Travel isn’t always perfect. Sometimes things go wrong. Very wrong. Check out these travel horror stories submitted by readers (plus one of our own!) that will make your skin crawl.
Travel isn’t always hammocks and cocktails. Sometimes bad things happen when you’re overseas. We’ve heard all sorts of travel horror stories – from petty scams to silly mistakes to truly dangerous situations.
We’re sharing one of our travel horror stories, as well as some of our favorite stories submitted by readers.
One thing we know for certain is that horrible things can happen even in the comfort of one’s own home, so these stories aren’t meant to scare you.
Instead, we’re sharing these events to illustrate that travel isn’t always easy, and sometimes you have to deal with difficult decisions. And in the end, everyone involved in these stories was okay and had a good tale to tell!
So sit back, grab some popcorn (or whatever else you eat while reading cringe-worthy stories), and get ready for some travel tales you don’t typically hear after a friend returns from vacation.
Travel Horror Story #1: Holi — Colors, Groping, and Indian Sewers
Celebrating Holi in India has been on my “Bucket List” for as long as I’ve known about this festival of colors. So this year, we made it happen.
RELATED POST: If you dream of partaking in this festival, don’t let our story scare you away! We had a (mostly!) great experience and would recommend it to others. Check out this article full of tips for celebrating Holi in India (from an Indian!)
Let’s put it this way… 70% of the time we had tons of fun, walking the streets with new friends, throwing colored powder and dancing. But the other 30% of the time was, in all honesty, a bit rough.
You see, the town we ventured to for Holi is known as the most authentic place to experience this festival, and there really aren’t many foreigners who partake. We saw maybe 30 other foreign travelers in total during our entire time at the festival. Add this to the fact that many Indian women don’t publicly celebrate Holi here, and you’ll start to understand what a spectacle I was in this town.
The streets were flooded with young men streaked with colors, who were shouting and dancing. This is what I’d pictured. A celebration of happiness.
But I wasn’t prepared for all the groping. That’s right. Groping.
I had read an article that warned of this behavior, but assumed that since I was traveling in a group (and was with 2 men) that it wouldn’t happen to me. I was wrong. The sad thing is that it starts young – 10-year-old boys were among the perpetrators.
The two other women we were with experienced the same thing, and it made it difficult to wander the streets and dance with abandon. I found myself planning out my next steps – dodging people here and there…
Well, here’s where I screwed up. I scurried past one man and stepped into what I thought was a shallow puddle. I was wrong. I sank up to my belly button in filthy, brown water – a sewer where all the waste is collected from the side of the streets.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. But I didn’t have any time to think about it before I was pelted with more colored powder. That’s how Holi is.
Eventually my pants dried (and I tried not think about what I had just taken a dip in), and we sat in the sunshine outside a temple where we met some really lovely Indian people.
It turned out to be an amazing, color-filled day that you might see in the pictures we’ve shared on Instagram. But just like anything – the not-so-fun-parts aren’t always what we share first.
Travel Horror Story #2: Blood in Paradise
Meaghan Ashley is an English teacher in South Korea, a talented writer and artist, and a very close friend. Ben and I were actually present for this horror story, and I can tell you, it will make your skin crawl.
I had just arrived in Bali for a ten-day vacation with my boyfriend and five of our closest friends. The streets of Ubud were alive with light, color, and the tantalizing smells of incense and Balinese cuisine, and my heart was pounding with the familiar sense of feverish excitement that fills me when I find myself at large in a new city. We arrived at our beautiful guesthouse, Ala’s Green Lagoon, and immediately began exploring. That’s when things took a turn for the worse.
Excited to check out this little rooftop terrace, I didn’t notice the step at the bottom – the one that is shorter than the rest and tiled in the same pattern as the floor beneath it – which would have been easy to miss in the daylight, let alone in the dark. My face hit the stone steps before I even realized what had happened. I tasted blood, felt with my tongue, and guessed that I was missing several teeth. Fortunately, I’d only broken one in half and loosened another, but my teeth also went right through my lip.
One of the guesthouse staff was kind enough to make an emergency trip to the dentist with me and my boyfriend on the back of his moped, swerving around traffic and pedestrians, clutching a bunch of paper towels to my profusely bleeding mouth.
I was lucky that the dentist agreed to see me, as it was late on a Sunday night and she appeared to be in the middle of dinner with her family, but she took one look at me and led me into her clinic – three bamboo walls and a curtain on the deck next to her front door. She went to work repairing my teeth. Periodically, the generator would fail, the lights would go out, and she would pause with a simple “Wait, please,” until the generator kicked back in. When she’d finished, she told me “No more cry,” and charged a mere 800,000 IDR – less than $60 USD (which was luckily covered by my travel insurance!).
Although I spent my entire vacation drinking my meals through straws with Kylie Jenner-sized lips, I had the best time in Bali. Even as I sat in the dentist’s chair waiting for the generator to restart, I knew that someday this would all just be a really good story.
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Travel Horror Story #3: From Heaven to Hell — One of Our Worst Travel Days
We met Kara and Nate, an adorable couple from Nashville, in our scuba course on the island of Koh Tao. They are currently hopping around the globe and sharing their experiences through daily vlog videos that they post each night. Check out their YouTube channel to see what day-to-day life is like as a long-term traveler. Which, as we explained, has some ups and downs.
Come along for the ride as they share one of their worst travel days. It starts out with a business class flight and lounge access (so posh!), but quickly makes a turn for the worst. You’ll see what I mean when I say, “Travel days are the worst!”.
Japanese Capsule Hotel Nightmare
Can’t get enough of Nate and Kara? Check out their experience staying in a Japanese Capsule Hotel in Tokyo. It wasn’t quite what they were expecting…
Travel Horror Story #4: Not Your Dream Island Vacation
Lucy Mugford, a junior at Marquette University (and my beautiful cousin!), has spent the past semester studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. While most days are bliss (check out her Instagram and her blog and you’ll know what I mean), she shares one very stressful experience that’ll make you wonder what in the world you’d do in her situation!
After an incredible spring break week traveling Italy with two friends, one friend and I decided to top off the trip by spending the last two days in Malta. We were picturing lounging on the beach, soaking in some sun and much needed R&R. However, Malta turned out to be the opposite. After dinner and going out to an Irish pub, meeting some cool New Zealanders, and another bar, we headed home to our villa.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized my wallet was gone. I thought it was a joke – it had to be at the bar we were at! But, we went to the bar and had no luck. I kept checking my credit card statements and then sure enough, there was a charge: $68.94 at an Italian train company, which I did not purchase.
After a mini breakdown and calling my parents, we started trying to cancel cards. The biggest problem was that my credit card was the same card as my parents, and they were traveling in Italy at the same time. So canceling mine meant canceling theirs as well. Thankfully, they had another form of payment and it ended up being okay for them.
There we were on this beautiful day in Malta, me without even enough money to buy my lunch. My flight was that night at 11:30pm, and my friend and I had planned on exploring some of the other beautiful islands that day – and it truly was a perfect day. Instead, we sat on the harbor for a few hours soaking in as much sun as we could, she took out 40 euro for me, we got some dinner and then I took a cab to the airport – she wasn’t leaving until the next day. That 40 went by fast though, as 20 went to the cab and I needed 5 for the metro home because my Madrid metro card had also been in my wallet.
The cherry on the top was that my sinus infection came into full effect on my journey home to Madrid. My ears were popping and un-popping throughout both plane rides, and I could barely breathe through my nose. Once I stepped foot off the plane in Madrid I felt 1,000 times better. I definitely learned a tough lesson this trip, and I’m so thankful it wasn’t my passport that was stolen – I would’ve been stuck in Malta for who knows how long!
RELATED POST: Guide to choosing the best Travel Insurance policy for you!
Travel Horror Story #5: Trains, Planes and Strikes
Gina Montilino has been a good friend of ours for many years and shares our passion for travel. She is laid-back and patient, but even the most easy-going person would freak out if this happened to them.
In 2009 I participated in a very unique study abroad semester called the International Traveling Classroom. It sounds exactly like it was; our professors followed us throughout Europe for 3.5 months and we took classes where ever we could find space (museums, hostel lobbies, parks, etc.). Part of the deal of this extremely independent experience was that we NEEDED to arrive at our next study city by 6pm on the designated day. If we were not in the hostel lobby at 6pm on the designated day, our grade in the primary class dropped an entire letter. It’s the only way our leader could keep track of 40 twenty-somethings gallivanting across Europe. No if’s, and’s, or but’s
For Spring Break, my girlfriends and I decided to go to the South of France for about 4 days. We had a lovely holiday in the sun and on the beaches of Nice. The day before we needed to catch a train for our next study city of Salzburg, we showed up at the train station to reserve our seats. We had an unlimited Eurail pass so there was no need to buy tickets any earlier.
“Three seats to Salzburg for tomorrow at 9am, please,” I said.
The man looked at me and in a French accent said, “No trains. There is a transportation strike. Starting in 3 hours. No trains, buses, or taxis in France.”
“Excuse me, what? Is there a bus that can get us over the border and into Italy in the next 3 hours so we can at least catch a train to Salzburg from there?”
“No. No more buses leaving for Italy in the next 3 hours,” he said.
So we were literally stuck in France, 543 miles from our destination city, with our grades on the line, and no end in sight to this strike. We hurried back to our hostel before the strike started.
After a few choice words were said to each other and an evening of angry brooding, we decided to bite the bullet and pay over 200 dollars for a flight to Venice, then a train to Salzburg. This was NOT in our budget but we made it work, like you so often have to do when you’re traveling.
We made it to our hostel lobby well before 6pm on the designated day. We couldn’t wait to tell our professor about the strike, the flight, and our dedication to the program. He seemed less than amused at the time, but rumor has it he uses our story as an example every year to scare students into arriving on time!
Want to know some of the other ways travel can suck?
Click on the image below and keep reading for the stuff that we don’t usually share…
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Comments (6) on “Travel Horror Stories”
My phone also got stolen in Malta. You see, these kidnappers are very sly. I went to the bathroom in the megalithic temple shop. After doing so, my friend went and while waiting and sat down next to the brochures for Malta. Next I put my phone on the side of the small chair that I’m sitting, and I look left to find and pick a brochure to read. This took 10 seconds. 10 SECONDS. I then turn around after picking a brochure. And I reach for my phone. After doing so, I freeze. My phone wasn’t there. I begin to panic and then I rush to the bathroom. I look at the sink where people come and go and see nothing. Then, I rushed to the security. I asked them to help me find my phone and to see cctv (but they say they don’t have the authority to do that). So I show them where I sat, and I realize something. The man who had been sitting to my right before my phone disappeared was gone. I then frantically begged them to search for the man. But he was not there. He was not found in the museum, and temple. He had disappeared. To add to the shock of losing my phone, I had not used iCloud for my phone. So all those photos from all these years, all those text messages, those videos, gone. We went to the local police station to file a report, but it practically doesn’t do anything. These police don’t seem to do their job. They just sit there, in their medieval/ancient offices sitting around doing nothing. For the rest of the trip they did not contact me regarding that. They simply told me to rest assured. This was horrible because I was at the beginning of my 4 week trip, 3 weeks left to go. That was my worst holiday experience
I am so sorry this happened to you. Traveling can be tough sometimes and make us feel mad at the world. Hopefully you were able to share some photos with your friend for the rest of the trip. So sorry again.
Just found your blog while researching for an upcoming trip to Thailand, and because you asked, I just have to share my top travel horror story.
I studied abroad twice in college, once for a year in Israel, and the second was a 3.5 month study abroad program in Europe (not dissimilar in structure to Gina’s). This horror story started before I even left for Europe. I was living in DC for the summer, and a week before I left, I lost my debit card while out one night. This wouldn’t be the end of the world, but there were no branches of my bank in DC, and they couldn’t ship a replacement card to a new address, so I had to open a new account at a different bank and have the card expedited. Fast forward a week, and it’s the day before I’m leaving from JFK. I’d already packed and split my other credit cards into two wallets – one for every day use, and one with the "emergency" card stored elsewhere. I spent the day running errands and seeing friends in New York, and somewhere along the way in midtown manhattan, my everyday wallet disappeared. (Pretty sure it fell out of a car outside Penn Station.) But, at this point, I’m one day away from leaving, and am down to my emergency credit card, a debit card to my childhood bank account with only about $200 in it, a passport, and some back up cash. I withdrew some Euros to get my through the next while until my replacement cards could be shipped from my parents’ house to my first destination, and prepared to leave. The day of my flight, I went to JFK in the morning, stuck my backpack in luggage storage and went into the city for a few last minute errands (photocopying my passport) and lunch with a friend. When I got back to the airport at 5pm – 2.5 hours before my 7:30 flight – and went to retrieve my luggage, I realized I didn’t have my passport. I was pretty sure I’d left it on the copier at a kinkos in Manhattan. My airline let me switch to the next flight (there was no way I was getting into midtown and back in 2 hours at rush hour), and I raced back into the city (cajoling some Israelis at the front of the car pick up line to let me hitch a ride with them), miraculously found my passport still sitting on the glass of the copier, and high-tailed it back to the airport. Problems solved, right? Not yet. I arrived for my layover in London before my next flight to Geneva, but because I’d booked the two flights independently, I had to collect my luggage and go back through security. Since I’d had to take the later flight, I definitely missed my connection. By the time I finally made it to Geneva I was exhausted, but I stayed with a friend who took great care of me, and the next morning I was refreshed and ready to explore. I had a great day seeing the city, and met up with my friend and his girlfriend for dinner. At which point, sometime during dinner, my purse was stolen, with my remaining credit/debit cards, all of my cash, my camera, and MY PASSPORT inside. Thank God, my phone was in my pocket, and I’d made those copies of my passport. At this point, I had a cell phone and some USD I’d stuffed into my backpack, but NO other access to money. I’ve never been so grateful to be staying with an expat friend who still had an American bank account. My parents transferred money into his account, and he served as my ATM. A friend on the same program met me the next day (but of course her luggage had been left behind and wouldn’t arrive for another day), and we eventually made it to Bern to replace my passport, and with a combination of frugal spending, borrowing from my friend with promises to pay her back, and my parents helping to wrangle shipping replacement cards to me in various countries across Europe, the trip went relatively smoothly after that (though it still included dealing with rail strikes, a fried motherboard on my computer, supporting a trip participant through a severe mental health crisis/near psychotic-break, and another stolen camera). Somehow, despite the whole string of travel disasters, I still got the reputation for being the competent one among our group on travel days. The biggest lessons for me, though, were: a) prepare for everything to go wrong; b) don’t drape your purse over the back of your chair; and most importantly c) having an economic safety net is an enormous privilege, and can make the difference between a travel crisis being annoying and frustrating but fixable and being a full-fledged disaster.
Since then, I’ve had delayed flights that meant missed connections resulting in an 11 hr overnight bus ride through the jungle, broken bones (Italy’s health system isn’t exactly efficient, but emergency care was free!), and plenty of other small things gone wrong, but a sense of perspective and building a safety net for myself has meant everything in being able to move through those hiccups with relatively good humor still intact.
WOW Jo! What a story. That is a crazy string of events, I can’t believe it all happened so quickly. I think you have a good attitude about it all and learned a few things. You’re right, it is always good to have a safety net for when these issues do come up. And it also seems like you have great friends and family to help you out when difficult times, we should never take that for granted. Thanks so much for sharing you story and your lessons learned. Cheers!
This happened to me at Holi in Pokhara (the groping, not the muddy puddle). Sadly it seems rather common during this festival.
Yeah, unfortunately I do think it’s pretty common. The majority of people were wonderful, but as in any life experience, the negative parts somehow stick out. Sorry you had to deal with this too.