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Shit happens: My 3 worst travel moments

Sometimes travel isn’t all fun and games.

I think we all tend to visualise travel as if it’s pulled straight from a glossy magazine with constant sunshine, swimming pools, picture perfect townships, and whatnot. But in reality, there will be many moments during your travels that will be just plain shit.

I planned to write about my worst travel moments a few weeks ago, but some of these events have been difficult for me to put into words. Even though they happened months or years in the past, they make my stomach tense up and my heart beat faster just thinking about it.

In no way do I want to scare you away from travel – life is full of ups and downs and the bad experiences should make us appreciate the good ones even more. Sometimes we can laugh about them later and sometimes we can’t, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just the good moments that shape us into who we are.

So without further adieu, here are my worst travel moments and the ways in which they’ve affected me.


Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

One of the activities on our Thailand 2012 itinerary was attend the full moon party at Koh Pha Ngan.

I knew of the event’s crazy and rowdy reputation so I did some research online before we departed, thinking that it should all go smoothly as long as I knew what to expect, but Koh Pha Ngan was a disaster from start to finish.

We checked out of our hotel in Koh Samui at 11am. A hotel staff member asked us where we were heading next, and we told her we were about to catch the ferry to Koh Pha Ngan. “Oh no,” she said, “the last ferry has already left!”

Apparently the ferry timetable I had found online was non-existent. She was a local who lived and worked on the island so I took her word for it and started to worry about how we’d get there. The staff member made a few phone calls and found us a private (and much pricier) ferry that left at 4pm.

Later that afternoon we arrived in Koh Pha Ngan after a very bumpy catamaran trip, on which I had my eyes closed the entire 45 minute journey in an effort to avoid seasickness. We took a taxi to our pre-booked hotel and got ready for the party.

Online research had warned me of the risk of pickpocketing at the full moon party but I still wanted to take photos, so I had my new DSLR camera hidden safely in my bag as we made our way down the road to the beach where the party would take place.

Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

We danced on an elevated wooden stage and ordered some of the notorious buckets of alcohol to shake off our mood from the ferry debacle and get ourselves into the party. Moving along the beach to check out some other areas required us to squeeze through a crowd of people, and as we made our way through I suddenly felt my bag get lighter.

I spun around quickly to see one of Thailand’s infamous Ladyboys holding my camera. She spotted me turning around and hastily dropped it in the sand.

I ran up to grab it off the beach and angrily yelled at her for 5 minutes straight as she feigned ignorance, with a crowd of people watching, before she managed to run away and escape my wrath.

It wasn’t one of my finest moments, I’ll admit, but I was absolutely fuming. My camera had been a joint gift from my family members for my birthday 2 months prior, so the idea of someone trying to steal something special to me was too much for me to deal with. We left the party right away. I had tears running down my face the entire walk back.

Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

The next day we discovered what an unpleasant place Koh Pha Ngan was. The local Thai people, who had been so lovely and friendly in Koh Samui, were rude and unsmiling. We could tell they disliked the tourists even though they provided their main source of income.

The island was an absolute mess after last night’s party. There were people passed out on the beach and trash everywhere.

We also walked by a different ferry terminal to the one we’d arrived at, only to find that it listed the very timetable I had found online, meaning that the hotel staff member in Koh Samui had given us false information and made us pay for a more expensive and less convenient ferry.

By this stage, I’d had it. I was well and truly ready to get the hell off Koh Pha Ngan.


Las Vegas, USA

Las Vegas, Nevada

Back in 2009 I travelled to USA with my now ex-boyfriend. We were on a 10 day tour of the West Coast which included a visit to Las Vegas.

One night we grabbed a taxi from the strip back to our hotel. There had been a short downpour of torrential desert rain about 10 minutes prior. The taxi was cruising along a 4 lane highway, and all of a sudden we were spinning. I don’t remember how it happened – there wasn’t any swerving and we didn’t hit anything, the road must have just been super slippery from the dust and rain.

I grabbed onto the door handle and silently freaked out, not really knowing what was happening. After the car had done a few 360s, we came to a halt – facing the headlights of 4 lanes of oncoming cars.

We were all in shock, and no one said anything for a few seconds. I vaguely remember looking at my partner in surprise, then the driver made some sort of exclamation before turning the taxi around to face the correct direction. Upon continuing our drive, he then shook his head and told us “That’s never happened before.”

Well, I guess it was a relief that our taxi driver didn’t regularly spin out with passengers in his car on 4 lane highways, but we were still blown away by the fact that it just happened. It was incredibly lucky that we didn’t hit any other cars and were all in one piece. I sure was thankful for the fact that we were in the habit of wearing seatbelts.

When we finally made it to our destination, he didn’t even offer us a cheaper fare. Surely endangering our lives was worth a discount!


Paris, France

Paris, France

I’d been to Paris before and had’t thought too much of it, but was giving it a second chance as Robert hadn’t yet visited.

There were some lovely areas of Paris that we really enjoyed – Luxembourg Gardens and Saint Germain were some of our favourites. But with Paris being such a popular destination, the major sites were crowded with both tourists and people trying to take advantage of tourists which made the city somewhat disappointing.

On the second last day of our three month trip we went to check out Montmartre, which features a popular church on a hill which apparently had a great view of the city.

Montmartre Paris

A curved pedestrian road led our way up the hill. Half way up, we came across a group of about 7 or 8 French-African men who were waiting for tourists to walk by.

They attempted to tie a friendship bracelet around our wrists, a common scam where the unsuspecting tourists are then demanded money for the bracelet or pick-pocketed while the person is distracted. As we were well aware of this scam already, we attempted to politely but sternly decline and move past.

The group must have been upset that we knew their game as we were suddenly surrounded on all sides. A few of them started kicking at the backs of our legs, presumably in an attempt to get us on the ground or maybe just to intimidate us.

I didn’t know if Robert was still beside me or whether they were doing the same thing to him, so in my frightened state I very loudly yelled “Fuck off!” in the hopes that any surrounding people might help us. Nobody came, but I saw the leader of the gang motion to his mates to leave us be.

We walked very quickly away from the group and stopped near the top of the hill, then I burst into tears. I didn’t even want to continue to the church as I was so upset. Finding an alternate route back down the hill, we walked to the metro station and spied a policeman helping a shopkeeper. After explaining what happened, he called on a few other police officers nearby and they planned a sting operation to surround the group of men.

It was successful and they lined them up in front of us and asked if we could identify anyone in particular. Unfortunately I hadn’t looked closely at their faces as I was too caught up in what was happening, so I had to say no.

At the very least, I hoped that being caught and searched by the police might have deterred them from physically abusing other tourists. The policeman tried to cheer us up by lightheartedly telling us “The worst thing about France is the French.”


Paris, France

I look back on my worst travel moments and while they certainly weren’t pleasant experiences, I feel as though they’ve helped shape me into the person I am today.

I’ve learnt that no matter how much I prepare and research beforehand, things will still go wrong. I’ve noticed how I handle stressful situations, and how I might be able to grow from them. And I’ve realised that I probably won’t ever go back to Paris or Koh Pha Ngan, but I won’t stop travelling just because I had a few bad experiences.

It’s just as easy to be scared of things happening in your own city as it is in a foreign one. Being afraid of something that might happen certainly shouldn’t stop you getting out there and experiencing other parts of the world.

This has been a rather depressing post, so here’s some beautiful Thai scenery we found in An Thong Marine Park to brighten your mood and show you that the globe is still worth exploring. And if you want to read more of my travel stories, see my 3 strangest travel moments.

An Thong Marine Park


Some of my favourite travel bloggers have also written posts on their worst travel experiences:

What are your worst travel moments? Do you think they have affected the way you travel? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

32 Responses to “Shit happens: My 3 worst travel moments”

  1. Petra

    It sucks so much when it all falls to shit, doesn’t it? We were scammed by the police in Bali (driving a rental car the wrong way down a road, apparently – even though we saw Balinese people doing exactly the same thing while we were on the side of the road with the cops!) Fortunately the ‘fine’ was only $50 but it was terrifying. We had planned to drive all over Bali but we were too scared to be on the road so just stayed in one place. We still love Bali though – we’re actually getting married there! But we definitely won’t be driving ourselves around…
    The crappy moments during travel make you realise how good it is the rest of the time!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’ve known other people to have similar problems driving in Bali, friends have been ‘fined’ for all sorts of things including not wearing helmets. I’ve also known people who had to pay a bribe to retrieve their luggage from airport staff. But I’m glad it didn’t turn you off travelling (and getting married!) there, Bali really is a wonderful place!

      Reply
  2. Camila

    Oh yes shit happens and it is even worst when you’re at the other end of the world perhaps in a country where people don’t speak your language. Some of those are definitely scary though! I think that’s what would have hit me the most! Not just bad experiences, scary ones at that! And it can totally ruin a day/trip! I mean like you said you didn’t want to go to that church anymore. But I do believe moments like these make us stronger!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely – I think it seems worse than a normal bad day when it’s happened in a foreign country where you might feel vulnerable or out of place. But even though these things might make you feel terrible and ruin your day or even your trip, it’s definitely one of those things that we have to put behind us. We definitely end up stronger afterwards!

      Reply
  3. Chalsie

    This is a great post! Got me thinking. My worst travel experience didn’t really have anything to do with the city itself, but more I put myself into a really dangerous situation. It was New Years Eve in Berlin and I’ll be the first to admit, I had drunk far too much alcohol. I was with a group of friends, one friend and I got lost, and in our hazed state couldn’t figure out where we were/what to do, and ended up in a car with four Turkish boys attempting to kidnap us. Luckily I’m pretty good at handling stressful situations, and talked my way out of it calmly and apologetically. But I’ve learned from that experience.
    I’m usually really safe and vigilant travelling, this was just a one time thing where I let my guard down – never again!

    Chalsie | The Workshop Co. x

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It happens to the best of us Chalsie, we can’t keep our guard up 24/7 (it would be exhausting!) and we all tend to relax a little too much every once in a while. It sounds like a very scary situation you went through, but I’m glad you were able to talk your way out of it. Sometimes confidence in ourselves is the best asset we have to get us out of sticky situations!

      Reply
  4. Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    I definitely know where you’re coming from regarding the guys at Sacre Coeur – we had also been warned but I was totally surprised at how aggressive they were. I walked through them with my arms crossed so they couldn’t get to my wrist, and when my boyfriend did (as you did) told them to ‘fuck off’, they retorted ‘ey, fuck you too man!’ Unbelievable.

    Tessa / Bramble & Thorn

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Wow I can’t believe you had a similar experience, I hadn’t heard of anyone having trouble there before. It’s kind of nice to know we’re not the only ones, but it’s terrible at the same time as this really shouldn’t happen to anyone at all! Thanks for sharing your experience Tessa.

      Reply
  5. Iida-Emilia

    Your Thailand experience sounds horrible :/ And that Paris experience sounds very familiar to me.

    My aunt lives in Paris and is married to a French man. Once we were visiting them and when we walked around the city those african-french men tried to tie that friendship bracelet around my wrist. I was 15 year old and didn’t understand at all what was happening. Luckily my aunt husband noticed that and yelled them something in French and the men left immediately. But it was kind of scary.
    I’m not that big fan of Paris, not because of that but because it’s so full of tourists.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I heard that if you pretend that you speak French, they’re more likely to leave you alone. It was lucky that you had someone who speaks French nearby, I can imagine that would have been scary for a 15 year old! It seems a general consensus that Paris isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

      Reply
  6. Meg @ Adventures in Verdance

    My credit card was flagged for fraud during our trip to San Francisco. Since I had allotted most of our funds to this card, I freaked out. Thankfully, I had back up. It was wayyyy inconvenient, though, and put kind of a damper on our trip. I preach the word of travel contingency to EVERYONE now.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. When my guy and I travel, we aren’t aware enough of our surroundings and this definitely opened my eyes. Any advice on how to pack/keep a day bag safe?

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Oh Meg that would been an absolute pain to get sorted, I can definitely see why that would put a dampener on your trip!

      I didn’t mean to try and scare you with my stories 😛 As long as you’re aware that these things can sometimes happen, then you should be fine. I use my camera bag as my day bag when I travel, which clips shut and has a very wide strap so the likelihood of someone stealing from it is quite low. To secure a backpack, I’d suggest a retractable lock which you can loop through the holes of the zip!

      Reply
  7. Ashley

    Ugh, I really hate those moments. I’ve had a few but the one that most sticks out on my mind is from a trip to Milan a few years back. My boyfriend and I decided to cut across a park at midnight to get the metro. It was beyond stupid and something I’d never do at home, but we were still giddy from seeing a show. We stopped walking when we saw two men on either side of the trail ahead, they were clearly waiting for people such as ourselves. In the end they didn’t do more than eye us but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I had been alone it wouldn’t have turned out so well.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That sounds terrifying – It would be nice to think that we can walk through parks without having to worry about being in danger, but sometimes (even in our home countries) that just isn’t the case. Thanks for sharing your story Ashley.

      Reply
  8. Travelling Omnomnivore

    So sorry to hear about your horrible experiences. I myself have a love hate relationship with Paris. Whilst I agree that it is very crowded, I always remind myself that *I* am a tourist too, so if I want to travel and see the world, I can’t blame others for doing the same. Also, there are little pockets of peace and loveliness here and there if one ventures away from the main tourist sights and travels out of season. Totally agree about the people though. The “hate” part of my relationship with Paris mainly stems from dealing with a few rude people here and there. On the other hand, I’ve encountered some of the nicest Frenchmen too, for instance one who walked me to the metro station when I asked for directions, another who hopped on the metro with me until I was safely at my destination, and one guy who gave me his umbrella and told me to wait under cover while he stepped out in the rain to check the street signs so he could tell me which way I should head. I don’t think Aussie men are as gentlemanly as those 3! Anyway, if you’d like to check out some of my posts on Paris, maybe, just maybe, you might be tempted to give it another chance? :p

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I absolutely agree – Paris is really hit and miss, you just have to find the right areas to hang out. I’ll actually be outlining a really great part of Paris in one of my posts next week! It’s great that you met some lovely French people too, I also had a few people show me some great kindness in Paris so they’re definitely not all bad!

      I don’t think I’d be interested in heading back to Paris (I’ve visited twice now), but I would definitely like to check out some other areas of France! I’ve just checked out some of your posts, there seems to be plenty on some other French destinations I can head to next time 😉

      Reply
  9. Alex Conomos

    It’s these shitty experiences and our reactions to them that really define someone as a traveller. And as crap as they are at the time they make you a stronger person and smarter traveller. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      These experiences definitely define us, and teach us how we might do better in the future. I think it’s important to look back and think ‘what can I learn from this’ rather than just dwell on how crap it was. Thanks Alex!

      Reply
  10. Miles of Happiness

    Shit happens… unfortunately, those guys in Paris are there everytime I go in Montmartre. looking for the perfect tourist… That’s sad, they ruin this beautiful place.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s very sad, they definitely ruin the place and make the tourists feel unwelcome 🙁 I know the police have been successful in removing them from other areas of Paris (the Louvre is fairly free of them now) so hopefully some other areas will soon be safer too and Paris can be enjoyed like it should be.

      Reply
  11. Olga

    Oh dear! It is always sad when everything goes wrong in the worst way! I wish you not to have such experiences ever more as we both know that traveling is meant to be enjoyed but not crying about!!!! Still the best moments should cover all those bad once!!!
    Olga
    http://feelthetraveling.blogspot.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s bound to happen at some stage or another, things will always go wrong! But you’re totally right Olga, the best moments will always far outnumber the bad ones 🙂 I’m planning on writing some more posts on my other travel moments so keep your eyes peeled 🙂

      Reply
  12. Beau

    Its the shitty little things that makes a stronger! The experience makes us all better travellers and sharing them helps others to hopefully avoid the pitfalls!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It definitely does! I hope others can learn from my experiences, though sometimes these things can’t be avoided. We have to expect that sometimes these things will happen.

      Reply
  13. Franca

    As you said travelling cannot always be pleasant and something unexpected and not very nice can always happen no matter how much research and planning people do. These experiences though, together with the good ones, simply make travelling more interesting and a learning process too.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It’s almost coincidental that the situation in Sydney just happened yesterday as I mentioned in my post that bad things can happen in our home countries too 🙁 In no way should these fears stop us from travelling though, you are completely right in saying the unpleasant experiences make travel more interesting and we always learn something from them!

      Reply
  14. Marie @ Life is a Highway

    Oh, man! Sorry you had those experiences, but for as much as we travel, we’re bound to experience the negative side of tourism. Your post is now inspiring me to share my travel experiences from hell. They’re a doozy!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      There’s no possible way we could travel and have everything go smoothly all the time! Bad things are definitely bound to happen every once in a while. Send me a link when you have posted yours, I’d love to read them!

      Reply
  15. Shannon of Camera & Carry On

    Kind of scary stuff. :-/ We’ve had some lousy things happen too, from lost bags in Malaysia to twisted snow chains on the side of a Swiss mountain. I like to think these things make us stronger and more capable for the crap that will no doubt creep up again sometime. You handled these situations with grace and, of course, things turned out okay in the end because you’re here to tell us about it! Thanks for sharing and making the rest of us feel like we’re not alone, that things do go wrong, and you just gotta roll with it! 🙂

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Shannon, I think it’s really important that we talk about the bad stuff and share these not-so-great experiences with others. We don’t want our expectations to be too high otherwise we’ll always be disappointed when things go wrong! They definitely shape us into stronger people and teach us how to better deal with similar situations in the future.

      Reply
  16. Holly

    If someone stole my camera and THEN DROPPED IT IN THE SAND I would probably cry. A lot. And slap them too.

    Reply

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