One of the things I most enjoy about travel is the thrill of the unexpected: that tiny ristorante in a sleepy Italian village that just happens to serve the perfect lemon risotto when you turn up, exhausted after cycling those steep Tuscan hills. Or the church in Lisbon which hides the most extraordinary cloisters you’ve ever seen.
I’d be the first to say that travel can give you some of the most life enhancing, exhilarating and joyful experiences of all. But sometimes the unexpected isn’t a pleasure but a pain. There are times when travel can be frustrating, overwhelming and even frightening. Sometimes it all goes horribly wrong. Flights get cancelled, everyone is ill or the hotel that looked so perfect on the website turns out to be the hotel from hell.
But it’s often the unexpected and the things that go wrong that make for the best stories so here are ten of my worst travel experiences.
Being threatened with deportation from Hawaii
When I flew to Hawaii to interview the model, Marie Helvin, for the Telegraph newspaper, I was feeling very pleased with myself. I’d proudly ticked the box on the US immigration form to state that I was in Hawaii for work. I wasn’t feeling quite so pleased with myself when I got to passport control and was told that they wouldn’t allow me to enter the country without a valid work permit. They threatened to put me on the next flight back to the UK – another 18 hours of flying time.
I eventually persuaded them to call my newspaper editor who somehow managed to smooth over the whole incident and I was finally allowed in.
Rodents in the bedroom
I’ll quite happily go hunting for tarantulas at night in a Belize jungle. I made friends with the cockroach who’d come out of the woodwork while I was having a bath in my Paris flat – but I’m terrified of rodents.
When a massive rat ran out of the toilets while I was in a restaurant in Mumbai I reacted in horror. My Indian friend just laughed at me, saying, “it’s only a bandicoot!” There was a mouse in our room when we were staying in the Himalayas – for me, this was far worse than the time when a monkey climbed through our bedroom window and ran off with our fruit. Then there was the rat which scurried around in the open-air bathroom of our bedroom in St Lucia – I didn’t sleep all night.
I’d rather have a lion padding outside my tent at night than a rodent.
Being ‘stalked’ by a police officer in Rome
My wallet was stolen while I was on a crowded bus in Rome. When I went to the nearest police station to file a report I was really impressed with the charming and sympathetic police officer. When I arrived home in the UK to find a message from him on my answer phone updating me on the case I was even more impressed. It seemed a bit much when he called me at work the following day and I started to get nervous when he called me again at home and told me how much he’d like to take me to the Amalfi Coast that summer.
So when an Italian number showed up again on my telephone the next day at work I chickened out. One of my colleagues spoke fluent Italian. I’m not sure what he said to him but he never called again.
Being constantly ill in India
I backpacked around India for six months and hoped to avoid the ‘Delhi Belly’ everyone warned me about. It was six weeks before I got my first stomach bug. I had diarrhoea, chronic stomach cramps and was drenched in sweat for hours at a time, all made worse by the fact that we were staying in hostels that cost only 50 pence a night so there was only ever a hole in the ground for a toilet.
After that I’d get a tummy bug every couple of weeks and exist on a diet of plain rice and yoghurt for a few days until it was gone. It didn’t spoil my experience of India – it just became part of it. But I did get very thin. I looked like a half-starved hippy by the time I finally made it back to England.
Forgetting my yellow fever certificate in Tanzania
It wasn’t until we got to passport control at Dar es Salaam airport at the start of our African honeymoon that I realised I’d left my yellow fever vaccination certificate at home. This was a serious problem: they had a yellow fever certificate inspection point at the airport. We joined the back of the queue and I rummaged around in my bag to find the booklet with all my other vaccination stamps. In the middle was an empty page for yellow fever which I hadn’t needed because I’d got a separate certificate.
I grabbed a pen and tried to copy the scribbles from my husband’s certificate. My hands were shaking when we finally reached the front of the line and I handed it over to the inspector. To my relief, he waved us through.
Being followed home in Paris
I was walking home one night in Paris when I became aware of someone walking behind me. I wasn’t particularly concerned until he turned into the same narrow street in which I lived. The whole way down the street I was conscious of his footsteps behind me, always at the same pace as my own. When I speeded up, so did he. By the time I reached the door of our building I was running. There was no lock so he just followed me in, running up the stairs behind me.
Just outside the door to my flat he grabbed my arm. I was so scared I couldn’t even scream but the strange gurgling sound I made alerted my flatmate and she opened the door. The man ran back downstairs. It felt like a lucky escape.
Falling over everywhere I travel
I am very clumsy. I’m the girl who had to have plasters applied to her knees before she went out to play because the teachers thought it would protect them from the inevitable tumble in the playground. Even now, I’m constantly tripping over. Every summer I arrive on holiday ready to bare my legs – they’re smooth, toned and exfoliated – and within the first couple of days I am guaranteed to fall over and have a nasty cut on my leg for the rest of the trip.
My boys’ abiding memory of the Acropolis is not of the extraordinary historic site but of their mother tripping over her flip-flops and having to be patched up in an ambulance parked nearby.
Having my passport and camera stolen in Calcutta
I’ll never forget the panic I felt when my train pulled into Calcutta railway station and I couldn’t find the bag in which I’d packed my passport and camera. I’d been cramped onto the top bunk of a tiny carriage for the last 12 hours, with my bag lying next to me, and I still can’t work out how it was stolen. To make it worse, the monsoon had started and I managed to fall into a pothole (see above) while I was wading through the water in the rain-drenched streets.
Turning up at the hotel from hell in Marrakesh
When we arrived at the riad we’d booked in Morocco we were all exhausted – we’d been up since 4am to catch our flight from the UK. The hotel, which had looked so promising in the photos, was in a terrible state. There had clearly been a party the night before and there was rubbish everywhere. Half an hour after our arrival we were still sat at a table with our luggage, being ignored by the few staff who were clearing up. Our boys, aged 5 and 7, were hungry and upset.
By the time the manager finally arrived we’d called other hotels to see if they had a room available. He started shouting at us when we explained we no longer wished to stay. We finally agreed to pay for one night. It wasn’t until he had taken our bank card that we realised he’d keyed the total amount for the week into the card machine rather than the night we’d agreed on. We refused to complete payment and he refused to give us our card back.
We eventually walked out, leaving him with the bank card and wheeling our suitcases and children behind us. We hailed a taxi and cancelled the card on our way to another hotel.
My suitcase not turning up in Turkey
I’d packed all my favourite summer dresses for our trip to Turkey last summer so I was less than impressed when two of our three suitcases failed to turn up on the baggage carousel after our flight. The one suitcase that did arrive was the one with all my husband’s clothes. The boys and I had to wait two days before our luggage arrived. We did manage to buy some bits and pieces so we weren’t walking around in the cold-weather clothes we were wearing on the plane but I hated being without all the clothes and books I’d packed. Read the story of my lost luggage in A Suitcase full of Stories.
So these are mine, what are some of your worst travel experiences?
All photos except two are courtesy of Pixabay.