The end of 2015 also marked the end of our second very full year of travel. What a year it’s been! We managed to accomplish our goal of circumnavigating the globe. Throughout that journey we traveled across six continents while having some great experiences on each of them!
But when you’re traveling 365 days a year, you’re bound to have your fair share of mishaps. We certainly were not immune to that. We’ve faced some frightening situations, have had some financial blows, and put ourselves in some awkward situations that we never imagined we’d be in.
A few of these dicey circumstances turned out to have happy endings. But even those that didn’t have taught of some valuable assons which we hope to now pass on to you. Or just sit back and have a good laugh at us through our misfortunes. Following-up from our Worst Travel Moments of 2014 that we posted last year, we now bring you our roughest experiences from 2015, listed in chronological order of our journey.
1. The Icy Summit of a Very Active Volcano
Where: Pucon, Chile
Why it made the list: It was the most excruciating challenge of the year.
The Story: We are fairly accustomed to hiking but have never done any ice trekking before. And this isn’t just any ordinary ice trek. You are summiting a very active volcano!
This volcano blows regularly and climbs are often canceled due to such active conditions. In fact, about one and a half months after our attempted climb, Volcan Villarrica had a huge eruption spewing lava high into the air and forcing evacuations of thousands of people.
In addition to eruption threats, you’re also dealing with uncertain weather conditions and the risk of sliding off the side of this icy volcano, which has even led to death on a number of climb attempts. It seemed we may be in over our heads on this one but we set out to attempt the summit anyways, making use of ice picks and crampons for the very first time.
It wasn’t an eruption or sliding off a cliff which caused our demise. It was exhaustion. Most people who attempt this treacherous summit take a ski lift for the first several miles to shave some distance off of the trip. Cheaters!
Since we just love to torture ourselves, we opted to trek those extra miles. What we didn’t understand is that because of this decision, we would also need to climb at twice the pace so that we would catch up to ski-lift group at the top before weather conditions changed.
It was no leisurely climb. It became a race to the top and our guide felt more like a drill sergeant. No stopping to rest or take pictures. It was all “go, go, go!” About half way up the icy peak we were completely exhausted and my leg cramped frozen. Our guide made the difficult decision to abort the climb and head down. F*ck that. We were determined. I refused his instructions and carried on, dragging my limp leg and using my ice pick as a crutch. This made things real interesting during the near vertical segments of the climb. If that weren’t bad enough, toxic gas began drifting out of the volcano, nearly choking us and leaving us gasping for air.
- We somehow made it to the top and were rewarded with spectacular views, a sense of accomplishment and an awesome sled ride down the volcano!
- Know your limits.
- Never give up.
2. Walking On Thin Ice
Where: Río Cochamó Valley, Chile
Why it made the list: Possibly the closest I’ve come to killing myself.
The Story: When roaming around the Andes Mountains of Patagonia, we decided to go on an excruciating day hike to a mountain peak known as the Arco Iris trail, which rises up from the valley below. This is not a hugely popular destination like the famed trekking routes of Torres del Paine, so what information we had about the hike was simply from word-of-mouth by fellow travelers. We had no idea what we were in for.
We heard there were water sources along the way, so we brought a 1.5 liter bottle to share between the two of us and refill later. But after spending half the day ascending the mountain, our bottle had been empty for hours and there was no water in sight.
It was a sweaty hike that had left our mouths dry. Finally above the tree line, our hopes for water diminished and we would need to make a call on whether or not to turn around. Some other trekkers we bumped into were also empty and decided to turn back.
We pushed on and upward. The hike grew more insane as we found ourselves scaling vertical stretches of rock face using no proper climbing equipment other than an occasional rope that a had been nailed into the mountainside.
We finally reached a snow line. The cold snow was strange sight, being so hot outside and in the middle of summer. But it was a most welcomed sight as we were rapidly dehydrating. Just as we were contemplating eating or melting the ice, we heard rushing water. We trekked over to the ice field and found a waterfall plummeting off the side of a cliff face right down into the edge of the ice field.
In an effort to finally quench our severe thirst, I raced over to the falls to extend my arm out to catch the rushing mountain water. Yet when I approached this waterfall, I realized that the water was actually carving a gaping hole into the rapidly melting ice, hollowing out its underneath. This had seemed like a sturdy ice field firmly planted on a mountain, but upon peering over the edge I discovered the ledge was only a few feet thick. Below this thin ice ledge was a huge vertigo-inducing drop of what seemed like at least a 100-foot gap, straight down.
I slowly and carefully inched away from the unstable ledge, which was simultaneously being melted by a combination the sun’s rays and the pounding water spewing from the falls. I felt something move. Was it a crack? No time to find out! It was time to slide my ass down!
I yelled out to Heather to record this moment and gave her firm instructions not to stop recording no matter what happens. She assumed this was to film the fun of me sliding down. But really my videography request was so that any rescue workers may be able to find my body if the ice did give way. (We’re currently searching for that video stuck on a bad hard drive.)
- The ice held and I didn’t plummet to my untimely death.
- We soon found a much more secure stream to get water.
- We made it to the final summit and were rewarded with some of the best views in all of Patagonia.
- It’s better to overestimate water consumption during long hikes.
- Although it may appear stable and secure, don’t ever tread onto a melting ice shelf.
3. That Time Someone Stole $1,000 from Us
Where: Discovered in Punta Arenas, Chile | Theft in unknown location
Why it made the list: Because losing $1,000 sucks!
The Story: Upon using an ATM machine, we discovered that our Charles Schwab bank account had been frozen. We received an automated call from the bank wanting us to verify some transactions. This was not a surprise as we receive such calls regularly since our transactions always seem suspicious since we’re regularly taking random sums of money out of random ATMs all across the world.
So we made the routine to the bank to verify each transaction. All was status quo until hearing about a transaction in Miami, Florida for $200, then another one and another one. WTF? Let the fraud investigation begin!
We had the card in our possession way down in Southern South America, so for someone to be simultaneously using our ATM card in Miami seemed absolutely impossible. It was explained to us that our card was likely cloned somewhere and sophisticated techniques used to gather that 4-digit pin. Jerks!
- Charles Schwab completed their investigation and refunded us the stolen amount in full.
- Be extremely careful and vigilant when using ATM machines throughout the world.
- Always cover the keypad, even if no one is standing around.
4. Making an Illegal Money Run
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina and Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Why it made the list: Because international money trafficking to exchange on the black market seems super sketchy!
The Backstory: This tale requires a bit of backstory about Argentina’s economy to fully understand. Argentina is currently in the midst of a financial crisis in the way of hyperinflation. Inflation has been nearly 20% annually for each year of the past half decade and even reached 29.3% in 2014.
To put that in perspective, lets say you are an Argentinian saving your pesos to buy a laptop computer that costs the equivalent of $1,000 USD. Due to inflation, that very same laptop now costs $1,300 just one year later. In essence, your pesos just lost $300 of their value simply by holding onto them. This, of course, is not a stable way for Argentinians to save money. So they will often buy US Dollars with their pesos so they can hang on to a stable currency.
Hence there is a burgeoning black market in Argentina for US Dollars which is at extremely better rates than going through official banks. It sounds strange, but if you are changing $1,000, you will literally get hundreds of dollars more worth of pesos by doing so on the street rather than by an official money changer. While this is technically illegal, the practice is very commonplace and we found most street money changers to be very professional. The black market rate, known as the dollar blue rate, is even published in the newspaper. Police turn a blind eye to it all too.
The only catch is, you must have US dollars to change, of course. While that may seem like a simple requirement, there is no way to get US dollars at a fair rate from within Argentina. Once you run out of dollars, you’re forced to use the ATMs or banks, in which you’ll incur the highly inflated official rate.
The Story: We hadn’t fully understood how this all works so we ran out of dollars (and hence pesos) in Buenos Aires. We knew we’d have to get more USD somewhere. The closest place – Uruguay!
The ferry ride takes a few hours each way and we discovered the hard way that you’ll pay a premium if you book last-minute. Given the marked-up ferry costs combined with the the fact that I needed a day to get some work completed that day, Heather was sent on a border-crossing mission to Uruguay, in an effort to traffic some coveted USD back into to Argentina!
After appeasing Uruguay customs, she waited in line to make numerous withdrawals from the ATM machine. She trafficked the cash back over into Argentina later that evening. I would then use that USD to negotiate a good rate with the illegal moneychangers on the bustling streets of Buenos Aires.
- It was a bit nerve-racking but we had success! She got the cash and we changed it to pesos at an attractive rate.
- Bonus: Heather was able to tour around the Unesco listed historic quarter of Colonia de Sacremento while in Uraguay!
- If going to Argentina, bring plenty of US dollars with you.
- If you’re going to take the ferry to Uruguay, book early.
5. Becoming Delirious on a 5-Day-Flight
Where: Santiago, Chile | Atlanta, Georgia | LA, California | Sydney, Australia | Christchurch, NZ | (and all the airspace in between)
Why it made the list: Because taking a single redeye is bad enough but a 5-day-flight takes it to a whole new level.
The Backstory: Committed to our budgeting strategies that enable us to travel around the world, we needed to devise a way to get us from Chile to New Zealand without forking over the thousands of dollars in airfare that it costs. We’ve been hoarding Delta Skymiles, so we were elated to discover that route could be covered using them. The only problem is that it was a crazy indirect itinerary spanning 3 continents, 4 countries, through 5 airports, and over 5 five days.
(Here’s the full backstory, along with some long-distance flight tips.)
Got eyepads & earplugs! Ready for departure. #5DayFlight begins now. See you Saturday NZ! pic.twitter.com/EfhDSx0ZHr
— Roaming Around World (@RoamingDaWorld) March 10, 2015
The Story: After running around Chile’s capital during on a hot day, we jumped on our first flight: a red-eye from Santiago to Atlanta in which we got absolutely no sleep. After several hours at the world’s busiest airport we continued to LAX, a flight I have virtually no recollection of. Although I do recall that we were still wide awake sitting up straight in those notoriously small airplane seats.
It was a super long layover in LA, spanning over twelve hours. We were planning to leave the airport but security strongly cautioned us not to due to construction, traffic conditions, and a complicated terminal while having nowhere to store our hefty carry-ons. Hence we remained trapped in the LA airport and went a bit stir crazy.
Since this series of flights were procured for free by using points, we splurged on lounge passes so that we could take a shower at some point during the five days. Unfortunately for us, and perhaps more unfortunately for fellow passengers, the LAX lounge shower facilities were under repair.
So we found other ways to get value out of the lounge pass and that was in the form of gin. After having not slept in nearly 50 hours and bouncing from one airport to the next, we decided to drink our woes away. Between sleeplessness, time zone changes, and now alcohol intake, we became delirious.
Almost no sleep for 40+ hours now on our #5DayFlight. Switching from #beer to gin, and from exhaustion to delerium. pic.twitter.com/CkMId3LQHq
— Roaming Around World (@RoamingDaWorld) March 12, 2015
Thankfully we managed to get to our gate and the flight attendants allowed us to stumble onto the plane. Finally it was liftoff and we slept. Oh, did we sleep! That redeye Virgin Australia flight from LAX to Sydney was the best I’ve ever slept on a plane in my entire life. We arrived in the land down under completely refreshed and even managed to escape the airport to go sightseeing.
We then had one final flight from Sydney to Christchurch, NZ. We were so excited to be reunited with our checked luggage so that we could finally get showered and change. We made to Christchurch in the wee hours of the fifth and final day. Unfortunately our bags had not.
- We successfully made it from Chile to NZ on the cheap!
- The bags did eventually show up a few days later.
- It was a rough journey but totally worth the thousands in savings.
- On high-dollar purchases, it pays to be committed to budget strategies.
- On itineraries with long layovers and multiple airports, a $50-lounge pass can pay for itself many times over in the form of drinks, food, wifi, and showers.
- Consider verifying in advance if lounge shower facilities are operational.
6. Accidents May Happen When Driving on the Left
Where: South Island, New Zealand
Why it made the list: Rental car damage is a total pain-in-the-butt and a painful financial burden.
The Story: We rented a car in New Zealand to help us get around the beautiful country but have never driven on the left side of the road before. Simply having the driver’s side of the car on the right takes a bit of getting accustomed to, as it feels like you’re driving the vehicle as a passenger. Right-hand turns make things even more awkward.
A little nervous with left-side driving, we had previously joked about the possibility of something happening to the rental as soon as I took over on the wheels. Sure enough, within an hour into our drive, the problems began.
But it wasn’t necessarily my bad left-side driving skills that got us into trouble. A rock had flung out and hit the windshield leaving a huge crack. Then we noticed the crack was growing.
While stupidly inspecting the crack during mid-drive, I came on a collision course with the median, which sent a hubcap launching into a residential neighborhood. We spent the next half-hour tromping through front yards, searching in gardens and trespassing through shrubs in search of this hubcap that seemingly vanished into thin air. With the help of a very kind homeowner, we thankfully found the disappearing hubcap.
Still, Thrifty Rental Car provided us with a nice bill totaling about $500 to cover the damages. Ouch.
- We were able to rig the hubcap back onto the tire, so only got charged for the windshield.
- Pending claim paperwork being accepted by our credit card, we should be reimbursed for the windshield damage.
- Distracted driving is real – don’t ever take your eyes off the road.
- When booking a rental car, always use a credit card that will cover damage to the vehicle.
7. A Leap of Faith
Where: Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown, New Zealand
Why it made the list: Because bungee jumping is f*cking terrifying!
The Backstory: Although we’re thrill-seekers, bungee jumping was just not something we ever wanted to do. But some friends who met us in New Zealand had talked me into signing up to make the plunge on a fateful St Patrick’s Day. I was actually planning to cancel my jump, but the cancelation period came and went which left me with a ticket for terror in Queenstown.
The Story: Simply approaching the jump site was frightening upon realizing just how high 141 feet actually was. I trembled as I stood atop the Kawarau Bridge staring down into the deep ravine below. About half the people in line in front of me couldn’t muster up the courage to actually make the leap. This wasn’t encouraging but then I watched my friends successfully take the plunge together. I was up next.
No chickening out! I had to do it. It was all mind over matter. This is safe right? There have never been any deaths here …yet! Thoughts of self-doubt and second-guessing swirled through my head as the crew flippantly assured my safety.
It was go time. And as if on cue, the rain began to pour. But I learned the hard way that jumps happen rain or shine. 3, 2, 1, bungee!
I don’t really recall the moments that happened next. But looking back at the video I now realize that instead of diving, I apparently leaped off feet first. That made for a nice snap to my back once the free fall was over.
- I survived.
- As terrifying as it was, I am glad I conquered my fears by jumping.
- Set calendar reminders for cancelation policies.
- Sometimes you can feel accomplished by facing your fears.
- Green beer eases back pain.
8. Attempting a Harrowing Hike during a Torrential Storm
Where: Routeburn Track, New Zealand
Why it made the list: Because strong winds and torrential storms are not ideal conditions for mountain treks.
The Backstory: Our New Zealand must-do list included doing some overnight trekking on one of New Zealand’s official “Great Walks.” Many people claim the Routeburn Track is among the most beautiful and who were we to argue? As popular as it is, you must be very proactive months in advance (if not a full year) to secure one of the few camping permits for the campsites along the 3-day trek. With our tendencies towards spontaneous trip planning, we hadn’t done so.
We noticed that a single campsite had opened up just a short way up the trail, so we booked it in an attempt to complete the 3-day hike in two days. We were strongly advised by rangers against the 2-day trek but having just come from weeklong hikes in the Andes of Patagonia, we felt like we could conquer the world.
The Story: We only needed to cover a short distance the first day and it even more beautiful than we imagined.
The second day would be the longer and tougher day. It was steep terrain spanning over 20 km and an estimated 9-10 hours of constant hiking. The last shuttle departed the trail’s endpoint at 4:00 pm. So this transformed the “Great Walk” into a “Great Race” against the clock. Allowing for resting, lunch, and bathroom breaks we would need to leave around 5:00 am in order to complete this mission.
We awoke in the 4-o’clock hour to torrential downpours and mighty winds, so we decided to wait bit for the storm to let up. We packed up camp in the dark and in the rain, departing a full hour behind schedule.
Climbing to an attitude of 4,000 feet, magnificent vistas had been replaced by nearly whiteout conditions. Freezing cold and soaking wet, we carried on. We would stop to squat down in an effort to stabilize ourselves along with our heavy packs from being blown off the side of the mountain. It was a hellish environment. But we couldn’t stop for too long as we were already way behind schedule and in jeopardy of not making it to the pick-up point. We raced onward as the storm continued to batter our weekend souls.
What had we gotten ourselves into?
- As we descended, the rain began to clear.
- We made it to the shuttle in time.
- We accomplished our mission of completing the Routeburn Track in two days even with conditions gravely against us.
- Be prepared for all weather conditions in the mountains.
- Even when the world seems to be against you, its still possible to prevail with a strong effort.
9. The “Red-Water” Rafting Incident
Where: Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand
Why it made the list: We all sustained gaping wounds and one hospital visit.
The Backstory: Friends from back home decided to join us for a few weeks of our travels through Thailand. We were excited to share our sense of adventure with them and embark on a whitewater rafting excursion through the jungle. So we took what seemed like an incredible day trip to a Wildlife Sanctuary for what we thought would be an adventure-filled outing.
First, some background: We love rafting, have gone on more than 30 whitewater trips, and have tackled some of the most extreme whitewater in the world. This includes:
- the Ocoee River, the slalom river course used in the ’96 Olympics,
- Chattooga River, the rapids from the movie Deliverance, and
- Okere River (Kaituna) in New Zealand, in which we plunged down the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
We’ve rafted in countries such as Costa Rica, Chile, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Poland, finding nothing but professional operations. We have experience with paddling.
The Class 2-3 rapids of this little river in the Thai jungle would be child’s play.
The Story: We looked at the river and saw only a little trickle. The four of us hopped into the raft with a guide. There was no safety briefing, which seemed a bit peculiar but we just thought that perhaps it wasn’t needed given how tame the river was. Yet even stranger was the fact that we weren’t even given any oars to paddle with! The guide had a single oar and he gave another to my friend in the front, who was told not to use it. The rest of us were just passengers along for the ride. I was hoping for a real whitewater rafting experience but this was beginning to seem like we were just going for a leisurely float down a very shallow river. Boy was I wrong.
The river is dam controlled. We waited patiently on the raft for the water to be released. The next thing we knew, there was a wall of water rushing quickly towards us. Our raft was sideways and none of us had paddles to react since our “guide” had us set-up for disaster.
That wall of water came and immediately flipped the raft over. There was nothing we could do about it. We were thrown into the air and slammed face first into the sharp rocks below as the rushing water began to pummel over us. We were soon swept down the river as the piercing rocks acted as cheese graters slicing us open all over our bodies.
My friend and I managed to get to shore but the girls had been swept way downstream from us. They were completely out of sight and we feared for their lives. Another rafting company rescued the two of us. What should have been a fun whitewater rafting trip had turned into terror-stricken twenty-minute roller coaster ride as we bled all over the place, not knowing if our spouses were even alive.
It wasn’t whitewater anymore. Given all the blood, this was redwater rafting.
- We all lived to tell the tale and only one of us required a hospital visit.
- Post-rafting trip, after learning about rafting fatalities on this very river and other tragic adventure-sport accidents in Thailand, I’ve concluded that it is best to not pursue adventure activities within this county.
10. Tourists Destroying a Marine Sanctuary
Where: Pulau Palar Marine Park, Malaysia
Why it made the list: Because the level of ignorance and disrespect reached an all time low here.
The Story: We had set sail a few hours into the ocean in route to Pulau Palar Marine Park where we were excited to spend the day snorkeling off the coast of this remote island located between Langkawi and Penang.
Upon splashing into the water we were treated with some of the most abundance of marine life we’d ever seen snorkeling. We were wowed by colossal groupers and even blacktip sharks!
Hundreds of tourists soon disembarked from boats to share the experience. Who could blame them for that? The snorkeling was spectacular. But it’s the actions of these tourists that had left us absolutely furious.
Strike 1: First, I witnessed a guy standing atop a large coral head, which kills the reef. I tried to bite my tongue but when I saw a piece of elkhorn coral crumble beneath his reckless feet, I quickly swam over to scold him with rage.
Strike 2: Then upon taking a break on shore, we noticed someone had scavenged an entire collection of live coral pieces and living shells. They even managed to drag a giant clam up from the ocean floor and were scraping out the insides! WTF? This is a protected reef!
Strike 3: We tried to get past that and enjoy our day snorkeling. So we went back into the water to admire the magnificent blacktip sharks that were swimming around the dock. The deeper we got, the larger the sharks were and it was a bit scary that some were even bigger than me. When a tourist on the dock spotted the sharks, he decided to proceed throwing his lunch into the water right on top of me, sending all the fish and the multiple blacktip sharks into an intense feeding frenzy that surrounded us! Blacktip sharks are known to be aggressive as it is and now they were snapping all around us in a panicked frenzy!
Strike 4: Fearing for our limbs, we decided to retreat to a more shallow area where there were only baby sharks. It was then that we noticed a tourist had somehow managed to catch one of these baby sharks. He placed a zip-tie around its mouth so that he could take a photo with the shark without it biting him. Once the picture was taken, he threw the little guy right back into the ocean without removing the zip-tie! This shark will not be able to eat and is destined to die. We were fuming mad!
The final straw: Finally, while walking across the dock to get back on the boat I watched another tourist nonchalantly toss an empty soda can right into the waters of this marine preserve we’d been snorkeling in all day. It took every nerve in my body to not push him off the dock to retrieve it.
Were these actions complete ignorance? Or do these tourists really just not give a shit? I’ll never understand it but their disgraceful behavior brought us to our breaking point.
- As we left a guy who worked at the marine sanctuary had noticed the baby shark incident and was trying to capture it so that his muzzle could be cut free.
- People are idiots.
- There needs to be better policing of stupid tourists to protect natural resources.
- Sometimes it okay to interject yourself in a situation that isn’t right.
11. Getting Detained in Singapore Customs
The Backstory: We were entering Singapore on a bus from Malaysia. I had been forewarned about Singapore’s strict rules. This is the country where its illegal to spit, chew gum, jay-walk, or even to open a bottle of water on the subway system. It’s a country that still uses corporal punishment in the form of caning and a country that uses the death penalty for crimes as petty as drug possession.
The Story: When in Malaysia and packing for Singapore, we realized there were some leftover beers in the fridge. So before throwing them in our bags, I Googled to confirm whether or not we were permitted to bring beer into Singapore. I found out that we were, in fact, allowed to bring two bottles of beer per person, up to 1-liter each. Even if it was just cheap Malaysian beer, I wasn’t going to leave a fallen soldier behind. So the beers came along!
Upon going through customs, the beers were quickly spotted as my bag made its way through the x-ray machine. I was handed off to another officer who received my apparent contraband. He took me to a cell and spent about 30 minutes inspecting the bottles and meticulously writing down information about the beer. I didn’t understand what was wrong since I had researched the fact that it was completely permissible to bring in two beers per person. Whenever I asked the question, I was immediately silenced.
I was growing scared in my detainment room, not knowing if Heather and the rest of the bus was even outside waiting for me or not. Was I going to get caned? Deported? Over beer? No way. Not possible. I was, however, mentally preparing myself for a budget-busting fine.
A half-hour into this ordeal, I was transferred to another officer who finally clued me in on what all this fuss was about. He explained to me that while it is permissible to bring beer into Singapore by air, you cannot carry beer with you when traveling overland from Malaysia. What a strange rule! I prepared for my caning.
- I didn’t get caned. I didn’t even get fined.
- The last officer actually let me go with nothing more than a mild reprimand and he even let me keep my beers!
- Cheap beer isn’t worth getting detained.
- When entering countries that have strict laws, be absolutely certain about alcohol and other allowances.
12. Blood-Sucking Leeches
Where: Borneo, Malaysia
Why it made the list: There is no creature we’ve grown to despise more.
The Story: In the jungles of Borneo it seems as if everything is out to kill you: venomous snakes, crocodiles, tides and even falling coconuts.
Yet it was blood-sucking leeches that tormented us throughout our time in the jungle. They were horrible!
The Borneo jungle is thick with these super-annoying creepy crawlies. They seem to come out of nowhere and latch onto any piece of exposed skin they can. The leeches immediately emit a numbing agent so that they remain completely undetectable as they sink their teeth into you and begin sucking your blood.
We would hike for only a few minutes to realize that there were a dozen leeches attached to us. During a jungle trek in Mulu National Park, we had so many leeches attacking us that we even learned to distinguish between different leech species. It actually wasn’t too difficult to notice a “tiger leech” because that asshole actually does have a vicious and painful bite!
Sometimes the leeches would make their way deep into a sock or even down below a waistline, draining your blood. Thankfully we bought some super fashionable leech socks (sarcasm) to minimize this. Yet the leeches somehow always manage to find some skin somewhere to begin their bloody feast.
The worst part was picking these disgusting and slippery little beasts off you. They don’t come off easy and sometimes it takes several minutes with the aid of a stick, a leaf, or a friend. Finally ripping off the devil creature then reveals the bleeding wound it’s left behind. And just when you’ve got that bastard off your leg, you then realize its now grabbed a hold of your hand. The process starts all over again and you still have another 11 leeches to pry off after that one is finally dealt with. Good times!
- Although leeches can be super disgusting, horribly annoying, and sometimes painful; they don’t cause sickness and aren’t deadly.
- Leech socks can be a godsend but just realize they’re not foolproof.
- When trekking through the jungle, do leech checks often and thoroughly.
13. Blew Out My Flip Flop
Where: Argentina, Malaysia, and Cuba
Why it made the list: Because no one wants to wear shoes to the beach.
The Story: As I’m writing this, I’m now on my fourth pair of flip-flops during the past year. I live in my flip-flops and wear them anywhere I can get away with it. So to have them blow out on me is a real tragedy. Reef sandals have been the biggest culprits because they keep blowing!
Loosing your flops can be tolerable at times they can be replaced, but unfortunately our sandal losses seemed to occur at the most inopportune occasions.
A Misstep in Mendoza: It first happened while riding bikes through the wine valley of Mendoza. I appeared way more drunk than I actually was since I was walking all funny in a poor attempt to hold my flip-flop together between my toes so that no one would notice. Everyone noticed. But, no problem, I was able to buy another pair a few days later.
A Blowout in Borneo: My new pair of Reef sandals blew out in Borneo and I was forced to roam around this island paradise trapped within shoes. I wore shoes to the beach. I wore shoes on the boat to go diving. I wore shoes to bath in a river.
So why not just buy another pair of sandals? Oh, trust me, we tried! I must have gone into at least fifty different stores throughout Borneo in search of a pair of flops. Large size-12 feet simply don’t exist over there and hence there’s no need for stores to stock such big clown shoes. It’s a land of little feet. Thankfully, after weeks of searching, I finally found a single pair of Duff-brand (?) size-11 sandals and managed to make them work.
A Flip-Flop Mystery in Cuba: One place you don’t want to have any sandal problems is Cuba. The severe lack of stores in this socialist country makes finding a new pair nearly impossible, regardless of your shoe size. So, of course, it happened.
At a beach town in Cuba, we returned to our room, way up atop the third floor of a house. We removed our sandy flip-flops and left them outside our door.
Upon waking up the next day we discovered the flops had vanished. Both of my flip-flops and one of Heather’s had disappeared. In our broken Spanish, we asked the casa owner if she had any idea where they might be. She had no clue. Perhaps it was an animal of some sort? The property was gated, so there’s no way a dog could have come in. Did a bird scoop them up? It was a true mystery.
We then saw the woman going door to door to all of her neighbors, presumably asking about our missing flip-flops. We had just written them off and chucked it up to traveling in Cuba. Just as in Malaysia, we would have to put up with wearing shoes to the beach from here on out in Cuba.
But two hours later, the casa mama returned. She had our sandals in hand, which now included some healthy chew-marks. Apparently a sneaky dog was the perpetrator. She had tracked down the pooches hiding place in a house several blocks away. It was a miracle she actually found them and we still laugh about it!
- Although chewed up a bit, the sandals were still completely intact to wear during the remainder of our Cuba trip.
- Don’t buy Reefs.
- If you really value having sandals, consider traveling with a back-up pair if you’re in a location where they may be hard to come by.
14. Taking an Overnight Filipino Ferry Through a Tropical Storm
Why it made the list: Because overnight Filipino ferries are already quite the experience. Now throw a tropical storm in the mix.
The Story: We subscribe to the theory that the journey to get somewhere can sometimes be just as interesting as the destination itself. So while we could have easily used budget airlines to hop from one island to the next, we opted instead to go by way of ferry. What an experience it was!
The day prior to our ferry trip from Manila, we picked up the English-language newspaper laying in our hotel lobby and noticed two separate stories on the front page, both of which were very concerning. Here are the headlines:
- 38 dead, 15 missing after ferry capsizes in the Philippines
- Tropical Storm Egay Takes Aim at Luzon
We were on the island of Luzon. This was not good news.
But with our tickets already purchased and subsequent travel plans in place, we woke up early the next morning and went to the port. We boarded the M/V Saint Pope John Paul II and hence were shown to the cots we’d call home for the next 30 hours.
The capacity of the ship was somewhere in the hundreds and we were most definitely the only non-Filipinos on the very full ship. We soon met our friendly bunkmates who showed us the ropes of Filipino ferry life.
We climbed to the top of the vessel and watched feeder bands from the tropical storm drifting right in our direction. By the time the ship departed, storms were baring down on us in full force.
It was a rocky ride, up & down, with the cramped quarters further fueling that nauseous feeling. At times conditions felt like a prison that was transferred onto a giant rollercoaster. We had to pop some seasickness medication that helped with the nausea but it also made us loopy. So we laid on our barren mattresses being tossed around from side to side while watching a flickering TV in the corner playing Filipino children’s cartoons.
Our ferry ticket included meals, so we eventually made our way to the cafeteria when seas subsided. After waiting in line for an hour we were served a small cup of rice and some sort of chewy mystery meat. Thankfully there was also a small concession shop on board and they served beer! We pressed on with several strong (7% ABV) Red Horse beers to ease our anxiety and possibly allow for some sleep as the loud karaoke sessions blasted from around the corner. Thankfully no one sang that Titanic song.
- We made it to our destination safe and sound.
- Although not the most comfortable journey, it did make for an interesting adventure using local transportation.
- Do whatever you can to make the most of an uncomfortable experience.
- Befriend the locals.
Why it made the list: Cairo remains the most frustrating and difficult city we’ve ever traveled to.
The Story: There’s a lot we loved about Egypt. The ancient sites were even more impressive than we had imagined. Cruising the Nile was one of our favorite experiences of the past year. We really appreciated how budget-friendly Egypt is right now.
However, we found Cairo to be a complete hellhole.
It began as soon as we arrived. I had read the taxi situation was aggressive, so we opted to secure an airport transfer upon arrival. We were met by a guy who attempted to extort us for double the amount in cash, even though the ride was fully paid for. We spent an hour at the airport sorting that out but eventually were placed in a taxi in route to our hotel at the Great Pyramids.
It was bumper-to-bumper traffic yet all of the cars still managed to move at high speeds in unison with one another. Our driver kept on yelling in Arabic out of the window at every car next to us, asking them a question. He would take his eyes off the road for over ten seconds at a time to ask the question. It’s a miracle we didn’t get into an accident, although we witnessed plenty of others during the reckless ride.
He finally pulled over to flag down other cars to ask his question. He didn’t know how to get to the Great Pyramids and was asking directions. Yes, a taxi driver in Cairo didn’t know how to get to THE Great Pyramids.
We arrived at the hotel and went through the metal detectors, which was a first for us as it pertains to hotels. This wasn’t a shoddy budget hotel either but rather it was a 4-star Le Meridian that we used points to stay at. While waiting to get checked-in we noticed an Egyptian guest having a heated argument with the front desk staff. They quickly got a manager to intervene. We then witnessed the manager engage the hotel guest in a full-on brawl with fists being thrown right in the lobby of this otherwise elegant hotel.
That was our experience after just the first hour or so in Cairo. Things continued to spiral. The touts & scammers were some of the thickest and persistent we’ve ever seen. The 115+ (f) degree heat didn’t help matters. The traffic was horrendous and we often choked on the city’s air quality.
Recent Isis threats to the area had us on edge. And a friendly taxi driver who carelessly waved around his handgun saying that he would protect us, didn’t give us the sense of security he was attempting to provide.
Cairo just rubbed us the wrong way and is one of the few places in the world that we have little-to-no desire to travel back to.
- The Sphinx and the Great Pyramids were impressive and helped to make our frustrating time in the area totally worth it.
- Hidden cafes in the city provide welcome refuges.
- Generous tipping seems to solve many problems.
- It can be worth your sanity to splurge in difficult destinations, particularly one as budget friendly as Egypt.
16. How an Airline Can Lose an Entire Plane’s Baggage
Where: Budapest, Hungary
Why it made the list: I arrived to Europe with only the shirt on my back.
The Story: We found a very inexpensive flight on a budget airline to transport us from across continents from Africa to Europe. Although this intercontinental flight from Egypt to Hungary was an absolute bargain, at about $100 per ticket, it left us with hundreds of dollars worth of headaches once we arrived.
The Wizz Air flight was the most uncomfortable plane we’d ever been on but we’re completely okay with that since it was only a few hours. That’s just how budget airlines keep their prices so low. Just get my belongings and me delivered from Point A to Point B.
We arrived in Budapest shortly after midnight and waited at the baggage claim with about 75 other people ready to collect their bags. The carousel deposited eight bags then stopped. Eight. That’s it. We all stood there and waited, and waited, and waited. We thought, maybe the baggage handlers went on break and they’ll resume shortly. There was no announcement so we all just stood around dumbfounded.
After about an hour everyone began to move, one-by-one, to the single lost baggage desk. By the time we caught on, we were at the end of the line. Finally at 3:30 am, we finally were able to submit our claim. How the heck do you loose nearly the entire plane’s bags?
Meanwhile in Budapest, I had literally arrived with only the clothes on my back without even a clean pair of underwear to change into. The following day’s sightseeing plans were scrapped in exchange for sleep and a trip to the mall.
So how does an airline manage to loose an entire plane’s baggage? They offered no excuse, nor any update on our bag’s whereabouts, until nearly a week later after we were long gone from Budapest. They blamed it on the flight being overweight and explained our bags would remain in Egypt until the next flight to Budapest can carry some of the bags. That flight only runs once per week. Thanks a lot Wizz Air.
- A new European wardrobe! I was able to buy all new clothes and luggage, which Wizz Air covered a small amount of, leaving our travel insurance to pick up the rest of those expenses.
- My baggage eventually did turn up and was delivered home to Florida, where we were reunited months later.
- Sometimes saving a few bucks with budget airlines isn’t worth the aggravation.
- Lost bag coverage is essential on a long-term trip.
- It’s always a good idea to have an extra change of close in a carry-on bag.
17. The Syrian Migrant Crisis
Where: Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia
Why it made the list: Because it was a sad piece of history to witness.
The Story: Arriving to Budapest on August 22, we found ourselves roaming around Southeastern Europe in the midst of the Syrian migrant crisis. We were staying directly across the street from the Keleti Train Station and we watched the migrant numbers grow and grow at the de facto refuge camp that had been set up there providing services to these victims of war.
They had endured atrocities, witnessed tragedies, were living in drab conditions at a train station, and they were still facing a rough journey ahead of them. Yet they seemed to be in decent spirits. Children ran around laughing and playing with donated toys, while parents passed time playing cards. Hungary’s government seemed to be taking a hardened stance on the migrants while many of Hungary’s residents took a much more charitable approach.
Still it was becoming a pretty dire situation and we wondered why it wasn’t being covered on the news. Within days it became the headline story and crews from all over the world swarmed into Budapest to cover the history in the making.
We departed Hungary and their border closures began soon after. We found this out the hard way when discovering our train ticket from Croatia to Slovenia had been canceled due to border closures. Stranded travelers took to rental cars and busses, but both had been booked up long ago. With onward travel plans firmly in place and many non-refundable reservations, our outlook appeared grim.
Thankfully some fellow travelers were able to get a rental car and provided us a lift across the border. We’ve provided countless travelers lifts throughout these past two years of travel, so it seemed that our good travel karma had finally paid off right when we needed it most.
But this border complication for us pales in comparison to what the migrants are dealing with, which really puts things into perspective.
- It provided us solace to see some of the migrants in decent spirits and experience people helping people.
- Help those in need.
- Travel karma is real.
18. Have We Become Vagrants of the World?
Where: Hvar, Croatia
Why it made the list: Coming to an area of rich vacation-goers made of feel like bums.
The Backstory: In order to maximize our travel experiences and funds, we must be careful with our budget. Meals are one way we do that. It’s nice to splurge every once in a while, but we can’t live like we’re on vacation 365 days per year. Still, we do eat out for nearly all of our meals. We simply tend to seek out affordable options such as locals’ joints. We always take advantage of specials at nicer restaurants. And we can often be found gorging on delicious street eats.
The Story: In popular tourist destinations, those aforementioned strategies can sometimes come as a challenge. We reached a breaking point in the otherwise beautiful island of Hvar, as we discovered this town had recently undergone a makeover. This once quaint island was packed thick with hoards of tourists. What was once a budget-friendly party place for young people had more recently evolved into a playground for the elite yachting crowd, with local businesses wisely catering to this 5-star crowd.
We shelled out for a nice overpriced meal on our first night, but that’s not something we could do three nights in a row. So after spending nearly an hour roaming around the town’s quaint alleyways, refusing menu after menu as we eyeballed $50 meals and $10 drinks, we finally decided to just settle on picking up some overpriced slices of pizza, as our stomachs were now growling. There aren’t any benches in the historic old town’s center, so we made ourselves comfortable on the steps of a nearby church to scarf down the reheated slices.
It was at that moment that a priest came out to shoo us away as if we were vagrants. He yelled at us “There are over 100 restaurants in Hvar and you chose to eat your dinner on my church steps?” Ouch. Feeling like bums, we left with our tales tucked between our legs.
- We did manage to find a more appropriate place on the seawall to eat our, now cold, slices of pizza.
- Figure out a budget-friendly meal before hunger sets in.
- Limit time spent in destinations that attract tourist crowds and particularly wealthy crowds.
- Be respectful of sacred places such as churches.
19. Taking the Long Way Home
Where: Germany, Belgium, and England
Why it made the list: Because this tale of transit may have been even more rough than the aforementioned 5-day flight.
The Backstory: We were in Europe and our circumnavigation of the globe was nearly complete. On the tale end of our trip and monitoring dwindling funds caused by nearly two years of nonstop travel, we were determined to somehow get from Germany back to the States as economically as possible.
Challenge accepted! We found another crazy deal on a repositioning cruise sailing from Dover, England to Tampa, Florida. We then scouted out a network of several different ultra-cheap night busses to transport us the 700 miles to Dover. It was one of those instances that sounded like a fantastic idea at the time but proved to be quite the torturous journey.
The Story: The journey all began at Oktoberfest in Munich. We had four very full days in a row of non-stop partying and beer drinking. It was so much fun but it also put a hurting on us, as we don’t bounce back like we used to. We were camping outside of Oktoberfest and a drunken night sleeping in bag will never leave you very refreshed the next day. Yet we managed to go strong for four days on a diet of beer & pretzels and very little sleep.
The one blessing of not getting much sleep during Oktoberfest was that we would certainly be exhausted and ready to pass out on the upcoming overnight bus. After a few departing prosts closing down Oktoberfest, we boarded the bus but conditions were not favorable to sleeping. Hence we arrived to Belgium after a completely sleepiness night.
With our clothes filthy from camping and on our way to a luxury cruise, we were in serious need to do some laundry, which is how we spent most of our day in Brussels. It was just our luck that the laundry facility we chose ate our money, leaving our clothes held hostage until a manager arrived hours later.
Evening came so we made our best attempt to muster up the energy to indulge in the Belgian beer we adore. But when you can barely keep your eyelids open to drink those delicious suds, sometimes you’ve just got to call it quits. We grabbed a departing Belgian waffle, which wound up on Heather’s face, and returned to the bus station to endure our final sleepless night.