It’s a fact of life that things go wrong. In thirteen months of travel, it is unavoidable to have a few minor disasters along the way, even with proper planning and taking precautions to keep yourself healthy. Fortunately for us, the things that went wrong weren’t too terrible, although at the time we may have thought differently.
We all battled the normal travel inconveniences, such as the long, terrible bus rides, nasty bathrooms, bouts of traveler’s diarrhea, dogs and roosters and drums in the middle of the night, and a host of less than clean and comfortable hotel rooms. But these were all just that, inconveniences. The real story lies in those more unique, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes very unpleasant circumstances we ended up in.
Here are our top ten worst travel moments. Enjoy!!
10. The ATM Machine That Ate Tim’s Bank Card
We were in the small town of Francistown, Botswana when Tim needed to make a cash withdrawal from the ATM. It was a Sunday morning and we were just about to resume our drive north to Kasane, Botswana, located six hours away by car. Tim inserted his card into the machine and was shown withdrawal options on the screen ranging from 50 to 300 pula, or $5 to $30USD. Tim made a travel rookie mistake, choosing the “other ” option, typing in several hundred dollars (or several thousand pula). Oh, the machine did not like this one bit! Rather than spitting out Tim’s card, the machine gobbled it up, having a nice Sunday morning treat.
Tim walked back over to the car with the bad news, that the machine had eaten his card and there was no way to get it back. It was Sunday morning, the bank would not reopen until tomorrow, and by then we would be six hours north in Kasane. There was no way we could change those plans so we were forced to leave Tim’s bank card in Francistown and drive north without it.
Things did work out in the end. Tim made several much smaller withdrawals using a different ATM card and on Monday was able to contact the bank and have them hold onto his card. We visited Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park like originally planned and we were able to pick up Tim’s card one week later as we drove south on our way back to South Africa.
Lesson learned: do not try to withdraw more money than the highest option listed on the screen. This had us making several withdrawals back to back but never again did we lose an ATM card.
9. What the?!! Car Sick in Tuscany
Here we were, day 16 of the trip, the first day in a rental car, when Kara completely surprised us, getting carsick for the first time in her life. Imagine my surprise when she gets out of the car and throws up in the parking lot. I was shocked!!
She had complained about a stomachache while we were driving but I thought this was some sort of excuse so she would not have to finish her math homework. We cleaned her up and started our day, visiting the town of Montalcino, still dazed by what just happened. Kara has ridden roller coasters and boats and cars and airplanes and never once gotten sick. Hopefully this was just a fluke.
Well, it wasn’t. Ten days later this whole scenario would repeat itself while driving through the Dolomites. Poor Kara gets motion sickness. For the rest of the year I carried around a supply of Dramamine, making this the number one medication we would use while traveling.
Read also: Touring the Hill Towns of Tuscany
8. Altitude Sickness While Climbing Kala Patthar
Altitude sickness is a constant threat while trekking to Everest Base Camp. The closer we got to EBC, the more we would feel the effects of the altitude…breathlessness, fatigue, reduced appetite, and mild headaches. Of the four of us, Tyler was the least afflicted by these symptoms. He was trekking like a champ, at times hanging with Indra and leaving the rest of us in the dust.
A popular thing to do while in Gorak Shep, the last “town” on the way to Everest Base Camp, is to climb Kala Patthar at dawn for sunrise views of Mt. Everest. Believe it or not, the peak of Mt. Everest is not visible from Gorak Shep or from Everest Base Camp. It is visible from the top of Kala Patthar. To make this ascent, it is a 500 meter climb in the dark, early morning hours. It is strenuous, very challenging, and not for those already feeling the effects of the altitude. Tim and Tyler elected to make this climb. I stayed back with Kara as they went on their adventure.
On the morning of the ascent, Tim and Tyler were up and out of our room at 3:30 am. At 5:30 am, I awoke to frantic knocking on our door and Tim yelling, “Julie! Tyler has altitude sickness! I need his sleeping bag!” Even before I heard Tim’s voice I was alarmed. Sunrise is at 6 am, so it was way too early for them to be back. Expecting the worst, I ran downstairs with Tim, finding Tyler lying on a bench, looking quite comfortable. Fortunately, he was feeling fine by this point. That wasn’t the case just a few minutes ago.
As Tim, Tyler, and Indra approached the summit of Kala Patthar, Tyler began to experience the classic symptoms of altitude sickness: nausea, fatigue, breathlessness, and what Tyler describes as a tingling all over his body. Indra immediately recognized what was happening to Tyler, scooped him up and carried him down the mountain, running the entire way. Tim ran ahead of them, clearing the path of other trekkers making their Kala Patthar ascent. Meanwhile, Tyler threw up several times, another classic symptom of altitude sickness. By the time Tyler was at the bottom of the mountain, he was almost back to normal.
The cure for acute altitude sickness is prompt descent to a lower altitude.
After some tea and some breakfast, Tyler was good as new. He and Tim never made it to the summit of Kala Patthar and they never got to see those sunrise views of Mt. Everest, but Tyler still talks about going back there someday…
Read Also: Trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal
7. The Bus Ride From Hell
We took quite a few bad trips by bus, but our journey from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer in India gets the #1 spot for worst bus trip. We booked our journey through our hotel in Jodhpur with a reputable company. And we were assured that we were booking a nicer bus, a “deluxe, air conditioned bus.”
At 6 am we boarded the bus. It had just arrived from New Delhi, taking some passengers on a 24 hour journey from New Delhi to Jaisalmer. We stowed our bags under the bus and made our way to our seats. Since the bus was still technically in transit, it was not cleaned before we boarded it. Water bottles were rolling around on the floor, seat back pockets were still filled with trash, and peanut shells were scattered all over the bus. Tyler, with his peanut allergy, was not happy at all about this. Several people were sound asleep in their reclined seats.
We took our assigned seats, and I noticed a bloody napkin in my seat back pocket. Nasty! I was not going anywhere near that! Welcome to the deluxe bus in India.
During our journey, our driver was swerving constantly to avoid many of the obstacles in the roads…people, goats, cows, cars…making the water bottles roll up and down the center aisle. Along the way we passed a charred, overturned bus, its front end smashed to smithereens, sitting next to a tractor trailer in only slightly better condition.
At one point the driver slammed on the brakes, HARD, sending our faces into the seats in front of us, things falling off of our laps, water bottles hurtling towards the front of the bus. Yes, he avoided hitting the goat crossing the road but almost killed us in the process.
At one point fresh water bottles were handed out to the passengers. The bus assistant would take the used water bottles out of the seat back pockets, toss them onto the floor with all the rest of them, handing us our new water bottles.
Meanwhile, I was feverish, in the beginning stages of Dengue Fever, still not knowing what I had.
We did arrive safely in Jaisalmer and we were thrilled to step off of that bus. We learned our lesson and put a lot more research into bus companies for the rest of our travels.
6. Cambodian Food Poisoning
This, we expected. There was no way the four of us were going to travel through Southeast Asia without at least one of us getting the dreaded case of food poisoning.
We were in Kampot, staying at a very nice place, a place that could have been a contender for one of our top ten accommodations, if only it weren’t for the cup of coffee I was served one morning. I sat there, sipping on my coffee, something in the back of mind telling me that there was something just not right about it…it was lukewarm, a little gritty, so I did not finish it.
As the day went on, we went paddle boarding and drove around Kampot on scooters, and I began to feel worse and worse. I spent the night running to the bathroom, and at other times huddled under the covers. It was not a pretty sight.
To make matters worse, we had a border crossing into Vietnam the next morning. Somehow I survived a car ride to the border, the lines at Immigrations when crossing from Cambodia into Vietnam, and then a one hour ride on the Superdong ferry to Phu Quoc Island. I was exhausted and miserable but made it without any disasters.
5. Bed Bugs in Paradise
There are things we wondered about getting…food poisoning, robbed, head lice, bed bugs…and now it was our turn with the bed bugs.
We were in Fiji, just for one week, staying at Plantation Island Resort, a budget resort for families. On the second day I awoke with an itchy rash on my right and left arms. At first I didn’t know what it was. When I first noticed it, we were surfing, and I thought I was having some kind of strange reaction to the surfboard or the crystal clear, aquamarine water. It was not until later in the week, the day we left for New Zealand, when Kara awoke with the same itchy rash on her arms and back, and I got a new crop of lesions as well, that I realized we were now being attacked by bed bugs. Nice!
Once in New Zealand, I was doing loads of laundry to kill the little buggers. Even Simba had to go on ride in the dryer. Our infestation with bed bugs was short lived, but it did take several weeks for the bites to disappear and my paranoia of further infestations to fade away.
4. Tyler’s Turn With Food Poisoning
It’s one thing to be an adult and have to live through a case of food poisoning, it’s so much worse to watch your child suffer with it. Tyler got sick in Myanmar, several months before my illness in Cambodia. And he got it so much worse.
We think Tyler had some bad milk at breakfast. He was the only one who had the milk and the only one to get sick, at least in our family. Several hours later Tyler was complaining of nausea. Good thing our day ended early because he spent the afternoon and evening in the bathroom.
And like my situation, the next morning we were boarding a flight to Bangkok, and Tyler was a trooper, feeling drained but at least the worst had ended the night before.
3. Kara, Sick Again, This Time in the Kathmandu Airport
Let’s keep the puking stories going!!
It was the morning of our first attempt to fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, in order to start our trek to Everest Base Camp. In September, it is the end of the rainy season, increasing the likelihood of flights getting canceled to take travelers to Lukla.
Lukla is listed as the world’s most dangerous airport. What makes it so dangerous is the fact that it is perched on the side of a mountain with an extremely short runway. Pilots have to navigate their way through the mountain peaks and get the landing perfect, or else, disaster. There have been several fatal crashes here in the past, the most recent being in 2013 when a helicopter crashed, leading to the death of one of the passengers. If the weather is not clear, flights get cancelled quickly. This morning, we awoke to rain, not a good omen. Still, we had to make the trek to the Kathmandu Airport, just in case conditions cleared up and our flight was set to go.
We arrived at the Kathmandu Airport at 5:30 am, waited in a long line to get through airport security, which was a single X-ray scanner and baggage scanner at the entrance to the airport terminal. As we waited in line, we watched as rats scurried along the walls, not two feet from where we were standing.
Once inside the airport, we checked into our flight with Nepal Airlines. The process took awhile, it was hot and crowded, and even a bit overwhelming. Tim and I were very apprehensive about taking this flight but it was a necessity of hiking to Everest Base Camp.
Once checked in, we walked through another security check. Once through security, I looked over at Kara, who looked like she was turning green. She had an odd expression on her face and I immediately knew that she was getting vaso-vagal. I grabbed Kara and pushed her down into the closest chair possible. Not five seconds later did Kara vomit all over the floor. What a surprise! I was not expecting that!
Kara had vomit on her hands, her pants, and her shoes. I rushed to the bathroom to get paper towels, but then I remembered that we were in Nepal. There were no paper towels here, there was not even toilet paper. There was a tiny sink with a grody bar of soap. Kara joined me in the bathroom and I tried to clean her up the best I could with my hands, water, and that little bar of soap.
I also had nothing to clean up the mess Kara made on the floor, so that sat there until someone eventually came by with a mop.
To help settle Kara’s stomach, I bought a bottle of Pepsi at the convenience store. When I opened it, the bottle erupted, spraying Pepsi all over my hand, arm, and the floor. Great! In the period of ten minutes we had managed to make two puddles on the airport floor. What was Indra thinking of this discombobulated family that he would have to lead all the way to Everest Base Camp? We couldn’t even survive the airport!
As it would turn out, our flight to Lukla was a no-go for the day. Still, we had to sit there for six hours, until noon, when the flights were officially cancelled, so we could be number one on the list to try again tomorrow.
The bad news is that we would have to survive the Kathmandu Airport all over again tomorrow morning, but at least tonight I could wash Kara’s pants and have her start the trek reasonably clean.
Read Also: Scariest Moment: Flying to Lukla, Nepal
2. A Bad Night in Gorak Shep
Gorak Shep, last stop before Everest Base Camp in Nepal. This town sits at 5140 meters (16,863 feet) and is just a few hours walk away from Everest Base Camp. This was our home for just one night, having seen EBC on the day we arrived here. This is also where Tyler and Tim made their infamous attempt up Kala Patthar.
Out of thirteen months of traveling around the world, two of our ten worst moments occurred at this location. Trekking to EBC was a difficult thing we were doing, going way outside of our comfort zones in more ways than one, and these moments illustrate that perfectly.
We had spent the day hiking 3.5 hr from Lobuche to Gorak Shep, and then we had a three hour round trip hike to see Everest Base Camp. For the rest of the afternoon, we sat around in the lodge, getting warm by the fire made from yak dung, in a fatigue/high-altitude induced stupor. By 8:30 we were climbing into bed. Tim and Tyler would be waking up at 3:30 am for their ascent of Kala Patthar.
The rooms of the teahouses are not heated. It had started snowing, so it was freezing outside, and it was in the 40’s in the room we were sleeping in. All four of us stayed in our clothes and climbed into our sleeping bags.
Tim, Tyler, and Kara fell asleep rather quickly. I have had a very hard time falling asleep because of the altitude. As I was laying in the dark I could hear Tyler’s and Kara’s irregular breathing…quiet, long breaths followed by much larger gasps for air. We are so high and the oxygen level so low (the oxygen level is at 50% at EBC) that it is hard to get enough oxygen during the slow, quiet breathing of sleep, making you gasp occasionally for air. It is very disconcerting to hear your children breathing like this. It also feels very odd to do it yourself.
At 11 pm we got an unwanted wake up call by some very rude Nepali men that were our next door neighbors for the night. Four men came laughing, yelling, and stomping down the hall toward the room next to ours. One of them vomited in the hallway just outside of our door. Once inside their room, they were laughing, talking, coughing, and not showing any signs of quieting down any time soon. The wall separating us from them was one sheet of particleboard which provided minimal soundproofing. They were so loud they may have well been in our room with us. Banging on the wall did nothing to quiet them down.
Tim and I were so frustrated and in just four hours Tim and Tyler had to get up to start their very difficult climb up Kala Patthar in the bitterly cold darkness.
Finally, the noise next door ended and we were all able to get a few hours of sleep.
Which leads us back to Tyler’s experience with altitude sickness on Kala Patthar.
1. Dengue Fever as a 40th Birthday Present
Prior to the trip, we took as many precautions as possible…buying hundreds of antimalarial pills, getting all of the necessary vaccinations, carrying around a mini-pharmacy (that we rarely used), and educating ourselves on travel related diseases. I never thought one of us would actually get dengue fever. I am just glad that it was me.
My illness started as a headache, fever, and body aches on the day we drove from Udaipur to Jodhpur in India. Over the next two days, my symptoms got worse, as my fever worsened and my skin developed this very strange sensitivity. Even the shower water hurt my skin. The worst part was, this all occurred over my 40th birthday. Although we did not have big plans to celebrate my birthday, being sick with dengue fever is not how I imagined spending it. Only I didn’t know I had dengue fever, at least not yet.
By the time we arrived in Jaisalmer, about four days into my illness, my fever began to fade away and I started feeling better. Still, we thought it would be wise to cut short our camel safari into the desert short by one day because I was having a very hard time handling the heat.
On the day before the camel safari, my fever spiked again, classic sign of dengue fever. That, combined with the rash and the petechiae on my legs gave me the final clues to know what I really had.
I was feeling better as we rode those camels out into the desert. At night, the four of us settled down to sleep on cots, sleeping under the stars, with huge quilts to keep us warm. This would have been one of our most amazing experiences, had it not been so cold and windy. The wind kept blowing the quilts off of us, we were freezing cold all night long, and Kara was trying to snuggle up against me. Even though she is so much smaller than I am, somehow she was slowly pushing me up against the edge of the cot.
Meanwhile, because of the dengue fever, I was getting this odd, electric shock-like pains all over my skin, making it impossible to fall asleep. As my family slept the night away, I lay awake in the desert, skin hurting, freezing cold, trying not to fall off of the cot and into the sand. There was a full moon and I could see the sand dunes, camels, and my sleeping family perfectly. It was a very long night for me, one that I will never forget.
Over the next day or two, all of my symptoms faded away, all but a lasting fatigue that took almost a month to completely disappear.
What did not fade away was the seriousness of my condition. Dengue fever, rarely fatal during the first occurrence, gets to be much more life threatening at each subsequent infection. We had months to go through Southeast Asia and we even questioned the wisdom of going there. What if I get dengue fever again? It would almost guarantee me a week’s stay in the hospital, something I did not want to do in Cambodia or Vietnam. We kept to our plans, used tons of insect repellent, avoiding any other cases of dengue fever for the remainder of the trip.
One Last, Bizarre Event
What’s In the Water at Badwater Blacksmith?
It was our third morning having breakfast at the Blacksmith Cafe in Sydney, Australia. By now, we had been back to drinking tap water for so long that we didn’t even think about it anymore. It is quite common for tap water to be served in wine or liquor bottles. We saw this all through New Zealand and Australia.
I poured water from one of these old wine bottles into our four glasses, took several gulps, and then a minute or two later, wondered why I was feeling nauseous. I never mentioned it, but a few minutes after Kara drank her water, she looked up at me and said, “I feel like I am going to throw up.” Given her history and her ability to puke on command, I rushed her outside, where she vomited on the sidewalk.
Tim and Tyler, who never drank the water, were fine. My nausea slowly faded away over the next hour. Kara sat down and ate a full breakfast, completely fine after her little episode outside.
I have no idea what was in that water to make us sick, but Tyler renamed the cafe to “Badwater Blacksmith” after this experience.
Traveling is not always rainbows, sunny skies, and perfect memories. Sometimes, its gobbled up ATM cards, motion sickness, bed bugs, nasty bus rides, and just enough puking to really keep things interesting.
What are your worst travel moments? Share them below!