Travel writers and bloggers have this habit of focusing on the “yay!” side of travel. It’s all about the life changing cultural experiences, near-orgasmic culinary delights, and [insert several descriptors] landscapes or architecture. Don’t get me wrong – I understand that it’s just the nature of travel writing, enticing people to visit places around the world. And for the most part, travel really is this incredible thing that creates wonderful experiences. But sometimes, travel comes with this little troll on your shoulder, poking its clammy finger into your ear, suddenly tying your shoelaces together, and/or punching you right in the eye. It can be exhausting, hard work, boring, health-endangering, and/or maddening. Thankfully, I’ve never had any serious problems but I have had my fair share of uninvited trolls. Here are ten not so great experiences I’ve had in my travels (not including the time President Obama indirectly made me miss my flight back home from Trinidad. Thanks President Obama!):
Pay Attention to the Announcements: Barcelona, Spain
Once, I was waiting for a train in Barcelona that would take me back to France. Right at the time the train was scheduled to arrive (minus one minute), a train arrived at my station. So I confidently got on. As it pulled away, I looked around. My heart sank. It was not a long distance train but rather, a commuter train I had boarded! It was 15 minutes before the train arrived at its next stop, tossing me into Who Knows Where, Spain. I managed to find an employee and he directed me to a train heading back to Barcelona. Fine and good. However, as soon as I got back to where I started, I heard a garbled announcement saying that the next train to the Spanish border was cancelled! Trying not to panic, I sought out a friendly face. I found a couple and using my broken Spanish, I figured out they were going to the same place I was. And thank God I asked them because it turned out we had to take two trains and a bus further into Spain to catch yet another train that would finally take us to France!
All Aboard The Last Train: Toulouse, France
I once misjudged the amount of time it would take to walk to the train station in Toulouse. And boy, did I pay for that mistake. After running frantically through the Matabieu train station at 10:59 p.m., I saw my only way back home (Rabastens, a market town about 20 minutes away) pull out just as I had it in sight. I had no cell phone, no credit card with which to make a phone call, and crappy French. I had no other option than to settle in for the night. I thanked the travel gods that I had a bit of cash with which to buy a snack and a book. I hunkered down in one of those uncomfortable plastic chairs, dejectedly contemplating just how much trouble I’ll be in once home. At least I didn’t have to hang out with shady denizens outside…and, never mind. At 2am, we were kicked out of the station; for the next three hours, I loitered outside Toulouse’s train station, exhausted, hangry, and just praying no one bothered me. I finally made it to Rabastens at 6:30 a.m. but had to turn right back around to Toulouse for my class.
Let Me into Your Country: Los Angeles, United States of America/Australia
When I checked into my flight at my home airport, I was told I did not have the required electronic visa to enter Australia. Apparently, my travel agent did not procure me one, despite assurances it had been done. The check-in agents did something behind the scenes and soon said that it was now on my file. All good. I flew to Chicago, then to Las Vegas, and then to Los Angeles. As I was waiting to board, I was called up to the agents’ desk – it turned out I still did not have the electronic visa! They attempted to call Australia but to no avail. I was then told I could board the flight but there was a chance that I would be deported upon arrival. On top of that, I was the very last person to board the plane by far so of course everyone stared at me as I slunk into my seat – at the very back middle row, aisle, by the bathroom. I had this horrendous seat for 15 hours, not even sure if I’d be able to stay in the country upon arrival. In the end, the Australians told me not only did I have the electronic visa, I had two!
Miserably Alone: Mexico City, Mexico
I love being alone and travelling solo. But I seriously do not like being sick on my own. Unfortunately, I was quite alone when I got a horrible head cold on a solo trip to Mexico. Picture this: me, alone, head cold, a random hotel room in Mexico City, a rapidly depleting box of tissues, and no television. All of this on New Year’s Eve. It was a serious pity party. Yup, that is how I rang in the New Year that year! And yes, I called my mom….
A Knowledge of Cars is Helpful: Cornwall, England
Maybe 15 minutes after my sister, my mom, and I drove off with our rental car in Penzance, one of the tires somehow blew out. Sadly, none of us knew how to make use of the temporary spare tire or the jack. After calling for help, we spent the next three hours on a quiet country lane, waiting for the rental guys to come get us. It was precisely because of those scintillating [sarcasm] three hours that I now know (theoretically) how to change a car’s tire.
What’s in This Dish: Camino Frances, Spain
The food in Spain is fantastic, generally speaking. The food along the Camino Frances in the form of the pilgrim’s menu, however, is a hit and miss. In addition to random levels of food quality, I had to essentially play Russian roulette with my fresh pork allergy. Menus are normally good at saying what a dish contains but sometimes, the cook or chef decides to make something with a hidden form of pork (e.g. lard). I never knew if I would wake up at 3 a.m., barfing my guts out. And it did happen – twice. Travelling with an allergy can be tricky!
My Eyes are Burning: Istanbul, Turkey
On day two of our first visit to Istanbul, my sister and I decided we wanted to check out Istiklal Street and Gezi Park, the area where there had been recent protests. When we arrived, it seemed business as usual so we poked around a few shops for quite a while. When we left, we noticed that a few American stores and fast food joints were boarded up or had their security grill down. The French Embassy was covered in graffiti. Cops in riot gear were popping up along the street. We decided to take a quick look at the nearby Taksim Square/Gezi Park; a quick photo later, we headed back out of the area. But it was too late. We ended up being caught in between two protesting factions and had to be rescued by people hiding in a nearby shop….and we still weren’t out of the woods. As we hid in dubious safety inside a small shop (which was also a passageway to another street), we got caught in a stampede as we had to grope our way out of a cloud of tear gas!
My First Cancelled Flight: Toronto, Canada
I flew from home to Toronto, arriving in plenty of time for my 11:30 p.m. flight to Port of Spain, Trinidad. However, when we still hadn’t boarded by 11:15, I knew something was up. Sure enough, they soon told the anxious crowd that we had to change planes due to a broken windshield wiper. Yes, you read that right. They hustled all of us across the spookily quiet airport to a new gate where they said was a new plane waiting. There was no new plane. Instead, the flight was ultimately cancelled. It was now after 1am so they sent us all to a hotel for the night. It was 3 a.m. by the time I got to sleep and we had to return to the airport for 8 a.m. All this hassle because of a broken windshield wiper….
Feverish Contortions: Trinidad
For years I’d wanted to go hiking in Trinidad but visiting family was always the priority. One year, I finally got the chance to go with a group to explore Yarra River and Gorge. It was a fantastic experience and I loved every minute of it. Several days later, however, the day before I was to return to Canada, I started feeling unwell. The next day, I had to spend ten hours (door to door) travelling home with my new friend, Chikungunya (the word means “to become contorted”). It wasn’t contagious but it was horrible having to fly economy class with a fever and serious joint pain, shifting around in vain trying to get comfortable. It took several weeks for all symptoms to dissipate (i.e. not walking like an old woman and having my boss look at me like I’m about to die at my desk).
Standby Me: Tobago
My long distance flights with Caribbean Airlines have all been fine (so far). My flights with this airline leaving Tobago to return to the sister island of Trinidad? Not so much. Getting information from their employees is a Herculean task in itself, especially about standby. And once, a check-in agent tried to fleece my mom out of $100 to get put on the standby list. The last time I was in Tobago, my cousin, sister and I were trying to get off the standby list after a day trip to the island. Ultimately, we were stuck at the airport for hours and eventually we were forced to stay overnight. Nothing like buying toothbrushes and finding the closest hotel available, at midnight. The next morning, we found out we still were not on a flight; a few key words with the supervisor cleared that right up.