Travel is my favourite thing in the world. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will already be fully aware of that but even if you’re not, I guess it isn’t hard to guess. I do run a travel blog after all.
At every opportunity, I jet off in search of new lessons and unforgettable experiences. I am not exaggerating when I say that travel really has changed my life. Despite this, long term travel isn’t just a long holiday.
On my little corner of the internet, I try to be honest about my experiences. The fact is, not everything about travel is good. One thing that can be shockingly awful is the act of travel itself. Moving from A to B can be embarrassing, depressing and downright frightening. Incoming, the travel journeys from hell.
Travel Journeys From Hell
Having to keep waking up my taxi driver on a trip from the airport (while he was driving)
After three months working as a ski chalet host in France, my budget allowed me no option but to fly into one of London’s many airports, instead of my local. It was a weekday and I asked my Dad to pick me and Tim up. Initially, he agreed before telling me a few weeks later he wouldn’t be able to make it. Instead, he offered to arrange a taxi.
Although the flight was short, we were exhausted by the time we arrived back in London. Luckily, our taxi driver was right there waiting for us. We greeted him sleepily before piling into the back of the cab.
I was beginning to drift off when I felt a sharp jolt. We were on the motorway and it looked like the driver had changed his mind about pulling into the next lane at the last minute. Thinking nothing of it, I closed my eyes again.
Less than a few minutes later, I felt the car veering to the left. Holy shit, he had fallen asleep! I coughed loudly which woke him up. As much as I didn’t want to continue this journey, we were in the middle of the motorway outside London at 2 am. I couldn’t really see another option.
Tim, who sleeps through anything, seemed unaware of any issues so I took it upon myself to assume the entertainment role. I continually tried to engage the driver in conversation, whilst opening a window to help keep him awake.
After a while, I felt myself dropping off again and was once more awakened by a sharp swerve. This was ridiculous. The way things were going, if I fell asleep I might never wake up again. I sat for the next two hours, my own window open, freezing in the night chill, making horribly awkward conversation just to keep him awake. Needless to say, I haven’t hired him since.
Throwing up continuously into my mouth during a six-hour bus ride to Lisbon
To be honest with you, this one was completely self-inflicted and totally avoidable. Sadly, knowing that only makes the experience more horrific.
It took me exactly 40 days to complete the long journey from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain on foot. Walking the Camino had been an incredible and life-changing experience. Tim and I had met some cherished friends along the way and whilst we had spent a large part of our journeys together, we were all on our own paths.
We were some of the last of our group to arrive in Santiago and we were hugely excited to be reunited with our friends. It was the festival of St. James and high on life, we did what all clever travellers do the night before a long bus journey: we got drunk. I don’t just mean drunk either, we got absolutely steaming.
The next morning, with the stale taste of red wine in my mouth and a head full of regret, I followed Tim and his sister Molly to the bus station in a slow zombie-like trudge. While the others tucked into warm croissants, I darted off to the loo to avoid attracting too much attention. It appeared my stomach lining had decided that day was moving day.
Looking like death and feeling even worse, I boarded the bus and went to sit in the corner, on the back seat, hoping that I would be able to make it through the journey. We were just half an hour in when all hell let loose.
I started to salivate, the iron taste making me swallow hard. I knew what was coming but with no toilet on board, there was nothing I could do. Being prudently British I was absolutely mortified by the idea of making a scene on the bus and vowed to keep every last drop of vomit in my mouth.
The heaving started and my cheeks filled rapidly. Once the hurling had stopped, I did the only thing I could and swallowed the acidic bile back down. It stung my raw throat as it found it’s way back into my stomach.
This happened a further five times over the course of the journey. It was like I had found my own personal hell, trying to throw up silently in the corner of a bus and continually having to swallow it back down. This was one example of travel most definitely not being fun. Lesson well and truly learnt the hard way.
Fainting on a boat in Cambodia
After hearing about the island paradise of Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia, I was more than excited to visit. I wasn’t in the least bit deterred by the idea of catching a boat there. I had never gotten sea sick before and actually quite liked travelling by boat.
Fast forward a month and I was sitting uncomfortably on the wooden seat with my eyes closed, telling myself that the sickness would pass. After noting that I looked a little green, Tim suggested I lay down. I gently stretched out across the bench, moving very slowly so as to not rock my already fragile stomach.
I laid there for a while, breathing in the sea air and telling myself that surely this would pass. Suddenly, I knew I was going to be sick and bolted to the onboard toilet. It was vile, with shit everywhere and an overflowing cistern.
Upon slamming the door closed behind me, I started to feel very light headed and before I knew it, I plunged to the floor as blackness enveloped my eyes. Thankfully, I didn’t hit my head and came round almost instantly. Feeling shocked by my unplanned detour, I managed to lurch to the sink, just in time.
Turns out I actually do get seasick, all over myself as it happens.
Enduring an overnight bus trip next to a Chinese man who kept spitting into a plastic bag
When it comes to travelling on buses, much like planes, I truly believe that all passengers have a responsibility to make the journey as pain-free as possible. This means being a good bus buddy by being respectful, polite and clean.
When you think about it, it really shouldn’t be too much to ask. That’s what I thought at least. We were on our way to Hanoi and unfortunately for me, I had found myself sitting next to a rather offensive bus mate.
It started with him continuously calling people on his mobile and shouting down the phone at them. This could be excused if he was not in company and it was not midnight. However, the thing that really took the biscuit was his incessant hacking.
This happened at regular intervals (phone conversation or not) until he pulled out a plastic bag from his pocket and loudly gobbed into it. I stared at him open-mouthed in shock. He continued to do this, with no shame at all. Whilst I think you probably get the idea, we are not talking about a small spit shower either. Big fat globules were visibly running down the plastic bag and I was beginning to feel seriously queasy. Completely oblivious to the discomfort of his fellow passengers, the gentlemen decided to move his spit bag into a more convenient spot for hacking: right next to his head.
He did this by tying the plastic bag to the handle of his carry on luggage which was stowed above him. His spit bag continued to hit a young backpacker in the back of the head for the rest of the journey. I may have felt sick watching him but she definitely had the worst deal.
Getting in a car with a random stranger and discovering a machete under a chair
I piled into the car with my best friend Lewis and the two guys we had met in Beijing, no more than an hour before. We had taken the bus to the Great Wall of China only to find that we were still miles away.
Luckily for us, we had been approached by a friendly stranger who offered to take us there for the fraction of the price that a taxi would have charged. Seeing no other option for reaching the mighty wall, we hopped into his car.
We were all chatting away, excited to be heading to one of the world’s wonders. Lewis broke the silence as he fumbled under his seat for the phone he had just dropped. He turned around to look at me, his face etched into that of surprise and horror. I looked at him confused until he pushed something back under the seat with his foot.
The sun caught the blade immediately and I realised I was looking at a very large machete. This was not good.
The other guys looked at me and time seemed to stop while we all worked out the best course of action. I debated asking the guy to stop but not having the Chinese to come up with an excuse, I figured this would just cause confusion. I also considered jumping out of the moving car or asking the driver to stop and running off but I didn’t think it would be wise to startle him. Instead, I, like everyone else in the car, decided to do nothing.
It was a strained journey as we fell into silence, refusing to take our eyes from the blade underneath the seat. By the time we made it to The Wall, we were ecstatic that we were still alive. It had been a tense journey.
After spending a few hours on The Wall, Lewis and I discussed our plan of action. Our driver had insisted on waiting for us and was adamant we wouldn’t be able to get back without him. ‘I guess he hasn’t killed us yet…’ Lewis tentatively announced.
That was how I found myself back in the same car, only this time, there was no knife to be seen. My mind immediately assumed that the driver had moved this, to make it more accessible for when he planned to hack us into pieces. I was on my nerves edge but the stress of the journey had completely drained me and despite initially fighting sleep, I eventually let it take me.
Despite what I had expected, I had not awoken to a machete in the stomach. What had actually woke me was one of the guys we had lift shared with shaking me. We had made it, spleens intact. As I got out of the car, our driver beamed as us, waving frantically as he drove off.
‘See? Nice guys like that aren’t serial killers,’ laughed one of the guys. Clearly, they hadn’t studied Criminology.
Inhaling rotten feet for fifteen hours during a flight
I always fly economy. Usually, this leads to no problems and my fellow fliers tend to be considerate human beings. However, every now and then you get landed with an annoying airplane passenger.
I was on the way to Asia, sandwiched in the middle of two gentlemen I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting. When one of them pulled out his in-flight entertainment of choice (Dracula by Bram Stoker), I immediately felt drawn to him and was sure that he was someone I could sit and chat to.
How very wrong I was. After placing his book in the seat pocket, he proceeded to bend over, pull off his battered trainers and, if you can believe, peel off his socks, which looked very moist. Immediately the stench hit me in the back of the throat and I coughed uncomfortably.
You have got to be kidding me. Despite my subtle but very obvious (yes, us Brits do passive aggressive like no-one else) coughing, he continued to leave his naked feet firmly on the floor, making no effort to repress the smell. It felt like the longest flight I have ever taken.
Nearly shitting myself on a Peruvian tour bus
Most travellers in South America will know that the food isn’t always friendly to sensitive stomachs. Prior to this trip, I wouldn’t have described my stomach in this way but it is fair to say that South America absolutely annihilated the predictability of my bowel movements.
This story is horrific to retell but dear lord, the actual event was so, so much worse. We were on our way to the archaeological site of Kuélap, commonly known as the Machu Picchu of the North, based close to Chachapoyas in Peru.
We were winding down a huge mountain in a cramped tour bus full of Spanish speaking tourists. As we swung far too quickly around a corner, my stomach lurched but this was not unusual. The driving in Peru leaves a lot to be desired. A few minutes later, the gurgling in my stomach returned and stayed with me for a few minutes.
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, I wondered whether I needed to go to the toilet. Thinking that this wouldn’t be an issue, I continued to mime along to the music I was listening to, in an attempt to distract my thoughts from my discontent bowels. I was sure it would pass.
Another couple of cramps later and it was confirmed. I really need to go to the loo. I poked Tim and asked how much longer the journey would take. ‘Around an hour I think’, he replied. Oh no, my stomach convulsed again upon hearing the bad news.
I need the toilet, I whispered desperately to him. I knew it was no good though. There was no toilet on board and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was probably a fair bet that we were miles away from our nearest toilet.
The cramps got worse as the journey progressed and I soon found myself sweating profusely, all the time wriggling around in my seat to try and keep whatever was rotting my bowel inside me. Despite my best efforts, my body started to contract, attempting to rid me of the waste which was causing me such immense pain.
I managed to stay clenched and with careful breathing I was able to withstand the storm. Until it happened again. And again. By convulsion number three I was shaking, digging my fingers into Tim’s leg. I had two options, ask the driver to stop and have to shit in the street in front of a busload of people or hold tight (literally) and wait for us to reach our destination.
Thinking that there was a small possibility people might not notice if I shit myself on the bus, I continued to focus on my breathing, all the time chanting ‘please don’t let this happen to me’ under my breath. I have never focused my mind so intently.
After I felt the bus drop a gear, I dared myself to sit up. We were stopping outside the restaurant the guide had named earlier. Before he could even announce that we had reached the place, I had jumped out of my seat and was already sprinting through the restaurant.
I just had time to pull down my pants and jeans before the floodgates opened. After what felt like the biggest eruption since Mount Vesuvius, I continued to sit on the toilet, raw, dazed and absolutely exhausted.
What to do when travel gets ugly
If you’ve had a good old laugh at this post then let me say, thanks for the sympathy. It may be funny now but at the time, all of these incidents were bloody awful. Please spare a thought for all of those travellers who are desperately trying to navigate these kinds of tricky situations. They are far more common than Instagram lets you think.
If you are one of these aforementioned travellers and you have found yourself sitting in an airport crying, I hope that this post will show you that you are not alone. Travel can be shitty and it can also make you feel like you want to give up. You won’t realise it at that moment but even these times will pass and you may get to the point where you can look back and actually laugh. I’ll admit, I’m not quite at that point with my Peruvian bus journey yet but I’m sure I’ll get there. In fact, it still brings tears to my eyes…
Have you had any journeys from hell? Share them in the comments!