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With 7 years of almost exclusively solo travel beneath my belt, it’s safe to say there has been plenty of room for
success failure in that space of time.
For anybody who knows me in real life, it’s probably a bit of a surprise that I’m even still alive at this point as, quite frankly, I’m a klutz. As an illustrative example, just this morning I was walking to the hairdressers, tweeting (of course) that I was walking to the hairdressers, but almost didn’t make it to the hairdressers as I walked into a parked car and lost my 1 and a half sizes too big shoe behind the front tyre.
Yeah, I know, temporarily losing a shoe is no big deal. But I have a habit of losing shoes. Rivers, mud, volcanoes, lakes, very heavy water gushing down the side of the pavement on my lunch break in school – you name it, I’ve probably lost a shoe in it.
And losing shoes is actually one of the less problematic qualities of being a klutz. There’s also the breaking things, accidentally setting fire to walls, kicking small children in the face (it only happened once, I swear) and all the other characteristics traditionally associated with being a little ole clumsy oaf.
So all in all, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate myself on surviving this long intermittently on the road without any arrests, hospitalisation or deportations. Good job me! However (said very slowly as if something very exciting is coming up), there have been a few…uh…hiccups along the way.
So, in honour of Friday the 13th, I thought I’d compile a list of the 13 biggest travel fails I’ve had so far that I can remember. Then I started writing and by Fail number 5 I was already almost 3000 words in, so figured as I’m writing a blog post and not a memoir, I should cut it down. So here’s 7 of my biggest fails…a number not quite as unlucky as 13, but close enough (and one for every year of travelling, very apt!).
Fair warning to you all, though, they’re not actually that exciting. Mediocre at best, a bit like me in all other aspects of my life.
How NOT to Travel the World: 7 of my biggest travel fails
- 1 Sending my luggage to Chile
- 2 Very nearly shitting myself on a volcano the size of Kilimanjaro
- 3 Getting kidnapped in Nepal
- 4 Setting fire to my best friend’s house
- 5 Setting fire to another wall
- 6 Almost getting arrested at Rafael Núñez International Airport, Cartagena
- 7 Dying a very long and painful rabies-related death…almost
Sending my luggage to Chile
Spoiler: I was definitely not going to Chile
Let’s rewind back almost (not really almost) a decade to June 2011. There I was, aged 18, so eager and excited for my first ever solo international trip that I arrived at the airport nine hours early for my flight. Yeah, that’s not a typo – NINE hours. Couldn’t tell you what was going through my head, to be honest. Anyway, it’s a good job 2011 Rhiannon almost had her @&%$ together and planned for all eventualities as almost as soon as I walked through those automatic doors at Heathrow Terminal 2 (I think), I got an email from the airline to say LOL sorry, flight cancelled.
It’s funny that the one and only time my flight has ever been cancelled on me was my very first rendezvous abroad when I had absolutely zero clue how to make my backpack fit, let alone what to do in case of such a dire emergency as being stuck in London Heathrow with no way forward and no way back. Incidentally, every single thing that could have gone wrong with that journey went wrong, but that’s a story for another day.
Anyhoo, after many hours of sitting there half asleep (it was around 2:30am when we arrived) waiting for the airline staff to show up, then many more hours of hanging around in the queue with what seemed like 3 million other angry passengers, I got put on a different flight.
The very nice air hostess took my passport, and on realising that I didn’t have an ESTA (I was originally flying to Lima via Madrid, but this new flight would take me via Miami) told me ‘hang tight there, I’ll be right back in a jiffy’ (direct quote, not even lying). While she was gone, a different member of the airline staff came along, asked me how my day was going, took my bag and tagged it before throwing it onto the conveyor belt, all in one swift movement. I thought it a bit odd that the bag was tagged “SCL”, which was not the airport code for Miami, Lima or my final destination of Cusco.
Ya know what though? Easy, breezy eighteen-year-old me didn’t want to cause a fuss so didn’t mention anything!
It wasn’t until almost 24 hours later, when I arrived at Cusco Airport and realised my luggage definitely hadn’t arrived that I put two and two together. They eventually found my bag three days later in Santiago de Chile and had it flown over to me on the next flight.
Five days of wearing the same underwear and having to wash it in the bathroom sink was more than enough to teach me to use my outside voice if ever I thought the airline was planning to send my stuff to Timbuktu.
Very nearly shitting myself on a volcano the size of Kilimanjaro
Spoiler: It was not an enjoyable 2 days
Excuse my French, but no amount of flowery language will make what happened sound poetic.
This is another Peru-related incident, although not in the same year as me sending my bag to the wrong country. This was in 2013. My then-boyfriend now-arch nemesis and I decided to sign up for a hike up Mount Misti, an active volcano near Arequipa. He had just completed the Inca Trail so was apparently feeling more than ready for the challenge. I, on the other hand, had just spent 5 weeks travelling across Venezuela and Colombia, gorging myself on one too many empanadas, and not going to bed until 6am every night.
Like, I’m definitely not an expert so don’t quote me on this, but something tells me that’s not the kind of lifestyle you follow in preparation for a climb up a 19,000ft volcano.
We signed up, and the lady in the tour agency told us to make sure we carried at least six litres of water each. Did I fancy carrying 6 litres of water up a volcano along with my luggage and a tent, though? No. Did I take her advice as more of a light suggestion than a necessary precaution to keep myself alive? Of course I did. Because I’m a bit of an idiot like that.
So I packed myself a meagre 2 litres of water and drank half of it in the car on the way to the bottom of the volcano, as you do when you have no idea how to function as a normal, water-consuming human being.
If you’ve never been
stupid fortunate enough to attempt to climb a volcano, take it from me that it is freaking hard! Made even harder when your idea of physical exercise is walking to the shop to replenish your stock of donuts and the only ‘equipment‘ you have are a pair of £10 budget running shoes you bought in the never-ended Sports Direct closing down sale. It’s like walking up a very steep mountain, but that mountain is covered in ash that comes up to your knees. There’s no like about it; that’s exactly what it is, tbf.
Panting my way up that volcano, forcing one leg to move in front of the other felt like I was wading through the burnt ashes of my hopes and dreams for the future. At one point I actually thought I was gonna die there on that volcano. It took us just under eight hours to reach base camp. When I say it took “us” just under eight hours, what I mean is it took the other guys just under eight hours, and it took me more like nine as I kept periodically stopping to dramatically collapse into the ash and insist they go on without me and leave me to become dust.
What I didn’t think would happen is that they would go on without me, and every now and again me and my stubby legs would have to hop, skip and jump our way through the godforsaken ashes of hell to catch up.
Anyway, now you have a clear picture of the level of enthusiasm I had for that hike, let’s remind ourselves of the fact that I did this eight-hour hike in high as sin altitude with less than 2 litres of water.
And do you know what a common occurrence in people who climb mountains with no advanced preparation and no idea what they’re doing is? Altitude sickness. And do you know what one of the symptoms of altitude sickness is? Diarrhoea. So this is where the story gets messy…
By the time I reached base camp, everything had already been set up. The bonus of having legs shorter than a matchstick and less enthusiasm than a sloth on Valium? Not having to help set up tents. So, I finally arrived to a rousing congratulatory welcome from my ex and the French couple we were hiking with, and our wonderful guide Alfredo gave me a little tour of the camp. He showed me where I’d be sleeping, where we’d be cooking and where, if needed, we’d be disposing of our own waste.
All settled in and waiting for the water to heat up for our Michelin-star afternoon meal of noodles, the ex and I wandered a little down from camp to take some photos of the view at sunset. FYI the view was spectacular – almost worth the 8 hours of torture.
There we were, snapping away at the mountains and city in the distance when all of a sudden I get this horrible, foreboding rumbling in my stomach. Instantly realising what was about to go down, I furiously clenched my buttcheeks together and turned to my ex.
“I need to go to the toilet,” I basically screamed at him in one breath. He evidently did not sense the urgency of the situation as he just responded with a shrug and told me to make my way back up to the base camp and use the toilet area so lovingly prepared for us by Alfredo.
“No. I need to go NOW!” I insisted. So he did what any guy would do when faced with his almost-crapping herself girlfriend’s wrath and walked a little way around the corner, beneath this weird volcano cliff thing poking out of the surface, and dug me a hole in the ground.
He then awkwardly hovered slightly out of view to ensure no unsuspecting Frenchmen stumbled upon the scene of the crime, and I barely managed to drop my trousers before every bad food decision I’d made on that trip so far came rushing out in one swift motion.
Just as I was finishing up and preparing the mammoth cleaning up task ahead, I looked behind me and guess who happened to walk onto the little cliff thing above me and look down at that exact moment? None other than Alfredo, my very nice and now very scarred for life guide. I’m 99% sure he got a full-on view of my post-volcanic eruption white ass, which isn’t exactly pleasant to look at at the best of times!
The worst part is after all of that we didn’t even manage to summit the volcano in the end, thanks to other medical issues.
Getting kidnapped in Nepal
Spoiler: I survived
I’ll keep this one short and sweet (I have a whole post on it right here if you want all the juicy deets). Basically, a man with a gun told me to get in a car, so I, being the naive and ‘always see the good in people’ kind of person that I am, did just that.
And, to prove the universe is absolutely hilarious and fantastic, it happened on Friday the 13th. Yep, Friday the 13th of July 2012. It’s real – check your calendars.
Setting fire to my best friend’s house
Spoiler: The house is still standing
I don’t even know how this one happened. I’ve gone over and over the events of that fateful evening (lol, so dramatic, it wasn’t even that bad!) in my head and still can’t work out what I did differently that night than any of the previous nights that would have made the entire wall go up in flames.
This was in India, almost exactly 2 years ago on April 23rd. I was staying with my friend and his family, and they had very kindly forced him out of his room and onto the sofa so I could have his bed. Chivalry, you know. Turns out it’s not dead in India.
That night we’d all been out in our Gladrags for his sister’s marriage fixture ceremony (sort of like an engagement party before the engagement which comes before the actual engagement) and when I say we were all wearing our Gladrags, what I mean is everybody else looked all shiny and sparkly and wonderful in theirs, and I was wearing gym gear.
I’d already made enough of a fool of myself that night first by crying in the ceremony (it was very emosh but apparently not a done thing in India) and then by having the entire family gathered around me at the dinner table trying to fish a contact lens out of my eye. The best part is that the lens wasn’t even in my eye, but had fallen out and onto the floor about an hour prior.
After much poking and prodding in my eye, we all retreated to our respective bedrooms and I, very excited for a nice, long sleep in the air-conditioned room, mindlessly flipped the big red switch next to the almost twenty-year-old AC unit embedded into the wall. It’s probably important to mention that by this point I’d already been sleeping in this room, flipping the same switch every night, for around 10 days. So it’s not like the whole thing was new to me. I expected a bit of a buzzing noise, a little whirring and then an icy blast to hit me full force in the face.
What I did not expect was a strange click, a small spark and then the entire wall to go up in flames.
Frozen to the spot in panic, I had an internal debate with myself about whether or not I should try and out the fire myself before waking up the whole family to tell them I’d basically burnt their house down and they were homeless now. I had a bottle of water – why not at least try?! I’ll tell you why – because water + electrical fires are a big no-no.
Primary school science facts rushed back to me at the exact moment I was reaching for my bottled water, and so I made a last-minute curveball decision and rushed downstairs, frantically calling my friend’s name.
His name – Gijin, rhymes with pigeon but not quite – is not easy to say in a rush. It’s even harder to say when you’re repeating it 10 times per second, trying to simultaneously not cause panic but also convey the seriousness of the situation.
So I ran downstairs semi-screaming his name, and he met me at the bottom of the stairs with a calm smile and sparkly eyes asking what was wrong. I told him there was a fire in the AC unit and he replied with a nonchalant “Yeah, it sparks sometimes“. I had to insist that no, this wasn’t just a spark – that entire section of the wall was on fire.
He followed me back upstairs, definitely not believing me but playing along anyway. He probably thought this British girl wouldn’t know the difference between an electrical spark and a fire if it hit her in the face. Well, it did hit me in the face actually.
As we entered the bedroom and he faced this raging inferno, it became obvious that I definitely was not exaggerating, and he said in a much too calm for that sort of situation voice “Oh, that is a fire“. Then – and I kid you not – he stuck his hand in the fire, flipped the AC switch off and the flames sort of disappeared into themselves.
That was the moment I realised that Indian men (or at least this Indian man) have superhuman strength. He wasn’t even burnt. Not one single arm hair was singed.
Very anti-climatic in the end, but extremely grateful I did not inadvertently put a whole family out on the streets.
Setting fire to another wall
Spoiler: Wasn’t really a wall, was a plug socket
Same trip, different country, different wall.
After leaving India and the family who were probably a tiny little bit secretly happy to see the back of the awkward British girl who almost burnt down their house, I flew over to South America to spend a few months perfecting my español and definitely not climbing volcanoes. Because I was spending the year flitting between continents like a fly torn between honey and a shiny lightbulb, I had one of those very useful and very expensive fancy universal plug adaptors.
In fact, I had two.
One wasn’t so expensive – a bargain £9.99 from Clas Ohlson in Cardiff, made before the store shut down and became a mural of funny books – but the other was a last-minute “damn it, I think I forgot my plug adaptor again” purchase at the WHSmith in Heathrow airport. It was about £25 but worth every single penny. It was fantastic. It was a red cube with all sorts of pull out knobs and bobs you stick into the wall.
The only issue with it being cuboid as opposed to circular or oval is that it was extremely heavy, so unless the plug socket was floor-level, the chances are it’d fall out every minute or so, weighed down by its awesomeness. To combat this, I thought I’d be clever and prop it up with books, then wedge it in with my backpack.
For a while, this worked. The plug would stay in and I could use my laptop and charge it at the same time. What I didn’t realise about forcing a plug into a socket it really doesn’t want to go into, though, is that it causes the prongs to very slowly but surely snap or burn away until eventually POOF, it all goes up in a blaze of glory.
I was seven episodes into season one of Jane the Virgin when this happened. Too engrossed in the love
triangle square between Jane, Michael, Petra and Rafael, I barely even noticed the smell of burning plastic. It wasn’t until the tiny little fire caused my laptop charger to have a bit of a meltdown and cause my laptop to short circuit and switch off that I looked up and saw that the plug socket was very much on fire, and my backpack was about to catch.
Fortunately, on this occasion, it was just a tiny little one and limited to only the plug socket. As soon as I knocked the adaptor out of the wall it went out, leaving nothing but some melted plastic and a lost non-refundable $25 deposit.
Almost getting arrested at Rafael Núñez International Airport, Cartagena
Spoiler: My criminal background check still comes back clear
If I had to choose one country in the world to get arrested and thrown in prison in, it’d be Norway. Their prisons look nicer than most student accommodation and probably have laxer security too.
On the other end of the spectrum – the countries I definitely don’t want to get arrested and imprisoned in – are the likes of North Korea, Saudi Arabia and UAE, among others.
Colombia falls somewhere in between. As much as I would hate to be incarcerated in a South American country where the jails are notoriously known for their overcrowded cells and harsh punishments, I’d definitely be at somewhat of an advantage as, you know, I’m fluent in Spanish. So if I were about to be murdered by a fellow inmate, at least I’d know about it, which wouldn’t be the case in Egypt, for example.
This very nearly became a reality as I was leaving Cartagena, Colombia to fly to Mexico City. A combination of my over-blasé attitude and occasional inability to effectively communicate in Spanish (I know I said I’m fluent, but sometimes I unknowingly lapse into Spanglish. Or Spitalian. Or Spanglian) caused a little bit of a scenario at the customs desk.
Having just had a lot of fun with some police officers, who very nearly caused my ex to burst into tears during a search of his belongings (a dog smelled drugs on him, he is the most straight-edge and boring person I’ve ever met in my life so there were definitely no drugs, but on hearing a summary of the very long story of our break-up, the police officers obliged in being a little more thorough with their search), I wasn’t exactly looking as serious as I should have been.
Apparently, smiling at customs officers when they’re stamping your passport is enough to arouse suspicion that you’re an international drug smuggler. I have that look about me, it seems.
The officer asked why I’m smiling – I told him because it was a beautiful day and I was alive, and this was definitely not the right answer. It just caused more suspicion, resulting in a quick-fire interrogation of my travels up until that point and my plans for the future. He asked for my ticket – and I, thinking he meant my ticket out of Mexico, as that’s where we were in the conversation, told him I didn’t have one.
Five minutes and many “You don’t have a ticket?” “No, I don’t have a ticket” later, he called over two of his big and burly security guard friends and told them to ‘take her away‘. It was at this point I twigged that when he was asking for my ticket, he meant my ticket for the flight I was about to catch and not my onward flight from Mexico.
A little bit of miscommunication and things getting lost in translation meant he thought I’d somehow managed to bypass check-in and security without a valid ticket.
After a lot of huffing and puffing and checking and double checking my ticket, he let me go but told me to brush up on my Spanish past tenses.
Spoiler: I did not die. I did not even contract rabies. I am a drama queen.
Am I exaggerating, though?
Long-time (or sort of intermediate-time) readers of the blog will know all about my run-in with an Indian monkey and the madness that ensued afterward. But for those new around these parts, I was innocently taking a photo of a very pretty temple in Jaipur, when the world’s biggest and most vicious monkey lunged at me with razor-sharp death and took a big ole chunk out of my side.
Photo of the suspect after the event:
I told you all, right? Mediocre at best!
Fun fact for you, Spellcheck just tried to change mediocre to Medicare. Silly spellcheck.
If you made it this far – almost 4000 words, jeepers – please reward yourself by sharing with me in the comments either your biggest travel fail or something crazy that’s happened to you on Friday the 13th! I am looking forward to not being the only one hiding behind their hands in embarrassment.