Some people travel for excitement and exploration. Some travel to learn about other cultures and try new things. But whatever the reason for a trip, one thing is always certain—it’s bound to be full of surprises. From fascinating strangers to unimaginable beauty to terrifying nightmares, the world is full of strange wonders we never would have expected. Here are 50 first-hand stories about some of the most unforgettable travel experiences the people of the internet have ever had.
1. From Bad To Worse
I’m a guy. One year, I was traveling down in Brazil with three girls. We were all in our early 20s. We were at a mansion pool party in Rio De Janeiro with some older expats who were all in their 40s, I think. We had met them through a series of friends of friends. We each had two caipirinhas, the national cocktails of the country. We quickly realized something was horribly wrong. Before we know it, we proceed to completely black out off of the two drinks.
We are quite certain that the expats put some kind of substance in our drinks to knock us out. A very buff girl with rockin’ dreadlocks and biceps from the nearby favela was dancing in the same general area as one of the girls in our group. The local girl was far bigger and stronger than anyone in our group, including myself.
The girls bumped into each other a few times, which escalated to shouting and swearing at each other. It eventually escalated even further into a full-blown fist fight. Expats start freaking out because their plan to take advantage of us all had clearly just gone south. I ran in and pushed the local girl one way and my friend the other.
Next thing I know, some guy is pulling me backward through the crowd by my collar. Given that we were extremely intoxicated and not in control of our senses and faculties at the moment, the next thing I recall is being on the other side of the pool. And the first thing I see there is the local girl staring me down. She stomps over and punches me directly in the face. I thought that was the worst of it—but the night was only beginning.
Immediately after that, I am scooped up under my arms by the two biggest men in suits that I have ever seen. They appeared to be security guards and they literally carried me away like I was a child or something. I was pretty sure I was in for a really bad time, but luckily on my way out, I saw one of the expats who speaks Portuguese.
I tell him to come with, which he does. Turns out our whole group is just getting kicked out of the party for fighting. We all disband, lose the expats, and eventually meet up back at the hostel, at which point one girl is so affected by the substances in the drinks that she can’t even move. In the morning when we compare stories, it turns out that after I was pushed into the crowd, the other two (very small) girls jumped in on the fight too.
One of them got their knee extremely bruised from a kick that she made. We didn’t realize until after the night that the expats most likely had malicious intentions with us. The four of us ended up returning to the same party the following weekend without the expats, because after all, it was pretty epic. We saw the same girl standing in the same place, and just decided to stay as far away from her as possible. We did, and enjoyed the night. That’s the only legit fight that I’ve ever been in in my entire adult life.
So yea, I got my drink spiked by some weirdos at a mansion pool party in Rio, and then all beat up by a girl that had nothing to do with our original problem. And I don’t regret one moment of it!
2. Child’s Play
This is the story of the time I got chased by street kids. Years ago, when I was a teenager, me and my friends went for a community trip to Cebu, Philippines. Nice place, great as a vacation spot if you can ignore the poverty, which is actually quite easy to do if you actively chose to. We were told not to give money or food to street kids who come up and beg.
The rationale behind this is that if you give even just one of them, a whole mob of them will see and will quickly swarm and harass you for more. Once that happens, things can quickly get dangerous. Dinner was at either McDonald’s or some nice diner, I can’t remember. The other people in my group were all girls, and a few of them were on their first such kind of trip to a developing country.
They took a lot of pity for the kids and they were not as thick-skinned as the rest of us. They couldn’t bear to ignore the pleas of the kids any longer. After all, we were there in the first place to help people like them, right? Two of them requested to give their dinner leftovers (they were light eaters) to the first street kids that they would find.
They were duly discouraged from doing so, but they insisted. So the older members told me, “Buddy, you are the only dude in this group. Go with them and make sure nothing bad happens, though something definitely will.” Okaaaay. I also disagreed on letting the girls feed the kids, but I complied and accompanied them just in case I could help the situation in any way.
I told them that once you see the kid you want to give it to, just drop the goods and get out of there as fast as you can. “Yeah sure, whatever you say.” So here comes a trio of street kids in raggedy clothes. One of my friends handed them the food. I grabbed the hand of my other friend and moved out. Job’s done, let’s haul out of there quickly before something happens. The others are waiting.
Two seconds later, I see that my other friend was still with the kids. Uh oh. That was the last thing I wanted to see. She was talking to them, trying to tell them to share. No. No. NO!! Before I knew it, just as you would expect, out of nowhere, about five older-looking kids stormed out towards us, with sly grins on their faces and nothing but spirit in their guts.
I grabbed her and moved. Go, go, GO!! The mob was already chasing us! Three of us spoiled rich teenagers who never got in a fight in our lives ran to our group, chased by a cackling gang of battle-hardened hungry ankle-biters. They were right behind us, grabbing our hands and trying to pull us away. Luckily, our group wasn’t far away.
They were in their vehicles already. “Get in the car!” they yelled. Actually, it was more of a truck with an open back, but that’s beside the point. The three of us managed to enter the vehicle, nearly crushing the fingers of one of the kids when we closed the car door on him. Within the confines of the truck, we saw the scene outside as kids pressed their somehow still adorable faces onto the glass, screaming and making faces at us, slamming their palms on the windows, and nudging the vehicle aggressively. I’ll admit it: I was terrified.
Two of them climbed on the back and onto the roof, rapping on the truck like some sort of Stomp performance. It was like a wild chase scene in some action movie or video game, the part where you’re safe in the room and the zombies slammed their hands on the door. We have always called it “the zombie incident” from that point on, no offense to the kids.
No, it wasn’t like one of those scenes where we drove off immediately and shook off the kids from the roof. The locals were still somehow waiting for something, and in the meantime they were watching this and laughing at us, giving us the “I told you so” look. The situation was eventually under control. Luckily, it was only a few small kids. The only danger they pose right now is shaking our vehicles from the roof.
They continued knocking on the windows, smiling and snarling at us, but we were safe inside the truck. It was late at night in a not-too-crowded area. The locals later told us that if this had happened in a busier street in the daytime, with no means of escape like a truck, it could have been a lot worse. It’s still quite a fond memory for us. It made me feel even more sorry for the kids.
They were only hungry and desperate, yet they still had their childlike mischievous ways with them. Very endearing.
3. Climb Every Mountain
I met a bunch of guys in Hoi An during my trip to Vietnam last summer. After a few beers, they managed to talk me into extending my stay for another day and doing the Hai Van Pass with them on motorcycles. So Dan whips out his map and the route is Hoi An to Da Nang to Hai Van Pass to Hue. All four of us booked from different operators, but somehow our bikes had matching LV embossed seat covers.
We take some photos and don matching tropical fruit print t-shirts to commemorate the whole thing. We then set off at 9:30 in the morning, sharp. Everything was fine until we got onto the freaking mountain. That’s when disaster struck. One of the guys got a flat tire halfway up the darn mountain and we were stuck. We couldn’t go up or down because it was way too dangerous and there were many trucks going up and down that road. We didn’t want to risk anything, including our lives potentially.
So ten minutes pass and we’re baking under the hot sun, wondering what we should do. He called the operator but the operator literally said something like, “There’s nothing we can do, sorry.” At this point, we’re like okay. We know we’re pretty much screwed. But the deposit for the bike was pretty hefty and we couldn’t just leave the bike there, right?
To be honest, though, we did seriously consider that after baking for an hour in the hot sun. We didn’t do it only because a guy on a motorcycle pulled up in front of us. Initially, we thought it was one of the operator’s friends, that they had pulled through and managed to send someone down to help us after all. But then again, we had never told the operator where we were, so that option seemed highly unlikely.
Anyway, so this Vietnamese dude comes around, and he doesn’t speak a single word of English beyond telling us how much the repair would cost. He suggested replacing the tire but it was like the same price as renting the bike for the trip, so we politely said no. And he eventually settled on taping the puncture in the tire for us. My poor friend had to inflate the tire by himself. I have a great photo of that.
So that’s done and we continue up the mountain. The Vietnamese repairman decides to “escort” us up. To this day, I’ll never know why, but thank God that he did, because about five minutes later, my poor friend’s tire was FLAT AGAIN. At this point, I was close to losing it. Turns out there was a nail in the tire and patching it with tape wouldn’t fix it. Duh!
So the Vietnamese dude tapes it back up and gets us to go down the hill to try and find a mechanic. So we do that. When we’re back in Da Nang, he waltzes into the first house he sees, talks to the guy in rapid Vietnamese, and then bam, problem solved. I was pretty happy because they let me refill my water bottle there while we were waiting, free of charge.
And we thought my friend deserved it because he did get an operator that was cheaper. With the bill for the repairs, he ended up paying the same rate that the rest of us did. After several hours baking in the sun and one new tire later, the four of us continue on our journey back up Hai Van Pass. It’s already midday at this point, but the show must go on and we’re pretty hungry.
The Vietnamese dude follows us up the mountain. I guess it was on the way for him. Still, I was getting really nervous. When we finally reach the top, he motions for us to follow him to this little place for lunch. We had an excellent unobstructed view of Vietnam’s coastal scenery, and a nice cheap lunch meal to go with it. At some point, I think we were scared that the whole thing was a scam that would eventually culminate during lunch, but we were too tired at that point to give a darn. Besides, it was Vietnam.
Happily, I can now report that everything went well. So, in summary, even though it went all sorts of ways, the Hai Van Pass was the most memorable of all the solo trips I’ve ever made in Southeast Asia over the past two years. Even more memorable was how I was so proud of myself for not getting into an accident the whole day, only to hurt my toe and lose a toenail just before arriving at the hostel. I walked around with a bloody toe for the rest of that trip.
4. No Laughing Matter
During my travels, I really love it when unexpected things happen out and about in public that make strangers laugh and exchange glances like “Did you see that?” I like this even more so when it happens while I’m somewhere that doesn’t speak my native language. It makes you feel like you’re “participating” rather than just observing.
Two recent examples: For the first one, I was in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I’m walking down Nevsky and see a German Shepherd dog very confidently trotting up the sidewalk with a handbag in its mouth, no owner in sight. The poor animal was looking like he was running his Saturday errands and doing the shopping. Laughs were had, and I can now confirm that Russians do indeed laugh.
The second story happened in Bratislava. My friend and I were waiting in line for ice cream. All of a sudden, my friend who speaks the language overhears an offer to a kid for a free scoop of ice cream if he’ll take it without a cone. The line busted out laughing watching this mischievous ten-year-old scurry out the store triumphantly with a fistful of ice cream. Kids are kids everywhere!
5. The Grand Tour
I went to Kobe, Japan with a friend to see a concert. We were exchange students in Kyoto so it wasn’t that far, but we only had a day to see the city. We got to the middle of town and had no idea how to get around. We had a map but were stuck on how to get up the giant hill in front of us and we didn’t know how to get anywhere on foot.
Just then, as we panicked about what to do, a man came up to us. We both spoke Japanese, so we told him that we were lost. He told us to follow him to his house. He had a car and told us to get in. My friend and I looked at each other like “What the heck,” but Japan is pretty safe and we had no other way to get around. So we got in his car and he took us to his house. I’ll never forget what followed.
His wife made us some tea and gave us snacks. They talked about how their son was living in the United States and they were so sweet. Then, I guess the man changed his clothes or something in the other room, and took us back out to his car. We drove up the big hill and told him to just drop us off near a museum we wanted to see. But he insisted on waiting for us.
He walked with us around the neighborhood after we went to the museum and he took us to an ice cream place that a friend of his owned. We got free ice cream and then his friend told us to come upstairs and look at his jewelry collection. Turns out that he made and sold pearl jewelry that was gorgeous. It was fun to learn about that kind of work.
Then, the man drove us to Chinatown and we said our goodbyes. We ate in Chinatown and went to our concert. But over time we came to feel that the best part of the day was being toured around by a local. Had we said no, out of normal and reasonable levels of travel caution, we would have missed out on a cool and unique way to see the city! I’d probably only ever do that again in Japan, though. Anywhere else, this might be extremely dangerous!
6. Peace In Our Time
This is my story of finding Zen in Yellow Mountain in China. Zen. A Chinese concept. This word translates loosely as “meditative state.” Inner peace. Tranquility. Enlightenment. My life has been in a bit of turmoil. Quitting one job, finding another. Leaving one apartment, crashing at another. I was stressing, and not seeing the big picture.
I had lost sight of the fact that I am here in China to enjoy myself. Not to worry about the small details of life that always, always pan out in the end anyway. So to clear my head, I thought what better to do than spend a few days solo hiking in the scenic Chinese Yellow Mountains. Surely I could find some Zen there, right?
Alas, the travel part to literally anywhere in China is never very Zen-full. Thirteen hours on a sleeper train, in which my Chinese fellow travelers filled the endless hours by taking photos and observing me in awe, pointing and laughing the way you might watch monkeys at the zoo. Always fun. It didn’t get any better from there. I spend a night in a cheap “hotel,” which was clearly really a house of ill repute.
They were truly honored to have an actual hotel guest among the usual male callers. It apparently wasn’t a frequent occurrence for them! The next morning, I was on a bus en route to Huang Shan, the site of the famous Yellow Mountains! I arrive, and first things first: I buy some fruit and water. I then buy a tourist map and a poncho.
Now, I’m all set. Nothing can go wrong! One night, two days on the mountain was my plan. I can either hike up the mountain or take a cable car. I’m on a budget, and on an adventure, so the obvious choice is a hike up. But just for curiosity’s sake, I take a look at the map and use the length of my pinky nail as an approximation to calculate the number of kilometers it is to hike up the entire mountain. Two, I gather. Herein lies my first mistake.
Tourist maps lie. And my pinky nail is, apparently, not a good unit of measurement. Seven and a half grueling kilometers up a staircase later, I reach the top of the mountain. At this point, I am sweaty, out of breath, and very much not feeling Zen-full. The next few hours I devote to trying to find a sneaky place where I can sleep in the forest without being seen, as I had decided to save money and rough it.
Well, I’ve been telling people that that was my plan. In reality, it was more so that I was very disorganized and did not book any accommodation on the top of the most popular tourist attraction during peak season. I’m such an IDIOT! But of course, we’re still in China, and where there is something nice to look at, there is also a mob of people to look at it.
I quickly realize that there is no plausible way that I can rough it in the woods without being stepped on by one of the thousands of people up there, so I end up settling for a dorm bed in a room of thirty other Chinese tour group goers…who, as it turns out, all wake up at 2:30 in the morning so as to not to miss the sunrise. Again, no Zen for Little Old Me.
One day in and I was pulling my hair out. I’m trying to hike around the masses of Chinese sightseers, so my goal for the next day was to pick out the most obscure-looking part of the mountain on the map, get there, and hike the way down in peace. I would be back to my house of ill repute by sundown at the latest. This obscure path led me to a part of the mountain that I will never forget.
It was truly the most spiritual, alive, earthly, and enlightened place that I have ever been in. I was alone. The wind was gusting. I was hiking along a cliff that dropped into pure nature. Beautiful. I soaked it all up. A momentary sliver of inner peace. But, as all good things eventually do, this inner peace came to an end as my knee began to give out on the downhill hike.
Excellent. The approximate (gauged by my reliable fingernail measurement system) five kilometers needed to hike down was to be done one excruciating step at a time. Both feet, one step. Snail pace. Alas, I reach the bottom of the canyon, where, according to my map, I should be able to get a bus back to town. No. Such. Luck.
There is a little law enforcement hut at the bottom, and an officer informed me (via a crinkled old piece of paper with typed English) that if I want to continue down, it was ANOTHER 13 kilometers, and then a $400 taxi ride. My other option: cut across five kilometers and then descend directly into town. My second mistake: I look at my trusty map and decide I’m far too frugal to pay 400 for a taxi.
Into the unknown I went! The officer waves me on my merry way as I hobble over to the beginning of the five-kilometer trail that cuts across. Looking back on it, he did have quite a cheeky grin on his face. What I didn’t know at the time was that it wasn’t so much of a five-kilometer trail, but more a five-kilometer staircase. A staircase so steep, in fact, that I used my hands to hoist myself up for the majority of the way.
My third mistake: Thinking that five kilometers is really not that far, I didn’t bother to top up my half-filled water bottle at the bottom of the canyon. Now, maybe two or three kilometers in, or maybe even four, I still have hours to go up this stupid staircase and my water is gone. I’m soaked through with sweat, I’m still hobbling at a snail’s pace due to my knee. I’m starting to worry that I’ve made a grave mistake.
Here comes the inner dialogue: Should I continue on this seemingly abandoned trail, or should I cut my losses and return to the canyon where I know I will have water? Oh, but I’ve already climbed all these stupid stairs! What a waste if I turn back now. According to my (already proven to be untrustworthy) map, it’s only uphill for a little while and then it should level out.
Is it strange that, on this mountain seething with tourists, I haven’t seen a single soul in three hours? I wish I had a burrito right now. I bet I could make a lot of money if I started a burrito chain in China. FOCUS, Emma, FOCUS! After going back and forth like this for a while, I finally come to a decision. I stupidly decide to continue on.
But knowing full well that I could be making the wrong decision, I gear myself up for the battle of a lifetime. Shirt tied around my busted knee, cloth wrapped around my head, empty water bottle at the ready for me to urinate in just in case things get drastic. I kid you not, I really thought about that. This was the seriousness of my situation.
My hands were starting to bleed at this point from using them to help push me up the steep, gritty stairs, so I wrapped those up too. I was looking and feeling pretty Bear Grylls at that point, which gave me a pep in my step for all of another hour until I gave up on life and decided to just lie down and prepare for a slow demise.
Moments into my “casualty by self-pity,” along came my angel rescuers: a lovely French couple who had literally been following the exact same tourist map that had misled me. They, too, were out of water and not enjoying the climb, but seeing the state of me (remember: red in the face, wrapped head, hands, and knee; truly a beaut), they set into action, sorting me out.
The lovely lady took my backpack for me and hung behind as her French guy husband encouraged me along by telling me stories of their life in Shanghai. Such a welcome distraction. I was protected now, sandwiched between two fellow trekkers. There was an obvious feeling of fear among us, that we may have climbed our way into a dry inescapable trap. Not one of us dared to say anything about it.
It was just kind of like an unspoken awareness that we chose not to acknowledge out loud. Instead, we just kept each other’s spirits up. They helped me hobble stair by stair. We took some photos and had some laughs. I did tell them at one point that I didn’t want to slow them down, but the lady said it would be far too dangerous to leave me out there alone. BLESS HER SOUL!
Several exhausting hours later, we reached a summit and I looked across the canyon only to realize that we hadn’t cut across anything. We had hiked directly up to the same elevation at which we had started our descent, only on the opposite side of the mountain range now. Breathtaking view, but what a letdown! No Zen.
In total, it took eight hours to climb this horrendous abandoned trail. And half of that I did by myself. Silently terrified at the time, I think about it now and I realize that those few hours are probably the ONLY few hours that I will ever have of complete, silent alone time in China. Everywhere else, it’s just not possible. So for that, I appreciate the trek.
And the first delicious taste of sweet, sweet H2O! Water has never tasted so good! And the challenge of pushing through thousands of obnoxious Chinese tourists had never been so welcomed! After such a taxing ordeal, I found myself exhausted, limping in pain, suffering from an insatiable thirst, surrounded by annoying fellow humans.
But in that moment, I also found myself in Zen. I had completed a challenge. I had truly been scared for my well-being. And I had made it out to the other side. Life was good. From there, I copped out and took the cable car down. It was a completely anti-climactic ending to an otherwise thrilling adventure, but screw it! So what? I had endured so much already.
So my Huang Shan lesson: Inner peace is just that: inner peace. I didn’t find any tranquility during my isolation in nature. Instead, I found it at the top of the mountain, amidst the chaos of feeling physically shattered and being surrounded by thousands of obnoxious tourists. It didn’t come from anything I did or any place I went to, but from what I chose to think about on the inside. Love the irony of life!
7. When One Door Closes, Another One Opens
This is the story of my biggest facepalm moment. I was staying at an Airbnb in Vernazza and decided to go for a swim. The beach area was crowded and there was no way I was going to keep a line of sight with my stuff. So I decided to only bring the key to my Airbnb and my towel, leaving my phone and wallet behind at the house where I was staying.
I go for a very relaxing swim and head back to my Airbnb. I put the key in the door and…it doesn’t work. I am trying everything I can think of to get it to work. Clockwise. Counterclockwise. Jiggling the lock. Putting pressure on the door in case the latch is stuck. It just won’t budge no matter what I try and do. So here I am in sandals and a bathing suit, no phone to contact the host with, no wallet, and I can only speak a bare minimum of Italian.
I decided to go into the shop next door to see if they might know the Airbnb host or the owner of the building. The shop owner spoke no English, but we were able to get to an understanding that my key wasn’t working. I brought her to the door and she tried the lock. No success. Then, her eyes lit up and she brought me around to the other side of the building where there was another door. We try the key and it works. I felt like a huge idiot. But at least I got inside and none of my stuff was missing!
8. Getting Your Daily Excorsize
I spent a year abroad in Brazil. I didn’t expect to endure an exorcism, but here we are. During that period, I worked on Sundays, but still wanted to be able to attend church. So on a weeknight, I walk into a building that said “Jesus Cristo e’ o Senhor” and had a giant dove, figuring it was a normal Christian church. 30 minutes later, after having gone through two exorcisms because I didn’t speak Portuguese and was too polite to shove the pastors during a church service, I stepped around the person trying to block the door and ran down some dicey Brazilian road alone at night.
9. Dressing For Success
I am traveling in Italy currently. Yesterday, I was sitting in a little snack bar by myself enjoying a glass of a nice grown-up drink. In comes a dignified, little old gentleman who sits at a table and does the same. We exchange smiles and I say hi, but he speaks no English. He’s wearing a black t-shirt, and has a dapper mustache and a little hat. He is very charming and polite.
He reads the paper diligently and treats the waitress with quiet, gentle humor. After 10 minutes, he gets up and slowly leaves. Then, unexpectedly, as he’s walking away I see the back of his t-shirt. My jaw dropped. Staring at me is a giant, garish cartoon of a woman’s legs and behind in very risque fishnet stockings and red lingerie. Above this image sat the English words “Once a leg man, always a leg man.”
The waitress and I immediately exchanged confused looks with one another, and could barely hold in our laughter.
10. Thou Shalt Not Pass
I lost my passport in Montreal. I had driven up from the States to the city and parked in front of my Airbnb. I then got out, greeted my hosts, and went back to the car to move it to a better spot. Little did I know, my passport fell out from the seat and landed somewhere in the snowy street. I realized it an hour later when I went to a restaurant and wanted to buy a glass of something to drink.
I looked through my bag to find my passport in case they asked for it, and it was nowhere to be found. After dinner, I tried looking for it in the snow back at the Airbnb, in my car, in my suitcases, in my purse again, you name it. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. I decided to stay positive and just enjoy my weekend. Nothing came up for the next few days, and my departure on Monday was slowly approaching.
The embassy wasn’t open until Monday, but I figured I’d just leave later in the afternoon. Then, on Sunday night, I decided to check my Facebook. I try to keep off of the site during my travels as a personal preference, and this time was no exception, but something that night gave me the urge to log on. There, in a bright red dot of glorious luck, I had a notification for a new message. My heart soared.
It was from a native Montrealer who just happened to be walking down the street and noticed a passport lying there. It must have happened less than an hour after I lost it. He turned it into a hotel across the street, thinking I was likely staying there. I thanked the guy profusely, and asked if he wanted anything in exchange for being a good samaritan.
He said that making my day was all he needed in return. When I went to pick up the passport from the hotel, the concierge gave me a faux rough time about getting it back, clearly joking and smiling. He said, “Hmm, you don’t look exactly like her. Are you sure? Spell her name again!” or something like that. It was actually kinda funny. All in all, I had a great time in the city even with the mounting anxiety of not having an international identity for the majority of those days.
11. Going Above And Beyond
When I was in Hakone, Japan taking a bus to the open air sculpture museum, an old man motioned for me to set my bag down in a space apparently for items like that. He didn’t speak great English but asked me where my bus stop was and if I needed help. I showed him my map on my phone, indicating that it would tell me when to get off.
Since I showed him the map, I didn’t think he still planned on helping me. But when it came to the stop, he got off with me (even though his stop was the one before mine) and walked a hilly half mile to the museum. He then bought a one-dollar locker for my bag and motioned for me to sit down, which I did. Next thing I know, he is buying me a ticket for the museum, which was around $16 US. I couldn’t believe it!
Needless to say, I didn’t expect that and thanked him profusely as he walked away, leaving me to my museum visit. I won’t go into the next story, but the very next day near Kamakura I asked a man to take my picture and, to make a long story short, he invited me back to a cafe he owned and gave me a free meal. He then spent some time showing me videos and pictures of birds that visited his attic.
He was also obsessed with a hummingbird that he had witnessed on a trip to the United States. I haven’t traveled much, but it’s hard to imagine people anywhere else being as nice as in Japan.
12. The Bare Bones Experience
My boyfriend and I went to Myanmar in 2013. Its gates had just opened to tourists in 2011, and so it was still a pretty raw place for tourists to see. We were in Inle Lake and wanted to head to Bagan. We got our bus tickets for early the next morning. We had dinner, then went to bed. I woke up with a funny feeling in my stomach.
I suddenly threw up. But I didn’t really know what to think of it because I’d never had food poisoning before. I went upstairs the next morning for breakfast and ran downstairs after smelling food. I threw up again while my boyfriend was in the shower. We then got on the bus. It was then that we heard this trip was going to be TEN HOURS!!
The first half of the road was twirly and the second half was straight. My boyfriend is 6’7, so not only did he not fit in the seats to begin with, but the middle seat folded down and, as a result, he had a three-year-old baby asleep on half of his seat. Meanwhile, I had a towel over my head and a plastic bag at my mouth, just in case!
We did okay overall. I didn’t vomit on the bus and my boyfriend’s knees were a little cut up from the seat being so small, but other than that we didn’t really have any serious issues after the trip. At the time, I don’t know how I did it but I made it through. I’m glad that nothing bad happened because there was no way to quickly get off of that bus, even if there had been an emergency situation.
13. Word On The Street
Many years ago, a friend and I were hitchhiking through the Balkans. We got stuck at the border of Kosovo and Albania during the middle of the night. It took us longer than we expected to reach it, so it was dark by the time we got there and a lot harder to secure a lift. We walked up the highway hoping for a lift or some place to rest. We hadn’t slept in almost 24 hours.
We found a highway restaurant with a government car parked out front. We went in and asked the staff about accommodations. They said that they couldn’t help us, but that the officer who the government car belonged to was inside and that he would give us an escort into town after he had finished watching the local football match.
We waited for a bit, then got into the back of that car. It was the most uncomfortable ride that I have ever had in my life. There was no radio and not a single word was spoken by anyone the entire way. They eventually dropped us off in town and we looked around for accommodation, but it was a small place and late on a Friday night so there wasn’t a place we could find.
We decided to rough it in a small park area nestled between two apartment blocks. There were stray dogs running around and barking most of the night, and a guy who came out every hour or so to smoke on his balcony. It was so dark that you could only see the end of his cigarette, and no other part of him was clearly visible. I probably slept for a total of 10 minutes over the course of that entire night.
It was the first and last time that I’ll ever sleep on the street. I’m too old for that kind of adventure now!
14. The Wheels On The Bus
Back when I was 17 years old and on exchange, my friends and I decided to take a circuit trip to see more of China. We lived in the north (Harbin), so the first step was to take a train down to Beijing and meet up with some other exchange kids. Since we were underage and there were strict rules about travel, we told our host families that we were visiting our friends in a town just a few hours even farther north called Jiamusi.
So the three of us got dropped off at the train station 15 minutes before the train to Jiamusi, planning to wait there for a few hours before the Beijing train boards. Long story short, we get a little too confident about time and end up running to our gate just 10 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave. Because it’s China, where “timeliness” can go a bit too far, the train is already gone.
The gate manager just laughs at us. Then, a young looking guy comes over and asks to look at our tickets. We hand them over, and he takes off running. We give chase, to the laughs of the gate manager and others in the area, but this dude is too fast and we lose him. So there we were sitting in the train station, completely stranded.
We can’t go home, because it’s not like we can say, “Oh, we missed the train to Jiamusi hours ago and just came back now.” We couldn’t afford new tickets, so we stalked the station for the guy from before. Finally, in true teenage fashion, we sat ourselves down and moped. Suddenly, this very shady older woman leans over and whispers in my ear, “You wanna go to Beijing? I can get you there for half the price of that train.”
Fool us once, right? So we politely tell her that we’re not sure we’re interested. Then things got scary. She gets assertive, grabs me by the arm, and starts pulling me up, saying that she’ll take us to Beijing. My friend wrestles me back, and is now way beyond suspicious. He asks her to come with him as he goes from stranger to stranger, telling our situation and asking if this woman sounded trustworthy. Some said yes, some said no.
Well, that was good enough for us. We follow her out of the station to an alley behind it. We stop outside a convenience store, where three big guys ask to take our bags. We’re now very uncomfortable, and try to resist. But they snatch the bags from us and take them to the back. We’re trying to ask the lady what’s going on, but she just keeps telling us they work for her and that everything will be fine.
We sit here for 45 minutes, and then she gives us each a lollipop to buy some time. At that point, we were really up the creek without a paddle, so what are you gonna do? We sat down and sucked on our candy in very dejected silence. 45 minutes pass, as more people are milling around. They were a shady lot by the look of most of them, and most didn’t speak Mandarin (or English).
My friend starts crying. She cried easily, but it was stressful. So the lady keeps shoving convenience store snacks on us and not leaving until we eat them. We started joking about how nice it was that our captors gave us candy. Then, out of pretty much nowhere, I don’t know how it even fit in the alley, but a bus appeared and drove right up to where we were waiting.
There’s no seats inside, but beds stacked in threes. One of the men opened the bottom hatch, and there were our bags. We were told to take our shoes off, and were given slippers and a blanket. Turns out it was a commuter bus. It was actually a lot like what I imagine the Knight Bus in Harry Potter was like. Over the course of that trip, we end up having a ball with the other passengers, one of whom was a very intoxicated worker from the far-off Uyghur province who sang folk songs the whole way.
We rolled up into Beijing with an awesome new story. So yea, we got completely scammed out of train tickets, then an old lady dragged us out of the station and big scary men took all of our stuff. But it all turned out to be completely okay, so what was the harm? I’m not sure if I’m willing to say I’d do it all again, but I can definitely say that it was one crazy travel story!
15. Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
I was hiking in the rainforest on the Brazilian and Argentinian border near Iguazu Falls with one of my best friends. It was a stunning landscape and we were having a great time, until I heard a sudden shriek come from behind me. My friend had wanted to take a picture of something slightly off the path, and walked directly into a spiderweb. This wasn’t just any spiderweb. It was about six feet tall and spanned between two large trees across a four foot distance.
Her entire body was coated in web. We all laughed at her and cleaned her off. And luckily, we never saw the spider that it must have belonged to…
16. Use Your Noodle
I was on a train in Paris about this time last year. Me and my friend were on our way to meet some people down at the Moulin Rouge. I was eating a cup of noodles with a fork that I’d liberated from the hostel when, all of a sudden, this lovely gent stands up to leave the train. He sort of half bows with his head down and hands together, then ever so gently takes my noodles from me. He says “merci” a couple of times and departs the train.
I wasn’t even mad, it was beautiful. I respect people who have mastered their craft, even if the craft in this case was scamming me out of my lunch. The way he took them was just so great and amusing. It actually turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. I don’t know why, but it just felt awesome to watch, even though it was at my expense.
17. Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire
I saw some crazy stuff, but nothing can beat the story of this one guy that I was traveling with for a while. He met a 32-year-old Australian woman on the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Ended up drinking a lot with her and her buddy to celebrate her birthday. At one point, they went into the “hallway” of the train and started getting intimate. They were standing up, with him behind her and her head sticking out of the window.
Apparently, that was all her idea. At one point, a monk came into the carriage and caught them in the act. Instead of saying anything, he just walked over to them and started smoking out the window. The girl asked him to give them some privacy, and apparently he did. Afterward, before leaving the train, the monk blessed a pack of smokes and gave it to them.
I know it’s true, as I bumped into the girl randomly a few weeks later and she was telling the same exact story. Plus, she’s an absolute nut case in general. She does all kinds of extreme substances according to a friend of hers that we met the night we first met her. We spent a few days with that friend later on, too. Also, that woman and my friend were perfect for each other, because he is a nut case in his own right.
Personally, I also saw a dog smoking in Bangkok. But that’s a story for another time.
18. You’ve Got It In The Bag
One time, I was on a chicken bus in the jungle of Brazil. I was traveling with two Aussies who I had met in the last hostel I had stayed at in the last country that I had been in, and decided to go their way. They were both real ‘smash a bottle of red’ type Aussies, as in very heavy partiers, recreational substance users, drinkers, etc.
So the road curves and the bus makes an abrupt stop. We’re in the middle of frickin’ nowhere, by the side of a mountain. I haven’t seen another vehicle in at least an hour. There is heavy vegetation surrounding us on all sides. The engine is still running, so I know that we haven’t broken down. I hear Portuguese being spoken, not loudly, but sternly to the bus driver.
I then turn to see a kid, maybe 19 or 20 years old, dressed in full fatigues and holding an automatic rifle. My blood ran cold. I know he’s not a guerrilla or something, because the camo he is wearing and the arms he is brandishing are too modern. The driver gets up and instructs everyone to get off the bus and take everything with them.
We are lined up at gunpoint. A few of the toy soldiers are pulling out everyone’s luggage from under the bus and lining it up on the road. We are ordered to stand in front of our things, but not to touch anything. My hands are sweating. I barely speak Portuguese and I have no idea how wild I am looking at the moment. I’m tanned with a beard at this point, so I just keep telling myself to relax and that I have done absolutely no wrong.
A dog and handler come out of the back of the blockade we hit. One by one, they move down the line. Two soldiers point their arms at the person in the line, while the dog sniffs your bag. Methodically, they do this to everyone, person by person, pack by pack. Then, they get to me. The dog immediately lunges at my pack, burying his nose into it. This is when full-on panic set in.
The eyes widen on the two kids holding the weapons and one takes a step towards me. At this point, his barrel is just a foot or two away from my face, but it honestly was feeling like an inch. I’m sweating. I’m desperately trying to keep my composure. Thoughts of the Aussies’ intoxicated rants about trying to find substances are racing through my mind. “What if they hid it in my pack, what am I going to do? WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO!?!?!”
The dog barks and the closer soldier pushes me hard into the side of our bus. He presses into me the wall, while the other soldier nervously looks back and forth between my eyes and the dog’s handler, who is going into my pack to examine the contents. No one is making a sound. I can’t breathe. I’m not saying a word. I’m a freaking yankee statue as my brain overflows with fear.
The handler finds what the dog was alerting to. I see him smile and clearly remember thinking to myself, “This is it. For real. Game over.” He looks up at me with that stupid smile and pulls out a half eaten Chivito (an Uruguayan sandwich, almost the best sandwich in the world). I totally forgot about putting it in my pack. The soldiers all erupt into laughter.
The one pinning me against the bus laughs with a really high pitch and slaps me on the back. I pooped a little. I had a lot to eat that day, so I blame it on that.
19. Facing The Music
I was in Athens, Greece last year and it was our last day there with nothing else left to see. We were being told to stay out of dark alleyways because of dangerous substance users and what not. At the time, there were a lot of protests going on, so sometimes you could hear them off in the distance. So we were walking along and heard all this music, singing, and yelling coming through this alley.
So we ended up following it all the way through and came out between this old apartment building and the metro. All the music was coming from the building, and a window was open. So we decided to throw some rocks through the window to ask to come up. Thinking back on it, that was probably a terrible idea.
A guy looked out the window with a handlebar mustache and said something in Greek. We yelled up, “Can we come up? It sounds fun in there!” Then, he gave us a smile and said, “Ohhh, Americans! Yes, yes. Come up, my friends.” When we got in there, all the rooms of this apartment building were converted into recording studios, with all different bands playing.
We ended up hanging out there for about two hours. We didn’t understand them too well and they also didn’t understand us, but we all knew the music so it worked out well.
20. A Bicycle Built For Two
After I graduated college, my cousin and I went on a month-long backpacking trip around Europe. We started in Ibiza and went through a bunch of different cities, including Barcelona and Amsterdam. You know, the typical college destinations. This story is about our time in Amsterdam. When we got to Amsterdam 15 days after our journey began, it was happiness beyond mere mortals words.
The poverty of language could not express the joy that me and my cousin were having when we stepped off that train onto Dutch soil. Why? At the time, we were both established pot smokers, and we hadn’t had a real taste of it since we left the States. This was beyond high-fiving or chest bumps. We literally spent about 10 minutes outside our hotel crying, praising the weed gods.
We dropped our luggage off at our room and wasted no time in getting over to the nearest coffee shop. You should have seen the looks we were getting from local Dutch citizens, watching in horror as these two Asian kids were rolling up doobies the size of elephant tusks (without even mixing in tobacco). On top of that, we were ordering Heinekens non-stop.
For us, this was heaven. To add to the bliss, a cute girl and her friend started a conversation with us. We talked about typical tourist things. You know, like: Where are ya from? What are you studying? Are you guys a homosexual couple? I’d say those were the three most common questions. Trust me, me and my cousin got plenty of practice in the previous two weeks talking to complete strangers, so at this point we knew exactly what to expect.
We didn’t, however, ever mention that we were cousins. This becomes very important later on. The two girls were digging us, and team Stoned Asians was feeling their vibe as well. It is at this particular junction of the story that I have to mention the lighting in this coffee shop. Red lights. All red lights. Even through the thick, blue smoke, the red light touched everything.
And let me tell you, red light makes even the most unfortunate of ladies look like Jennifer Lawrence. So does Heinekin. Did I mention that we’d had a few of those? And one other thing: We had rented bicycles earlier that afternoon to save money on taxis and whatnot. They were parked outside the shop. The four of us decided to go to a club and party the rest of the night away together, and that was perfect because one of the girls knew of a special party that was going on in town.
We stepped out of the coffee shop, out of the red light, and the prettiness goggles were taken off. I kid you not, both girls instantly gained a collective 100 pounds. Maybe even more. One of them even had a light mustache. Now now, you’re saying, it’s not the outside that counts. I know, I know. But at that particular moment, my cousin and I felt betrayed by the gods, and we weren’t going to let our first night in Amsterdam go down like this.
Huddle up, strategy time. How were we going to lose them? Being as wasted and out of our senses as we were, I’m pretty sure we didn’t even make sure to keep a whisper as we exclaimed to each other how we had just gotten tricked by some European troll women. Our plan was to lull them into submission and make them leave us.
First order of business: We told them that we would get around the city using only bicycles. No problem, we’ll just double up on each bike. Bad idea. Our legs were no match for these heavies. Within a block or two, we were exhausted. Okay, next phase. “Hey, do you know where the Red Light District is?” I asked. Maybe they’ll get offended by us asking that and walk away disgusted.
That plan failed miserably too. “Sure! Follow us!” is all we got. We walked by the showcases in the most awkward fashion, mind you toting bicycles through all of this. My cousin saw a morbidly obese woman of the night in one window and felt it would be appropriate to point and laugh at her. She gave him the biggest middle finger that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
By now, me and my cousin had had enough. These girls would not leave us alone. What would convince them to ditch us? Right then, my cousin sprung on us the most effective, yet unexpected solution that he could possibly think of. “We’re gay.” Both girls were taken aback. “Excuse me?” My cousin continued: “We’re homosexual. You know, with each other… together.”
“Ummm, but didn’t you say you guys weren’t when specifically asked?” one of the girls retorted. “Yea, but we were just afraid of telling the truth since we’re so used to hiding our relationship in the States,” he continued, which was somewhat true of the American social climate back then. Finally, I thought. We’re free. But not quite yet…
“Then prove it,” the girls said. My heart sank. I’ve seen this happen in a movie once. Two guys made out to prove they were “gay” when they really weren’t. And to make matters worse, this was my cousin who I’ve known since forever. Sure, we used to compare who could pee farther and who had the more manly pubes, but kiss? Too far. Yet, we felt we had no choice but to do it. We were trapped, and there was only one option.
The two of us, intoxicated and out of it, engaged in the most awkward embrace in history, right in the middle of a street full of houses of ill repute. A few strangers whistled and cheered lightly. We looked at each other for a couple of seconds, which felt like an eternity. But just as we were going to lock lips, we woke up to our senses. We were Americans, darn it! We don’t have to kiss a damn thing!
With all of our ‘Murican blood, we stormed out of that place with a furious and desperate charge. We found our bikes and pedaled like Armstrongs while the two trolls yelled slurs at us into the night air. Somehow, we were laughing non-stop through all of this. We spent the rest of the night pedaling around the canals of Amsterdam, enjoying several more rounds of our favorite plant until the sun came up in the morning. What a night.
We got to our hotel to hit the sack, when we suddenly realized something. There was only one bed in our room. Without even mentioning another word, we rock-paper-scissored our claim to the mattress. To this day, me and my cousin have never mentioned our elegant embrace that night, but we still remain as close as two brothers could be.
21. A Girl In Every Port
I had some crazy travel adventures during my recent summer in Europe, so I am going to highlight just a few of them. Here’s the first story. I’m 18 years old and had just arrived at Paris De Gaulle airport to travel through Europe alone. I am having an “oh no, what have I gotten myself into??” moment as I kneel down to tie my shoe. A pretty French girl comes up and tells me not to place my bags on the ground or they will be swiped.
When I respond, she asks if I am American. I tell her yes and thank her again. She asks if I have a place to stay in Paris. I tell her no, and she offers to take me to a hostel. The next hour is a blur as she drives around Paris giving me a mini tour, as I fade in and out of consciousness in the front seat due to jet lag. She ends up telling me that I can stay at her place for the night.
I get there and, while I’m showering, I hear a sound that I’m not prepared for. She has entered the bathroom. I’m thinking maybe it’s a cultural norm, when I hear a voice say, “You’re cute.” I turn around, surprised to see her peeking in on me. I was supposed to head down to Toulouse the next day to see an ex-girlfriend. But I ended up staying in Paris for three days with this girl. She was a 28-year-old reporter.
I finally made it to Toulouse a few days later. My ex-girlfriend is a total psycho. She also has a boyfriend, but makes a move on me when he leaves. I tell her no way. We end up going to a wedding in the south of France. While there, I end up making conversation with several of the guests and two girls in particular. After ignoring me during the wedding and speaking nothing but French in the car on the two hour ride down there, she is now jealous and tells me she wants to go.
One of the girls says she will take me to the hotel. I ended up going back to the hotel with the two other girls and sleeping in between them. In the middle of the night, I feel someone rubbing my leg. One of the girls makes a move on me while the girl on my right is asleep. At this point, Europe is seeming like the greatest place in the world.
A few weeks later, I was backpacking alone in Italy and decided I needed a vacation from my vacation. I decided to catch a ferry from Brindisi to Corfu. When I arrive, there are two ships leaving for Corfu. One was full of backpackers and the other was full of Turkish migrant workers going home for a festival. The locals called them “Hill People.”
The backpacker ship was sold out and myself, two girls, and a guy I met there all got deck fare on the migrant worker ship. While buying tickets, they sold out on a second ship as well. A mini riot erupted. We spent the next day and night on the deck and it was a cultural experience. I don’t think I ever could have had an experience like that by just sticking to the normal, touristy attractions.
Not long after, I was in Frankfurt, Germany. I had just arrived and found the nearest hostel that did not have a substance-using homeless guy who had pooped himself out in front of it. There was an Australian girl in front of me checking in. They were nearly sold out and wanted almost $100. I told the girl that I would split a room with her at a hotel for that amount, and she agreed. It seemed like my luck was still good—then all of a sudden, my night took a horrible turn.
We call a cab and a large black Mercedes picks us up. We jump in and, as I sit and reach to my left for the seat belt, the driver flips a u-turn. As he does, I catch a flash of motion and it registers that the motion is a car and it is going to hit us. I drop the seat belt and brace myself. The girl never saw it, and we got t-boned. I am okay, but the car hit on the girl’s side and her head hit the door pillar. She is not bleeding, but is out cold.
A crowd forms and I am yelling at people to call an ambulance. After the hospital trip, I spend the next three days taking care of her at a hotel while she recovers. We decide to go to Prague after. We get off the train in Prague, and are surrounded by bookers who connect backpackers with people renting rooms out of their homes.
The girl I am with has a massive lump on her forehead from the crash, but it is hidden by her hair. We go to a person’s home and stay the night. The next morning, we wake up. The knot on her head has drained and now her face is bruised and her eye is swollen shut. When we got there the night before, she looked fine. When we walk into the common area, everyone is jovial and greeting me.
And then they see her. There is total silence. They look at me, they look at her, and then back at me. That’s when I realized what was happening. I tried to start saying no no, but the lady starts yelling at me. After three hours, four officers, and a lot of explaining, they finally let me go. In Prague, we meet four other backpackers and decide to all go together to pay our respects to the victims of WWII.
A group of three girls from New York attach themselves to us along the way. They are loud, argumentative, and we don’t like them. Just after sunrise, the train we are on starts to slow down, and then at three miles per hour, it violently stops. I look out and see that we are in the middle of nowhere. We wait for an hour and then another train pulls up.
All the Polish people start grabbing their things and getting on the other train. No one speaks English. We decide to jump on the other train. As we depart, I walk by a couchette with the three girls from New York in it. They are asleep. I start to knock on their door, then think better of it and let them sleep. We never saw them again.
We go and spend the entire day at Auschwitz. That night, we are waiting on the bus and there is an old man sitting there. I recognized him from the bus ride over and said hello. He greets me and his eyes are red from crying. He is American. He tells me he fought here 75 years ago and helped liberate other camps. He had lived in Poland for eight years and finally made the decision to visit this place to try and understand more about what all his sacrifices had helped achieve.
For two years, he has made the bus ride from Oschwiem, but he does not have the courage to go inside. He sits on the bench all day until the bus comes back. It was a powerful moment after a powerful day. I have tons of other stories from this trip, too. But that one always stands out to me the most. It’s something that I don’t think I will ever be able to forget for as long as I live.
The rest of my travels that summer were also pretty interesting. My other fun experiences included meeting a famous socialite in Spain, riding on yachts, sailing the Mediterranean for a month, and working as an undocumented immigrant in Spain for the next six months. A whole lot of crazy stuff happened there as well, but I have to go to work now so I can’t type the rest of it up!
Oh, and by the way, I thought it might be worth also mentioning that I married the girl from the wreck in Frankfurt four years later, and we are still together to this day living happily ever after.
22. Strangers In The Night
I don’t know if this story is that great. But it is one of those small world stories. I had been spending a few days in Warsaw and I decided to go out alone on a Friday night. Since I was alone, I didn’t expect anything, and I didn’t speak Polish. A few drinks in, an English-speaking group came in. The group consisted of two Poles, an Englishman, a Scotsman, and a Dane.
I fell into a conversation with them and I joined their table. After a few rounds, they wanted to go bar hopping and they wanted me to join them. So we went bar hopping in Warsaw and had a pretty wild intoxicated night. We got separated in the end, which was a bit sad because they were really awesome. I never expected to see them again, but here’s the funny thing.
A few days later, I’m still in Warsaw and I’m at a restaurant to get some quick food. Well, guess who is my server? One of the Polish girls! That’s cool. Then, a few days later, I’m heading out of Warsaw on a plane to Malmø. Guess who is on my flight? The Danish guy! The plane had free seating, so we could sit next to each other and talk for the one hour flight.
I’m now friends with him on Facebook, and I still talk to him occasionally since we both live in Copenhagen. Then, a few months ago, his Scot friend came to visit him, and we went on another bar hopping adventure, this time in Copenhagen. When you’ve been backpacking for a while, you realize that the world isn’t that big after all. This is the story I always love to tell to illustrate that point.
23. When Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees
I am an American who has traveled as a solo female in over 50 countries. It has been incredible. However, the craziest story that I can think of was back in 2009, when it seemed like a good idea to visit Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe because I really wanted to see the Falls. At the end of hyperinflation. By that point, you literally had to show up to the country with the amount of currency you wanted to spend in American cash, as Zimbabwe had basically run out of money to print in the machines. You had to shower with your mouth closed, as they no longer had money to treat water against cholera.
Note: Cholera is a really easy and cheap thing to treat for. Poop has really and literally hit the fan when you can no longer treat water for this. I literally have a 100 trillion dollar note from those times. I brought it back as a souvenir. But the most interesting aspect of this to think back on is how you’d buy two drinks from the bar and they would look completely different, filled to different amounts and odds are the label was long ripped off as the same bottles were always reused so many times.
So the country was full of a lot of very nice but incredibly desperate people. My sister was with me and I took her old tennis shoes to the market area, as we’d heard you could barter there for souvenirs. Turns out they were better than gold in that environment, as you couldn’t buy sneakers in that country by this point even if you had money.
We got well over $100 US of handcrafted souvenirs in exchange for them, and I had never seen a happier merchant than the one that made that deal with us. He was planning to give the sneakers to his wife as a present. I think the only person I’d ever slap if I met him on sight is Robert Mugabe, as revenge for what he did to the otherwise beautiful nation of Zimbabwe.
24. Discovering A Hidden Gem
I backpacked across all of Slovenia a few summers ago. We were helping out a missionary stationed over there by taking surveys from literally every household in every village along the route from Udine to Ljubljana on foot. If you live on the western side of Slovenia, I’ve probably met you before. It was pretty awesome. Slovenia is definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to on Earth.
It’s sad that most of the people living there couldn’t see it, though, but I suppose if you see a thing every single day it loses its glamor. The most memorable part of the trip was when we were taking a shortcut through a forest trail and we decided to take a break by a stream and eat lunch. Then, we noticed a suspended walkway that circled around the side of a large rock face and we decided to check it out.
What we found was a beautiful waterfall! The way the cave was positioned, it dampened the noise of the waterfall so we couldn’t hear it very well outside of it. But once we got in there, it was deafening. The waterfall is about 15 meters high and, as you can imagine, the water was extremely cold. But I took full advantage of the opportunity. I took more pictures on my trip to Slovenia than on any other trip I’ve ever been on.
25. Fortress Of Solitude
I was wandering around the fortress in Namur, Belgium and sat down on a bench overlooking the town. I took an hour to soak it all in and just watch the world go by. Then, at around 4:00 in the afternoon, I’m thinking it’s time to leave, so I head back to the gate. And it’s locked. It’s 25 feet tall with metal spikes on top. I found a way to scale the inside wall, and ended up sitting on top of the pillar that the gate was attached to.
The problem was that there was a 30 foot deep trench on either side of the gate. So I sat up there until a local drove up and started cussing me out in what I assume was Flemish, because it certainly wasn’t French. About 45 minutes later, an enormous man on a scooter drove by, then circled back. He started yelling at me in French (which, at least, I understood) and then opened the gate up for me.
So that night back at the youth hostel, I had a cool story about almost spending the night in the old fortress!
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Northern India
Mesmerized by my own steady footsteps down the seemingly infinite road, I scarcely recognized the distant rumble of a motorcycle engine behind me. I pulled off the thin scarf from around my head, removing my sunglasses so the rider could see my face more clearly as I waved him down. I watched him slow as my squinting eyes hid the excitement I felt—excitement from the rush of the unknown, from living at the edge of my comfort zone, and from the odd sense of pride at how natural this was starting to feel.
In the first hour, it had dawned on me that almost no one out here seemed to know what hitchhiking was, let alone recognize the “thumbs up” gesture as a request for a ride. That experience quickly debunked my American presumption that this was the “universal” hitchhiking symbol. By the second hour, I had come to realize that nobody wanted to pull over for a strange man on the roadside.
At least they didn’t until they saw my white “clearly not from around here” face, and their curiosity (or concern) made them stop to find out how a foreigner ended up in the middle of nowhere. The rider on the black Royal Enfield cut his engine without pulling over to the shoulder. Not that he had any need to pull over: the highway stretched across the plains into the horizon in either direction, without another soul in sight.
I greeted him as he pulled down his dust mask. He was a Sikh man who had somehow managed to keep his turban in place with just a small chinstrap while traveling at such high speeds. “My friend, you shouldn’t be out here like this,” he said with a concerned expression. “There are bandits. You know a family lost their lives on this road recently?”
I considered this. I think I had even seen the story on the news in Mumbai a couple months back. I was still young, but I was past the point of denying that these types of things could also happen to me. I knew deep down in my rational mind that I was just a mortal being, no more invincible than those who had lost their lives in this place before. But even so, I ignored his advice.
Instinct and stubbornness dictated that I shouldn’t let fear deter me from… whatever this was. “I’m heading east,” I told him. “Further into Bihar.” “No problem,” he said. “I can take you to the train station.” I declined this offer, and explained to him what I was doing. “If you could just take me straight ahead. When you need to turn, I can get off.”
He shrugged and motioned his head for me to get on. I climbed onto the back of his bike, with my overstuffed backpack swaying from side to side as we took off down the road. We swapped names over the roaring wind as we tried to carry a conversation, though all I caught was the surname — Singh — and the fact that he was a doctor.
He was sure to remind me several more times that it was a bad idea, this strange thing that I was doing. I continued to decline his requests to drive me to the next train station, which I knew was quite a ways south of where we were anyway. When it came time to part ways, Dr. Singh handed me his business card with his cell phone number written on the back.
“If anything happens, you call me right away,” he said. I looked him in the eye and thanked him for his help. Even after so many months in this country, the generosity of strangers never ceased to surprise and touch me. As he shrank into the distance and I was once again walking alone down the empty highway, listening to the hypnotic beat of my shoes hitting the dirt, the world faded into reflection and daydream.
I considered, for perhaps the hundredth time, why I was out here. I didn’t remember making a conscious decision to hitchhike across northern India, yet one day I found myself walking right past the Varanasi bus station and out onto the highway. What chain of events gave me this hunger to continually hurl myself into reckless situations in far off lands?
Was I just seeking thrills, for that fleeting taste of feeling “alive?” Was it the high of the unknown? The rush of my brain firing on all cylinders as it tried to navigate each new and novel situation, searching my memory banks for some jewel of experience or knowledge, to assign some kind of sense and structure to a constantly unfolding state of ambiguity?
These questions gave me a lot to process, to say the least, and a long journey through foreign lands seemed a fitting time to mull it over. It seemed every day so far I’d encountered something beyond the scope of my culturally conditioned expectations for how reality functioned. Just three days prior to hitchhiking, while I walked down the muddy banks of the Ganges, I’d met an actual cannibal: an ash-covered Aghori sadhu in a dusty loincloth.
A member of a group of men here known to drink from carved human skulls, and to explore cultural taboos as a step on their path to spiritual enlightenment. He was smoking a joint, and invited me to join him. He told me, in his own strange way, of the ways his life had changed since he left his profession as an oncologist in New Delhi.
A year prior, this exchange would have left me in awe. Now though, novelty itself had somehow become almost routine, and this worried me. When I was a kid, when the backyard fence marked the edges of the known universe, I had no grasp of discontent. I hadn’t yet felt that amorphous yearning I would later become so familiar with.
I could spend all day running around in the yard, playing with toys, or climbing trees. Looking back, I’m still not sure when a yard stopped being enough. There’s this strange kind of contentment you get when you don’t know what else is out there: without knowing, you can’t want, and if you don’t want, you never feel incomplete.
At some point, happiness begins to seem conditional on some future set of circumstances. We trick ourselves into thinking a permanent state of satisfaction is possible, but that we’re just not there yet. A fulfilling job, a loving partner, a new home, fame, health, money, free time, friends, adventure, respect, whatever.
Name your thing. Once I have it, I’ll feel whole, is the unconscious mantra of the unlearned lesson—the lie we repeat to ourselves, despite all evidence to the contrary. Part of me knew this before I even stepped on the plane. I remembered reading the Transcendentalist writers as a teen, and the passage where Ralph Waldo Emerson says “traveling is a fool’s paradise.”
In other words, escapism is an exercise in delusion. We carry our troubles with us wherever we go, he said, and I had no intention of forgetting that. I was here to learn, wasn’t I? I never took the quote as a condemnation of travel, though. People travel for all kinds of reasons: to see the world, or experience new cultures.
To escape a dreary or unpleasant life back home. To find answers (or “themselves”). Sometimes just so they can tell people they’ve been somewhere. I once met a man at Everest Base Camp who admitted he didn’t even like hiking that much, and that he had only trekked through the Himalayas to get there so that he could brag about it to his friends back home after he came back.
He and I didn’t get along too well, but I always admired his blunt honesty. A novelty horn on a vehicle I didn’t see coming pulled me from my meandering thoughts. I turned to see a giant shipping truck, hand-painted with brightly colored Hindi text and with the ubiquitous yet confusing line “Horn OK Please” written in English on the back.
Two men about my age stuck their heads out the window once the truck finished its slow and squeaky stop on the road ahead of me. Between their scraps of English and my minimal Hindi, I managed to explain my need for a ride, and they invited me up inside. I had never seen a truck interior quite like this one before.
Bells and garlands decorated the edge of the ceiling, and the seat extended so far forward that it nearly touched the dashboard. I wondered how they accessed the gas pedal, then grinned to myself as the driver instead pulled a lever with his hand and the rumbling multicolored behemoth pulled back onto the road.
The three of us sat cross-legged on the obscenely large seat. There were no seat belts, of course. As I found places for my bags, I noticed the other passenger staring at me, expressionless. I’d grown used to these stares in public here (often being the only Caucasian person in a crowd of people who had never seen one before), but it was harder to brush off in closed quarters.
I smiled awkwardly at first, then tried to start a conversation, but our overlapping vocabulary in either language quickly reached its limit. Soon I gave up and stared out the window, until I heard metal clinking and turned back to see that he had pulled out some cutlery and a small metal plate. He set it all down on the seat in front of him, and began to slice onions.
The situation had me amused, if mildly nervous. Any lingering belief in my own eternal safety and well-being had been stamped out within my first month in this country. It’s a lot harder to deny the truth of your own mortality when you witness violence, injuries, and loss of life firsthand. Still, both men seemed so focused on the tasks in front of them that they may as well have forgotten that I was there. I tried to relax and enjoy a rare moment of peace.
As I watched the dry and barren landscape outside the window, the wind whipping my hair into my eyes, memories painted themselves over the nothingness like projections on a movie screen. And soon I was lost in thought, recalling a violent night that I would have preferred to have forgotten. Rather than relive it yet again, I tried to distract myself with memories of my arrival here.
That was a simpler time, a time already slipping beyond the threshold of high-resolution recent memories and fading into the vast chaotic sea of my past. It wasn’t so long ago, yet I already saw my “Arrival Self” as a more youthful figure, unburdened by mistakes, regrets, or disillusionment. Now, after so long trying to put him behind me, I was beginning to wonder if I wanted him back.
I enjoyed the rest of my ride. And I guess I’m still trying to find an answer to all the questions that characterized that unforgettable day.
27. The Circle Of Life
The blue sky with its clusters of grey clouds meets the swelling ocean at the horizon. At 7:00 in the morning, the Manapet beach is abuzz with people, crabs, and crows. This is my second day in Pondicherry and I am making plans of having a home here someday. In retrospect, that’s the way of this city. Everyone’s made a home here.
The street-side vendors have neat little coconut-leaf brooms resting against trees. A pet dog is curled up in the corner. There’s not a speck of trash in sight. Every evening when the school and college crowd disperses at 4:00 in the afternoon, mothers are busy sweeping the front yard and fathers are busy buying snacks for the hungry little mouths perched on parked scooters and cycles.
Almost every house we cross on the way to Pondicherry from Chennai (through the East Coast Road) has rangoli at the entrance. The city enjoys a permanent breeziness, having the ocean so close by. Back at the Manapet Beach, I have had my eyes glued to a decaying tortoise for a while now, quenching a carnal curiosity that mortality invokes in me.
I spotted it from a distance and had walked closer, disturbing a group of crows that had been peering over the massive darkness. I stop at a distance. The crows return to their occupation. This is my first encounter with such a huge tortoise, albeit not a living one. Mesmerized, I walk a little closer and regret it immediately. The stench breaks over me like a wave.
It is overpowering. Trying hard not to breathe, I fasten my pace on the slippery damp sand, not wary of the tap-dancing crabs anymore. I just want to get away. I can’t. The air of Pondicherry now smells like decomposition to me. Walking around the Nehru Street market in the scorching heat of January, I wipe my nose repeatedly and smell a lot of perfumes.
A young French guy winks at me, but I can’t focus. The heat seems to be making it worse. The soil is giving off that scent, as are the coconut remains in a garbage bin. I spot an Indian coffee house and hurry across the street to its spacious echoing comfort. A woman sells golden bangles and mukhuttis (ornate nose pins) next to the coffee house.
The sun beating down on the ornaments shines with a vengeance making me regret my aversion to sunglasses. A beggar sits before the shady entrance and counts his day’s earnings. He’s got a white mess of hair on his head and eyes full of contagious happiness. I stand at the cash counter and try to communicate my desire of sipping on a cold coffee.
I have been engulfed by linguistic confusion in Pondicherry. I speak to my driver, Thevari, in Hindi. He doesn’t understand. I explain in English and he gets it. I apply the same formula to fisherman, Ramakrishna, who I found plucking live baits from sea shells and putting them on his hook before he went fishing on his boat and became just a tiny speck in the distance to me.
He tells me that he understands Hindi fine enough. By the third day, I stick to gestures and nods firmly, until I can ascertain the linguistic inclination of my acquaintance. Pondicherry has a sense of peace prevailing over it despite the noise and its mad traffic. I hear Thevari mouth angry curses in Tamil to a man on a scooter before returning to the car with a tranquil smile.
We are headed to a Club Mahindra resort at Manapattu village, which leads me to my early morning walk to the Manapet Beach. It’s an earthly goodness. The luxury cottage I’m led to is shaded by palm and coconut trees, and I can hear the ocean splashing on the shore in the distance. Still relishing the aftertaste of the coconut mouse that welcomes me, I accompany manager Vikas Syal on a walk around the lavish resort and finally end up at the beach.
He opens up—and nearly brings me to tears. He talks about how the Thane cyclone devastated his property back in 2011, and laments the loss of the beach-side spa. Ocean calamities have been a recurring threat to the coastline of Pondicherry, but none of it did as much damage as the Tsunami of 2004. The beaches of Pondicherry are still peppered with fisherman colonies that sing about the wrath of nature.
One of the worst-hit villages, Pudukuppam, lies about two kilometers to the right of the Manapet Beach. Broken boats lie enmeshed in ipomoea climbers, sunk like corpses in the sand. Even though the village outskirts are deserted and decaying at 11:00 in the morning, the lanes further in have a different story to tell.
A woman sits outside her thatched-roof home, grinding lentils in an aluminum container. Having spotted an outsider in her area, she is quick to make a pained expression and ask for money. I point to her utensil to find out that she’s making idlis. I gesture to her to make extra for me. She finds that very amusing and laughing heartily says something to the other women hanging around in the lane.
Most of them are wearing floral printed sarees and have their hair tied in buns. Some are wearing flowers in their hair. They all have golden jewelry adorning their ears, nose, wrist, and neck. They seem to be discussing something heatedly and with a lot of giggles. I ask one of them about the broken houses all around us. She points to the sea.
Soon she doesn’t care that I don’t understand her language and speaks fluently in Tamil about the tsunami that hit her village. She raises her hand above her head to gesture how high the water had reached. But the rest, I don’t understand and I have no one to translate. All this talk of destruction made me think back to the image of that poor tortoise from earlier.
Further down the village, the tsunami and the constant cyclones are not the talk of the day. Having worked hard since early morning for the day’s catch, mid-day is meant for relaxing. On a raised rectangular platform with pillars supporting the roof, three women sit playing what they call Aadpulia-attam; and what I know as Ludo.
I recognized the familiar square wooden plank marked with red nail paint to resemble a female princess or demon in a square box. They play with broken glass bangle pieces and two cylindrical metal dice. Below the platform, on the road, a patch has been cleaned for drying small silver fishes. Called Karavada, these fishes will be dried for two days before they are roasted with spices for a meal.
All this while–during the lunch at Le Café in the French city, at the rocky beach, during the walk at Auroville, and even in my plush room at Club Mahindra–I had been trying to shrug off the decaying smell of the ocean that I encountered on an early morning walk across the Manapet Beach. But as I sat on the platform now, following the board game unfolding at Pudukuppam village, I realized that I had learned to ignore the stink.
I had started to accept it as a part of my stay in Pondicherry. Maybe that’s what the people at Pudukuppam village have also learned to do. Maybe deceased tortoises and uncomfortable smells are just a part of life, even in an otherwise beautiful place like this. As I later find out, the government has constructed new houses for the people of this village a little far away from the ocean to prevent future calamities.
But the people of Pudukuppam seem to be reluctant to live there. The beach continues to be where they are truly at home and the ocean is their source of life. Later, standing ankle-deep in the water while clutching my camera, I feel the water rise in leaps and bounds to my knee, only to leave as rapidly as it came and take all the soil from beneath my feet along with it.
I remember water rushing towards me, water retreating back to the sea, and the earth slipping from under my feet. I feel dizzy, as if I’m stuck in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous vertigo effect on a loop. I remember how writer Vicky Harrison once put it: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
I don’t think any other words could ever possibly sum up my experience and feelings about Pondicherry the way those words do.
28. A Tale Of Two Cities
This story happened to me when I was leaving (escaping) Amsterdam after a four day smoke binge. My train to Berlin was leaving in an hour, so I thought I’d have one final puff before leaving. The coffee shop had a ‘special’ running. They were offering seven guilders for a coffee and ‘space cake.’ I had one. I felt a slight buzz and decided to have another.
The waitress asked if I was sure, but I insisted. I walked back to the train station and was walking to my train when the space cake suddenly started to kick in. It was like getting hit in the back of the head with a mallet. I felt so out of my mind, I didn’t even know what to do. I successfully managed to get onto my train and then almost immediately passed out.
I have some very vague recollections of showing my Eurail ticket and passport to somebody at the station. I woke up about 12 hours later with a conductor violently shaking me. I was still completely out of it like never before. I stumbled out of the Berlin train station and went directly to the first hotel that I saw, threw down my bags, and passed out in my room for another 12 hours.
Eventually, I woke up and checked everything. All of my stuff was safe and I was fine. I decided to try and check out Berlin, but when I got to the lobby I noticed all these Swiss flags everywhere. I asked the man at the front desk: “Excuse me, sir, but am I in Berlin?” All I got in response was a long and blank stare from the clerk. Finally, he said: “No, you are in Basel, Switzerland.”
I never did make it to Berlin, but Switzerland was nice.
29. A Spiritual Experience
I was walking by myself one beautiful Sunday morning along the road from Struga, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I was along Lake Ohrid heading to the Albanian border, when I caught up to two old women walking in the same direction in the otherwise completely empty road. I nodded a greeting to them, not expecting them to speak English, but to my surprise they did.
Apparently, one had a son working as an engineer in Australia. They asked me where I was going. I said Albania, and they said they were going to “cheeses.” My first thought was, this being Sunday, they were going to a market. Then I realized “Wait, it’s Sunday… they’re going to Jesus.” I asked if I understood correctly, and they said yes. Then, in the most grandmotherly way possible, they added “… aren’t you?”
I’m not religious, but when a sweet old woman guilts you like that, you can’t say no. So I went with them to a beautiful old but small Orthodox Church and ended up sitting through mass. I had no idea what anyone was saying, and no I didn’t convert, but it was a cool experience.
30. Sharp Thinking
At a hostel in Amsterdam, we stayed in a room for eight people. We ended up getting pretty chummy with the other two couples who were in there with us, and we had a lot of fun sharing stories for a while one night. As we were chatting and getting ready for bed, a guy came in to take one of the other beds remaining, sat down, and pulled out a giant dagger.
He just sat down on the cot, took it out, laid it on his lap, and sat there silently. We also went silent for a second because we didn’t know if he was being serious or trying to pull some kind of joke. We tried to say hi and be friendly. He ignored us, and just sat there with his sword. We were all tired, but we were sort of eyeing each other like we didn’t want to sleep until we knew what this guy’s deal was.
After a few minutes, the guy just put the thing down beside him on the bed and went to sleep. The next morning, we asked the front desk if they had any kind of policies in place about such matters. Turns out the guy wasn’t breaking any rules.
31. Till Tomorrow Do Us Part
I accidentally became engaged to a local while traveling in Vietnam. I was exploring this little village, and stopped at a restaurant for a drink. A guy comes up and starts talking to me in very broken English. Within five minutes, he asks, “Are you married?” I say no, so he then says, “You marry me?” with a big goofy grin on his face.
I assumed he was joking, because we had only known each other for five minutes. So I said yes. Turns out he was not joking. He immediately began yelling something in Vietnamese, then grabs my hand and starts waving it around in the air. Within minutes, we were surrounded by dozens of people who were all cheering and smiling and shaking my hand. He then took me to his house to introduce me to my future in-laws. I broke that poor boy’s heart when I left for another city the next day.
32. Say Cheese!
In the middle of last year, I went traveling for the first time overseas. I did this alone, so all was exciting as an Australian. My first story takes place in Las Vegas. I was staying at a hostel and made good friends with this English girl. I’ll call her ‘Emma.’ One morning, after a big night out the day before, we were both hung over and craving pizza.
We asked the owner of the place where the best place to get pizza was in the area. He told us, and it would be an approximately 20 minute walk to the joint. So Emma and I embarked on a long, hungover walk for pizza in 45 degree heat. We get there, wait 25 minutes, and finally get the pizzas. I got a medium pepperoni and Emma gets an extra large mixed one.
We decide to eat it once we got back to the hostel, so once again, the 20 minute walk home. Just as we were 50 meters from where we were staying, in the middle of our casual conversation, with the pizza under my arm, someone runs up and grabs my pizza from behind. Thinking it was someone from the hostel, I turn to face the person.
Not a hostel stayer, a completely random stranger…trying to swipe my pizza. We have a tug-of-war with the box. Pizza is flying everywhere and I just let go and let the female culprit run off with the remaining three slices. She runs across a main road and towards a motel. For a brief moment, I considered chasing after her.
Out of everything I could possibly say to this random girl, I get as Australian as I’ve ever gotten and shouted at her “KEEP RUNNING YOU FAT MOLE!” Mole is a derogatory term for an Australian woman, basically calling them a dishonorable person. So there I stood, pizza-less in Las Vegas. And my friend Emma was practically pooping herself. She was shaken up, screaming: “THAT WAS HORRIFYING!!”
And meanwhile I’m just standing there, peeved that someone took my pizza. Laughs ensued once we got back to the hostel, and Emma gave me half of her pizza.
33. Training Wheels
I was backpacking around Europe with my girlfriend and we were on the train from Krakow, Poland. Just as the train set off, we realized that it was the wrong one and that we had to get off as soon as possible in order to make it to where we had actually intended to go that day. This ended up with us opening the door (it was an old train with a manual handle, no electronics) and jumping out onto the platform as it was travelling at a fast speed.
I had to grab her bag and make sure she got off before the train sped up. Turns out it does make you feel a little like Indiana Jones.
34. A Furry Little Friend
I was hiking with some friends in New Mexico on a scout camping trip. Most of the people left on a day hike to sight see, but I was somewhat tired and getting elevation sickness. After they left, I took a nap. But before they got back in time, I was alone at the site. There were between five and ten chipmunks running around our campsite.
I built a small fort where I could sit on top of a ledge. I had nothing better to do while sitting around on my own, so I dropped a bag below and put some nuts in it. Within a few minutes, I had caught myself a cute little chipmunk in a bag. Don’t worry, I let it go after. My only regret is that no one was around to witness this incredible feat of mine.
35. Keep On Trucking
Alright, this is a fairly long story about my craziest day while backpacking with my sister through Syria. We had met up with two other Canadians in a town where we saw no other tourists. We were planning on spending the day with them and a Syrian guy that they had met. Our day started out at an amazing water park which was so much better than any other water park that I have ever been to.
It only cost about seven dollars. We spent the day getting sunburnt and not having to follow any rules, because they didn’t really have any. After the water park, the group of us head to a rooftop restaurant for dinner where we of course start drinking all of our favorite beverages. After dinner and drinks, our Syrian friend takes us on a tour of the tunnels that run under the city.
After exploring, we head to a bar for more beverages and smokes. We leave the bar at around 3:00 in the morning and decide to head back to our Canadian friends’ hotel, because they have more drinks and a stunning hotel room. After a drink at their hotel room, they decide to walk us back to our room. We are skipping along merrily when we suddenly come across a pita factory that has started making delicious pitas.
Syrians are very friendly, so they invite us to take a tour of the factory and to help ourselves to some pitas. We bring our cans of Heineken on the tour and gobble up the pitas as best we can in our altered mental states. Because it is now 5:00 in the morning and we have run out of drinks, our Syrian friend disappears for about 10 minutes and comes back with a giant bottle of some very hard stuff.
He says he found it and paid five dollars for it, which is hard to do as most Syrians don’t drink. We sit down outside the pita factory taking shots from the bottle and wearing our remaining pitas as hats. Now, as it is almost dawn, our Syrian friend decides that he wants to take us to a lookout above the city to watch the sunrise. We squeeze four people into a cab, and it takes us to the bottom of a steep hill.
We march up this garbage covered hill to the top, where we have to clamber over a large wall that has a larger drop on the other side. This takes us out to the lookout spot. What started off as a promising sunrise quickly turned into a storm with lightning and high winds. Always a great combo when you are totally exposed on the top of a hill with tons of garbage flying around.
However, the sunrise and view of the city was quite nice, so we decided it was time to head home. We befriend three men in a little truck that sits three people, but has a box. They offer us a ride so we jump in the back and stand while holding onto the one rail that encompasses the box. As we jump in, our Canadian friend is saying “This is not good,” “This is how our lives are going to end,” etc.
The rest of us thought this was hilarious. However, we are on a bit of a hill and the truck needs to roll backwards before the driver can put it into gear. So we fly backwards down this hill before they get it into gear and head back up the hill. We are half terrified and half excited to be flying around the city holding on for our lives. Then, all of a sudden, the truck does happen to skid into a concrete barrier on the side of the road.
At this point, we realized that our families would not be impressed if we lost our lives in a Syrian mini truck crash. So we decide to hop out, and our new Syrian friends push the truck away. We hop into a small cab, and I have to sit on my sister’s lap to fit inside. But of course, the taxi driver does not care. The taxi driver has his driver’s license on the dashboard, and it has a picture of a man who looks to be 20 or 30 years old, even though he himself looked closer to 70.
But, he is lovely and friendly, like all Syrians that we met, and he does the job of getting us safely to our hotel for about 7:30 in the evening. We head to bed for about three hours and wake up nice and tired at 10:30 in the morning. Very hungover, we force ourselves to roll out of bed to meet up with our Canadian and Syrian friends and wander through the amazing markets.
36. I’ll Drink To That
Six friends and I were on a backpacking trip around Europe after graduating from college. While we were stopped in Munich, we decided that we needed to see a brewery. The Spaten brewery happened to be the closest to our hostel so we just walked on over. An older gentleman answered our knock on the door, and we asked him about going on a tour.
He didn’t quite understand what we were asking, and thought that we had scheduled a tour that he wasn’t prepared for. He apologized profusely and brought all six of us up to the private top floor of the brewery (not quite a skyscraper, but a really tall building near downtown). Turns out they had moved an old bierhaus to the top floor.
It had a full bar, hot pretzels, and amazing views of the city. Up there, we met a guy who spoke English and we figured out what had happened and that it was all a big misunderstanding. Instead of telling us that we needed to leave, he poured us all a beer, gave us food, and told us to stay as long as we liked. It was completely random and so amazing how nice people can be sometimes. Spaten gained six lifelong customers that day.
37. The Road Less Traveled
This is a fun travel story of mine. After I finished my Master’s degree program, I had enough cash left over from a semester’s living expenses that I could afford to blow a couple of grand before I started my first full time job. So I planned a trip for myself. It was going to be a week in Milan, staying with a friend who was taking her last semester there, followed by two weeks in St. Petersburg with a buddy who was born there and still had some family there.
Finally, I was going to end the whole thing off with two weeks by myself, travelling all throughout the country of Turkey. The trip was awesome, but the craziest story was something that happened between Milan and St. Petersburg, although some people might think it was only crazy for me. Try to put yourself in my shoes while reading this.
The night before I was supposed to fly out, I had dinner with my friend who hosted me, along with another girl from our program. We bought three bottles of awesome Sicilian drinks. Them being girls, and me being an idiot, they had a glass a piece, and I finished the other two and a half bottles. I woke up with the worst hangover of my already frequently hangover-filled life.
My friend was kind enough to somehow force me to collect my belongings, get me out of the door to the nearest cafe, and fill me with multiple espressos and a whole lot of aspirin. This got me to the point where I could function independently, though not well. I dragged my behind onto the train and made it to the airport. At the airport, I started looking for Pulkovo Airlines, the lousy carrier that was supposed to get me to St. Pete.
After at least three laps of Milan Malpensa, the functioning brain cell told me that something is wrong. I booked through Travelocity, so I, my hangover, and my luggage successfully located their kiosk. After a bit of bad Italian on my part and bad English on their part, they told me that the airline had stopped flying out of this airport over a month ago, and that I needed to contact the rep.
The rep materialized, looked me in my bloodshot eye (I only managed to have one open), laughed at me for a few minutes, and finally put me on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow with a connecting flight to St. Pete. I got on the flight to Moscow, got more water, got more aspirin, and sampled a bit more crummy, weak Russian airplane coffee.
The flight attendants took pity on my plight. One even offered me a beer for the hangover. I declined by slightly throwing up in my mouth. Finally, we landed in Moscow. Well, not really. We landed in Sheremetyevo, which is the international terminal. Now, this being Russia, everything is done with the least possible efficiency. This means that the international terminal is not connected to the domestic terminal.
This means that a connecting traveler needs to get into a cab and take the scenic route around the airport for about 20 minutes just to get to their next flight. My second eye started opening a bit, so I could take in the scenic view of what can only be described as a dirt road swarming with heavily armed men. As fate would have it, I made my connecting flight and was seated behind an obnoxiously intoxicated American guy and his no less obnoxiously intoxicated Russian friend.
My being an American of Soviet birth allowed me to be privy to the entirety of their inane conversation. Luckily, I was in no position to make any sudden moves, so I didn’t attempt any violence. Finally, I was in St. Petersburg. But alas, the fun doesn’t quite end here. Since I was about six hours late and on a different airline, I had no idea where to go and no one was there waiting to meet me.
My buddy’s number and address were in my email, so I needed internet access. I found a cabby, promised him untold wealth in hard currency if he took me to the center, found an internet cafe, and held my hand through the process. It was about 10:00 PM local time at this point. It was also June, which means that White Nights were in full swing.
In St. Petersburg, this means that the sun doesn’t set, but rather just makes a loop in the sky. So, I set out of the airport with that blazing ball of pain shining in my now open eyes. My driver, who was now my father, brother, and best friend, saved my sad existence. He got me to an internet cafe, let me use his cell phone, and then got me to the jazz club where my friend was partying it up.
My luggage was deposited with the bouncer and I was deposited into the arms of my friend, who greeted me with a silent expression of WTF. I was handed an ice cold shot of a heavy beverage and a pickle, then gently placed in a chair. At that point, all was right with the world. We left the club at 4:00 in the morning, and the sun was still up. The moral of the story? Don’t drink before a flight!
38. A Bad First Impression
I had a less than ideal time on my first visit to Europe. My first flight overseas was a few months after I got a job with an airline. I ended up in Zurich and thought I did my research, but I wasn’t used to traveling outside of the United States. So it made for an interesting culture shock. I was pretty broke at the time, so Switzerland probably wasn’t the best choice of destination for me.
After several mixups with my Couchsurfing hosts, I ended up sleeping in the train station for a night. The timing sucked because I was at the end of a tram line, waiting to meet my host, and I watched the last one for the night drive by me when I decided to stop trying to get in touch with my host. So, I had to walk a few hours along the tracks to find my way back to the train station at 1:00 in the morning.
I ended up cutting the trip short by three days, but I’m happy to report that I have been back many times since and have had much better experiences on those later trips. This initial one was seven years ago and I’m doing better financially now, so if something weird happens again I at least won’t have to sleep in the train station.
I also have T-Mobile now, so I get texting and international data covered as well, so I’m never totally lost like I was before. To top it all off, I ate at McDonald’s right before my flight out and I had a bottle of liquor from Duty Free in my bag that I hadn’t touched yet. I set it on the floor and the bottle shattered all over my clothes and the floor. I don’t speak German, so me trying to explain to the workers what had just happened was a bit embarrassing.
I was trying to offer to clean the mess up for them, but they just looked at me like they thought I was insane. I high tailed it back to the airport after that incident.
39. Choose Your Travel Partners Wisely
San Diego. 6:45 AM. Lyft driver is early. I rush to get out the door with my luggage. We pick her up at 6:50 AM. We reach the airport. At kiosk check in, she is complaining that it’s not working. I have to walk her through checking in and scanning her passport. We walk to the gate and decide to get Starbucks. She buys my iced tea.
I think that turns out to be the only nice thing she did on this entire trip. Our boarding group numbers are different for both flights. First flight, hers is three and mine is five. She is worried that her carry-on will be checked if there is no room left. She sees another lady with really large carry-ons. I would agree that they are large.
She complains that if that lady is let through, she shouldn’t have to check hers no matter what. She complains about people lining up in the wrong groups. We board. She doesn’t try to use the on-board flight info and constantly bothers me to check where we are. I fall asleep, only to have her wake me up to tell me that my mouth is open and that I shouldn’t sleep that way.
We land in Houston. We have a four hour layover. We get some food and start drinking. She asks me if I will be eating expensive food, expressing that I shouldn’t because she doesn’t have a big budget. We finish at one bar and head to another for a couple more drinks. We finish at that bar and head to our gate. We encounter the moving walkways.
She thinks it would be fun to do running laps on them, pushing her way through people. She does a couple laps. We wait to board. Again, my boarding group is three, while hers is five. She is very insistent that I go first. We switch luggage so hers won’t have to be checked. I switch. We board. She sits in the middle seat, but I suggest she takes the window.
The girl in the aisle was already annoyed. Aisle Girl later thanks me. We buy a couple more drinks on board. I express to her that she shouldn’t try to match drink for drink with me, and that this would not be a good idea for her. She ignores my suggestion. She gets a double strong beverage mixed with soda. She tries to talk to strangers in different rows, trying to make friends.
Everyone can tell that she is intoxicated. She unexpectedly starts sticking her tongue in my ear. She meant it to be attractive, but it was just gross and sloppy. She notices that I’m not into it. She says “Guess I was wrong with that.” I give a look of “Yea, obviously.” We start filling out our customs forms just before landing. During landing, she doesn’t want to put her seatbelt on and puts her legs on my lap.
The flight attendants somehow didn’t notice. We land, and she immediately has to pee. She pushes her way past me and Aisle Girl before we can try to let her through. Aisle Girl says “Wow dude….” All I could say is “I know, I’m sorry.” She starts to push her way down the aisle. I grab my luggage and hers. I somehow dropped my passport while grabbing the luggage.
I notice this when we reach the bathrooms, just before customs. I told her to go pee, and that I’d go back and get my passport. I get back and she is very upset that I left her. “Abandoned her,” is the phrase she chose to use. She starts hitting me and punching me. Kicking my luggage. She grabs my shirt and tears it apart, ripping off four buttons. Heck, I liked that shirt.
I calm her down to get through customs. We get outside to get our ride which I reserved ahead of time. I confirmed with an employee. He summons the van. She disagrees and says we have the wrong company. I calm her down again. We leave for Playa del Carmen, but she wants to get more drinks on the way. She doesn’t want to ride with me in the back, and jumps over the seat to ride with the driver.
We get drinks. She then wants to dance and tries to involve the driver. The driver gives me the “WTF” look. I shrug. She looks back and asks why I am so quiet. I pretend to sing. She is very upset and says we are in the wrong place. I now have the keys to the condo in my hand. She tries to pull me outside, while yelling at me.
At this point, I finally lose my patience. I yank very hard away from her, yelling at her to shut up and follow. She does. We get to the condo and at this point I needed to make a final decision about whether or not to stay here for a week with her. I tell her that I’m very upset and that I want to go home and end the trip early. She starts freaking out and saying that I will leave her.
I told her if we leave I won’t leave her by herself. We will fly back together. I needed to make some calls and gave her my passport and cash to show that I wouldn’t ditch her. I come back and she is hysterical, asking what she did wrong. Why I was upset. I cite many reasons. She tries to get romantic with me to convince me to stay.
I shut that down. I leave the condo again to try to book flights. I come back to see my wallet opened and empty. She has her bags in hand and says she’s leaving. She then heads to the lobby. I look for my stuff and passport. Gone. I go to the lobby and ask for my stuff. She says she doesn’t have it. But then says check the bedroom pillows.
She also tells the lobby guy to call the local authorities. She says she is worried about her safety due to my presence. I tell the guy to call as well since I am missing my stuff. He does. I run upstairs to look for my stuff. Nothing. Back to the lobby to find her gone. She took a taxi. The officer she called hasn’t shown up yet. She missed grabbing my last debit card.
I get a taxi, go to an ATM, and follow her to the airport. Between the airport and Playa del Carmen is a 45 minute ride. I get to the airport and find her trying to sleep on the ground by the ticketing area. I don’t engage her. I get security. They don’t do anything, so I have to try to talk to her. She still claims she doesn’t have my stuff.
She is hysterical, crying again. I start making calls about where the embassy is, etc. I turn around and she is gone. Security says I should talk to an officer. I get a taxi and head to the local station, which is 20 minutes away. It is three or four in the morning by this point. They are closed except for one guy. He is sleeping. We pound on the door for five mins to try to wake him up.
We can hear him snoring. We finally wake him up. He takes my statement and gives me a copy to sign. He then says to have a good night and that I owe him 200 pesos. I pay. He does nothing. Back to the airport. Taxi driver suggest calling the federales. We do. We wait 30 to 45 minutes. They show up but won’t do anything. They say she is past airport security waiting for her plane.
She won’t answer my texts or calls. I have no options left. I go back to the hotel in Playa. Next day, I start the replacement passport process. I have family members who are retired San Diego PD officers. They arranged for me to talk to San Diego Harbor Authorities to file a report. I do. They try to set a customs flag for her, so they can search her.
No warrant needed. She already passed through customs by the time I talked to the officer. Common friend talks to her to express my seriousness about this. She finally calls back and tells me where she hid one of the cards. It was located under the sink, behind the pipes, wedged. She can’t remember anything about the rest of the stuff, claiming to have been “too intoxicated.”
Later that day, I tally up what she owes me for all of the condo and travel expenses. She agrees to pay me back while also yelling at me on the phone about how I am a horrible person. The next day, I get my replacement passport and head home. And with that, my experiences with Mexico and crazy ladies came to an end. Heck yeah!
40. Dog Days
I was camping in the outback in Australia with my buddy last summer (their winter). He took the tent and I slept in a swag bag because I had never seen so many shooting stars in my life and it really was quite beautiful. So it’s about three in the morning and I start hearing a howling from the hills around the campsite, like wolves howling at the moon kind of howling.
So I shout to my buddy and ask him what’s making the noise. He informs me that there’s dingoes around here. Well, what would the odds be that they’d actually come into the campsite, right? Around half an hour later, I feel something weird sniffing around my feet. I slowly reach for the head torch I had in my pocket and shine it on my feet.
There’s a freaking dingo sniffing around my swag. So I tell it to take a hike and leave me alone. The bugger kept coming back with its dingo buddies and, apparently, all through the night, my friend could hear me muttering swear words at them, telling the “twerps” to beat it. I asked a ranger the next morning if I was ever in any danger and he said no.
Apparently, these animals have just gotten a bit used to humans over the past couple of years and don’t have too much fear anymore. But I’m pretty sure one of the dingoes swiped a sock that was drying on the car’s bonnet, so I was a bit annoyed about that. I wonder if the Australian high commission would reimburse me for the cost of a nice pair of hiking socks?
41. This Magic Moment
My very first backpacking trip was with a church camp group when I was 15 years old. I read the brochure for the summer camps, and I was less interested in the arts and crafts and swimming routines and more interested in this weeklong trip to Colorado, with promises of 360-degree views along the continental divide. Pretty big deal, living in Oklahoma.
There were, I think, 15 kids. Three were girls. One bailed the second day, along with a couple of people who were having trouble with the altitude. While we waited for the local guides to come back from escorting them back to the base camp, we teenagers had some free time to explore the mountainside. Some of us went up where a stream cut downhill, hollowing out the snow.
I was very interested in Matthew, who had been amazing leading the group around the night before. And, honestly, in regular life, nobody was ever interested in me romantically. But now, here I was, one of only two girls for a whole week with about ten guys. Odds were way in my favor. Wound up taking a hike uphill with Matthew, leaning against a boulder, and watching the wilderness with no one around anywhere.
There was total silence except for the trickle of the creek and the occasional gust of wind in the trees. We chatted. We were silent. We were amazed by the quiet, peace, and beauty of the mountains. And he kissed me. That was one of those moments where you realize that you will never forget any of it. And I still remember what he looked like up close with the sun behind him, a classic teenager with a couple days’ worth of growth on his chin.
I remember the smell of the air, the sounds, the deep blue of the sky, the feeling of touching someone for the first time. All forbidden. My parents were quite religious, and so was I, and this was probably bad news in their eyes. But it was amazing. I was shocked by how warm he was, how soft his lips could be, and how right it all felt.
It’s been twenty years since then. I’m all grown up now with children of my own. Hard to believe so much time has passed since that moment. I remember it like it was yesterday.
42. A Light Drizzle
I was backpacking in Australia with a friend. Needless to say, he drank a bit too much. He subsequently peed himself on the top bunk while two people underneath were getting intimate. It was described as coming down like a waterfall. An angry Irishman woke him up to tell him and he just casually said “You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” then went back to sleep in the pool of his own pee.
43. This One Will Make You Sick
Here’s my best worst story of all time! I was leaving Rome, heading to Venice by train with my buddy. Before we board, we get some cheap pizza and beer and enjoy the sun sitting by the Spanish Steps. Life’s good. For now. One hour after boarding, the first symptoms hit. Stomach pains. Feeling feverish. Feel like puking but can’t.
Two hours after boarding, I lock myself in the train toilets. I puke the life out of me. And what looks like mushrooms come up. Thank God, it must be over now. But nope. Arrival in Venice. It’s late. There’s freaking snow everywhere. Puked two more times on the train. Feeling like trash. I can barely walk by now and I feel like just keeling over.
We go to find our hostel. We get lost because, well, Venice. Can’t take it. I drop my backpack, fall on my knees, and puke my guts out in the Grand Canal, right under the eyes of countless outraged tourists on a romantic dinner out. My buddy is laughing his butt off and takes pictures. Great friend.
We make it to the hostel, somehow.
We spend the worst night of my life at this place. I proceed to puke and poop a couple more times over the course of the next day. All food tastes like pain and misery. I can’t eat properly for the next three days, but my buddy forces me to anyway so that I don’t get weaker. I eventually recover by the time we move on to Florence. Venice is lovely, though.
The moral of the story: don’t trust the cheap pizza shops in Rome.
44. Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates
Back in 2006, a friend and I decided that it was high time we go to Transnistria, a small, Russian-speaking breakaway part of Moldova right next to Ukraine. So here we are, riding the train to Bucharest, then a bus to Chisinau, and finally a local minibus to Tiraspol. The trip between Chisinau and Tiraspol is pretty short, but because this civil conflict never really ended, there are plenty of checkpoints on the road, with heavily-armed militias or Russian “peacekeepers.”
We finally arrive at what appears to be a border post and, as the only two foreigners, are quickly escorted out of the bus to a little interrogation room. Well, the interrogation was pretty short: an 18 year old conscript is looking through our bags and asks the usual “Do you carry any substances or dangerous objects?” All of a sudden, an officer storms in, points at us, and says “You, ten euros. You, also ten euros.”
And he then immediately leaves. At that point, there is an awkward silence on our part, but the guy is already gone and the kid, who obviously did not speak English, kept rummaging through our bags. He then reaches a Toblerone bar that I had brought along, and he looks at me. I point at it and say “It’s yours.” He then slips the bar into his sleeve, at which point I turn to my friend and say “I believe it is time to leave.”
We take our bags, walk quietly to the bus, and move on to our destination. We did not see the other officer on the way out, which I think was probably a good thing.
45. A Questionable Character
I got scammed in Bolivia by someone who went to my high school. I went to high school in Maryland. So I was walking down the streets of La Paz at around 10:00 AM with a friend. We hear a voice speaking gruff, unaccented American English, “Hey, hey you guys!” We turn around. Talking to us is a guy who looks like he’s been on the streets for years.
His hands are covered in dirt. He asks us where we are from, saying he is from DC. We are like, “No way, we’re from DC too!” He asks us where in DC. We say technically not DC, but a suburb. He says he went to high school X. It was the same high school that my friend and I went to. We were pretty shocked and intrigued by this.
Anywhoo, he invites us on a tour of the San Pedro correctional facility. We don’t trust him, so we go to an Internet cafe. We find out that the tour he was offering us is technically against the law, but the facility is recognized as a legit tourist attraction. We meet up with him inside, and pay him for what he says the tour will cost. He goes to talk to a guard, telling us to stay put.
He says he is going to try and talk his way out of us having to pay some bribes. After he has been off talking to the guard for a few minutes, some local Bolivians helpfully point out to us that we are being tricked and that the guy just wanted our money. We realized that the guy wasn’t planning on coming back, so we run after him. He runs down an alley, never to be seen again. And we never did get that tour!
46. A Slight Change Of Plans
I was riding a train to go to the eastern coast of Taiwan to my next couchsurfer host when I met a bunch of Taiwanese soldiers who gave me some free drinks and tried to talk to me in Chinese and very broken English. After a few rounds, I was pretty intoxicated. I only weigh about 120 pounds. Then, they started telling me that I should get off at their stop instead of mine.
For some unknown reason, I agreed to, and I very soon found myself at a shrimp fishing house with more drinks being served to me. I blacked out and only woke up the next day because one of the Taiwanese guys’ daughters was taking a picture of me passed out on her living room couch. The guy then took me to a waterfall and we went skinny dipping.
Then, he took me to the train station so I could meet up with my next host, and that was the end of that. Just a random day spent having fun with some random strangers in a random country. It was great!
47. Men And Women Of The Night
This is a long story that I’ve told so many times before, but it usually gets a good reaction so I feel like typing it out again. Me and a friend were in Riga, Latvia. The fact that he was a co-worker of mine is relevant to the story. And so is the fact that this was his first trip abroad that wasn’t to a beach resort. I had arranged the trip, as he was interested in the off the beaten path type of travel that I enjoy.
He was a bit on edge when we arrived in Latvia, as in the last three days I had taken him into the Chernobyl exclusion zone and also had a run in with a soldier in Belarus. Anyway, in Riga, I had arranged for us to go shoot some AK47’s and we were getting picked up. A top of the range Audi pulls up and two guys get out who look like they have no business owning a car that expensive.
They looked like stereotypical gangsters, with shaved heads and scars and everything. We get in and head over to the shooting range, which turns out to be closed. One of them has a heated phone call, then explains that the owner is hungover but will open the place in an hour or so. They say that they run a bar, so we can have a couple of free drinks whilst we wait.
It’s only 10:00 in the morning, but who’s gonna turn down an offer like that? We then drive for a bit and pull up outside a house with bars over the windows, and an electric gate closes behind us. That’s where I started to get a bad feeling. We go into the house and there is a swimming pool in the hallway. So we walk over to the bar area, which is a cream-colored leather.
They let us know that the drinks normally cost seven Euros apiece, but we can have two free ones each. Any more beyond two, they say, and we will have to pay. We were a bit nervous at this point, so we get through the first drink quickly and try to relax a bit. We start chatting with the guys. After a bit, one of them drops the bombshell that this is the best cathouse in Latvia.
That was not what we were expecting to hear. He goes on to inform us that if we get bored, there are girls downstairs who are available for 40 Euros an hour. For cryin’ out loud, what have we gotten ourselves into?? After my second free drink, I decide that it would be interesting to chat with them about what it’s like to be a gangster running an establishment of this kind.
After a graphic conversation and being shown photos of various A-List celebrities sitting at the bar we are currently at, they then ask what we do for a living. I mention that we work for a gambling company and immediately realize I’ve made a big mistake. “You guys must have a lot of money then?” Uh oh. “Maybe you come back tonight and break the house’s record?”
My friend asks, “What’s the house’s record?” as he doesn’t have a single inkling of what they could mean. “11,” the guy responds. “11 what?” says my friend. My mouth is agape at this point. “11 girls at the same time.” This is the point where most people would do the math in their head, but my friend did it out loud. “11 girls? That’s 440 Euros, so 480 Euros would break the record. I can afford that!” Holy cow, what is happening??
I mutter to him that they don’t know he isn’t serious. One of the guys starts to walk off saying he’s going to arrange it for tonight. “No, no, no!” I manage to explain and we laugh it off. Anyway, they realize we aren’t going to spend any money, so we start to drive back to the shooting range. Whilst driving, one of the guys turns around and says, “There is no shooting range. Get your cards and PINs ready. We are going to play a game of whether you live or not.”
Major uh oh moment. Me and my mate both look at each other and go completely white. There is total silence for about 10 seconds before the guy starts laughing and says it was just a joke. That jerk. We get to the shooting range and I don’t even care at this point. I am just getting through my rounds as fast as I possibly can.
At the end, the guy informs me that they don’t have the hand grenade I paid for. I ask for the 40 Euros I paid for it back and the guy says no, surprised I even asked to be honest. He says “You can have explosion at my house instead.” I tell him I don’t want to blow stuff up in his garden and he replies: “No, no, no, explosion in bedroom at house. One hour credit with girl!” I say no, but he insists and writes me out a voucher coupon for future use.
So yeah, that’s the story of how I ended up with an hour’s credit in a house of ill repute in Riga, Latvia.
48. The Night Shift
My best travel story involves me getting petty revenge. I was in Rome when the Pope passed. Luckily, I had already booked a hostel months prior. The place was crawling with kids fresh off the trains from Poland and planes from Brazil. I made my way to my hostel from the train station with ease and checked in. I was chilling in the lounge of the hostel before going to meet my friend somewhere for dinner.
I am on one of the computers shooting my dad an email when this cute girl sits down next to me. I say, “Hi, nice to meet you. Where are you from?” She tells me she’s from Connecticut. I, being from Connecticut myself, think, “Heck yeah, bonding time!!” I ask her where specifically in Connecticut she came from. She responds with Fairfield County. I go, ohh, “The Gold Coast.” She all of a sudden looks annoyed with me.
She stares me down and proceeds to tell me that she isn’t rich and that I shouldn’t assume that all people from Fairfield County are rich. I, probably with a dumbfounded look on my face, try to apologize as she gets up and promptly leaves with several of her very good-looking friends. Later that night, I went out to dinner and had a great time. I got to bed early because I had to catch a 10:00 train to the coast in the morning. I’m staying in a 10 person dorm room and have yet to see who my roommates for the night are.
Flash forward to 2:00 in the morning when a loud group of clearly intoxicated girls come barging into the room. I, just wanting to sleep, open my eyes but hardly move. Well, wouldn’t you know it! It’s the same girl and her friends that thought I was such a jerk earlier in the day. Only now, in their drink-induced stupor, they don’t notice that I am awake.
They proceed to pretty much strip completely naked as they get ready for bed. They clearly have no idea that I am there, or that I can see them. Their body parts are on full display in every direction that I look. I’m chuckling to myself as the Fairfield girl prances around, singing and dancing in just her underwear. A few minutes go by and most of the girls have settled into their bunks.
All of a sudden, one of them says, “Hey, it’s so hot in here. Can someone open the window?” I, being right next to a window, sit up, push the window open, and say “Good night.” The complete and utter silence in that room after I spoke was one of the funniest moments of my entire life. All thanks to my hobbies of travel and backpacking. It’s hard for me to tell people this story without making myself sound like a creep, but yet it somehow remains my favorite travel moment of all time.
49. Three’s A Crowd
One time when I was a young man, a lifetime ago, I moved to Australia for a year. It was easily the best year of my life, despite my daily job in a meat packing plant for a chicken company. I told the boss there that I was going solo traveling for two weeks and just rode buses down the beautiful Eastern coast. It was the time of my life.
I made it down to Melbourne where they drink their beverages in tiny glasses. I instantly hit it off with two Swedish guys in the hostel. We decided to travel together and decided to go down to Bells Beach, where the action movie Point Break famously took place. We made it there and decided that Keanu Reeves was full of hot air, because the waves were less than a foot high.
As it was getting dark, we started checking for hostels or inns or a place to stay, and the whole town was completely booked up. I guess it was busy because it was a Saturday night. So we decided to go to a nightclub and “take the first offer,” since it was raining and cold. Lars was a very attractive modelesque Swedish guy, so of course, he got the first offer and went home with a young beautiful Australian lady.
He gave us the thumbs up on the way out. Ule and I were standing around having some drinks, when two young Australian college women came right up to me. “You are American right?” they asked. “Yes,” I replied. She then said: “We would like to share you.” Ule gave me a giant grin and a thumbs up, and whispered “take the first offer,” so I went home with the girls. That…was a huge mistake.
By then, it had stopped raining, so we walked down by the beach and we all started making out passionately. My first ever romantic activity with more than one partner. I was afraid of diseases, though, and I didn’t know these girls, so I was very careful in how far I let things escalate. But we had our fun for a while and then headed to the homes of one of the girls, whose name was Rebecca.
We walked for a bit until we reached Rebecca’s house. She still lived with her parents. She started getting more bossy at this point and she said to me “You take the floor.” I laid there and listened to the two of them passionately make love without me until I fell asleep. In the morning, I woke up with a bit of a hangover and the most urgent need to pee.
I went to the bathroom and did what we call a “Chiefs game pee” where you lean against the wall at halftime and just go and go and go. I then suddenly heard a deep, male scream: “Becca? Is that a man??” Oh no! I let out an awkward gasp, then I grabbed my shirt and ran out the front door and down the road. I didn’t even know where I was going, just kept running away from that crazy house.
I kept running until I got to downtown Torquay, where I found Ule and Lars and we took the bus back to Melbourne. A coming-of-age tale for me was that rainy weekend in Southern Australia so long ago.
50. Road Blocks
Have you ever had an experience where no matter what you did, you just couldn’t get to where you were trying to go? Well, I certainly have. I was in Nicaragua and we took a trip to see some turtles hatching at a beach about 45 minutes away from the town that we were staying in. When we went to leave, our truck wouldn’t start. We bum rush it and everything seems fine, so we take off down the road.
About 10 minutes later, it breaks down. We bum rush it once more and it starts again. Now we are getting nervous. Five minutes later, it completely stops on a hill and that was it. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere. Now, we were on a dirt road and there was nothing around us except one of those little Latin American corner-type things.
Of course, it was empty. It was also after midnight when this happened. Our guide doesn’t speak a word of English, and I only know broken Spanish. So we start walking down this dirt road in the Nicaraguan countryside with no idea what we are going to run into or find. About maybe 30 minutes later, we stumbled across a farm.
So our guide goes in to ask them for help. If we were nervous before, now we’re freaking out. It’s our last night in the country and I think it’s like 2:00 in the morning by this time. We have to be back at our hostel in the morning to get back to Managua and fly home. So I am able to ascertain that our guide is going to take off on this guy’s bike and go back to town to find us a ride.
None of us are too keen on this idea and we are all worried that we are going to be stuck here for way longer than we realistically have to spare due to our travel plans. We were nervous as heck. It was dark. On a strange farm in Nicaragua. Alone and not speaking the local language. It’s quiet for a bit as we all sit on stumps in this guy’s yard.
Then, next thing we know, he turns the radio on and comes outside with some Spanish magazines and lawn chairs. I thought that was pretty funny. Our guide finally comes back maybe two hours later, with a ride for us back to town. We pack our stuff up and get in our shuttle to go back to Managua. We thought we were home free—but Nicaragua had one more curveball.
We hit a car on the highway. A fight ensues between our driver and the dude that he rear-ended. At this point, it was getting dangerously close to our flight time. Luckily, though, from this point on the whole thing went down relatively smoothly (I guess). We go to the station of the local authorities to report the incident and provide our witness statements. Then, our group gets into two different cabs. They go right, we go left.
Eventually, we make it to the airport, but our flights are overbooked. Happily, they let the group on. I ended up staying at the airport for a while, behind schedule by about six hours. What an absolutely ridiculous night! So the verdict on getting stuck in the jungle the night before leaving a country and then getting into a car accident on your way back to the airport? Definitely worth trying for yourself!