People dream of being able to see the world, and traveling abroad is a major bucket list item for many. Experiencing a new culture, tasting different foods, and broadening your horizons are just a few of the reasons to take a trip outside your country. Although you may be ready to pack your bags, there are risks every traveler should be aware of when visiting a foreign country — especially if you don’t know the local customs or the areas to avoid. Add the possibility that there might be a major language barrier in the country you are visiting and it really can be a recipe for disaster. Many unfortunate travelers end up in some seriously bad situations while far from home, and these real-life travel stories may have you second-guessing what’s on your next itinerary!
35. Night Terrors
I was in Amsterdam by myself. I’m not religious, but accidentally booked a hostel that turned out to be a Christian youth shelter. I came back one night after partaking in some of the green stuff. I was scheduled to return to the U.S. the next day, and I passed out right away.
The room had five beds, but no people. At 4 a.m. I woke up because some guy stumbled into the room, turned on the lights, and woke me up to ask if he could use my phone. I looked and saw his stuff was on one of the other beds, so I knew he was a fellow visitor. This guy was beyond blitzed. He went to his bed and laid down; then the night terrors started. He was screaming primal sounds like I’ve never heard uttered from a human being. This guy was out of his gourd, and sounded like he was in serious pain. I thought he was going to hurt himself.
And let me remind you, I was at a Christian hostel and didn’t feel comfortable in this place to begin with.
I called out to him, tried to calm him down, but he barely acknowledged my presence. Occasionally my yelling would soothe him a bit, but he would always flare up again, completely out of control. I was glued to my bed the whole night, because I thought approaching him would be dangerous.
After a solid two hours of this — probably the two longest hours of my life — he stood up, rushed to the corner of the room (a meter from my head), and vomited in the corner. He went to sleep after that.
Once I was sure he was asleep, I gathered my things and booked it. No one was behind the front desk as I left either. Screw that place.
34. The Land Down Under Isn’t What It Seems
Not too many people are happy to hear Australians shoot and kill kangaroos on a regular basis. Or that we eat them. Or that they are primarily pet food..
33. Road Safety Is Definitely Not Priority
When you go to Southeast Asia, one thing you are struck by is their carefree approach to road safety. It’s typical to see a whole family on a single motorbike, none wearing helmets, zipping through congested traffic without a worry in the world. As a tourist you know the whole thing is dangerous, but it all seems to work in its own way and it’s even a little charming and exhilarating to experience.
32. Brazilian Band Camp
My sophomore year of high school our band was supposed to go to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We had a week planned out filled with sight seeing tours, small concert performances, and lots of relaxing on the beach. Since our group was so big, half of the group flew to Atlanta while the other half (my group) flew to Miami from Minneapolis before taking off for Brazil.
We get to our first destinations okay and then board the plane to go to Brazil. The plane gets delayed due to mechanical issues, so we are stuck in our seats waiting around. An hour goes by, then two, then three. At this point the plane is getting really stuffy and we are all starving. Finally they tell us that the air traffic control workers in Brazil have decided to go on strike so our plane can’t take off.
We get off the plane and are stuck in the airport for the night trying to rebook another flight. It is pretty late at this point and we still have a big group of people so the airport assigns us an empty conference room to nap. The people out in Atlanta couldn’t get a hotel because they were all booked due to the Final Four tournament going on at the same time. The room was FREEZING and all we had were our carry on bags and the crappy pillow and paper thin blanket to sleep on. In the morning we are still trying to book a flight but it’s not looking good. Thankfully the weather was nice in Miami so we sat outside for a while. After spending a whole day hoping to get a new flight our directors are unable to book us a new one.
So now we have to figure out how to get home. Well, the only flights open are from Orlando to Minneapolis. So they book us a hotel in Orlando and we get a coach bus to ride there. On the way the AC breaks and it feels like a sauna on this ~3hr bus ride. When we get to the hotel we are able to relax, but still only have the clothes we wore (I didn’t pack an extra change of clothes with me) and no other belongings. We finally get a flight back to Minnesota, but without our luggage because it still got sent to Brazil! We later find out the strike that prevented us from going was only 24 hours long.
31. Alone In Paris
I went to Europe on a school trip. When in Paris, we were supposed to stay in groups of 5 or 6. None of my friends came on the trip so I was put with a group of the popular kids.
We were looking around a boutique when I went to check out some hoodies (in the same store) whilst they were looking at lingerie. Anyway, we promised to meet out the front of the store at 2pm. So at 1:50 I’m at the front of the shop waiting. By 2:10, I’ve checked both levels the shop and realized they’ve left me here. Alone.
So I wait next to this massive security guard who keeps asking me things in French (I only know very basic French). I realize they’re not coming back. I then leave and wander the streets of Paris by myself for half an hour. I’m pretty sure that someone’s following me and I’m terrified. I run and wait in a coffee shop for awhile until finally I see the teachers and stay with them for a while.
After awhile with them we run into my group. They blamed me for getting lost, they weren’t even punished. I was only 15. I was bullied a lot during that trip, and it made the whole experience miserable.
30. Just Plain Awkward
Was on vacation with my dad in San Diego when I was in 6th grade. Got my period for the first time and freaked out since I didn’t think of it being my period and I thought I was dying. I didn’t tell my dad and waited until I got home and sobbed to my mom about how I was dying. She had a great laugh.
29. It’s All About Priorities
Iran contains the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, ancient ruins, and beautiful mountain vistas. But every hotel toilet stunk.
28. Insecurity Guard
Anyone who has been to the bus station in Dar Es Saalam (Tanzania) will understand.
I (as a female) was travelling with my sister. Unfortunately, our taxi driver from the ferry to the bus station was less than legit. Being somewhat trusting, he asked us where we were going and we told him Moshi. He gets on the phone and is speaking Swahili, but I distinctly hear him say “moshi” and “mzungu” (white person).
He drives us into a sketchy alleyway beside the bus station and his friend pressures us super hard to buy bus tickets for a bus I have never heard of at 3x the regular price. They both get upset when we refuse so we escape into the bus station. There is not a single tourist in sight, and worse still, no other females in a crowd of hundreds of men. We of course start getting harassed right away.
Luckily, a security guard comes to our rescue and takes us to the hotel in the terminal. Turns out he wasn’t a security guard and tried to blackmail us into buying bus tickets for his company. He also knew what room we were staying in. We go out to buy tickets 2 hours later and get separated in the crowd of men yelling at us and pushing us, getting their hands where they shouldn’t be.
Eventually we buy tickets after a huge ordeal (we had wanted to buy tickets from a legitimate bus line, but these men somehow threatened the workers from that bus line and they refused to sell to us). Anyways, long story short, the “security guard” from before asks us to buy tickets from him again and gets super angry when he finds out we had already bought tickets. He starts screaming at us in Swahili and more or less chases us into the hotel (not secure, clearly).
We lock our hotel room, but we hear him in the hallway yelling and banging for some time. This was around 11 in the morning. We stayed in our hotel room until 5 am the next day, with only half a bottle of pop and one stale muffin between the two of us. Our room was also crawling with cockroaches and our toilet didn’t flush.
Needless to say, we were both extremely relieved when we 1) got on the bus (we were convinced our tickets were fake), and 2) left the city limits of Dar Es Salaam.
27. Leaving Las Vegas
Business trip to Vegas 400 miles away. I take my own car. Half way there my transmission starts to go. By the time I get there I cannot make my car go over 20 MPH. It is under warranty though, so I take it to a dealership there. It’s Friday. They cannot fix it until Monday. I am completely broke and company only gave me enough money for one night and one day.
Call my ex. He is going out of the country for two weeks, but gets me a bus ticket home, it leaves at midnight. Go all day walking from casino to casino until midnight (with no food). Go to bus station and they have no record of the ticket. My cell phone is dead. I break out crying at the ticket counter and a bus driver hears. He is driving to a station 50 miles from my town. It’s better than 400!
Bus breaks down half way in the middle of nowhere. Have to wait for a new bus in the desert in January. Still no food. Replacement bus arrives, but I have no ticket. Have to wait with broken down bus with the driver until another arrives at 6 am.
Get to the bus station 50 miles from home at noon. Still no food. Get my dead phone to turn on long enough to get a friends phone number who lives nearby. He does not accept my collect call from the pay phone. Call my sister collect, she three way calls him. He agrees to pick me up. I ask him to bring food.
He shows up 2 hours later sans food. I am grateful he picked me up so I do not complain. I can eat at home. It is only 50 miles away. I can wait another hour.
But no, he has a meeting he has to be at in an hour so I have to wait until later to be taken home. I ask to be left at his house, and if I can use his shower and help myself to his kitchen. He is a bachelor and has no food or clean towels. That’s fine. I can wait to shower, but I need food. Agrees to buy me Taco Bell. But he does not know where one is. I keep telling him I will eat any where but he insists on buying me Taco Bell.
By the time we find one he is almost late for his meeting. I will have to wait in the car. But I have food. I am grateful. 3 hours later he is done with his meeting. But now there is traffic. It takes 2 more hours to get me home. I get home, plug in my phone and there is a message from the mechanic. My car was ready for pick up on Saturday morning.
26. Fair Trade?
We met this Egyptian man in his 50s who wanted to marry my then 7-year-old sister for 5 camels. No joke. At first we thought it was a joke, but he seemed to be deadly serious.
25. Night Out Gone Horrifically Wrong
I was scammed at a nightclub in Istanbul. I met some other travelers and I joined their private table for most of the night. At the end, I was left with a $4,000 bill. In reality, the cost should have been in the $400 range, and I was prepared to contribute to the bill. The whole club was full of people in on the scam. So when the bill came, the place cleared out and I was escorted to the ATM machine. My life was threatened along the way. The ATM denied me, so I was forced to call my credit card company. They denied raising my credit limit to pay the club. At the end of the day, I convinced them I had another credit card at my hotel. They escorted me to the hotel, I told the front desk what was up and they locked the doors and called the cops. Turns out the group that had me was recently busted with large amounts of money, substances, and weapons.
24. Open Door Policy
I got robbed in Barcelona. It was my last night there, I got back to the apartment which was locked, and every valuable was gone (but they left our passports and U.S. money). They even took my suitcase.
I still think it was a set up from the people renting us the apartment. Police could do nothing. Funny thing was that whoever stole our stuff resold it because a picture of two Spanish people showed up on our cloud storage from the tablet. Also, my mom had her wedding ring stolen. The one day in her life she decided to wear a different ring.
Despite all of that, the police were very nice, and they actually came to inspect the locks which showed no sign of forced entry. I still enjoyed my time in Spain, but it’s a weird feeling to be violated like that.
23. One Father’s Horrifying Travel Experience
When my father came back from a business trip to China he had a broken leg. He told us that he had slipped on some stairs.
It was only many years later that I found out the Chinese military police had thrown him off a bridge and left him for dead.
He was part of an arbitration team that had been brought in on a legal case against the government for negligence. I don’t know why he kept it secret from us for so long, but it certainly changed the way I saw China.
22. Heartbreaking Homelessness
The sheer number of people sleeping on the street, on footpaths, and under bridges in Mumbai and Pune, India. Whole families. I just got back and am still thinking about it. There was a lot to love about India, but we saw some heartbreaking things too.
21. When In Rome
Ah, Rome. I was there with a girlfriend. One morning at the hotel breakfast the receptionist, uninvited, decided to sit next to her. He used weapons-grade Italian charm. He told her she should come spend the day with him, go to a club he knew, dance, drink, watch the sunrise at the Forum, then make love. She declined and said she was with me and pointed to me sitting aghast (and mildly amused). He took a sneering look at me and said something like, “What?! You’re with this English pig?! You should be with me… Valentino!” He flounced back to his desk and gave me daggers until we left. Kind of ruined the expectations of the place, but go. It’s great.
20. First Night Gone Horribly Wrong
On our first night in Iceland, a bartender in Reykjavik slipped a drug into our beverage.
We started feeling woozy and quickly left the bar.
Next thing I knew, it was a few hours later, and I’m somewhere in downtown Reykjavik at 11 p.m., with no idea where my friends were. After wandering around for two hours looking for them, I remembered that iMessages could send over WiFi, so I found a bar to sit in and tried to text my friends.
Steve came to at 1 a.m. and found himself running through a residential neighborhood bleeding from his forehead with no idea what had happened. He found a hotel (he couldn’t remember where our AirBnB was) and got a room. The hotel had WiFi, so he got my messages. He sent me a picture of his battered face and told me the name of the hotel and his room number. Neither of us had heard from Bob.
I took a screenshot of the directions from Google Maps, then started walking. By now I was convinced Iceland was super dangerous; we’d been here less than 24 hours, already this happened! My semi-incapacitated self decided the best way to avoid danger was to look scary. So for the next hour, as I walked the four kilometers to the nearest hotel, I growled loudly. It did work, though. The few people who saw me crossed the street to the other sidewalk. It’s a wonder no one called the police on the crazy American.
Finally, I saw the hotel sign, walked inside, and asked the front desk how to get to room 318. He starts laughing and says they only have two stories, and I’m at the wrong place. He kindly called around to other hotels asking if they had a guest named Steve. Turns out his hotel was six kilometers away. It’s now 2:30 a.m. and my phone is at 3%. There’s no way I’ll make it on foot, so he called a cab for me.
I’ve never been happier to see Steve than when he opened his hotel room door. We talked briefly, decided to sleep for the night and look for Bob in the morning. Right as I’m drifting off, my phone lights up with a message from him asking where we are. He’s at the apartment and insists we come back. Fine. We take a cab back.
Bob tells us that he’d woken up three hours earlier from sleeping under some stairs in a random building with a man screaming at him in Icelandic. The guy picked him up by his shirt and threw him outside. He wandered hazily through the city for an hour trying to get his bearings. Whatever was in his system must’ve still been affecting his brain, because he thought that he was in Germany (where he grew up). He didn’t know how he’d gotten there, but he wanted to get back home to America.
A bunch of cabs were parked outside of a bar, so he got in one and asked to go to the airport. The cabbie gave him a weird look, and said it was almost two hours away, but he’d go if Bob really wanted. Bob said yes. Ten minutes into the ride, he realized this wasn’t Germany, and panicked. He took out his phone and found his itinerary, complete with the address of the apartment. The cabbie re-routed, and Bob was safe inside. An hour later he remembered that he wasn’t in Iceland alone.
The next day I looked through my phone searching for evidence of what happened while I’d been blacked out. I’d been all over Reykjavik, as evidenced by my blurry photos. There were several photos of me holding a large orange cat and in different parts of the city, so apparently, I’d abducted it temporarily. No idea why.
Later we discovered that the bar had charged Steve’s credit card $300 for the two beers he drank before we passed out. Jerks.
19. The City Of Lights Has Some Serious Attitude
As a general rule, I enjoyed my (brief) visit to Paris. However, I did have a couple of times when I’d visit a shop and the workers would just be jerks to me. I speak French, but I’m a bit slow, and I’d try to talk in French and the shopkeepers would basically laugh in my face and talk about me to each other when I was standing in front of them.
18. Living In Vietnam Really Is Like A Box Of Chocolates
I was an exchange student in Vietnam. Wonderful experience, but my less-fond memories include: people literally chasing me up a mountainside trying to sell me coconuts and shrimp flavored Pringles (14 of them, one of me); eating breakfast when I felt something pull on my leg (a beggar with no limbs had rolled under my table and was biting my pants); children defecating on the steps of the Hanoi Opera House; tour buses full of Australians throwing cans at people from the windows; almost dying multiple times while traveling on the scariest roads I’ve ever seen; and, finding out that the windshield in our microbus had been sold and replaced with regular glass when a chicken flew through it (lots of stitches involved from a very sketchy doctor).
Speaking of healthcare, I got a first-hand look at the hospital system after contracting intestinal anthrax. I lost 24 pounds in five days and my hair fell out, along with two teeth. I also came back home with tapeworms.
In spite of this I really did have a great experience while studying there and highly recommend it as a travel destination.
17. No Means No
Belize was amazing. All the things I did were incredibly fun and I never felt scared of anything. However, I never met a single guy who I didn’t feel was creeping on me. Middle-aged men were all nice, but I felt like none of them respected any girls (literally wouldn’t listen to a word we said unless a guy repeated it) and when they talked to us it felt like it was only to hit on us. But beyond that, everyone was very nice and I loved the experience as a whole.
16. It’s Not Paradise For Everybody
The number of homeless people sitting along Kalakaua Avenue in those little pergola areas in Waikiki, Hawaii.
15. Don’t Let Your Guard Down
The train stations in Rome are filled with teenage pickpockets. Two different groups made attempts at us in five minutes. It was actually fun to watch once we realized their strategy.
14. Land Of The Not-So-Friendly Strays
There are a lot of stray dogs in Peru. I’ve heard that stray dogs are kind of the norm in Latin American countries, and most of the ones I encountered didn’t want anything to do with anyone passing by. However, there was one stray that I passed frequently while walking to a project that I was working on and he was extremely aggressive to the point that I started carrying rocks in my bag in case he chased me. He would follow me for blocks, remaining hidden in a yard until I passed by. He’d bare his teeth and growl, and he also slobbered a lot. I didn’t think it was rabies, but I’m also not 100% convinced it’s not rabies.
13. Beyond Aggressive Salesmen
I’ll never go back to Rome, Italy. Hawkers everywhere. No matter where you go, tourist area or not, you will be accosted by a huge number of hawkers aggressively trying to sell you something.
12. A Very Trashy Situation
Bosnia is full of trash. I love that country, but it’s littered. If you’re hiking in the countryside and you see a small lovely path, don’t take it, it leads to a dump. Almost every village has one.
11. Competition Is Fierce Among Street Vendors
The amount of children in Peru selling you stuff in the streets. At any one point, you could have five different kids competing with each other to sell you the exact same keychain. Seeing poverty at that level shatters your perspective.
Spiders in Japan are huge, have crazy colors, and make scary big webs.
9. The Worst Place To Get Jumped
Broke a rib after getting ganged up on in a bathroom in Serbia after one of the guys thought I was looking at his girlfriend.
8. Some Tourists Have No Respect
7. Pyramids And Excessive Pollution
Egypt is the most polluted country I have ever been to. It is like living in a landfill.
6. This Is Kind Of A Big Problem Everywhere
There’s an obscene amount of catcalling in Indonesia, but mostly in the bigger cities around more tourist-dominated areas.
5. That’s Just A Tad Harsh
When I fell down a flight of stairs in Hungary and broke my back not a single person stopped to help me while I screamed in pain.
4. A ‘Friend’ In Need
I was walking down the stairs to the subway in Korea when I noticed a bunch of cameramen rushing by. Curious, I walk back up and see what the commotion is about. I realize that there’s some celebrities and so I stick around. I didn’t understand everything they said, but they said to go to this one place for the Olympics for some sort of event. It was late at night, but wanting to join in the fun, I decided to go. I arrive at the subway stop and then realize I don’t know whereon earth to go. At this time, the subway is beginning to shut down so I can’t just go back home.
Realizing my stupidity, I decided to go to the ATM to grab money in case I needed a taxi later. However, I was withdrawing money around 11:55 at a train station and as the money was processing, it hit midnight and apparently those machines close at that time, so the money never comes out. I freak out not knowing what to do because I thought I just lost $200. I try calling the ATM people and they say they’ll call about 15 minutes later. So I sit on the floor waiting in a virtually empty station.
Then this man around late 30’s to mid 40’s comes over (I’m only 17) with a friendly smile. I assume he works for the train station so I explain my problem in broken Korean and he nods. I get a call back from the ATM people (who happen to have very good English) and they tell me to wait some more. When I hang up, the man’s expression suddenly changes from nice and caring to devious.
He then proceeds to ask me if I want to drink with him. However, I mix up the word alcohol (sul) with water (mul), and I think he is asking for some water. I give him a confused look, then proceed to pull out my half-empty water bottle and offer it to him. He looks at it for a second, begins laughing, and then proceeds to explain he wants to buy me alcohol. I give him a dumbfounded look as I just explained to him that I had lost my MONEY. So I say I don’t have any money.
He then proceeds to tell me it’s okay, and that HE has money. Being bad at confrontations, I just pause for a really long time. He then asks, “You don’t want to?” I look at him like he’s an idiot, because really… am I going to go drinking with a stranger? In my head I’m like “no duh” but I just say, “Yeah, I don’t want to.” He then leaves, but before doing puts his hand on my folded arms and slides it over as he’s leaving. It was highly unpleasant.
Later, I am picked up by someone at around 2 a.m., and they tell me that the place I was in is rather dangerous because that’s where all the sex workers are. That’s when I realized what a dangerous situation I put myself in. That’s when I also realized why that guy was asking me to drink. He probably thought I was working.
3. Machete Island
Was studying abroad in Thailand and went with a friend to an island (Koh Samui) for the weekend. Soon after checking into our dinky hotel, we rented motorbikes and cruised around the island, quickly getting lost on back roads. No big deal. We found a little tiki bar and drank the night away, thinking “we’ll figure out how to get home — eventually!!”
Fast-forward to about midnight. We’ve had enough that motorbiking back to wherever we came from suddenly seems like a good idea. It’s an island, right? Who gets lost on an island!? So we set back in the general direction of the hotel. After about an hour of zig-zagging around dirt roads, we passed something that smelled terrible and I turned back to make a sour face at my friend.
In a flash, I went off the side of the road and smashed the motorbike off an embankment and into what I assume was a swamp… of the town’s sewage. By the time I realized what happened, I was almost fully submerged and trying to account for my bodyparts, let alone wipe my face and mouth clear of the revolting slush.
I scrambled out, scratched, bruised, and shamed, but all in one piece. The motorbike was stuck half submerged, so we yanked it out and (somehow) got it running again, then limped back toward our hotel.
We eventually made it back to the hotel, must have been at least 3am. I stunk and had a plethora of scratches and bruises that had been marinading in it for over an hour. So I sprinted to the hotel room shower like my life depended on it. After a few minutes of obsessive scrubbing, I emerged to an empty room. No friend in sight. So I went over to my suitcase to get dressed and look for him. It was practically empty, save a few t-shirts and underwear. Strange. Went for my backpack… nowhere in sight. My friend’s backpack… not there. We were robbed.
Frantically, I threw on a shirt and underwear and ran outside to find my friend banging on the door to the lobby, already aware that our stuff was missing. Feeling disgusting and violated in multiple ways, I sprinted over and joined him, banging and throwing rocks at the window until somebody responded and helped us report the crime.
Before long, a little old Thai man poked his head around from the corner of the building. We yelled for his attention and he darted away. We chased. He re-appeared, this time wielding a machete. He shouted something in Thai, and we bolted as far as we could from the property, running until we were absolutely certain he couldn’t find us.
We ended up far away at another beach resort with no idea what to do. We had no hotel, no passports, no clothes, and our wallets/phones were back at the recently robbed hotel room, where a little old man was waiting for us with his machete. Defeated, we passed out on the resort’s beach chairs and allowed the mosquitos to feast on our helpless bodies until the sun rose.
That morning, we limped back to the hotel, snuck into the room, and grabbed all that was left of our possessions (thankfully we weren’t robbed twice). I bought a bathing suit to wear over my underwear, and we swiftly got off that miserable little island.