Top 10 Worst Travel Experiences:
I haven’t had anything traumatic happen, so the worst really isn’t that bad:
- Shakes on a Plane: I wasn’t really shaking that much as I was too nauseous to move. It began with a mild discomfort as I got ready in the dark of my Prague hostel for my flight home. At the airport, my flight was delayed an hour. In the hour or two before the flight, I had a rumbling stomach and six bouts of pure liquid diarrhea. This was soon joined by horrible nausea. The nausea did not subside when I arrived in Amsterdam, quickly used the bathroom, and bought a PowerAde. I then stood in what felt like the longest line in history to go through security, not daring to leave the line to use the restroom. Time passed with painful slowness. I had to throw out my PowerAde. I made it through security, rushed to the toilet, had diarrhea and dry heaved twice. Soon, it was boarding time. I thankfully had an aisle seat, but I was nauseous for the entire eight or so hour flight. I couldn’t move or sip water for fear of upsetting the tender balance in my digestive system. I couldn’t even watch an in-flight movie. I just sat there miserably with a blanket over my head, counting the hours and occasionally lifting my head to look at the map of how far we had travelled.
Lesson: Travel with ginger. My favorite is Sina Ginger Candy
- Ripped Off: I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting my friend Rose in Beijing after I had completed a study abroad program in South Korea. I don’t remember the cost of taking a taxi from the airport to her apartment, but we’ll imagine it was $20. Fast forward to my return home. Having spent six months in Asia, I am broke. I have, we’ll imagine $30 in cash, to pay for my taxi. This should be enough, right? I mean, I left at 5am, when the streets of Beijing were dark and quiet. Well, I got into the taxi, but found in strange when the driver seemed to take smaller side roads and a winding trip towards the airport. I had some idea of how long the trip took and the route, as the day before I had taken the same route when returning from the airport after my trip to North Korea. As I do not speak Mandarin, I wasn’t sure what to say as the driver racked up the bill on the meter. I watched helplessly as the amount surpassed the cash I had on hand. So, we arrived at the airport. I handed him the cash that I had. He angrily pointed at the meter. I shrugged and showed him the empty wallet, then walked away. I know that he was paid more than the trip was worth, so I am sure the amount paid was sufficient for the meandering trip across the city
3. I’m Going to Have to Fight Him:
Due to changes to my original flight, I wasn’t scheduled to arrive at the Kiev Airport until after 1am in the morning. This caused me no small amount of anxiety as a. the airport was pretty far from the city center. B. there would be no public transport. C. I would be quite vulnerable as an arrival to a new country at 2 in the morning. I did my best to prepare for this. Before arriving, I studied a map of Kiev and the roads that led to my hotel. I also read travel advice about getting a cab. There was supposed to be a kiosk for official taxis. The instructions in travel guides warned that not taking an official taxi could result in being ripped off or out-right robbed.The airport was rather empty upon my arrival and after collecting my bags, I went to the official kiosk for taxis. There were unofficial drivers by the doors, offering rides to the new arrivals. Standing in front of the kiosk was lanky young man in a polo shirt. I asked him if he was a taxi driver and he said yes, then asked me where I needed to go. I explained my destination and negotiated what seemed like a reasonable price in dollars. With that, he took my bag to his car and put it in the trunk.
The car was not a registered taxi, just a sporty black car. I wasn’t sure what to do. I stupidly got into the car, which I immediately regretted. Harkening back to the Beijing experience, I felt that I would probably be ripped off. At worst, I began to think that he might sexually assault me or rob me. As he drove me, I watched the streets. I convinced myself that he was a bad person and that I was going to have to fight him. I considered how I would do this. I had purchased a small multipurpose camping carabiner which was attached to my purse. It had a semi sharp edge that could be used as a box cutter. The item went unnoticed when I passed through airport security, but really wasn’t all that sharp. So, in my imagination, I thought that I would use it as a shiv. The forty minute drive gave time to consider these schemes.
I was glad that I had studied the map, since the driver followed familiar streets. I could trace in my mind the route to the hotel and some landmarks, even though the city was entirely new to me. This lessened me anxiety. Still, the city was dark. It had never visited such a dark capital. The streets were also very dead. The darkness was ominous. When we arrived at the hotel, I didn’t recognize it, as the giant sign for the hotel was not lit up like in the photos and iconic Maidan square was also dark. So, I became defensive and afraid. He assured me that it was the hotel and got my bag. I paid him the money we had agreed upon and he left without incident.
There was no danger. Nothing terrible happened. I had been hypervigilant. It was a little silly and thankfully he was an honest person who just wasn’t a registered taxi driver with a taxi car. Also, I am really not a very strong or capable person, so the plan to fight back was ridiculously confident
Lesson: Study the map before you leave. Don’t take unregistered taxis.
Venezuelan Boot Camp
In 2005, I traveled to Venezuela for a socialist youth conference against globalization. It felt a little like a socialist boot camp, because we stayed at a military barracks and kept a very tight schedule. For instance, after finally settling in to our rooms at 5 am upon arrival in the country, we had to wake up at 6 am to head to a day of conference activities. These activities continued until after 10 pm. I was pretty exhausted for the first few days of the trip. On the first day, after an hour of sleep and hours of speakers and marches in the hot sun, I collapsed onto my backpack in the midst of a sea of leftists from around the world. The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, addressed the American delegation. However, I was in a half-dream like state and didn’t even notice. Thankfully, he spoke again at the end of the conference and I was better able to appreciate the experience. In retrospect, I wish I could have sucked up my exhaustion and enjoyed the experience more.
Where is my bus?
During the same Venezuelan trip we stayed outside of Caracas at a military facility in the mountains. This required a bumpy, hot hour long bus ride each day to the conference. At the end of the day, the street was lined with buses to take us back. However, one day, I was uncertain which bus was mine. There were dozens of buses and I couldn’t remember my bus number. The buses filled and pulled away. I frantically marched along the rows of buses, looking for something familiar. I feared that I would be left there to stay the night outside. I asked driver’s where the buses were going and none were going to my destination. This frantic search continued for about a half an hour. Suddenly, a new bus pulled up and I spotted some familiar people (Carl and Rose I think). I got on the bus, thankful that it magically appeared along with some comrades. The feeling of it all is a bit like when you are a child and you lose your mother in a store. I am sure I would have survived the ordeal, but there is a frightening isolation in being lost and confused with no one to turn to.
Lesson: Write down the bus number.
Where is my lipstick?
I love lipstick. I wear it every day. It is my lip armor, coloring and moisturizing my tiny thin lips. When I visited my brother in Hawaii, I lost it while hiking. I had to survive four hours without lipstick. I was frantic. It was ridiculous. Okay, I am scraping the bottom of the barrel for this top ten list.
Lesson: Always carry two of something you can’t live without.
I’m NOT Actually a Prostitute
The choice to wear tight, zebra print pant to the Red Light district in Amsterdam was a bold wardrobe choice. But, I have been mistaken for a prostitute wearing far drabber, dumpier clothes as well. Not going to slut shame myself or slut shame prostitutes. So, in retrospect, I won’t call this a bad choice of clothes…just one time wherein I was NOT mistaken for a tourist.
Beware of the Night Monkeys
While studying in South Korea, I managed to convince some fellow Americans to travel with me to Hiroshima, Japan (Doc, Westin, and Rachel). I created a list of activities for us and somehow they followed along with my fast paced itinerary. They are all saints. Now, on one of the days I thought it would be a super idea to visit the nearby island of Miyajima and climb Mt. Misen. As the oldest, least fit person in the group, I am not sure why I was the most convinced that this was a super idea!
So, we arrived at Mt. Misen in the late afternoon and began our hike. I was excited by the idea that the woods were home to monkeys. We saw none of these as we began a trek that took much longer than the hour and a half that the trail guide quoted. It was beautiful, but we could not enjoy the beauty as the sun began to set and the shop at the top of the mountain was closed. With that said, after a very brief time at the top, we decided to make a very hasty hike down. As we hiked, the evening turned into night. Darkness descended upon the forest. It began to rain. This made the trail slippery and slowed my pace. Not wanting to twist my ankle, I took my time. This annoyed the others. But, by my reasoning it was better to be careful than to slip on the mud and need medical help. By the reasoning of the others, it was dark, rainy, and my fault. We all began to worry that we might miss the last ferry back to Hiroshima. This would force us to stay on the island overnight. Also, the idea of monkeys in the woods became far more ominous. I imagined them lurking in the forest above us or all around us in the bushes. I imagined them jumping down or out in front of us. When a deer crossed our path, my stomach sank with fear that it was a monkey! Funny how they were so cute in the safety of daylight but menacing at night.
We made it back. The last ferry had not left. It was all good. But, sorry to those who I forced on that unfortunate adventure.
9. I am a Terrible Person:
Long ago, I studied abroad in Ireland. It was really a magical time in my life. However, it was also a time when I had a very terrible social situation. I lived in this cute white cottage by the sea with four roommates. One day, one of the roommates, who I will call Kelli, asked me to meet the roommates for an important “house meeting.” I arrived at the meeting, where my roommates sat in a circle. They told me that they had something to talk to me about. My heart sank as I was sure that it was about the toast crumbs I always left on the kitchen counter. Instead, they told me that they decided to meet with me because my sexuality made them uncomfortable. I felt like I had been hit from the side by a semi-truck, as I hadn’t been expecting it at all. Kelli explained an incident that led her to believe that I was a frightening pervert. The other day, I had accidentally walked in on her when she was in the shower. I didn’t hear the water and the door was open a crack. I thought I had made an honest mistake and had apologized. Instead, she thought that I was trying to get a sneak peek at her naked body. I had never been attracted in the least to Kelli. I actually found her to be a loud mouthed narcissist. Even if I had been attracted to her, I am not the sort of person who would barge in on her shower just to see her naked. Which I didn’t even see. I closed the door immediately when I realized the mistake.
I assured her it was a mistake and that I was sorry, but she brought up another, worse situation. At a recent party, there was a girl who was pretty intoxicated and crying in front of everyone. I think she was upset over how some guy had treated her, but the tears had become a bit of a spectacle. She was one of the few people I felt that I had a friendship with, so I told her if she felt overwhelmed that we could step outside. Now, from my perspective, I was offering to stand outside with a friend so she could clear her mind and take a break from the distressing party. From “Kelli’s” perspective, I wanted to get her alone outside so that I could rape her. So, Kelli confronted me about my intent to sexually assault this other person. This was also pretty painful. In retrospect, I think more people should look after one another and make sure that everyone is safe. Maybe Kelli was genuinely looking out for her and that is good. Safety is good. But to me, I felt rather devastated, as I had actually been trying to be nice in my own awkward way…but my niceness was perceived as an attempt to sexually assault someone. I don’t know that I have felt so socially rejected and misunderstood in my life.
Before the conversation, I had felt like a misfit. I assumed that others just thought that I was a bit eccentric, but harmless. It was deeply painful that my roommates believed that I was a dangerous rapist or pervert. I felt that I had utterly failed at presenting myself as a good, trustworthy person. That somehow, by my actions, I had led people to believe that I was dark and dangerous. I told them my version of the stories. They seemed to accept it. They even admitted that they might have went about the whole thing the wrong way. I cried. They wanted to comfort me. I wanted to push them away and scream as they got tissues. It gave me a lot to think about. I though the whole thing was about toast crumbs, not rape. How weird did I have to be for them to think I was this truly terrible person?
After that, I really didn’t hang out with anyone. I kept to myself and bided my time, enjoying my own company. I thought maybe I had made a mistake by hanging out with people or opening up about myself. Had I just kept to myself, I would not have been at that party and my accidental walking in on the shower would have been written off as an accident. I am sure that in my outsider-ness and open bisexuality contributed to the misunderstanding. Still, I felt that had I been a heterosexual male or female, my behaviors may not have met the same painful scrutiny. As I am older now, I should try to look at it with more objectivity. As painful as it is, I should commend them for looking out for the girl at the party. Too few people do that. My intentions were not dark and attraction or perversion did not even enter my mind. Despite what they believed, I was not attracted to every single woman in the world and looking to voraciously satisfy my sexual appetite no matter the cost. But, I suppose if the world is going to make a mistake, it should make the mistake of looking out for safety. It is better that some innocent people are hurt by unkind accusations than ignoring dangers to potential victims.
Still, that was the most painful conversation of my life.
The Teacher Who Didn’t:
While in Beijing, I did some English tutoring for spending money. This is illegal, as it is illegal to work on a travel visa, but it was done in private homes and at a café. Another way that some people make money is through “white face” jobs. Basically, you can get paid to be white (isn’t that the epitome of racial privilege?). These jobs are temporary positions given to white people, wherein they pretend to work for a school or company to bolster the image of the organization as more international and therefore prestigious. Rose called me about such an opportunity. All I had to do was pretend to be an English teacher. In exchange, I would be taken on a 2 day trip to Xian and paid $200. Sounds good! An opportunity to leave Beijing and see Xian, where the Terra Cotta warriors are….and get paid. So, I arrived at the train station to meet “Chuck” the head of a language school. Chuck bought my train ticket, but didn’t tell me much about the trip or what is expected of me. I asked Chuck if there will be time to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. He became quiet and thoughtful, then stated that we are going THROUGH Xian but our destination is actually Yan’an. We needed to take the train to Xian to get to Yan’an. This revelation marked the beginning of my Kaftkaesque journey.
I got on the sleeper train, which if I recall took about twelve hours to get to Xian. The additional trip to Yan’an was another five hours or so. So, after seventeen or eighteen hours on a train, I was pretty exhausted. I still had no idea what was expected of me. My only instructions were that I was supposed to pretend to be a teacher for his school. The arrival in Yan’an was hazy. We took the train there and visited a temple. However, I was informed that Yan’an was not our final, final destination. Rather, it was a smaller city about an hour away. We travelled there by car, but were now joined by an entourage of unfamiliar people whose position or relationship to Chuck were unknown to me. Chuck sped along at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, even passing a police car that was travelling too slow for his taste. As undemocratic as China is, there does not seem to be as much policing of everyday things such as driving or littering as there is in the U.S. or this policing is less consistent. As such, not only was speeding by a police car to pass it seemingly acceptable, so is driving on the sidewalk from time to time. We arrived at our final, final destination and checked into the hotel. Chuck informed me that there would be a dinner at six.
Before dinner, I asked Chuck what I should say to his company. He told me not to worry, as none of them spoke English. So, once again, I knew nothing about my position as a fake teacher. No idea about the school or what grades I taught, how long that I worked there, or anything. Oh well. Weary from the long journey, I attended dinner. Of course, I was seated by a diplomat, who spoke English. And, while everyone else watched my reaction to the food, eagerly hoping that I enjoyed it, he asked me questions about my job. The surreal dinner, wherein I felt that I was the dinner entertainment….there to please everyone with assurances that the food is good and eat more as I am given it….stared at the entire time…continued. Only, each time I tried to answer the questions posed in English by the diplomat, Chuck answered for me in Mandarin. They conversed about my position….in front of me….in Chinese. This left me entirely in the dark about the lie that Chuck was concocting about me. It made me anxious. All of it made me anxious. The dinner went on forever. The food was actually pretty good, which seemingly pleased everyone that I ate it. On a side note, I hate feeling the pressure to eat and even more, I hate it when people watch me eat. But, I suppose we all do this when we have guests….eagerly hoping they will like what has been introduced to them.
We all returned to the hotel and I was informed that I must be up at 6 am the next morning. I talked to Chuck at the door of my room about this. He tried twice to push himself into my hotel room, but I blocked him with my shoulder and door. I really didn’t want to be alone in my room with Chuck. The next morning involved an award ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of a school. This is why so many politicians, school administrators, and important people were there. This cleared up a little what exactly we were doing there. At the same time, the two day trip had already been three days. Oh well. I assumed that we would return after the ceremony the next day.
The following day there was a ceremony, complete with children singing and dancing. There were speeches and a band. It was all a pretty big to-do for the anniversary of a school. When it was over, I asked Chuck when we will return to Beijing. He told me that it might be a day or two. He doesn’t know. A day or two?! After my very long train ride, enduring a couple of meals, complete isolation from everyone that I know- in fact, no one in the world even knows where I am, a ceremony, and now an uncertain return….things fell apart. The whole thing had been pretty uncomfortable to begin with. Never have I felt so powerless and isolated. I began to think that maybe I would not be returned to Beijing. Chuck went on to inform me that I must attend another meal with him.
I snapped. I informed Chuck that I would not eat until I return to Beijing. He said that if I don’t eat it will embarrass him. I told him that I want to go back to Beijing and can’t eat until I return. This was my only tool. A hunger strike. Chuck begged me to eat. I reluctantly agreed to at least attend the lunch. I attended the lunch, but only nibbled. The Chinese guests offered me some apple juice that was made locally. It tasted warm and fermented. More misery. However, at the end of this meal, Chuck magically produced some train tickets and announced that we would be returning to Beijing that afternoon.
17 long hours later. I enjoyed the crinkled yellow brown landscape of the Loess Plateau and the snaking Yellow River. The landscape became less like a curtain of sandy mounds and flattened. There were farms and nuclear reactors. Yan’an was the end of the Long March. I feel as though I had been on a long march of uncertain roles, awkward meals, fear, and isolation. We arrived back in Beijing. Chuck asked me if I wanted to grab breakfast with him. I said no. I took my $200 and left.