After travelling on and off for the past 12 years it will come to no surprise that I’ve experienced my fair share of travel mishaps, from almost being denied entry to the US to being held at knife point in Paris.
Although some of these experiences were terrifying they also taught many valuable lessons, not just on how to become a safer traveller but a smarter one too.
Here are some of my most memorable travel mishaps and what I learned from them.
Ps: If you’re reading this mum, sorry for the grey hairs.
1. Hostel from hell – Prague, Czech Republic
Being messed around in what I can only describe as one of the most sketchy and worst hostels I’ve ever stayed in.
Having just arrived from an overnight coach from Slovenia I was tired, hungry and aching. As always I booked my coach for a 2pm arrival to avoid waiting around for check in.
When I arrived I knocked and waited patiently for staff to answer… nothing. I knocked again, still no answer, called the number, voicemail.
I decided to grab a bite to eat and return later. Already experiencing a pretty sketchy feeling about the place I put together a backup plan by researching other hostels nearby.
When I arrived back at the hostel I banged loudly on the door to which a nervous guest answered instead. At first she hesitated to let me in as the hostel owners said not to let anybody enter without a booking. I explained to her that I had one and pulled out my phone to prove it and said I’d been waiting since 3pm to get in. It was now 4.30pm
She told me that this was a pretty oddly run hostel and that the owners were barely ever here. Another guest entered the kitchen and stated that the owners did nothing whatsoever.
Between them they started listing everything wrong with the place, not that they needed to convince me, the place was dark and dirty, ants crawling over rotten food, a broken leaky bathroom, smashed windows, no locks, mouldy walls and matresses which reeked of urine.
In the dorm room I noticed that the girls had opened up their sleeping bags and created make shifts bed on the floor with their bags and clothes. The mattresses were grotty with black mould and crawling with bed bugs. I took photos and video footage of this.
I asked the other girls why they decided to stay here and they told me that the manager had fobbed them off and had already charged them in full, he refused to refund them. One was a student visiting a friend and the other had just moved to the area and needed an affordable place to stay whilst she was flat hunting.
It was clear that they were just as pissed off and I was but now I was also worried that I wouldn’t get a refund either.
By 6pm the manager had returned and I started questioning him about the bedbugs and being late. He immediately got defensive with me and accused me of bringing the bed bugs with me, I told him that was impossible as I’d just arrived a few hours ago and hadn’t even touched the bed as I was waiting to check in.
I also pointed out that:
A) The website stated that only the first night would be charged and the rest to be paid on arrival but he took the full payment from me.
B) That the photos did not accurately represent the hostel, they were completely different photos.
C) That I’d been waiting almost 4 hours to check in but nobody was here.
He threw every single excuse at me, saying that he ran multiple hostels and that they were awaiting repair work but the maintenance guys didn’t turn up and that guests just left bad reviews because they didn’t want to pay.
I asked again for a refund but he told me that he didn’t know the log in details to booking system, I called bullshit.
He was the maanger and a compulsive liar at that, I told him that I worked at hostel back home and that it was impossible for him to not know his own log in details, he knew how to charge me!
In the end I just grabbed my bags and left, accepting that he was zones theif. He robbed me of €60 and I was furious.
I vowed to warn every Backpacker visiting Prague to avoid this place, otherwise they would catch the plague… literally.
What did I learn from this
Despite doing my research this was just a simple case of being mislead by thieves.
I checked out the hostel website, reviews, location and booked with them. It pirely was just a case of bad luck.
I should have just gone with my gut feeling upon arrival and booked elsewhere but either way I still lost €60 and then had to fork out extra for a new hostel.
I later learned from other backpackers that the manager had been deleting negative comments from social media and their website, so when travelling do talk to other travellers.
I don’t like doing this but I’m calling them out and warning you all:
Since visiting Hostel Marrakesh in Prague they have changed their name on booking.com to ‘Backpackers Hostel’, and have removed most negative comments. I know this because I went to screenshot my comment to add to this post but it has disappeared, however you can find recent reviews on Facebook.
2. Death in Amsterdam – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Even though this wasn’t a mishap on my part, I still wanted to include this story to highlight the severity of peoples actions.
This was by far the most shocking wakeup call ever to witness and took place during short visit to Amsterdam.
It was around 11pm when I arrived and had 12 hours to burn, so instead of hanging around the airport I decided to head out and do a little night-scene sightseeing.
I’ve never been one for smoking pot or drinking but I was still keen to try out some food and visit the Red Light District.
I dropped by a small cafe and ordered a coffee and some crepes and sat outside to watch the world go by.
Whilst relaxing there was one guy in particular who caught my attention on the other side of the canal. He was stumbling around and blatantly under the influence. Other people passing by dodged to get out get out of his way.
Suddenly there was a loud splash. He’d tripped on the cobbled stone floor and stumbled head first into the canal. Tourists started running to see what had happened and within seconds a huge crowd gathered.
By this point the guy had been submerged for around 2 minutes but all I could hear was the chattering of a dozen languages, I overheard an Australian guy behind me saying that people weren’t advised to jump in the canal to save anybody as the undercurrents of the water would drag people under.
It was at that moment that the streets lit up bright blue from the incoming police vans, followed by an ambulance, sirens wailing.
People being forced to back off. In jumped the scuba divers.
There was an eerie silence across the street. More tourists gathered, waiting. It had been almost 10 minutes now since the guy fell in and still nothing. 15 minutes, 20 minutes.
Eventually the scuba divers emerged from the water, body in hands. Officers scrambled to help pull him onto the ambulance bed but there was no movement. Paramedics rushed to his side, conducting CPR but there was still nothing.
A blanket was placed over his body and he was loaded into the ambulance.
I stared in disbelief… followed by a wave of disgust as I watched other tourists around me, phones out recording and taking photos of the events. I couldn’t believe these people.
I decided to head back to the airport early.
What I’ve learned from this:
On average there are about 18 deaths in Amsterdam, mostly by drowning caused by inoxication.
I can’t stop anybody from doing anything here but the lesson is to be mindful of how much you drink or smoke. Never mix drugs with alcohol.
Stay with your friends, don’t buy from dodgy street vendors. Only licenced cafes as you never really know what you could be smoking.
The risk is never worth it.
3. Knife point in Paris
What was meant to be an exciting and spontaneous getaway to Paris, soon turned into a terrifying nightmare.
After landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport pretty late at night me and my friend decided to head straight to the hostel. We catched the metro and then transferred trains to our destination. Everything seemed pretty fine, just a regular Saturday night.
The train was pretty crowded but we kept our guard as people entered and exited the train.
Out of the corner of my eye that I noticed a man staring at me, I didn’t want the attention and turned around to face my friend, whispering to her that the guy behind me was creeping me out.
The train stopped and the guy gave up his seat to other boarding passengers and made his way over to stand behind me.
A surge of uneasiness crept over me as I felt the pressure of this guy leaning into me but I tried my best to keep calm, all the while my friend grabbed my hand. Looking at me and acknowledging my discomfort. She had been watching his every move.
It was plain as day to anyone that we were not locals and not a single other person spoke up or said anything to help.
In that moment I felt a cold sensation against my skin and peered down to find that the guy had a blade held against my side, next to the strap of my backpack. He was standing so close that nobody else on the train could see what he was doing.
Was he planning on robbing me? Was he going to stab me?
In my mind I’d always played out what exactly I would do in a situation like this but when faced with the srality, I just froze.
My friend whos eyes widened at the sight of my face turning bright white, I whispered ‘We need to get off this fucking train now’
She peered to the glass window opposite the carriage and saw the reflection of a blade in the guys hand.
She whispered back into my ear ‘When we pull up, run left”
There was no other choice but to run, I could live with my bag being stolen but I didn’t want to get stabbed.
The train slowly pulled up to the next station and without any hesitation a dropped my backpack off my shoulders in hopes of knocking his hand and blade away from my back. We legged it, barging past everyone who was in our way. No fucks were given as we pushed and dived our way off the train and down the platform, jumping the ticket barriers.
We didn’t stop running for about half a mile.
We weren’t sure if the guy followed us but we didn’t take any chances.
What I’ve learned from this
Moral of the story, keep your belongings separate. I wasn’t prepared to risk my life or slow myself down with a bulky heavy backpack. Everything that was important to me (apart from my wellbeing) was in a small crossover bag on the front of my body. Passport, money, phone.
Research the area in which you are staying, steer clear of any known danger zones and avoid travelling at night if possible.
As hard as this may be, try not to stand out too much as a tourist.
The biggest mistake I made was travelling with a backpack embellished with world flags patches, making me an OBVIOUS tourist. Opt for a smaller plainer rucksack instead.
4. Almost being denied US entry because of an Instagram fail – Newark, NJ, USA
After an 8 hour flight and hours of queuing at US customs I was so ready. This was my first ever visit to the states and had saved for over a year and planned 3 months worth of amazing adventures.
Once I was called over to passport control, I walked over and handed the officer my passport, plane ticket and ESTA paperwork.
He frowned at me whilst holding up my passport and asked,
“What is this?”
“It’s my passport sir” I replied, I was confused.
He then proceeded to take my fingerprints and photo and then called over another officer to escort me to secondary screening whilst they investigated my documents.
I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong.
After about 20 minutes the second officer called me over to explain that they had problems with my passport due to damage. He asked me if I had been tampering with it. I said no.
He asked me why it was so damaged?
(The penny finally dropped)
I told him I’d previously dropped my passport in a Venetian canal whilst trying to take an Instagram photo, I was aware that my passport had some water damage but I didn’t think it would be an issue as lots of backpckers I’d met had battered passports.
The officer legit laughed the me.
After further questioning (and realising I wasn’t a psychopath) he allowed me to enter the United States on the condition that I got my passport renewed as soon as I returned home.
He said he would make a note of this on my entry/exit records to the United States.
Eventually I got through, just about.
What I learned from this
Don’t risk your possessions for the sake of a cutesy Instagram photo.
Do get your passport renewed if it gets damaged, don’t chance it like I did. It almost cost me my travels.
US Border Control is shit scary.
If you’ve made it this far to my post then congratulations! You’ve survived part 1!
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post, even though quite a long one for me.
I was initially going to make this an 8 point post but realiased it was so long. So if you folks are interested in a part 2, let me know in the comments.
Now I want to know, what are some of your most memorable travel mishaps?
Happy travels xo