Just over a year ago I wrote a post on places which are disappointing to visit and it ended up being one of my most viewed blog posts of the year, as well as sparking quite a bit of conversation on Twitter. It made me realise that there’s an appetite out there for sharing the less than perfect experiences that most of us have whilst travelling. I’ve been lucky that I’ve not come to any serious harm or danger whilst travelling, but I’ve still had some experiences which I don’t really talk about. At the time they might have been stressful and I didn’t want to worry anyone, or the anecdotes might not have fit with the rest of the tales I had to share from my trip.
Most of these memories I can look back at now and laugh about, but they would never be the things which first came to mind if someone asked me about a particular trip. I think to some extent that we’re all so used to editing highlights for other people, we do the same for ourselves so that we can preserve our favourite and most exciting memories untarnished. However, life and travel aren’t perfect and so I want to share some of those moments which have been not so wonderful.
Being locked out of our Airbnb in Boston
Although the majority of people I know book Airbnbs when they go away and have never had any issues, I’ve always been nervous of them and have tended to choose other options. My concern appeared to be for good reason when I heard about the experience that some of our friends had had with their Airbnb on the first night of their round the world trip. However, we decided to opt for an Airbnb when staying in Boston so that we had the option to self cater and to avoid hotel prices which were seemingly even higher than those we’d faced in New York.
We found the apartment easily and were pleased with how close it was to public transport links. Despite staying a little further out of the city centre, it didn’t look as if it was going to impact on our trip at all. We managed to access the key through the lock-box as instructed and made our way into the building. However, we couldn’t get the key to turn in the lock of the apartment door. Confused, we tried the same key we’d used for outside but unsurprisingly this didn’t work either. It wasn’t particularly late, we had a number of options of what we could do and if it started raining we could still access the building so weren’t going to get ourselves or our luggage wet. But in those moments, in an unfamiliar place, your instinct is to panic about what is going to happen.
We called our host, who picked up straight away and they didn’t really believe us as it had been working fine that morning when it had been cleaned ahead of our arrival. However, we were instructed to pop into a printers down the road and speak to a friend they had there. He came back with us and after much shoving and rattling of the lock, confirmed that we were right and it wasn’t just that the door was stiff. Our host then called a locksmith immediately so we waited for them to arrive and fix a new lock.
It was all sorted within a couple of hours and we were lucky to have someone who was responsive at the end of the phone – it really wasn’t too big a problem. However at the time I was worrying about the time it was taking (time that could have been spent exploring!), whether or not it was some sort of scam, and how much the phone calls would be costing us at an international rate. As it was, everything was fine, although we did remain nervous of the lock throughout the visit.
Cockroach in the bedroom
It’s almost a rite of passage that if you travel to a hot country, you will at some point come across some bugs where you really rather they weren’t. This could be ants in a villa in Spain, a praying mantis in the shower, or indeed a cockroach in your bedroom. Depending on how you feel about bugs, these can be fairly unpleasant experiences but nowhere near as bad as finding a snake or poisonous spider somewhere unwelcome. However, you wouldn’t have thought that was the attitude I’d have the way I reacted to the cockroach we encountered in Hong Kong.
It was the second night we’d stayed in our hostel and we were looking forward to moving on to New Zealand the next day. Initially I was unlucky opening the door to our room, as a very small bug must have been sitting on the top of the door and landed on me. It made me jump! But a quick scan of the room suggested that there was little else to be concerned about. However, in the night we both woke up and saw a huge cockroach on the ceiling which was really disconcerting. Do they bite? Are there more? These are the thoughts that started to race through my mind as I stared up at it. Meanwhile James was trying to work out whether he could catch it in something, but realised that if he didn’t, it would more than likely land in the bed. A cockroach on the ceiling is much better than one in the bed.
We were both really tired which was likely why we became so concerned about the cockroach, but neither of us got much more sleep that night. I couldn’t help but imagine it running over our pillows or waking up and finding it crawling over me. In the morning, despite inspecting bags, shoes and pockets, it seemed to have completely vanished and we decided it was probably best if we didn’t know where it had gone.
Having an ankle the size of a tennis ball
Nobody likes being bitten by bugs on holiday. When it’s warm it can be itchy and uncomfortable but generally it doesn’t detract too much from whatever else you are doing. However, sometimes you can have a reaction to something and it makes life a little bit more unpleasant. I assume there’s some sort of creature that I’m allergic to as a couple of times now I’ve been bitten by something on my ankle for it to swell up to the size of a tennis ball.
This was particularly problematic in New Zealand when I woke up one morning and couldn’t put any weight on one foot. My ankle was huge and seemed to have locked itself into the position I was sleeping in. Eventually I managed to change its position with a huge crack which didn’t sound very healthy at all! We would have gone to a doctor’s or pharmacist but we had an early bus in order to get our ferry to the next island so I just ended up hoping for the best. It was painful to walk on for a little while but luckily it soon subsided. It would have been a much bigger problem earlier in the holiday when we had a lot more walking planned.
The night train with no air-con
My first experience of travelling without my family or school was going interrailing after my A-levels with a group of friends. We were determined to fit in a lot and have a great time, but were also cautious about how much the trip would cost us. We had a wonderful time and the whole trip was a great experience, but there was one moment where our penny-pinching went a little bit too far.
In the whole trip we had two night trains to take. One we paid for couchettes and although there was very limited room for all six of us and our bags we managed to squeeze in. For the second one we decided to save some money and just paid for seats rather than couchettes. I was already worried about this as I struggle to sleep when not lying down but decided for one night it wouldn’t be too bad.
However, that was before we boarded the train which had been sitting in the full sun all day in Venice. Even worse, the air con wasn’t working and the shop soon ran out of water so we were stuck on a long, hot and sweaty journey with a very limited supply of water between us. The Europeans further down the carriage decided that it was the perfect opportunity to party so we were then stuck with thumping loud music and a group of drunk people as well.
Unsurprisingly I only got about an hour’s sleep and consequently didn’t really enjoy or appreciate Vienna as much as I might have done otherwise. Although I haven’t been on a night train since, the moral of the story is that I will always pay for a couchette. It was the worst part of our whole trip but as a shared experience it now gives us something we can look back on and giggle and groan about.
Everyone has a travel moment where something has been less than perfect, or they’ve had a rather anxious moment for some reason and it’s all part of the experience really. It’s just sometimes important to remind yourself of that whilst it’s happening!
Which travel moment would you want to erase?