The end of 2014 also marked the end of our first full year of travel. So we recently posted about our absolute favorite experiences from this past year roaming around the world.
But life on the road isn’t all gumdrops and unicorns. We certainly incurred our share of misfortunes too. Some of these tales are humorous takes from a few of our more calamitous situations, while others are downright terrifying.
But even with these ill-fated circumstances, there’s always a bright side. And I’m a firm believer that’s there’s always a lesson to be learned from others’ misfortunes. So maybe one of these travel mishaps may one-day help you avoid a similar situation. If nothing else, come laugh at us and our Top 20 Misadventures from the past year, which are in chronological order from when they occurred.
1) Breaking a Rental Car in the Yucatan (Mexico)
Driving across the Yucatan using rural back roads sounded like an awesome adventure early in our big round the world trip. But we were nowhere near prepared for the bad conditions of these dirt roads and the severe lack of signage. It’s a wonder we were able to navigate it with a simple pocket compass and a little luck. But what was even more surprising was that we got the car back in one piece (well, sort of).
After going over so many vicious potholes that were more like pot-craters and speed bumps known as “topes” that seemed to just spring up out of no where, the car’s undercarriage was completely wrecked and hanging on by a thread. I got my hands dirty and reattached it countless times. It’s a miracle the car was even still running. I was so nervous that the agency was going to bill us horribly for the damages incurred. But when we returned the car, they signed off on it and we made a speedy exit. I don’t feel dishonest about doing that either, because I’m fairly certain that the undercarriage was already in bad shape when I got the car.
- We returned the rental car and weren’t charged any damages!
- Consider sticking to the main roads in the Yucatan when possible.
- A little patch-up work and a friendly smile can go a long way when returning a beat-up rental car.
2) Becoming Homeless in Tulum (Mexico)
January in Tulum is high season and accommodation can get booked solid. So we were sure to secure a room in advance. Yet the day before we were arriving, we received an email from the owner apologizing that he overbooked the place and informing us we had no room. That pissed me off but I was able to find somewhere else to stay and booked it immediately.
Then our bus to Tulum got sold out. So we had to take a late bus, arriving at about 11pm. We go to check in to our hotel and no one was around. We rang doorbells, called office/cell numbers, and yelled… but nothing. After walking past one “no vacancy” sign after another, we were at a complete loss for what to do next. It was now the middle of the night and we were officially homeless in Tulum, Mexico.
We finally decided to go to original place we had booked, who actually happened to make room for us after all. But although we booked a private room, the next morning we discovered we were sharing this room with a family of scorpions! Ahhh!
- Hotels.com refunded our stay-that-never-was and gave us a generous $100 credit for our troubles!
- We ended up switching to a scorpion-free hotel, which we really liked.
- Make bus reservations in advance during high season in Mexico.
- Reserving through third-party booking sites do have benefits.
- During high season, have backup plans for where to stay.
3) Becoming Deaf in Belize
Heather first learned to dive when we were in Caye Caulker, Belize. During this time there was a cold going around the islands and Heather caught it. But it wasn’t very severe, so no need to stop our scuba diving pursuits. Yet when getting to depths, depressurizing (clearing) her ears was proving problematic. It just wasn’t working. She fought through the pain and dealt with it.
Over the next few days I noticed she wasn’t hearing half the things I was saying. I’m used to her ignoring me from time to time, but it was getting beyond that. Her ears never really unclogged and she was partially deaf. We later found out that you really shouldn’t dive with a head cold, as it completely screws with your ears.
- She still managed to successfully complete the course and get her certification.
- A doctor prescribed her some eardrops and medicine that cleared up the issue in a few days.
- Hearing is fully restored.
- Don’t dive with a head cold.
4) The Sunrise that Never Was (Guatemala)
The guidebooks raved on about how amazing the Tikal sunrise is. So much so that, as non-morning people, we decided it would be worth waking up at 4:00am to catch the spectacle. We trekked into the Guatemalan jungle and hiked to the top of one of the highest pyramids. Our efforts were rewarded with a sea of fog.
- After the sunrise, we truly were rewarded by seeing lots of animals who are otherwise inactive during the day.
- Sunrises aren’t always worth waking up early for.
- Check the forecasts.
5) Dangling Off a Cliff on Central America’s Highest Peak (Guatemala)
When we noticed that Central America’s highest point was near our planned route through Guatemala, we couldn’t refuse the challenge, so we decided to attempt the summit of Volcan Tajumulco. But we weren’t properly acclimatized and suffered horrible altitude sickness. And being only about a month or so into our trip, it probably didn’t help that we were still a bit out of shape.
But after a sleepless night, camping out under the summit in the absolute freezing cold, we woke up super early to make the final ascent and catch the sunrise. But because we were slower than the rest of the pack, we were led by the official guide’s 7-year old nephew. And this lad took us climbing up the wrong peak, which left us clinging on to the side of the mountain for our lives. Its probably a good thing it was pitch black and couldn’t see what was down below.
- We did eventially reach the true summit and the views were spectacular.
- Be sure to acclimatize before pursuing tall summits like this.
6) That Nasty Skin Infection (Guatemala)
Back in Guatemala, what looked like a small bug bite on my leg started looking worse and worse. Next thing I knew a mass nearly the size of my fist was building up and I was walking with a limp. I was long overdue for a doctor visit. I finally went and the doc bandaged me up good, gave me a strict dose of antibiotics, and ordered me to stay off my leg. It took nearly a month to fully heal.
Then when we got to Panama, it happened again – on my other leg! WTF! How is that even possible? Thoughts started swirling that maybe this is something other than an infected bug bite but the Panama doctor gave it the same diagnosis as my first skin infection in Guatemala, and I was soon on another antibiotic regiment, which also eventually cured things up.
- Doctor visits in Guatemala and Panama are super inexpensive – I only paid $5 USD in Panama!
- Seek medical attention early before things worsen.
7) The Longest Bus Ride Ever (El Salvador)
Getting from Antigua, Guatemala to our next destination in Leon, Nicaragua proved to be no easy task. You must cross through two countries – El Salvador and Honduras – and it takes about 13 full hours. But we found a shuttle bus that offers this transfer, so we got up at 3am to begin our long day of travel down Central America. We first went to a beach in El Salvador to pick up some more passengers but ended up stopping here for hours to fix a mechanical issue. No problem, the beach was really nice.
But a few hours later, we were broken down again, this time at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. No one knew how long it was going to take. We figured maybe another an hour two. We chit-chatted with fellow disgruntled passengers, ate gas station food, and walked around the rest stop like lab rats. It was a full eight hours later when a backup van finally arrived to take us the rest of the way. There are horror stories about the dangers of driving through Honduras at night, which was now inevitable, adding to our worries.
Very sleep deprived, we finally got in to Leon almost exactly 24 hours from when we left, about 12 hours later than expected. We went right to sleep. But to add insult to injury, an hour later, an earthquake abruptly woke us up!
- We got to see the beautiful Pacific Coast in El Salvador.
- We got to fill up on delicious El Salvadorian papusas.
- Make the most of a shitty situation.
8) A Trifecta of Mishaps from Panama to Colombia
We blew chunks for days, got threatened by an island native, and I managed to loose my wedding ring. What a trip! Looks like I’ll need to break down each of these mishaps…
8a) A Sea of Sickness (Panama to Colombia)
We were about to set sail from Panama to Colombia across the Caribbean Sea and were advised to take seasickness medicine. I rarely ever get seasick so declined to do so. Once on the small sailboat, a most delicious coq a vin was somehow whipped up in the cubicle-sized kitchen. I stuffed myself with seconds, if only to lap up the wonderful sauce alone. And although I wasn’t supposed to be drinking on the antibiotics to treat my nasty skin infection, I decided to give in to the festive atmosphere and choke down some nasty Panamanian Guinness as we said “bon voyage” to mainland Panama. This was all a recipe for disaster.
I was the first to blow. And things only got worse as the sailboat tipped to what seemed like 90-degree angles and it all made for a completely sleepless night unsuccessfully trying not to fall out of our bed in between vomit sessions. It was just awful. We had another 36 hours of this on the back-end of our trip.
- Our fantastic experience visiting the beautiful San Blas Islands in calm waters, outweighed the rough nauseating nights during the rest of the voyage.
- We all dosed up on plenty of sea-sickness medication on the latter rough nights which kept spewing to a minimum.
- For rough seas on a small boat, just take the damn seasickness pills.
- Don’t overindulge.
- While Guinness made in some countries (like Belize) is great, it can still be pretty awful in others.
8b) Being Threatened at Knifepoint by a Drunken “Pirate” in the Caribbean
While sailing through the remote San Blas islands on our way to Panama, we stopped at a group of islands known as Coco Bandera, which were the most gorgeous islands of our voyage. We swam out from the sailboat to one of the tiny islands, which was perhaps less than 100 meters wide and long, and spotted with palm trees.
It was here that we ran into an indigenous Kuna man who had motored his little wooden boat to the island so he could chop down some coconuts with his machete. Upon locking eyes, I greeted him with a smile but he just gave me a stern look and continuously yelled “Mi isla!” (My island). Then he demanded that we pay him a $2 entrance for being on the island. I told him in Spanish that his “island was very pretty, but I do not have any money with me.” He replied that if we didn’t pay him, he would have our heads. After taking another glance at that machete, I just apologized and slowly backed into ocean.
After a fast swim to the sailboat, this crazed Kuna motored over to it. He was even ballsy enough to demand to our Captain that everyone on the boat must pay him $2. Much shouting back & forth ensued between him and the Captain for the next 10 minutes, but he finally left and started harassing the few other boats in the harbor. Apparently he was completely drunk and acting all out of sorts. This was not reflective of all the other most pleasant experiences we had with the Kuna people who call these islands home.
- We didn’t pay his made-up fee and still left with our heads intact on our bodies.
- If there’s ever a weapon present during a heated conflict, get the hell out of there!
- Don’t bother arguing with a drunk person.
8c) Oops! Losing My Wedding Ring (Panama to Colombia)
During this same sailing trip from Panama to Colombia, we stopped occasionally to snorkel the beautiful reefs around the San Blas islands. By this point in our trip I had lost a little weight and was afraid my ring may slip off in the water, so I decided to store it on a shelf in our cabin, for safekeeping.
But days later when I went to put it back on, it was missing. I looked closely at the shelf and noticed there was a small hole, just big enough for a ring to slip through. In all the rocking in the rough seas, I’m certain that is exactly what happened. I tested the theory with a coin and could here it drop all the way to the hull of the sailboat. The captain explained there was no way to access the area unless the boat was put in dry dock and several days of work was done to pull off the panels. So to this day, my wedding ring still sits rocking back and forth on the Mintaka sailboat.
- Our travel insurance fully reimbursed us for this loss and I was able to replace it with the exact same ring.
- Be careful about where you leave valuables.
- Travel insurance can be a very wise investment for international trips.
9) Getting Threatened with Cobras (Morocco)
When in Marrakesh, a quintessential tourist experience is to go down to the Jemaa el Fna square and have your picture taken with the cobras and snake charmers. We just couldn’t resist this unique opportunity in Morocco, so we went to the square and I took Heather’s picture with the snakes. Its all tip based, and the snake charmers were nice and fun, so I went to give him a few bucks, which I thought was pretty generous tip, considering wages in Morocco. His demeanor quickly changed and he wouldn’t take my cash. He then explained to me that he charges about $80 USD to take pictures with his snakes. WTF!? I would never pay that much for a couple of mediocre snake pictures taken with my own camera.
After I adamantly refused, he said it would be okay if I paid about $50. “Sorry, still – no way I’m paying anything even close to that!” What a scam. This is basically robbery! The back and forth went on for about ten minutes, voices got louder, and he finally started threatening me by putting the cobras in my face! Yikes! I finally just threw the couple of dollars I initially offered him in his hat on the ground and we quickly scurried off without looking back.
- We got our quintessential snake photos.
- When dealing with street performers anywhere, always determine a price before taking pictures. (Rookie mistake.)
10) Getting Blasted by A Freak Sandstorm in the Sahara (Morocco)
Riding camels through the Sahara desert was a bucket list experience that we were super excited to tick off. But being in the heat of summer, we would have to patiently wait until the early evening to leave the town of Merzouga, which lies on the edge of the vast desert. We were all packed. Our camels were there. Our guide had arrived. It was finally time to go on our three-day overnight trek. Yet nearly a half hour past our scheduled departure time, we were still waiting at the tour organizer’s riad. Growing impatient, I finally asked the tour organizer what the hold-up was and he calmly explained to me that a sandstorm was approaching. A sandstorm? I went to the rooftop terrace of the riad and could see a cloud of darkness in the distance getting closer and closer. I helped the owner tie down some patio furniture and then it hit!
It started with a blast of warm air. Strong winds whipped furiously through the town and rivers of sand began to flow through the barren streets. I tried to stay atop the terrace to witness this spectacle but after inhaling mouthful after mouthful of sand, I decided it would be wiser to seek shelter. The sandstorm raged on. Finally our guide signaled for us to go and outfitted us with scarves to keep the sand out of our ears, noses, and mouths.
The sandstorm was still blowing full force yet we hopped on our camels and off we went into the desert as the murky sunlight began to fade away behind a blanket of sand. We rode on and watched as some dunes dwindled, while others were being built up. The landscape was being shapeshifted right before our eyes. Our Berber guide miraculously navigated us to camp, where we immediately ducked into tents to escape the horrible lashings we’d been receiving.
- When we awoke the next day, the storm was over.
- The storm had created fresh dunes to go sandboarding down!
- If horrendous weather strikes, try to marvel at the unique spectacle rather than let it ruin your day.
11) Getting Attacked by Barbary Apes (Morocco)
We were so excited at the chance of seeing the Barbary Apes of Morocco’s Cedar Forests and were just hoping to get a glimpse or two of these wild animals. So we were thrilled to see dozens of them who were all fearless in getting nice and close to us. There were some vendors selling peanuts to feed them, but that just didn’t seem right.
After admiring them, taking pictures, and even playing with them a bit; it was time to have a picnic lunch. But these monkeys had other plans for our food and decided that it would be their lunch instead. Next thing you know they had attacked us stealing all of our food. How rude! We did manage to retain a canister of Pringles. But when we walked about a mile away to pop the top, out of nowhere, they reappeared and snagged our chips too!
- Hanging out with these primates was still pretty awesome.
- Don’t feed the wildlife, as it encourages bad behavior.
12) Learning Why Not To Go To the “Good View” (Spain)
The beaches of Cabo de Gata were among our favorite and prettiest beaches we’ve been to so far. The clear waters were incredible and I feel like this remote region is one Spain’s best-kept secrets.
But its no secret to nudists, as they were everywhere. Sure, there really were some beautiful women but there was also everyone else. Perhaps what gave us the biggest laughs were the two hippy guys who were very aggressively playing paddleball with one another. (You’ll have to use your imagination for that visual.)
There are many scenic cliffside trails which wind their way through the craggy coast. While exploring, I came across a sign, which read “Buena Vista” (Good View) and an arrow. So I followed the arrow, which led me to a 600-pound man, spread-eagle, who simply smiled at me. This was not a Buena Vista at all.
- While that wasn’t a particularly good view, everywhere else in this area certainly was.
- Don’t be overly trusting of signs.
13) Attempting to Drive Manual Transmission Through Spain
Renting a car in Europe can sometimes be challenging for Americans, since many of us are accustomed to driving automatic vehicles. In fact, I’ve never driven a car with a stick-shift in my entire life. Throughout Europe it can be nearly impossible to find automatics and if you do, you’ll end up paying about ten times the price of manual. To get to some of the far reaches of Spain, a rental car was necessary, and a manual was our only option. So I figured, “how hard could it be?”
It was time for me to learn how to do this. So when visiting friends in Cabo del Gata, I got a brief 15-minute lesson using their rental car. A week or two later, I watched a quick Youtube video on “how to drive a manual” and was off to the rental car agency.
I was horrible. I definitely stalled out more than a few times and felt bad for anyone driving within 100 feet of me. Spain was probably not the best place for me to learn a new driving skill. Unfamiliar roads, signs in Spanish, endless roundabouts, and lots of hills make for a recipe for disaster. The absolute worst was approaching red lights while going uphill. My palms would sweat at the stoplight as I rehearsed in my head putting the car into gear once the light changed. Instead I’d roll back and/or stall, nearly smashing the unfortunate car behind me. I still get panic attacks just thinking about it.
- I found Spanish drivers to be very courteous drivers, which helped my cause.
- I never hit anyone.
- I can now drive manual (err, sort of).
- Stay on flat roads when first learning to drive stick.
14) Escaping to Ukraine with No Place to Stay
We never considered visiting Ukraine, but when we found ourselves in Poland with only a few days left on our Schengen visa, it was the closest non-Schengen country nearby. So we thought it might be an interesting place to escape to and we’d work out the logistics once there. With all the negative press recently facing the country, surely there would be an overabundance of accommodation available.
After a rough overnight train ride being constantly awoken by customs officials, we arrived to Lviv early in the morning. But our search for a hotel came up empty. Everywhere was actually completely full, booked solid. How could this be? Well, it was was Ukraine’s independence day and patriotic Ukrainians around the country had flocked to Lviv to celebrate. There were no vacant Airbnb apartment rentals, hotels were booked solid, and we couldn’t even find an empty bed in a hostel. We were starting to consider last-resort options like sleeping on a train station bench.
We then thankfully managed to find a strange pseudo-resort town named Truskavets, located a few hours away and known for its healing spring water, that happened to have a few rooms available. So we quickly booked one and hopped on bus to discover this off-the-beaten-path destination.
- Truskavets turned out to be a very interesting side-trip that gave us an opportunity to visit an area we would have never considered.
- Research when each country’s holidays are and plan accordingly.
15) Getting Too Drunk in Ukraine and the Worst Hangover Ever
It was our last night in Ukraine and we had an early bus ride the next day. So we decided to go out for a few beers to celebrate and call it an early night. We ducked into a pub with some live music and were eventually invited to a table of Ukrainians our age, who were quite insistent on sharing their multiple bottles of vodka with us. Shot after, after shot, after shot, after shot. These bottles were seemingly endless and it felt rude to refuse their generosity, so we continued to oblige. I think Heather and I probably finished off an entire bottle’s worth ourselves during the hour period we sat with them, and that was after a good number of beers earlier in the evening.
Next thing you know, Heather is dancing with strangers and I can barely see straight. Yup, it was definitely time to form an exit strategy before those last few shots caught up to my brain. I grabbed Heather and we hurried out of the pub, which I recalled was right next to our hotel. Except, in this extremely drunken state, I couldn’t seem to locate it. Just then our phone died, so Google Maps wasn’t going to help us either. I tried to ask some taxi drivers but between the harsh language barrier and my slurred speech, it was going nowhere. Meanwhile, Heather sat in a drunken stupor with a now upset stomach.
Finally a cab driver was willing to help us and took us on a 10-minute drive across town. “Well this doesn’t seem right, but we’ll see where it goes.” He took us to a hotel that definitely wasn’t ours and I finally had the epiphany to show the night manager our room key. She explained to the taxi driver where to take us. We were thankfully taken back to the doorstep of our hotel which turned out to be about a half block away from where the cab had picked us up. SMH.
Needless to say, we missed our bus and suffered dearly the next day. It was honestly one of the worst hangovers of our lives. Vodka will never be the same again.
- Don’t feel bad about refusing a shot, particularly if it’s the seventeenth one.
- Its wise to travel with a backup phone battery.
- Know when to leave.
- Before we were in a drunken stupor, it was a really fun night with new Ukrainian friends.
- The fare of our very round-about taxi ride still only came out to about $2 total.
16) A Rumble in My Tummy in Transylvania (Romania)
Biking through the Transylvanian countryside past the UNESCO-listed fortified churches was a wonderful experience. That is, until we were cycling through farmland, miles away from the nearest town and my stomach began to churn.
I only had a matter of minutes before I was about to explode. This was farmland and there were no trees to hide behind to relieve myself. So I found a haystack which would have to make do so I could do my business. Flies and other insects were instantly attracted. Being in Transylvania, I wondered if I Dracula had cursed me.
I won’t go into much further graphic detail, but will just say this eruption was an extremely uncomfortable experience, which went on for nearly an hour. I did have a single lone napkin in my pocket, thankfully leftover from lunch, to attempt to clean myself with. Yuck. Luckily my stomach settled enough to ride back into town and things got better from there.
- This stomach bug was very short lived and I was fine by the next day.
- Whenever doing any outdoor recreation, always be prepared with some toilet paper, just in case.
17) Getting Caught in Deadly ISIS Riots (Turkey)
During our visit to Turkey, tensions with the ISIS/ISIL activity in neighboring Syria were beginning to flair up. Yet everything in Turkey still remained safe. One day in the town of Antalya, we were getting ready to take a trolley to the bus station, but the trolley wasn’t arriving. I attempted to ask someone official-looking at the tram stop, and he just uttered something about “riots.” I thought I may have heard him wrong, as it was a nice and peaceful day in the seaside town.
But next thing you know there was a stampede of people heading right for us. Business owners began to shutter their shops as protesters rushed through. Smoke and fire soon filled the streets. Riot police soon followed.
I nervously asked someone what was going on and was explained that it was a protest for ISIS. I know ISIS has no mercy, so we quickly found a local bus to hop on and escape this tense situation. I later found out that the protest was actually Turkish youth protesting against their country for not doing enough to combat ISIS. Protests went on across the country that day, and although this was not in support of ISIS, many of these riots were violent and sadly caused dozens of people to loose their lives.
- We made it to the bus station without further incident.
- No deaths or major injuries were reported where we were in Antalya.
- Always stay abreast of evolving political situations.
- If violence erupts, leave immediately.
18) The Missed Ferry (Turkey)
We only had six very short days using ferries to explore the vast Greek Islands between Turkey and Athens. We devised a carefully planned out itinerary to make the most of our time. From Fethiye, Turkey there’s only one ferry leaving each morning, so we booked our tickets and arranged to arrive early. We showed up a full 30 minutes early but the ferry wasn’t there. Actually no one was. We went to the tour agency we booked the ticket with and discovered that the ferry actually decided to leave early!
With that, we kissed goodbye to one of our few days in the Greek Islands. It actually screwed up our entire itinerary, since each day relied on subsequent ferry connections and pre-booked hotels. We’d heard that Greek ferries are notorious for being late but never heard of them leaving early! We can now confirm to you that it does, in fact, also happen.
- We had an enjoyable extra day in Turkey.
- We worked out a new itinerary and were able to cancel hotel reservations.
- We weren’t charged for the missed ferry tickets.
- When catching an international ferry, consider arriving extra, extra, extra early.
- Be flexible to replan when travel hiccups occur.
19) Getting Pickpocketed in Athens (Greece)
We were on a packed subway in Athens. Everyone was cramped, standing shoulder to shoulder. One man kept poking me in the ribcage, perhaps signaling me to scoot over. I tried to scoot but he kept poking me. It was becoming really annoying and was all I could think about. It was at that exact moment that I recalled some advice that an Argentinian friend had gave me if ever visiting her home country. She had explained that the pickpockets would poke you in an area away from your wallet, thereby distracting you from lifting your wallet.
I immediately reached down for my wallet but the thief’s hand had just grabbed it. Yet, I managed to smack it right out of the criminal’s hand and actually got it back! This happened right at our stop, so I quickly exited the subway car. At that moment an unfortunate passenger who was also getting off had realized his wallet had been lifted.
- I thwarted the thief and was able to keep my wallet!
- Never ignore good travel advice, particularly when it comes to your safety.
- Always hold on to your belongings in crowded situations.
20) Merry Christmas To Us: A Smashed Camera (Chile)
We were spending the holidays in Santiago, Chile and so decided to take a nice Christmas picture to mark the occasion. The photo was snapped just seconds before the fateful moment when the camera was smashed to the ground.
You see, we went up to the rooftop patio of our apartment building to take the shot. We set up a tripod that we had placed on a bench to give it the little more height it needed for the picture. We set the autotimer and then got into position. The picture snapped just before a gust of wind came, sending the camera on a forceful 7-foot fall smack down into the concrete below. It was a horrible site.
- We were able to get the camera repaired and it should be covered by our travel insurance.
- Be careful using tripods in windy situations.
- Travel insurance is worthwhile for international trips.
Look on the Bright Side!
Even with these misfortunes, we wouldn’t trade in this entire experience for anything. You just have to take the bad with the good. And we find that the “bad” makes the “good” all that much better.
And if this is the worst of our past year in travel, I’d say we’re doing A-Okay.
Now for a more uplifting and inspirational review of our past year, be sure to also check out our Top 20 Favorite Travel Experiences from the past year!