I did a survey last year where I aksed people what they wished I talked more about and a few people mentioned they wanted to hear more about the bad side of travel. They wanted to know about when things went wrong for me while traveling and how I dealt with it. I have been a lucky traveler, but no one has perfect trips. I’m going to share some times that things didn’t go as planned, and what I did in those situations.
1. Getting Pick-Pocketed
The first incident that comes to mind is when I was pick-pocketed in Barcelona. My second time abroad, at the age of 20, I came out of airport – first time in Spain – and hopped onto the metro with a friend. A group of 3 men and a woman kept bumping into me, all around my age or a bit older. When the doors opened for us to get off, Megan jumped off, but the guys blocked me in. I was pushing trying to get out and next thing I know they all jump off just as the doors are shutting. They had intended me to stay on the train, but I got off in the knick of time. They walked off and I didn’t realize what had happened until I saw my purse was open. They took my camera.
They were gone up the stairs of the metro when I noticed. I left my backpack with my friend and run to find them. The boy closest to me didn’t really see it coming until I’d already grabbed his backpack and pulled him back to the floor. I yelled for the police and they came. They arrested all four of the people and found a lot of stolen goods.
To get my camera back, I had to go in their police car to make a statement. I had to call my Couchsurfing host from the police station and ask him to come to pick me up and help translate – looking back it was pretty funny. He was like “you’re where!? I’ll be right there!”.
So that is how I handled the sitution and honestly, would probably do the same thing again. But, I’m lucky they didn’t have a knife, to be honest, or that they didn’t get a chance to fight back. I wouldn’t do this in the USA if I was held at gunpoint or something, I would just over my things, but if some young probably unarmed person pick-pocketed me and was right there in a crowded area, I’d try to get my things back.
After it was said and done, I was bummed out because the moment they took my camera, they erased my memory card. Pro thieves they were. Luckily, a family member told me to get a new memory card and not touch this one so I wouldn’t write-over the deleted files. He used software to get the images back!
Later that night, walking into a club, the bouncer goes “you’re the girl from the train station today” and it was a guy who had come to help me when it happened. He helped, the police helped, my Couchsurfing host helped, and my friend helped. What was stressful then, became a traveler’s story. But, in the end, it was a $200 camera and it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if it went missing, but it was almost 10 years ago and the most expensive thing I owned, plus a band new present from my parents for my birthday.
As I’ve said before (in a whole blog post) do as I say, not as I do and when people rob you, let them. Safety is more important than a camera.
2. Having Luggage Go Missing
Everyone worried about airline issues and people (like me) get anxiety before flights thinking about everything that could go wrong. I have had my luggage go missing three times and all three times, it was returned to me (knock on wood). The first time it took a few days though, and I didn’t have much on me!
I was flying from Spain to Greece, a quick flight, and checked my backpack. The only thing I had was the tiniest little purse with my travel journal (to write in on the plane), my contacts, money, and my bill control. This wasn’t ideal. I learned from that moment to always carry a carry-on bag with a night’s clothing, toiletries, and things I would need in case my luggage went missing.
The next two times it happened was in India, and it came in on the next flight. So, what happens when the luggage isn’t there on the belt when you arrive? You need to go to the airline luggage counter at baggage claim and make sure it’s not there. Then, file a claim with them. They will try to locate it right then- it’s tagged and should be in the system. Sometimes they say “it accidentally went to ___” and others they say “we don’t have a clue”. Their responsibility is to get the luggage to you. You need to leave them an address and phone number and they will deliver it to you – you shouldn’t ever have to go back to the airport to retreive it.
3. Getting Very Very Ill
I get stomach bugs and things like that when I travel but there was one time I was sick enough that I called my parents saying I think it’s time I come home. I was in North India and had been trekking around in the Himalayas with Dengue Fever for weeks, although I didn’t know I had it. I just knew I had blinding migraines, nausea, and vomiting, the worst stomach pain of my life, couldn’t eat or sleep, had rashes on my hands and feet, and had a very high temperature. These things weren’t all at the same time though, and it was easy to blame food or altitude sickness for a long time. When I started to bleed from my nose and get large bruises all over my body, I went to the hospital. They tested me but already knew it was Dengue. My platelets were so low that the small hospital recommended I take a helicopter to Delhi for a tranfusion. I wasn’t up for that and said I’ve gone all these weeks with it, let’s wait and see. As long as I don’t bump into anything and rest I thought I’d be okay. And I was – I checked my platelets for the next two days and they had finally leveled out. It took a LONG time to recover from this and honestly was a rough month!
My parents were the ones who told me to stay in India when I was ready to call it quits, and thank goodness because a week later I met Ben and ended up living in India for five years, as you know.
When you’re sick abroad, you really have to make a personal decision. The place will always be there to come back to. If you are totally miserable there is no shame is coming home. You’ll know when you feel this sick what is right for you. The change ticket fee is usually a few hundred bucks and always keep in mind that worst case, you can be on your way home at any time – just get to an airport and book the next flight out if you need to.
4. Booking a Flight on the Wrong Day
This is my worst fear. I actually check my tickets and bookings 500x to make sure this doesn’t happen and yet – it happened recently. Luckily, it was a short flight from Bocas Del Toro Panama to Panama City. I had to pay a $50 change flight fee at the airport. I showed up for my flight and the lady said: “you booked this for the same day a month from now”. I was like oh my godddd… how!?! But, these things happen.
I should have followed my how to plan for a trip checklist more closely and how to stop anxiety before a trip as I mention going over your paperwork to make sure it’s all in order. The other thing to note is that these things happen: you could show up somewhere without a visa not realizing you needed one! Or go to the wrong airport in a city that has two (I did this in Bangkok).
When these things happen, it’s usually an issue of money. Money is what fixes these problems – a later flight, a change fee, or paying for a whole new airline because you have to leave right then. The only way around this is to plan better – and remmeber if it does happen that it’s just money and it’ll be okay. I recommend always having an emergency credit card for these situations in case you are low in your checking account. Here’s a post with some tips on handling money abroad.
5. Police Problems
In some countries, the worry is that you might face issues with police. For example in Mexico, Thailand and India (among others) where they are sometimes corrupt, you might be asked to pay bribes. It can be scary at first as you don’t really know your rights – and you don’t know if it’s safe to say no.
Yes, I have had to pay bribes. Sometimes they are obvious and other times they are sneaky and I’m given a fake ticket – not even realizing I paid a bribe until later. Sometimes they ask for 500 rupees and then make a bill for 100 rupees. In Mexico, they straight up said there is not going to be a receipt for this. When they have guns and a reputation, it’s scary to stand your ground.
While you don’t want to add to the corrupton of a place, you want to stay safe. You have to make the choice that makes you feel the safest, regardless of it’s it’s contributing to corruption. This happens in Asia at border-crossings as well; they will say you can’t come to the country without paying a fee that you know isn’t correct. You have to ask what your other options are. Sometimes there aren’t any. Sometimes it’s night time and you are alone and you need to pay it.
Sometimes you will feel angry because you’d been targeted for something you didnt do: you “ran a red light” or you “didn’t stop back there” but you know you did. Are you in a position to essentially call the cop a liar? When dealing with police in countries where corruption is there, you have to use common sense and do the option that makes you safest.
In most cases, if you call the cop out they will let you go, but other times I have heard horror stories of drugs being planted or other things.
6. Not Having a Place to Stay Organized in Advance
I’m not really someone to do this now, but in my backpacker days I would often show up to a city with nowhere to stay. When you are a hostel-lover, it’s usually okay. Train stations in Europe almost always have people from hostels hanging around trying to get you to go theirs, and the same with guesthouses in places like the Thai Islands. There are many places where it’s not a big deal to have nothing set up – these are mostly tourist places.
The times I would set something up, even as a backpacker, are in very large cities, or countries where it’s my first time there. It’s a sort of mind-easing thing for me to know when I arrive I can get local money from the ATM, and grab a taxi to my hotel. Easy peasy. In places known for scams, you do not want to rock up with nothing planned at the airport and get in someone’s car to go to a guesthouse. Just don’t! In small towns that are backpacker haven’s, go for it.
When people ask me about going to India and talk about pre-trip jitters, I always say “have your hotel send a car”. You’ll pay two times more than a taxi, but your stress will be nada. You will have a guy there with a sign when you arrive. If your luggage is missing, guess what a local is there to help, he can help you find an ATM, watch your luggage while you go to the bathroom, and safely take you to your hotel.
If you do show up somewhere, a city that isn’t known as being very safe, especially if it’s nighttime and you are a solo female travelers (let’s just say Delhi!), then you should get on the airport WiFi and book a nearby airport hotel that is a brand you know (Ibis, for example, is a known brand but not too expensive like a Marriott). Just have some piece of mind that first night then go find a guesthouse or hostel. This is expensive so I don’t recommend (instead you should plan ahead) it but it beats booking a random guesthouse online that you don’t know if it’s good or bad minus some booking.com reviews and have a taxi driver take you to its location – that could be 40 minutes away in a big city – only to tell you it’s “burnt down but his Uncle’s place is nearby” – which yes, is a scam in India.
As with many issues that happen abroad, money is what fixes them. Planning ahead is what prevents them!
7. Fighting With Your Travel Buddy
The worst is when you start to get annoyed with your travel buddy – and they are probably just as annoyed with you. It’s so key to stay positive even if it’s a little fake and not act annoyed at everything that annoys you. Sometimes you have to fake it til you make it in these cases until that day you feel annoys passes. The next day you might feel fresher and realize it wasn’t them annoying you, but actually just the heat and a long day you had before. Had you gone mental telling them off for being annoying, you’d put a big kink in that trip!
Prep is important. Always talk ahead of a trip about what your goals are, what places you want to see, the type of traveler you are. You should be on the same page starting out. Talk about what should be done if one of you gets wasted and wants to go home with a stranger.
If you do have a drunken fight, you will just have to make up in the morning. These things happen. While in real life you can avoid the person for a week if you want, when traveling, you need to get things back on track right away. You have to be a little more open, understanding, forgiving, and be able to apologize.
You can also take a “you” day. I love solo travel and even on trips with friends, we will take days on our own. Maybe I want to go somewhere scenic and read and she’s up for another museum. Maybe I want to ride an electric scooter around town but she’s afraid, so we split up for the day. You can be a little selfish in what you want to do – it’s your trip too – but remember that when they want to do their own thing, you should let them without being bothered by it.
8. Feeling Homesick or Overwhelmed
This is for me, the worst thing about travel. I don’t get it often (thankfully) but when it does hit, it hits hard and it’s a really shitty feeling. Sometimes it’s because I’ve just been gone too long. Sometimes it’s work-related and I’m doing too much with travel companies along the way making it so I can’t even enjoy my trip. Other times I’m having shitty days, have traveled 50 hours it feels like and just miss my dogs and Ben and ask myself “why the fuck am I in Malaysia again!? I was just here!”
I get overwhelmed when I work too much, book too long of a trip to too many places, or when I’m just having people attempt to scam me left and right – it does take a toll. Sometimes pollution and dirtiness, crowds, and traffic can add to it. A long day to see the Taj Mahal might end up being a let down because you get scammed by the driver there, have long lines because you didn’t get there at sunrise as you meant to, and you have people bombarding you for photos – only to get back to your hotel to find out their powers out and you’ll be having a cold shower. That didn’t happen to me, it’s just a made-up scenario of an example of a bad day.
car broke down on the side of the road in Goa
The worst is that on top of it all, you might feel lonely. That is where the kicker is – when you are overwhelmed with a trip and start to feel along. Homesickness comes crawling up! But these things pass. Ask yourself if it’s the town you are in? Maybe you want to head to a new one – hop on the train. Maybe you’ve teamed up with a travel buddy you don’t even like that you met at a hostel. Tell them you want to do your own thing. Maybe you miss some guy back home – email him! Or FB, whatever. Call home. Talk to family. Have someone send photos of your pets.
Take a day to relex and recharge. I’m all about that self-care! I will take a spa day and go get pampered. I’ll get greasy American food like Pizza Hut or McDonald’s if I can find it and get a massage, manicure, and pedicure. I’ll book a nice hotel room, have a bath, put on my VPN and watch the Real Housewives and get a good night’s sleep. It will feel no different than a “treat yourself day” back home and then you wake up excited again for the beautiful new destination you have to explore!
9. Getting Injured
Getting hurt abroad can be scary. Some countries won’t have healthcare that you are used to, maybe it’s lower quality or things are done differently. The language barrier can also be difficult. Some places will even try to scam you at a hospital – it’s happened to me in Koh Phi Phi!
In regards to being overcharged, don’t just accept these numbers that hospitals come up with abroad. If it’s a developing country with a reputation for scamming, you need to really ask around what things should cost. I was in the hospital in Koh Phi Phi with awful food poisioning. I was just on a drip. They wanted a TON of money from me. I asked another girl there who was in for the same thing and she said she negotiated them down to 1/4 of it which was still so expensive. I did the same thing. Locals can help you to know what things should cost.
I was once head-butted by a bull. This happened in Varanasi, walking down a tiny alley in the backroads trying to get back to my hotel. I saw the bull, but having been in India for months and thinking that all the cows were my friends, I thought I’d walk past like I always do. No way Jose said the bull. He swung his head around and with the sheer force of his giant neck, threw me into a brick wall. His horn had ripped my pants open and left a puncture in my butt cheek! Going pantless in the holiest city is India is about as no-go as it comes.
I ran, thinking this bull might chase me and do it again! How many people saw my butt, I do not know. I pulled scraps of my pants over and got to my hotel, actually in tears from the pain, and told them what happened. They didn’t believe me. “No cow in India has ever done this”. Ermm, okay.
I bruised up a green and black bruise the size of my entire butt cheek and couldn’t really sit. It was terrible! Not bad enough that I needed to get help – what could they do? The puncture wasn’t deep but the impact was so intense it had probably bruised my bone.
I’ve ended up with a black eye surfing, Ben’s ended up with stitches from dog bites and surfing more than once. There is always a clinic nearby. Getting injured can happen. There are some things I avoid. I don’t drive scooters because I am not good at it (I can do it but don’t feel confident). I see so many people injured from scooters! I would never do risky things like running with the bulls (I’ve already been gored once – which is enough! lol but in actuality, I wouldn’t do this anyway because, to me, it’s animal cruelty).
I also have travel insurance (review there for the one I suggest) in case something very serious happens and I need to be transferred to a better hospital or even back to the USA. If bills are high, I can have my insurance cover it.
10. Money Issues
Running out of money would be a pretty bad thing to happen abroad. I don’t worry about this now and have credit cards so it’s not going to happen. I did use to worry about it – and it’s something that you should think about before a trip.
Consider this scenario: My first time abroad. I have a debit card and so does my friend. She had never used an ATM (we are from small towns, people, where you go to a bank and personally withdraw money from a bank teller). She got the card for our trip – it was 2008 I think. We got the ATM and she didn’t know she needed to know a PIN code. Whoops. Her bank couldn’t tell her over the phone or send a new card, so we had to share my money the whole time. I had $3,000. We were in Europe for like a month! I can and have traveled on a shoe-string, lol.
Looking back, there were so many ways to fix this. She could have wired me the money to my account – something that isn’t actually that hard and these days with Venmo and PayPal it’s super easy. We could have asked our parents for help. She could have sent money to herself via Western Union. When Ben and I need to get cash in large sums we use Western Union instead of an ATM. You just send it literally to yourself from yourself.
You should always keep a spare card hidden in case your purse goes missing, but in the case that ALL your cards go missing, I like to keep a secret place that I write down my card number. If I lost my card and know it wasn’t stolen (for example an ATM gobbled it up), then I can use the card for online purchases like hotels and send myself money via Western Union. If it’s been stolen, this won’t work. But you can still have a new card sent out to your home address and have someone there tell you what the numbers are. You can also use your bank account (no card needed) to wire money to someone you are traveling within the meantime. Here are some tips on how to manage money abroad.
There are always ways to figure out money issues – unless of course, you straight up run out. Don’t do that.
So there we go – those are 10 things that went wrong on my travels. What has gone wrong on your travels? Tell me in the comments!