, a flare-up was so severe that I had to cancel a planned day-trip to a nearby island in order to lie in bed and drink water.
In Japan, I suffered a flare-up for a full week that had me struggling to even sit down in restaurants to eat.
My Hotel in Mozambique Gave My Room Number to a Creep
It was my final night in Maputo and somebody knocked on my door. I opened it and looked straight into the eyes of a smiling man.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello. I saw you at breakfast this morning and I couldn’t believe you were eating alone. I asked at reception and they told me you were alone and this was your room number. Can I come in?”
I blinked. I had no idea how to even respond. I couldn’t believe the receptionist had just freely given my details to a complete stranger.
“Can I come in?” he repeated.
“I just want to come in.”
“Can I talk to you?”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Mozambique is a dangerous place. Why are you travelling alone?”
“Because I want to.”
“I’m drinking with a Russian guy in my room and I was wondering if you wanted to join us?”
“No, I’m going to sleep.”
This continued for an agonising five minutes until he finally left. Ten minutes later, there was another knock at the door. I opened it.
“This is my Russian friend. He really wanted to meet you.”
I stood at my door with gritted teeth and patiently waited for the two men to leave, then heaved a sigh of relief.
Ten minutes later, there was another knock at the door. I ignored it.
Knock, knock, knock.
Ignore, ignore, ignore.
I was so freaked out about these two guys that I literally rearranged my hotel room and slept with the furniture pushed up against the door. I was so worried one of them was going to use brute force to get inside that I barely slept.
I Got the Worst Sunburn Ever in Mozambique
I’m so meticulous when it comes to applying sunscreen — even applying it daily in winter — that I have no idea how I managed to forget to apply sunscreen to my entire right arm in Mozambique. Not only that, but it was on a day when I spent the entire afternoon sunbathing on the beach in Tofo.
I returned to my room that day with one bright red arm, and over the next week it began to blister, then peel, then transform into something that was seriously repulsive.
On a snorkelling trip in Mozambique, the only way for my guide to get me out of the water and into the boat was for him to wrap his hands around the exact position where my skin had blistered, and pull me up on board. I cannot even begin to describe how excruciating that was.
And as I write this, one year after the burn, my arm is still a little scarred and patchy.
I Accidentally Cancelled My Flight Out of Cape Town
It turns out that if you skip your outbound leg of a round-trip ticket, your return flight is automatically cancelled. This was something I discovered 12 hours before my return flight from Cape Town to Lisbon. Suddenly, I was stranded in South Africa and facing the prospect of spending a ton of money to get back home.
Fortunately, the price of the flight didn’t end up being quite so painful, but me accidentally buying it for the wrong freaking day was like sticking toothpicks under my toenails and kicking a wall. I still can’t believe I bought my replacement flight for the wrong day. I’m such a disaster.
I Faceplanted into a Sand Dune in Namibia
It was a hot and sweaty hour-long climb to the top of Big Daddy — one of the tallest sand dunes in the world. We had the entire summit of the dune to ourselves thanks to combination of luck and good timing, and were free to take as many photos as we wanted without having to wait for other people to leave. It was a surreal experience to feel as though we were the only two people in a vast world, with no sounds but our breathing and the sand shifting beneath our toes.
We spent 20 minutes taking photos and dancing in the sand, enjoying being alone in the desert until it was starting to burn our feet. The only thing left to do then was to descend.
Big Daddy towers over Deadvlei, a white clay pan that’s famous for being filled with dead camel thorn trees that are hundreds of years old. It took us over an hour to reach the top, but would take just two minutes for us to hit solid ground.
Face first, in my case.
Yes, as I watched Dave tearing down the dune with his hands in the air, I reminded myself that balance was not one of my strong suits. No, I was going to utilise my rarely-found common sense. Instead of risking my life, I would take the descent nice and slow, treading steady steps down the side of the dune, making sure not to injure myself along the way.
Well, let’s face it: that kind of got boring after a while.
I threw my fears to the hot desert wind, and began to sprint my way to the bottom. Dave gazed up in awe at my agility.
“Woohoo!” I squealed with joy. There was no greater adrenaline rush than the one I was experiencing right now.
And no greater shock than when I tripped over my feet and fell face first into the sand with my mouth wide open.
It took a long time to wash off that final grain of sand.
A Piece of Our Car Fell Off in Namibia
One of my greatest fears for our time in Namibia was the prospect of encountering a car-related disaster. The quality of the roads in the country are terrible, consisting of gravel, sand, or both, and paved routes are a rarity. Based on my pre-travel research, I knew the odds of us falling prey to a flat tyre or two were higher than likely, especially as we’d opted to rent a two-wheel drive with low ground clearance.
It was the second morning of the road trip when Dave heard a crunching noise reverberating over the gravel and into his ear drums. We pulled over, checked beneath the car, and spotted a piece of the vehicle dangling from its chassis and resting on the ground.
That was worrying.
Fortunately, it happened while we were driving through a small town rather than a vast desert, so we were able to urge our car over to the nearest garage to beg for help. The guy that worked there rolled his eyes when he spotted it, ripped it from the car, and began to rant about how the part was unnecessary and he couldn’t understand why manufacturers add useless parts to their cars.
We dumped it in the bin and crossed our fingers that our rental company wouldn’t notice when we returned the car. Somehow, they didn’t, but we still had to deal with a flat tyre on the final day of our road trip.
I was Scammed in Zanzibar
After six years of travel and multiple scams, I can’t believe I fell for such an obvious set-up. But hey, I’m all about being naive when I travel, and I like to share my slip-ups to show that even experienced travellers do stupid things from time to time.
I needed to buy a SIM card in Zanzibar, so I asked at a store that had a Vodacom sign outside. No, they told me, we don’t sell them here, but our friend can get you one. I was suspicious, but I’d also been looking for half an hour and come up with nothing, so I was willing to see what happened next. A dude appeared from nowhere and motioned for me to follow him.
He told me he’d take me to the SIM card providers in a nearby market and if I was happy to tip him a dollar, he’d make sure I didn’t get ripped off. I agreed for an easier experience.
AND THEN HE SCAMMED ME.
Because I got the exchange rate muddled up in my head, I thought I was paying the equivalent $2.70 for a SIM card, which would have been about right, but I actually paid TWENTY SEVEN DOLLARS for it.
AND THEN I TIPPED THE GUY WHO SCAMMED ME.
I was Stranded and Terrified in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
I was travelling in the D.R.C., and I’d just spent my final night in the country on peaceful Tchegera Island, in the middle of Lake Kivu. In order to leave that morning, I had a couple of transfers to make: a staff member would ferry me from the island to Goma’s port, where I’d be met by someone from Virunga National Park, who would then drive me to the border with Rwanda.
My transportation experiences in the D.R.C. had been seamless up until that point, but on this day, there was some kind of miscommunication and it turned out nobody was waiting for me when I stepped off the boat. The boat driver pushed me and my backpack up onto the dock and immediately turned back around and left me standing there.
A local ran up to me and told me he was immigration and would need my passport now. A child took my water bottle from my hands. A lorry almost reversed into me. Somebody else told me they needed to see my passport immediately and everywhere I looked, people were staring, staring, staring. I had no idea where to go or what to do or why everyone was so desperate to get their hands on my passport.
I tried to remain calm and tell myself that everything was fine; that it was cool to be alone in Goma. After all, it’s just a city the British government specifically advises against all but essential travel to. You know, in the freaking Congo. One of the most dangerous countries in the world. A country most travel insurance providers won’t cover you for.
I was reminded of how some of the aid workers I’d met in the country told me the UN doesn’t allow its staff to take taxis in the city because they were too dangerous, and now they seemed to be my only option. I was reminded of the many news reports I’d read of kidnappings in the area. Of murders outside of Goma. So many rapes. How thousands of militia prisoners had recently escaped from prisons across the country, one of them less than 200 miles from here. How the people I’d met last night, who lived in Goma, had told me I was brave for coming alone. I tried to call someone from Virunga National Park to see where they were but my phone was out of credit.
What. Have. I. Done?
I felt like crying, but tears were not what this situation needed. But what else could I do?
I didn’t know how to safely get myself out of Goma and I felt sick with fear.
But it always works out in the end.
Someone from Virunga National Park turned up 45 minutes later, and until then, a kind local had let me seek shelter in his hut away from the crowds to wait. It was a nerve-wracking moment, although I doubt I was ever in any real danger in a crowd so large. People are good, people are good, people are good.
Either way, you have no idea how glad I was to cross the border into Rwanda an hour later.
My Toenail Fell Off in the U.K.
I was ecstatic to be walking Hadrian’s Wall with Dave by my side. My boyfriend loves to walk and I wanted to tackle my first long-ish-distant trek with him to see what was so special about it.
My first mistake was wearing hiking boots that had never felt comfortable, despite me spending several months breaking them in. The second mistake was walking on paved paths out of Newcastle for too long on our first day.
On that day, we walked 20 miles on paved surfaces. That’s 32 kilometres. 45,000 steps. 11 hours.
On the second day, we walked another 20 miles on paved surfaces and my feet were just about broken. Even Dave had blisters and a blackening toenail.
On the third day, we walked 15 miles in a howling gale and sideways rain.
On the fourth day, I could no longer walk. No matter how determined I was to continue the challenge, I couldn’t take one step without whimpering. My ankles were bruised, I had eleven blisters, and one of my toenails had just fallen off.
My first attempt at long-distance walking? Not so successful.
I Accidentally Flashed a Boob in a Restaurant in Italy
I was meeting Dave for lunch in a restaurant in Rome, but had managed to get lost on the way. Not wanting to be late because our lunch was actually an Apology Date because I’d been late that very same morning, I took to sprinting down alleyways in desperate search of where I was supposed to be.
When I finally made it to the restaurant, I was covered in sweat and desperate to remove some of my clothes. I pulled off my sweater, looked down, and there was my boob.
That morning, I’d been too lazy to put on a bra, managed to put one of my arms through the neck of my baggy t-shirt, and thrown my sweater on top. Don’t even ask me how I did it and also, my boob was still out.
I gasped, pulled my sleeve on, and stared at the menu before Dave had even noticed what had happened. The frowning woman opposite me definitely had, however.
I Contracted Chronic Hiccups in Portugal
In September, I thought I’d developed a weird disease that was making me burp every couple of minutes for days on end. I tried everything to make them stop: fasting for 48 hours, taking PPIs, chewing on charcoal tablets, cutting acidic foods from my diet, popping anti-histamines… but nothing seemed to work.
I flew to see my doctor in the U.K. and it was then that I learned it wasn’t actually burps, but hiccups.
I can’t believe I’ve been diagnosed with chronic hiccups.
It’s been four months and my diaphragm is still continuously spasming. Fortunately, the spasms are silent, so I’m not embarrassingly squawking every couple of minutes, but they are painful, frequent, and frustrating. Worryingly, they could last for years.
So that’s fun.
I Broke My Laptop in Los Angeles at the Worst Possible Time
I took a month off from Never Ending Footsteps in order to put together my travel anxiety course, and was excited to start publishing regular blog posts now that it had launched. I was so eager to get back on track that I announced I was going to be blogging in real-time for the first time ever.
I published my first post about my layover Copenhagen, arrived in Los Angeles and was just about to start writing about my love of Venice Beach when my laptop fell apart in my hands.
By the time I was somewhere long enough to get a refurbished Macbook Pro shipped to me, I was behind on posting and overwhelmed by everything I had to write. An unexpected $2,000 bill wasn’t particularly enjoyable either.
I Definitely Did Something to My Kneecap in Maine
When I slipped on a trail and landed on my knees in Acadia National Park, I was concerned. Not just because I’d started sobbing in front of a group of strangers.
The shooting pains lasted for far longer than I would have expected, and it was surprisingly difficult to walk afterwards. For several weeks afterwards, I struggled to bend my leg, and kneeling was enough to have me wincing.
The biggest downside was having to cancel much of my planned hikes around New England and the Azores. I hobbled around New Hampshire to see the White Mountains, but didn’t get to do as much as I wanted and flagged my treks in other spots in the United States.
Three months on, I still struggle to kneel on hard surfaces, although it doesn’t cause any other issues side from that. My research online has led me to believe that I may have bruised the bone, fractured my kneecap, or be suffering from inflammation, but one of the downsides to being a digital nomad is the lack of access to healthcare. I’m not going to be stopping anywhere for long enough to get it seen to for quite a few months, so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll heal and not be anything serious.
I Had to Cancel Another Trip to India
At this point it’s getting ridiculous.
In 2012, I planned a trip to Mathura to celebrate Holi with friends, but the stories of sexual harassment made me nervous, so I chose Bali instead.
In 2014, I bought flights to Kerala with the intention of spending a month exploring the state, but the visa process was so exhaustive, slow, and expensive that I cancelled at the last minute.
In 2015, I planned to travel extensively in India with the intention of writing How Not to Travel India, but suffered a breakdown and was too anxious to even start planning the trip.
And so on and so on.
This year, I bought return flights to New Delhi with the aim of spending a couple of weeks exploring New Delhi and Varanasi as a short-but-sweet introduction to the country. I was ecstatic to finally be making it to the place that was right at the top of my travel wishlist.
Two weeks before my departure date, I was diagnosed with intractable hiccups and advised by my doctor to skip the holiday. Chronic hiccups can be caused by a number of life-threatening diseases, so I needed to stay in the UK to get x-rays, scans, and blood tests in order to check I wasn’t cancerous, tumourous, or about to die.
One day I’ll make it to India.
I Got Caught Up in a Hurricane in the Azores
The East Atlantic isn’t somewhere that’s known for hurricanes, but in October, Hurricane Ophelia formed off the coast of the Azores and began travelling north towards Ireland. And yes, Dave and I found ourselves directly in its path.
A government-issued alert warned us the hurricane was due to make landfall at 12 p.m. on the day we were due to leave. We started to panic then, as our flight wasn’t until 3 p.m. After seeing the devastation that struck the Caribbean this year, I wasn’t exactly calm about holing up on Sao Miguel and weathering the storm.
We put a contingency plan in place, from finding a place we could stay in if things started to get frightening to scouting out a store we could stock up with food from. We drove to the airport fully expecting to discover our flight had been cancelled.
Fortunately, the hurricane skirted around the Azores, causing little damage, and we managed to leave the island on one of the last planes out of there.
2017: My Luckiest Year Yet!
I almost considered skipping publishing this post because my travels this year have felt far luckier than my previous years on the road.
As I put this list together, though, I realised that my levels of misadventure had been just as high as in previous years, but my mindset had changed. Previous versions of me might have even labelled 2017 as 12 months of bad luck and incidents, and beaten herself up over what an idiot she is.
What I’ve learned to do in recent years is frame my lowlights in a different light to prove they weren’t nearly as terrible as I would usually believe. My chronic pain forces me to stay hydrated and eat a healthy diet, and my sunburn in Mozambique taught me that I need to check and double-check my application. Cancelling my flight out of Cape Town meant that I could explore Dubai as a spontaneous visit, and breaking my laptop meant taking a much-needed rest after working flat-out on my course for a month. Getting scammed in Zanzibar reminded me that the local most likely needed the money far more than I do, and exposing myself in a restaurant in Italy taught me to always wear a bra.
No matter how long you travel, there are always more lessons to be learned.