My Ten Worst Travel Experiences

My Ten Worst Travel Experiences

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

My Ten Worst Travel ExperiencesI’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 Ten Worst Travel ExperiencesMy 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

My Ten Worst Travel ExperiencesIt 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

My Ten Worst Travel ExperiencesI 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

My Ten Worst Travel Experiences

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

The Scents of My TravelsI’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

A Suitcase full of StoriesI’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?

I’m linking this post with this month’s Travel Link Up with Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi, Jessi of Two Feet One World, Angie at SilverSpoon London and Carolann from  Finding Ithaka

All photos except two are courtesy of Pixabay.

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62 thoughts on “My Ten Worst Travel Experiences

  1. I love this post! And you’ve had some pretty rough experiences. I would have to say my worst would be my luggage not arriving in Switzerland, getting bullied by panhandlers in Milan, getting food poisoning in Florence and my husband getting food poisoning in the Dominican Republic. (Maybe, we should be more picky with the restaraunts we select.) 😂


    • Thank you so much! Food poisoning is the worst – I’ve actually been really lucky not to have it much. Touch wood! It’s awful being ill when you’re travelling because trying different foods is one of the things I really look forward to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a fantastic honest post Clare. Traveling is never all roses. A particular low point for us was getting squashed on a train with thousands of tourists pushing and shoving our 2 year old twins while I had my purse stolen. This was on Italy’s Cinque Terre a place very few people associate with challenging times! I think because you have these experiences travelling you become more resilient and determined to pick yourself up and get on with having a great time. You also surprise yourself with how resourceful you can become in a moment of crisis. Plus, you have lots of great stories to share!


    • Thanks so much, Katy. It’s particularly upsetting when you see your own children getting pushed and shoved by other tourists – that’s awful. Travelling has definitely made me more resilient and resourceful in trying moments. It’s quite good to be forced out of your comfort zone – you realise what you’re capable of in ways you would never have realised if you’d stayed at home. And I do love telling the stories!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, you’ve had more horrible travel experiences than the average person! I didn’t forget my yellow fever vaccination paperwork but I actually got yellow fever symptoms from the vaccination while in Kenya so that was not fun:) It is terrible to be sick in a place that is not comfortable and without a flush toilet.


  4. My god! I think that I would just give up travel if I had half these problems. The worst we have had was luggage that was late. And, a rental car company that tried to gouge us with a $15,000 repair bill after we had already returned to the States. Hassles and lawyers ensued.


    • I think your €15,000 bill and ensuing hassle and lawyers sounds just as bad, Arnie! I just hate unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy like that. As for mine, well I’ve lived to tell the tale and I’ll always keep travelling, that’s for sure!


  5. Those are quite some stories! I have had my luggage go missing before and a few Delhi belly style experiences. Thankfully no scary men! And for me it’s cockroaches which I loathe *shudder* But it’s all part of the experience! Although I find it harder to adjust to things going wrong when my daughter is affected, I admit.


    • Far too many scary men in my travel stories in my opinion! Fortunately not for a good long time. I really don’t mind cockroaches which is probably just as well given that I lived with far too many of them in both Paris and India. I absolutely agree that it’s much harder adjusting to things going wrong when your children are involved. Fortunately most of my awful experiences happened long before the kids came along and they consider things like luggage going missing as an ‘adventure’ – unlike their mother!


  6. Great post. Travelling always has its difficult and tough moments – it’s never always rosy that’s for sure. I got my passport, tickets and money stolen in India so know how that feels and was also terribly I’ll in Vietnam. Makes you stronger though!


    • Oh yes it definitely makes you stronger. And that has to be a good thing, right? Travelling has always made me realise I have more reserves and resilience than I ever thought I had. Thanks so much for commenting.


  7. Those are some terrible experiences! The man following you really gave me the shudders! I’ve been terribly ill many times, missed flights, had luggage go missing, lost the key to our rental car and my husband was once stuck at the border in Mexico — but one of the worst we always remember was having someone following us flicking a knife and calling out down a long, empty back street in Jamaica. And also when I was on my own and had someone stalking me around the empty botanical gardens of Rio de Janeiro as it was starting to get dark. Thanks for sharing your experiences! #TheWeeklyPostcard


    • Oh my goodness, your Jamaica experience sounds really frightening – especially with a knife involved! Thank goodness you were with someone although clearly you were on your own in Rio which makes it all the worse. Thanks so much for commenting, Cindy.


  8. Great post! I agree while they’re not fun going through them, travel mishaps make for great stories. That’s crazy about the policeman. I did a post called Roadtrip from Hell about not being able to get out of Florida, and having my wallet stolen in Spain was a terrible feeling too. Anytime you’re missing something in a foreign county is not fun!


  9. I’ve read your post with a lot of interest, Clare, and I noticed a pattern: India was involved in most of your bad travel experiences. This is not accidental. You and I seem to have the same standards for cleanliness and the same phobias and India doesn’t fit our bill. There is a reason why I didn’t run arms open to this country so far, as much as I would love to experience the culture. Give me lions, give me bugs, snakes and whatever else, but if I see a rat of a mouse that place is compromised for ever in my mind and so is my travel experience.


    • Don’t let my experiences put you off visiting India, Anda. I was there for over six months and on a very tight budget so could therefore only expect the odd tummy bug and rodent. India really is the most extraordinary, vibrant, wonderful country and I’d absolutely love to visit again.


  10. Good grief Clare, you’ve been through the travel wars! I can’t beat that but my worst experience was when Mum and my suitcases stayed in London whilst we travelled to Iceland for a long weekend. We had no cold weather gear so had to go out to buy fleeces and socks and knickers which was entertaining!! They finally turned up at the end of the second day so we managed but it was a good lesson so I always have a change of clothes or essentials in my hand luggage!! I hope this is the last of your bad luck!! Thanks for sharing!


    • I definitely learnt my lesson after my experience of losing my luggage. From now on I shall try and spread out my clothes among the other suitcases and try and pack at least one item of clothing in my hand luggage. I’m sure I’ll have the odd bad experience on my travels in the future but hopefully nothing as traumatic as some of the old stories!


  11. Being followed at night has got to be one of the worst and scariest experiences, it has happened to me once too. I’ve never had a mouse in my room and I probably wouldn’t mind it so much, but if I see a cockroach, I’m going to scream like a little girl, hahaha.


  12. A brilliant idea for a post. I nodded along to some of them, rats in the bedroom (we also had a mouse in the bed in a posh villa), dodgy men, dodgy food, also ended up in hospital twice (once due to falling over too). Funny how our experiences are different but also similar!


    • Thank you! I think when you travel a lot you’re always going to have some bad experiences along with the good – hopefully they’ll make good stories afterwards. A mouse in the bed?!! It makes me come over all queasy just thinking about it! Glad to find someone else is tripping up all over the world!


    • I must be seriously crazy – or travel obsessed to keep going! Most of these experiences happened a long time ago so I’m either more sensible, careful or just plain lucky these days. Still can’t stop falling over though!


  13. Some of the worst travel experiences can seem funny, when looking back. The person following you home in Paris was scary though. My worst travel experience was at the airport in Siem Reap, when my friends and I were pulled out of the immigration line and made to stand at the side till everyone had passed through. They kept checking our passport pages on their computer over and over again, even though everything was in place, including the mandatory Ministry of Defence clearance certificate for Sri Lankans travelling to Cambodia. I thought they were going to put us back on the return flight but eventually they did allow us to pass through. I did have a similar experience at the Amsterdam airport as well while on a solo trip.


    • That sounds awful, Ahila. A real stomach churning experience waiting to see if they’d let you through! My father experienced that once when he flew into Miami and was held for over an hour because he had the same name as a wanted criminal!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow! You have definitely seen a lot. My sister-in-law visited Paris recently and had a similar experience – I am so glad you turned out to be okay. I lived in Hawaii for about 2 years and I can totally see that happening, but I’m glad you were able to get in. You’ve had some awful things happen but it seems like the beauty of travel has made it all worth it. What would life be if it weren’t for stories like these?


    • The Paris story was definitely the most frightening and I was so lucky my flat mate was home – not least because I needed a friendly shoulder to cry on. As for rodents… I struggled just choosing a photo to go with the piece. I just shudder thinking of them!


  15. Great post! I have traveled a lot for work, but to date nothing major has gone wrong. I’ve been sick a lot. The worst is when you have to share a bathroom, and you have to hold on until the other does whatever it is they have to do. I do remember being so sick that I was using toilet and the bidet at the same time … Had my bag stolen in Buenos Aires but I’d left my passport at the hotel and was flying home the same day, so all good. Got drunk one night at the snake restaurant in Hanoi and left my friend as a hostage as I went to call the nearest police (turned out to be the national guard or something inappropriate), because the driver had doubled his fee. I have been very lucky, … to date.


    • I love the story about the hostage in the restaurant in Hanoi – sounds like a great story!! Quite quick thinking too considering you’d been drinking! Being sick in a shared bathroom is completely hideous. I’m sure I’ve blanked out most of my experiences of that in India!


    • I expect I’m a better traveller now for having suffered occasionally in the past – I should hope so anyway!! I always like to read the real, the awful and the just plain stupid experiences too.


  16. Yikes, those are some pretty tough experiences to get through – but as you say, provided you can learn from them and laugh about them now, it’s worth going through I guess?! Thanks for linking up with #TravelLinkup!


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