During the past four years of travel, each year we have the tradition of documenting our worst travel moments. Looking back at these laughable and scary moments is always a fun post for us to write. You can find previous entries archived here:
These tales are more of a lighthearted collection of funny stories, dicey situations, and travel mishaps, rather than anything truly awful or depressing. It gives us the chance to air our grievances while providing a look into the not-so-glamorous side of long-term travel.
Our blog and social media feeds are often show off some incredible scenes during our adventures around the world. But sometimes that’s just the highlight reel. There’s much more going on behind the scenes. As we continue to pursue this lifestyle of non-stop travel now in our fifth year, we still making the occasional screw-up and deal with our share of burdens.
So come laugh at us or along with us as we recount the worst travel moments of 2017!
1) When Sea Lions Attack
Where: The Galapagos, Ecuador
Why it made the list: One of the most terrifying moments of the year.
The Story: It can be a little intimidating swimming alongside any animal that’s your same size (or larger!). And when we snorkeled through the Galapagos, it became a regular occurrence to have sea lions surprise us in the water.
Usually they’re cool and fairly docile. Young sea lions can even be curious and playful. Meanwhile older sea lions can be very territorial and aggressive. This can be particularly true on land and in shallow waters. You should never approach sea lions!
We may have unknowingly gotten a little to close while snorkeling. We thought we were simply swimming into a shallow bay. But there was a duo of sea lions that we had accidentally swam up upon. One of those sea lions came charging right for me!
I seriously thought I might loose some fingers or toes. As he lunged at me in the shallow rocky waters, I reversed positions and pushed my underwater cam towards him in an attempt to shield myself from his advances.
It actually seemed to work. And thankfully this angry sea lion finally turned away and swam off.
Here’s what went down:
- We each left the water just a little shaken up, but with 10 toes and 10 fingers intact.
- Always beware of your surroundings.
- Don’t get too close to wildlife.
2) There’s No Safe Place To Hide during Carnaval in Ecuador
Where: Cuenca, Ecuador
Why it made the list: Because when you just wanna walk down the street to get a sandwich, you end up a cold and wet mess.
The Story: All over Latin America there are different traditions in celebrating Carnaval. In past years, we’ve watched elaborate parades in Mexico and danced in the streets of Argentina. But in Ecuador the tradition is a bit different. It involves water balloons, water guns, and spray foam.
During the few days leading up to the beginning of Lent, Ecuadorians are out in full force taking aim at people in the streets. Ecuadorian youth seem to be the most active, while gringos of any age seem to make particularly great targets!
We spoke to some expats living in Cuenca who stock up on food and don’t leave their home for an entire week to avoid getting soaked while walking around this chilly Andean city. But we weren’t going to let a little water prevent us from roaming around Cuenca!
Turns out, their preparations may be warranted. Simple errands like going to the store for a carton of milk can become a combat mission in attempt to stay dry. Back alleys became great places to escape, as water balloons were hurled in our direction. Yet however competent our evasion skills were, we would ultimately return to our apartment soaking wet and covered with foam.
- Despite the annoyance when running simple errands, these antics also made for a really fun atmosphere.
- Wear a rain jacket even during sunny days during Carnaval in Ecuador.
- Waterproof your electronics before going outside.
- If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Rather than hide inside, join in on the mayhem!
Here’s a look at a night party where we joined in on the fun in Cuenca!
3) Wrecking Hard While Cycling Down the Andes
Where: Baños, Ecuador
Why it made the list: The worst injury of the year.
Just outside the town of Baños is a scenic yet harrowing downhill road known as the Waterfall Route. It plummets down the Andes and into the Amazon and has become a popular downhill cycling run, even though you share the highway with cars nearly the entire way down.
It’s a thrilling ride and we had a great time. …until I crashed. And crashed hard!
During the downhill route there are several tunnels for vehicular traffic but cyclists are diverted onto short trails and dirt roads around the mountain instead. While racing down one of these steep detours, dodging potholes and chickens along the way, I began to pick up a crazy amount of speed just as I was approaching the intersection of the busy mountain highway.
Of course this is the time to really slow down and start squeezing on the brakes. The only problem was that my handheld action cam had become lodged in between my handlebars and the brake lever.
I had a split second to choose one of two options as I approached the T-junction:
- Fly at a high speed into the highway for a wider turn to avoid falling IF (and that’s a big IF) there are no cars coming.
- Make a sharp turn before the highway which would almost certainly result in falling/injury, but avoiding a potentially deadly collision with a car.
I chose the latter which sent me flying down into the gravel and pavement, becoming a bloody mess. Heather was trailing behind me and approached the scene of me laying on the ground motionless, tangled within the bike. The wreck was so bad that the bike was literally broken apart into several different pieces. The tires, frame, handlebars were all in different mangled pieces. Somehow I survived.
Better the bike, than me.
- The bike rental company simply took back the wrecked bike with no questions asked.
- Ecuador provided a free hospital visit.
- No broken bones and no stitches needed.
- When downhill cycling, helmet attachments are a much better plan than anything handheld. This was an important (and potentially life-saving) lesson to learn before we tackled Death Road in Bolivia.
4) Being Accused on an Illegal Overstay, Crossing Borders in the Amazon
Where: Pantoja, a village deep in the Peruvian Amazon
Why it made the list: Getting denied entry into a country is unnerving. But having it happen while hundreds of miles away from civilization takes things to another level.
We took a very unconventional and rarely–traversed route from Ecuador into Peru, hitching our way on a series of boats down the Napo River. As a result, we crossed an extremely remote and seldom-used border of Pantoja, Peru. It’s just a tiny village in the middle of the Amazon not connected by roads, only accessible by a multi-day boat journey.
Upon arriving, we managed to find a place to stay for the night, which involved a stinky room that looked like a jail cell, and a shower that consisted of a bucket river water. But when it became time to do our customs procedure, it was beginning to look like I could see what the inside of an actual Amazonian jail cell looks like.
We tracked down a guy issuing passport stamps at the police station, who was grumpy when we banged on the door to wake him up. Upon scanning my passport, records incorrectly indicated that I had never departed Peru when we had last visited two years prior. It appeared that I had been illegally living in the country for the past two years. It was obvious I hadn’t, but the officer wasn’t accepting my explanation in broken Spanish as we sweated for about an hour in his bare, tiny office in the Amazon jungle.
You can read about the incident and the entire voyage here: Journey through the Amazon and down Napo River from Ecuador to Peru. But to spare you the details, he eventually let me go after much back-and-forth debate. In retrospect, I now think he was clearly looking for a bribe.
- He eventually gave me my stamp and allowed us to continue.
- Some warm beers with the locals helped to ease my nerves and restore my faith with the people of this very remote place in the world.
- Keep your cool in heated situations with officials, even when in middle of nowhere.
5) A Not-So-Colorful Trek To Rainbow Mountain
Where: Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Why it made the list: This popular trek in South America became one of our least favorite hiking experiences ever.
The Story: Thanks in part to social media; Peru’s Rainbow Mountain has quickly shot to become a popular attraction in Peru as travelers post swoon-worthy images of a beautiful multi-colored mountain deep in the high Andes. The colorful mountains are often boasted as an “amazing” wonder. Yet during our trek, we had quite the opposite experience and reaction.
The high altitude hike was packed with hundreds (maybe thousands) of tourists, many who were unprepared for the elements. Even though it was raining pretty hard when we awoke, we decided to go anyways as we really wanted to see this glorious sight that so many people rave about. There’s no public transport there, so you’re basically forced to join a tour. The guides that do this trek every day swayed us by insisting it was okay in the rain and said it would be worth the trek. With no refunds upon canceling and no other day to do the trek, we made the best decision we could at the time. So we decided to keep our plans and give the trek a try in the rain.
The hoards of people were all rushed up the mountaintop in the rain, only to then be left abandoned. Meanwhile the unkempt trail had transformed into a big, slippery mud slick that sent us and everyone else falling on their asses. A few people ended their day in the hospital, bleeding and presumably with broken bones.
It sucked. And those of us who did reach the top, as the rain transitioned to snow, were rewarded with a mountain of muted colors that didn’t resemble anything like all of the beautiful photoshopped images we’d been seeing online and at the tourism agencies. Once we got back down to the shuttle, everyone shivering inside had agreed it was the worst hike ever.
While we often try to show how awesome destinations are, we wanted to keep it real by blogging about our bad experience and provide a realistic look at what we encountered. So after posting this article about our day on: Rainbow Mountain Peru, we’ve been a little surprised and confused by some of the anger it has received. Some people have respectfully disagreed with our opinion that it is over-touristed, dangerous, and an overall bad experience in inclement weather. We get that. And I’ll totally concede that on a nice day perhaps Rainbow Mountain can be “amazing” and a worthwhile adventure to pursue under the right circumstances.
But it seems that we really touched a nerve and triggered a number of hate-filled replies. The comments section of this post has become a treasure trove of fury. We just shrug and laugh it off. The following are a few of our favorites (Cue the Everybody Hurts song.)
- “Horrible blog that I couldn’t even finish! You’re writing style made be want to slit my wrists!”
- “Seriously? You went here expecting anything less than a shit show? You guys should go to Theodore rosevelt national park next and complain about the lack of Starbucks and hot chocolate! Seems to fit in with the pretty obvious reviews you write.”
- “You my dear, are awful. Go back to Boulder, or Oregon and flaunt your fancy North Face puffer on a nice gravel trail. Leave the tough shit for those of us that use our brain, instead of putting all out trust in a tour guide. Jesus, i can’t imagine what you’re like at a restaurant.”
People can continue to hate on us all they want. And we’ll just continue to give you our true and honest opinions about the travel destinations around the world we visit, even if it’s not a popular point of view.
- Sometimes you’ve just gotta allow bad weather to cancel your plans.
- If you’re going to blog an opposing view on a beloved sight, develop thick skin.
- Perhaps we’ve saved some people from injury. With so many one-sided glowing reviews about Rainbow Mountain, we’re glad to show a realistic look what it’s like to go in bad weather so that people can make a more informed decision on whether to pursue it or not.
- This is our first post that has received a significant amount of trolls, so I feel like we’ve now really made it in the blogging world, lol.
6) Getting Turned Back at the Bolivian Border
Where: Border between Peru and Bolivia
Why it made the list: Because we really wanted to get into Bolivia and prepared accordingly.
Bolivia is one of those countries that imposes a reciprocal visa policy that charges Americans the same amount to enter their country as the US charges Bolivians. It’s frustrating for us to fork over $320 simply to enter the country, but I suppose in some ways, it’s only fair. I get it.
Bolivia also requires Americans to compile a lot of paperwork. But we knew this and we planned meticulously to have everything in order. The border guard seemed happy with the dozens of records we provided him detailing our finances, itinerary, passport copies, and hotel bookings. But he was not happy with the $320 we paid him.
We knew that we needed crisp, clean bills to pay with. So we had gotten them directly out of an ATM and kept those bills in pristine condition.
But our definition of a perfect $20-note seemed to be different from the customs official. Below are all bills that he would absolutely not accept due to some minor flaw. You can play along at home. Click on the pic to expand it and see if you can spot why he didn’t accept the each of these bills!
Did you find the flaws?
Here’s an answer key below:
He accepted $220 of our crispy, clean American money. But rejected the remaining $100. Thankfully I had five extra $20-spots with us, as emergency cash. Time to use it! He accepted $80 of those. So we were still short $20. There aren’t any ATMs at this border and no city nearby. It seemed that we would be stuck at the border or have to turn back and hope we could catch a ride back into Peru.
I tried to politely make a case against some of the cleaner bills he rejected. They were fine. Such minor defects! He strongly disagreed. Finally, I exited his office and told him that I may have one more $20 bill somewhere. I came back in and told him I found one. It was actually one of the same bills he had previously rejected. But my little switch-a-roo worked and he now accepted it. ¡Bienvenido a Bolivia!
- We got in!
- Always carry some emergency cash.
- Always do your research and be prepared for tougher border crossings.
7) Another Year Lugging Around a Big Expensive Paperweight
Where: Throughout South America
Why it made the list: Because carrying around useless equipment hurts my head and crushes my soul.
The Story: If you read last year’s edition of Worst Travel Moments, then you may recall my longwinded rant regarding my frustrations of carrying a broken drone with us all across Europe and Africa. This drone is a very bulky addition to our luggage, requiring a big padded carrying case. It’s worth the hassle if it works. But in 2016, it didn’t work. Ever. We had bought a defective drone. So it simply acted as a very expensive paperweight to carry around as we crossed Africa.
Once we got back from Africa, we finally were able to get the drone replaced. So we could finally start using it and South America is where we started to break it in. But while in Bolivia, we found ourselves, yet again, in the frustrating and familiar predicament of lugging around a drone that couldn’t fly.
We got some fantastic shots of the Bolivian Salt Flats (see the intro to the video below). But when we went to charge the battery that night, the battery nor the charger continued with us on our journey. Somebody (grrrr) accidentally left those items behind, charging in the salt hotel we were staying at.
That mistake not only cost us a few hundred bucks to replace, but also had us schlepping around a non-functional drone during the remainder of our trip across South America.
- The parts were easy to replace on Amazon once we got back to the US.
- Don’t forget your chargers from hotels! It’s one of the most commonly left items and a rookie travel mistake that we just fell victim to.
8) No Money = Big Problems
Much of South America is a cash society. Most hotels, restaurants, and stores throughout Bolivia, Argentina, and Peru do not accept plastic. As such, we have a no-fee ATM card (Charles Schwab) so that we can withdrawl the local currency wherever we are in the world. It’s worked great during the past four years, as any ATM fees are reimbursed.
But what happens if that card gets lost or stolen? We’re screwed. And that’s exactly what happened.
We had no way to access cash. And in a place where plastic isn’t accepted, you have no means to get by.
We realized that our card was missing when we got across the Argentina border and needed to withdraw some Argentine pesos. We ruffled through all of our pockets and bags only to come to the unfortunately reality that it was gone.
Meanwhile, we needed to buy onward bus tickets that could only be paid for in cash money. We were once again stuck at a border with no way to continue. I finally found some hombres who were able to act as a back alleyway currency exchange. The Bolivian customs official may have rejected my $20’s, but these guys seemed to think they looked just fine. And they gave me a surprisingly great exchange rate!
The US dollars I changed for Argentine pesos was just enough money to buy bus tickets to a bigger city and get a cheap sandwich from a street vendor that we shared. That was our last peso.
We had money in our bank account, but no way to access it. So once in the city of Salta, I made an attempt to wire myself some funds to be picked up at a random window at a bus station. The transfer cleared quickly and so I waited in line for an hour to retrieve my funds. But once it was my turn at the window, I was told they were out of money for the day. So I returned “mañana,” and another person told me that funds had again run out. How does this happen? Meanwhile we had no money to eat or pay for our hotel! This was becoming a dire circumstance.
Later that afternoon, I got into the hour long line again to give it another try… and jackpot! They finally were able to give me my dinero, which we were careful to make last throughout the rest of our South American trip.
- There were no fraudulent charges from the missing ATM card.
- Once we arrived to our monthlong stay in Mexico, our bank was able to send us replacement ATM cards.
- Always, ALWAYS travel with a second ATM card and store it in a different location from the first one. We usually do this, yet it was overlooked when preparing for South America. Meanwhile, we’re now traveling with three separate cards!
9) Denied from Chile because It Was Too Chilly
Where: Border between Argentina and Chile
Why it made the list: Because we had to abandon all of our awesome travel plans in Chile and scramble to find another way around the Andes.
The Story: We were so excited to return to Chile. We had spent more than a month roaming around the country in 2014 and enjoyed it so much! We had previously spent most of our time exploring the southern reaches of Patagonia and never got a chance to roam around the otherworldly landscapes found in the northern altiplano. This was our chance!
With a series of nonrefundable bus tickets and hotel bookings, we hopped on the long overnight bus ride across the Andes and into Chile. We arrived to the border shortly after sunrise, where we waited. And waited. And waited.
An overnight snowstorm had closed the border, allowing no vehicles to pass. The snowfall didn’t seem so bad on our side of the Andes, and rumors swirled that the border may reopen. But we sat there on the bus all day long only to learn in the evening that the border would not be opening.
We finally turned around, taking the long bus journey right back to where we started. Exactly 24 hours had elapsed and we didn’t make a bit of forward progress. Meanwhile the bus company said they’d issue us a refund for these expensive tickets, so that was nice. But after waiting for hours at the bus station late into the night and being referred from one person to the next, a refund never happened.
More importantly was that we only had a few days to somehow cross the Andes and make it all the way Lima in time to catch our departing flight out of South America. There was no other bus making the border crossing trip for days. So we had quite the long distance to cover – it’s over 3,000 kilometers! We had to completely abandon our onward travel plans and find a different route.
So we backtracked across Bolivia, which sent us on a series of rough buses for nearly a half-week in a row, without stopping for sleep or a shower. Miserable.
- We ultimately did reach Lima in time for our flight and even salvaged some travel plans in Arequipa, Peru.
- While our scrapped plans could have added up to nearly $500 in lost reservations, we came out only loosing about $100 worth of onward bus tickets. Since we purchased the turned-around bus tickets with a credit card, we were able to dispute the charge and they got us our refund. And even though some of our reservations were non-refundable, Booking.com let it slide.
- While there are often benefits to making advanced hotel and transport reservations, there’s also a risk of not being able to utilize non-refundable bookings.
- Always book travel arrangements with a good credit card, as they may be able to dispute a charge and get a refund.
10) A Bus Ride So Dreadful, I Was Happy To Get Pissed On
Why it made the list: It was the longest, coldest, and most miserable series of travel days we’ve ever had. And I got pissed on.
The Story: With our travel plans to Chile canceled, we scrambled to find an alternate route. The best way was on a 3,500-kilometer trip from Argentina, across Bolivia, and into Peru on what would be a series of six buses. After already enduring one sleepless night on a bus going to the Chilean border, we would now endure two more.
Many of the buses throughout South America can be quite comfortable. In Argentina we loved the fully reclining seats, personal seat-back TV screens, and even bus stewards delivering meals and wine. It can be a first-class experience.
But not all South American buses are created equal. Bolivia has some decent-enough buses, but we didn’t have a choice in the matter when we needed to scramble across the country as quickly as possible. So we took the only departing bus we could find. It looked alright from the outside. But as soon as we got on, we discovered that there was a big difference between this bus and the all the others we had been on. This bus was not climate-controlled. There was no heat and we were in the high Andes.
All of the Bolivians were prepared with wool blankets for the frigid ride ahead of us. We realized our mistake almost instantly upon boarding, as our warm clothing was stowed in the storage area beneath the bus. Temps were mild during the day, so we were donning thin clothing and even flip-flops. We were not prepared for the sub-zero temps ahead.
Shortly after night fell, temps dropped well below the freezing mark. The cold was so intense that it left us numb. In an effort to stay warm we embraced each other, rubbed our hands together, and wore our small backpacks around our bodies in attempts to trap what little body heat we had. It was horrible and absolutely zero sleeping took place as we crossed Bolivia in the frigid darkness.
We were borderline hypothermic during the ordeal, shaking and teeth chattering for hours. Then at one point I felt some warm liquid dropping onto my legs and feet, from the seat in front of me. I didn’t know what it was, but I welcomed the warmth as it slid down to my toes. I eventually realized the baby in front of us had peed all over my legs. I didn’t even care. Bring it.
But his pee soon froze up and then my feet were even colder. We had no socks, but I finally found a hole in my questionable seat cushion, which I expanded, to try and squeeze my icy pee-soaked feet into, all in a poor attempt to keep them warm.
This 15-hour bus was the worst of what ultimately was nearly 3 full days of busing without a break. It was all a major low point for our trip and we were so relieved to finally see a bed again, eat a full hot meal, take a shower, and have warm clothes.
- After enduring this awful journey, it has made subsequent long trips feel like a breeze. For example, those three days we spent in coach class crossing the US on the Amtrak Empire Builder was a piece of cake, in comparison.
- Find out if your bus has heat before boarding an overnight trip across Bolivia.
11) Hey, He Stole My Cerveza!
Where: Guadalajara, Mexico
Why it made the list: It’s more of a lighthearted funny tale than a travel disaster, but it’s always a bit disastrous when someone steals your beer!
The Story: Whenever we visit Mexico, we love to attend a Lucha Libre wrestling match. It’s always such a fun and random cultural experience to do that we highly recommend.
Just be careful if you get ringside seats! Although these fights are very choreographed, there are still some very hard hits and a lot of the action occurs outside of the ring. Spectators may end up in the midst of a brawl.
That happened to us. And when one of the wrestlers needed a little assistance, he quickly scanned through the crowd to find a weapon in the form of our ice-cold cerveza. He proceeded to lunge right towards us and stole our big overpriced beer!
- If you sit in the front row of a lucha libre fight, be prepared to get hit, splashed, or even have your beer stolen!
- It’s all great fun, even if your Corona is in jeopardy. They’re still cheap enough and easy to replace.
- The wrestler who stole our beer ultimately lost the match. Karma!
12) The Hustle Behind the Scenes
Our social media feeds and blog often portray this awesome life of travel and adventure. While it is indeed awesome at times, we’re also hustling hard behind the scenes to make this all possible. We’re constantly attempting to work while we travel, which is necessary to fund all of our travel expenses. As we travel I take on occasional consulting gigs doing data analysis, make efforts to grow & monetize this site, and Heather even picked up a part-time job this year doing social media consulting, which requires her to work online for 5 hours a day, 5 days per week.
It’s all fantastic to be able to work remotely, enabling us to travel full time while still maintaining a small income. And it works out great whenever we stop in places for a month at a time. But when we’re pursuing our fast travel habits, things get a lot more complicated. This is the not-so-glamorous side of full time travel.
After hiking for several days to get to Machu Picchu, everyone goes out to celebrate and have beers. Instead, we got back to our hotel with sore feet only to stay up that night finishing work. After that amazing off-road adventure to the Bolivian Salt Flats, we returned to the barren town of Uyuni only to wander from one café to another searching for a good wifi connection so that we could complete our work that day before taking an overnight train to Argentina. After those three sleepless nights on that hellish bus across Bolivia (moment #10), all we wanted to do was close our eyes in a nice bed. But instead Heather had to stay awake for an extra 5 hours to fulfill her job requirements.
Much of the work we do is entirely reliant on wifi, making it impossible to complete during long travel days on buses, cars, or trains. And wifi always seems to drop at the most inopportune times, like when an important conference call is about to begin. While in Mexico, that situation sent me racing down the street to connect to a café’s wifi while pacing in an adjacent alley. Thankfully the folks I was speaking to on the other end of the line, in corporate America, were able to laugh as they heard random car horns and even a parade barrel through while I attempted to verbally deliver a serious presentation.
For us, non-stop travel does not equate to a non-stop vacation. And these are some of the efforts we choose to do in order to be able to continue our travels. We’re having a great time, but being digital nomads is not a constant party nor is it a 4-hour work week. There’s still a lot of hustling taking place in between all the fun and adventures.
- Our efforts are paying off, as we’re earning just enough income to sustain this life of travel on a budget.
- While on the road, get creative with time management and work-travel balance.
- Always book places with a track record of great wifi, but have a back-up plan when it still doesn’t work.
13) That Night We Lived in a Barn
Where: Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, Canada
Why it made the list: Because it stings a bit to pay a lot to sleep in a barn.
The Story: Roadtripping all across Canada really tested our budget travel skills, but we managed to find inexpensive places to stay from nice Airbnb apartments to even staying a few nights in college dorm rooms that were vacated over the summer.
Yet when we arrived into the town of Cheticamp, there weren’t any such options. The most affordable place we could find was a barn. Yes, a barn.
It was a WWII-era barn that had been converted into sleeping spaces. We found it on Booking.com and it had mixed reviews, so we gave it a shot. Upon arriving in the dark to the unmarked property, we questioned if we were even at the right place. But then we saw two other guests who confirmed it was indeed the right spot. They were actually leaving to find somewhere else to stay because they were so disgruntled with what they found. They warned us that this place was more like a cult than a hotel.
We hesitantly walked in to find a loud concert occurring in the middle of the barn. The owner walked us through the barn showing us his “rooms,” as he rambled on and on about the improvements he’s trying to make. Yet these really weren’t rooms at all, as this was a barn. The space was all one big open concept and he had just strung some sheets up to act as dividing walls. Strange.
For us this was the end of a busy day of travel, so we were ready to check into the barn, get some work done and go to sleep. Yet with the wifi not functioning and a rock concert going on, our work and sleep ambitions would not take place. When sheets act as walls, the rock concert comes right on through.
But that’s not all you hear. Next to our “room” was the bathroom. So once the concert ended around midnight, we also got the pleasure of listening to bowel movements. Later, snorers and sleep talking echoed in the high ceilings throughout the night.
The barn could pass as an interesting and eccentric budget accommodation, but it was actually one of the most expensive places we stayed all year! We found it totally misleading to list a space with sheet partitions as a private room. And our sheet-fort was even pricier than any of the nice business hotels we stayed out throughout “expensive” countries like Japan later in the year. I guess potty noises come at a premium here.
And we even departed on a sour note. Upon attempting to leave in the morning, we tried to checkout and pay for our pricey night in the barn. But the owner was nowhere to be found. Although we had a packed agenda that day, we waited and waited in the barn but there was no staff around. We were tempted to leave without paying but our conscience got the best of us.
So instead of moving onward with our road trip, we decided to drive to a nearby hike and then come back later to pay. A few miles into the drive, we saw the barn owner speeding down the highway on his motorcycle! We made a u-turn and raced after him to track him down. It was a fast pursuit but we honked our horn. We finally caught up to him back at the barn.
He shrugged it off and just said, “That’s just my morning routine. I always leave for a few hours to do my morning rides.” No apologies.
- The sheets were clean (both on the wall and the bed), and the bathrooms were too, so I’ll give credit there.
- Sleeping in a WWII-era barn did make for an interesting travel experience.
- When traveling through such worthwhile and beautiful destinations like Nova Scotia in high season, sometimes you’ve just gotta suck it up and pay a high price for budget accomodation, even if that’s in a barn!
14) Rough Seas Ahead!
Where: Bering Straits, near Alaska
Why It Made the List: It was a rocky ride across the Pacific.
As part of our mission to circle the globe without flights, we took a repositioning cruise across the Pacific Ocean all the way from Canada to Japan! It was mostly an awesome voyage and we loved the time we had in the Alaskan ports along the way.
Yet perhaps one of our most anticipated stops was into the port of Dutch Harbor, where the small town of Unalaska is located. This is a very remote location way out in the Aleutian Islands. So it was really appealing to us to be able to roam around this far-flung location that’s rarely visited. This stop would also help to break apart a lengthy series of sea days.
But soon after we pulled away from mainland North America, the captain of the ship announced that we would need to chart a different course across the Pacific due to incoming storm systems. This change of plans left us bound to the ship for eight days in a row while crossing the mighty Pacific!
Seas became rough as we approached the storms and many passengers became sick. We only got slightly queasy one day, but followed the natural remedies we’ve outlined in our Cruise Hacks post, to get our stomachs right as we walked a little crooked during the 4-5 meter swells that rocked the ship.
- Despite skipping Unalaska, we trust that the captain was keeping us safe, which is most important.
- Being stuck on a cruise ship for eight days in a row may sound like torture for some people, but for us it’s restful, rejuvenating, and heavenly, even in choppy waters.
- I’d happily put up with the rough weather we had here for the unseasonably great weather we were treated with while cruising through Glacier Bay.
- When on long and unconventional cruise itineraries, you’ve got to roll with the punches and accept itinerary changes.
15) Getting Caught in the Strongest Typhoon on Earth!
Where: Kyoto, Japan
Why it made the list: Because the strongest typhoon on earth was aimed right at us!
The Story: Soon after we arrived to a very rainy Japan, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I noticed this dramatic headline:
This headline was a little sensationalized since this was only typhoon on earth at the moment. Still, there was indeed a category-4 storm barreling right towards us!
We arrived to Kyoto one day before Typhoon Lan was forecasted to hit. We worried about the soundness of our apartment holding up in the high winds that were predicted, although the local news seemed to be most focused on the threat of landslides. We weren’t near a mountainside, so no danger for us there. But our apartment was near the convergence of two rivers, so flooding was most definitely a worry.
Having been through hurricanes in Florida that knocked out our power for several weeks, we also grew concerned about that, particularly given the fact that the toilets here all operate with electricity. How would we flush? Also we would need food and water to potentially last us many days. So we spent our first day in Kyoto, not sightseeing, but developing a hurricane kit and stocking up. That in itself was an interesting experience to do having freshly arrived to Japan.
When Typhoon Lan neared overnight, the winds howled loudly! It got a bit scary and at one point we thought for sure the roof was going to come off. But it didn’t. We were safe. Kyoto was spared a direct hit, although morning revealed many toppled trees and mudslides had occurred. We later discovered a number of hiking routes in the surrounding mountains had closed due to so many downed trees. But our apartment and all the structures around Kyoto remained safely intact throughout the stormy night.
- We survived the typhoon!
- We never even lost electricity!
- Better to be safe than sorry. Although our preparations seemed unnecessary after the fact, we were glad to have a stockpile of water, food, (and beer) available which we still put to good use throughout the rest of our stay in Kyoto.
Cheers to a Less Eventful 2018!
In previous years we’ve always posted a “Top 20” worst travel moments, but managed to come up with only 15 this year. So that in itself is an achievement! Let’s hope for a 2018 where we can potentially whittle this down to a “Top 10.”
So cheers to a new year with less travel hiccups and more achievements as we continue to pursue our big travel goal for 2018 of circling the globe without flights! We’re now about halfway there. So hopefully there will be no more border snafus or weather events that stops us from completing this mission!
Happy 2018 to you too wherever you may be roaming!
Akash Malik says
I would like to be honest here John, I don’t like to read long posts. But this one is an exception, you have written this article beautifully. And now I am thinking about all the worst travel moments that I have had in the last one year, but nothing even gets close to what you guys have been through, fortunately.
John Widmer says
Haha, yeah I tend to get a bit longwinded at times, but hope it made for a fun read nonetheless. Glad to hear you had a less eventful year than us in terms of the worst moments. It’s been another fun year for us in 2018 and am looking forward to writing the 2018-version later this year as we experienced our share of interesting mishaps yet again! 🙂
Yes, I totally agreed with you that there No Safe Place To Hide during Carnaval in Ecuador because I have visited someplace there and that was a great experience to be secure every time there. as my electronics things got damaged…
John Widmer says
Oh no! There really is no safe place to hide there. So much water and foam everywhere. Some of the “attackers” have no mercy.
Thanks for sharing your Worst Travel Moments. I certainly remember a few of our own, but I think you have beaten me by just a whisker.
What month did you hike rainbow mountain?
John Widmer says
We went during at the end of may, which is towards the end of rainy season. We had some nice days too in the Cusco area when we went around that time, but the day on Rainbow Mountain was certainly not one of them.
Jon & Barbara says
Wow! Thanks for sharing this. One of the most interesting posts I’ve read and enjoyed a lot. Great reminder and insights to what can go wrong on the road and the need to be creative and flexible and ‘roll with the punches’. This was especially interesting to us as we begin our first full year traveling as Nomads in 44 days. Thanks again for sharing you journeys. Happy Travels. Jon & Barbara, PassageForTwo
John Widmer says
Ah, thanks! Yup, it’s definitely important to roll with the punches! Traveling non-stop is so much fun for us, but it’s not always easy or painless. I think rolling with the punches is a necessary mindset to have. 44 days to go – how exciting! Hope you have an awesome journey ahead, full of adventure and free of travel mishaps! 🙂