Travel can be a wonderful, amazing, life-changing, adventure. I’ve already written about my top experiences of 2017! But it’s important to show that travel isn’t always great. Sometimes it really, really sucks. I want to be honest and real with you all—because no matter how many great photos I post on Instagram or how things come off in my blog posts, there are two sides to every story. That’s why, in my monthly recap posts, I always talk about the “worst moments” of every month. Because it’s easy to make travel experiences sound great all the time, and harder to be transparent about the things that suck.
I didn’t end up publishing a post on this in 2016. But I had some pretty bad moments: almost being denied entry to the UK at London Luton Airport, nearly getting attacked by baboons at Victoria Falls, and getting traveler’s diarrhea just before an overnight train journey on a train that didn’t have toilet paper. Yep, those were some pretty bad times.
So here you go, in no particular order: my worst travel moments of 2017!
1) Getting sick in Moldova
Yep, the worst moment of my year, and one of the worst of all my travels was getting sick in Moldova. I still don’t know what it was: food poisoning, a reaction to drinking filtered tap water after a month of drinking only bottled water, an extreme heat stroke due to sleeping in an extremely stuffy room with no air flow (no windows or fans in 90˚F heat), or something else. But I got sick. Both ends. And spent too many hours in a hostel bathroom feeling like I was dying.
Luckily, I had Olga, the hostel employee who helped look after me, took Adam to the pharmacy to get the right medications, and called her mom to figure out how many doses I should take. After waking up at 3:00 in the morning and spending the next 4 hours in the bathroom, I spent the entire day hanging out at the hostel.
But the worst part was having to miss out on so many things in Moldova, particularly the autonomous separatist region of Transnistria. It was one of the main reasons I went to Moldova in the first place, and I was devastated that getting sick (and Adam getting sick two days later) meant that we weren’t able to go. Moldova, I will be back!
2) Arriving in Chisinau
Throughout my travels, rarely have I ever felt actually unsafe and scared. Getting into Chisinau was one of those scary moments. Relying on public transportation, we got to our hostel only to find out that it was overbooked, and that we needed to go to the hostel owner’s other hostel. The hostel employee gave us a map, walked us to the corner, told us a story about how some people had gotten robbed on that corner a little while ago, and sent us off into the night (it was 10:30pm at this point).
And did I mention that there aren’t streetlights in Chisinau?! Because there aren’t. Adam and I used his phone to walk the 10-15 minutes to the other hostel, where I was fighting a panic attack and hyperventilating I was getting so scared. Luckily, we got to the hostel in one place. And Olga, my savior over the next few days, was unimpressed that the employee at the other hostel didn’t walk us over, and assured us his pay would be cut that month.
All of this was not to fault the many Moldovans who offered us help on the tram into the city center. We were offered help to get to our original hostel in not one, not two, but three different languages by 7 different people. Someone who spoke English even turned on their data hotspot so we could get onto GoogleMaps.
But walking down unlit, unfamiliar streets, with a big backpack on at 10:00pm was one of the scariest moments I’ve had—even with Adam with me. My lesson has been learned: take a taxi when it’s that late.
3) Mosquitoes in St. Petersburg and Kiev
Being a Minnesotan, unfortunately mosquitoes love me. And they were all over me in St. Petersburg at night. After the first night of being up until 3:00am because I couldn’t sleep, I realized I had to make the choice between sleeping in a stuffy room (closing the only window) or getting eaten to death by mosquitoes (leaving the window open). I chose the stuffy room, but at some point someone else opened the window. I got bites all over. My legs, my arms, my fingers, everywhere.
Just as my bites were starting to die down, I arrived in Kiev, where there were more mosquitoes. And this time I had no option of shutting the window. I got bitten all over, everywhere, again. I didn’t have aloe or hydrocortisone cream or anything to help the bites. It was hell.
4) Arriving in Vilnius
I had another pretty sketchy arrival in Vilnius, Lithuania, this time when I was traveling alone. As I was waiting for the airport bus, a random guy came up to me, and started talking to me. I was on my guard, but at first he didn’t seem too bad. Then he asked me for money, and then he asked me for the food that I was eating. I just ignored him, and eventually he left. (By the way, I saw this guy at the airport on my way there, so he might just hang out at Vilnius airport.)
I ended up walking from the bus station into the Old Town with an older British couple, which I’m very grateful for. As we were walking in the Old Town (also late at night, about 10:00pm), a random guy appeared as if from nowhere from an alley and began pestering the British man, offering help and directions and just in general being a bit sketchy. We eventually managed to shake him and he left us alone, but I was pretty happy I hadn’t been alone. Besides that, I felt really safe in Vilnius. But it did put me on my guard.
5) Bites/rash from extreme heat in Bucharest
I still don’t know what this was, but upon getting to Bucharest I broke out in some sort of rash or bites all over my body. I know it had something to do with the heat (it was at least 100˚F and there was no air conditioning in my dorm room), but I still don’t know what it was. It wasn’t bed bugs, I don’t think it was more mosquito bites, and after a quick search on WebMD, I don’t think it was heat rash. It might have had something to do with my sunscreen and the amount that I was sweating (which was a LOT).
It made me absolutely miserable. Everything itched. The bites/rash was everywhere. All over my legs. All over my arms. On my stomach, my butt, and even starting on my face. All I could do to make it better was shower and get clean as frequently as possible. Luckily, it more or less went away when I got to Varna.
6) The awful sunburn in Varna
Speaking of Varna…I somehow got a horrific sunburn my first day on the beach. I have no idea how, since I put sunscreen on literally ALL THE TIME and reapplied at least 4 different times. But I burn so easily (I’ve gotten sunburned inside before), and it was no match for the Bulgarian sun. I was in so much pain. Thank god I had bought aloe gel for my bites/rash in Bucharest. Besides that, I loved relaxing in Varna!
7) Getting lost in a field in the Peak District
During my great day of hiking in the Peaks, I left the summit of Mam Tor and went for an easy path down to Edale, where I was meeting Adam at the pub. I somehow got hopelessly lost in a giant field of sheep, and had no idea how to get out. I knew that there was a footpath leading through, but could not find the entrance for this footpath at all. I walked along the main fence at the end for ages, but could not find this footpath. I didn’t want to trespass and jump any fences, since the other land was private land—it needed to be this footpath. Eventually, as daylight was starting to fade, I decided I’d need to walk back up towards Mam Tor, and follow the road. On the way, I saw a couple veering to the right and sure enough, I found the correct footpath. The pint that awaited me at the end was well-deserved.
8) The lengthy wait to exit Belarus
I really didn’t have any issues visiting Belarus visa-free for 5 days. But as I was leaving the country at the airport, the woman I had started flicking through my passport to find my stamps. She flicked through it several times, asked where I was before Belarus (I flew to Minsk from Riga, Latvia), questioned me about my 2014 Russia tourist visa, and generally made me sweat hard for a few minutes. Finally, she found my Latvian stamps and realized I was telling the truth. But it was a nerve-wracking couple of minutes.
9) Hiking up Boyana Waterfall without my knee brace
I’ve had a bad knee for several years now, and whenever I do a lot of physical exercise, I generally wear my knee brace. When I was in Bulgaria visiting my friend, I decided to hike up the Boyana Waterfall. And unfortunately, I didn’t bring my knee brace. It was a rough hike up, and luckily we took a longer way down that wasn’t quite as steep and scrambling. But my knee was absolutely killing me after that.
10) Getting threatened with a citation at Minnehaha Falls
Having lived in Minneapolis for 24 years, I can say I know the city really well. There’s an area of Minnehaha Falls that is marked “no trespassing,” but you can get much closer to the falls if you go past it. I’ve done it several times (in fact, my blog social media photos were taken there!) and never had a problem—but technically it is trespassing. When I went to take photos at Minnehaha Falls on Christmas Eve, I walked past the signs (like I’ve always done) and got some nice photos.
But there was a cop (park police) who caught us past the sign, asked us if we “speak and read English,” and basically yelled at us and threatened us with a citation for trespassing. Luckily, he let us off with a warning, but I was pretty annoyed. It’s something I’ve done a million times and never had any problems (honestly I didn’t even know it was against the rules?!). It is dangerous and the reason that area is closed off is for safety reasons. But the one time I did it, a park cop decided to yell at me and I almost got a criminal record. Lesson learned: be careful and watch for cops if you’re going past the signs!
So there you have it! My worst experiences of 2017. Travel isn’t necessarily all fun and games!
Have you ever had bad experiences when you traveled?! What were they?