5 Travel Disasters – and how we got through them with our sanity intact

Travel is an amazing, unforgettable experience. Ask anyone who’s donned a backpack or suitcase and they will be able to regale you with their unique, incredible exploits. Dig a little deeper, however, and the vast majority of them will also have a couple of nightmare stories, when the planets have aligned and everything that could go wrong, has. 6 months on the road has been plenty of time to accumulate a few of these of our very own. We’ve compiled a list of our top 5, to give you your daily dose of Schadenfreude. Enjoy!

My backpack’s break from backpacking

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Fit.

It’s the start of our trip. We’ve bid a tearful farewell to our families and boarded a flight to Moscow, via Brussels. Filled with hope and anticipation for the months to come, we wait eagerly for our luggage at baggage reclaim, ready to begin our adventure as soon as they arrived.
Except, sadly, mine didn’t.
Trying not to take it as an omen for things to come, we filed a report with a disinterested Russian Customer Service attendant, who popped a couple of numbers into her computer, and told us dispassionately that they had my bag… in Belgium. Taking our hostel address she informed us that it would be with me in the next 3-5 days, shrugging when I frantically told her we were leaving in five.
What followed was three days of questionable wardrobe choices, courtesy of Alex’s belongings. My personal favourite was rocking his oh so stylish Pacman boxers under my less-than-fresh jeans (that were on their fifth consecutive day of wear). Fortunately, I got my bag back a couple of days before we left for Thailand, so I didn’t have to fish through Alex’s stuff for a suitable bikini replacement!

Closer than final call

While we thought this would be the end to our misadventures in Russia, sadly we didn’t account for our awful timekeeping. Trusting far too much in Googlemaps assessment of journey time, we were still on the bus to the airport half an hour before our flight was due to depart.
With twenty minutes to spare and the gate already closed, we raced to the check-in desk and were sent through with our bag still with us. Thanks to some lax security members, who stopped us going through with scissors and liquids in our bags, then immediately letting us though when we said we’d been told to go straight in at the desk, we made it to the gate.
Thankfully, we weren’t the only ones holding the plane up, as three guys had gotten caught up shopping, and seemed much less inclined to rush than we were. Sweat-soaked and breathless we made it onto the plane causing only a five-minute delay. While this may not be a disaster in it’s own right as we didn’t actually miss the plane, the years the stress has taken off of our lives definitely merits a mention in this list.

Drive-by theft

By the time we got to Cambodia we considered ourselves veritable globetrotters, wise to the ways of the world. Enter Phnom Penh, to show us how wrong we were. After a couple of drinks to celebrate six months on the road and a bite to eat at street-food vendor Katy Peri’s Peri Peri Pizza, we made for our hostel, just a 5 minute walk away. The roads in Phnom Penh are the craziest we’ve seen so far, with erratic taxi driving and bikes all over both sides of the road, and driving down the pavement when roads proved slightly inconvenient.
Because of this we didn’t really notice anything amiss with the bike that drove far too close to us as we were crossing the road, and it wasn’t til I felt pressure on my neck that I realised what had happened. The (insert your favourite expletive here) had stolen my bag! Being paranoid at the best of times I always keep my handbag round my neck with the bag tucked into my arm, to prevent exactly this happening. Sadly no-one told the strap of my possibly not genuine $4 Michael Kors bag this was the plan, and it snapped at the first sign of pressure and the (more expletives please) made off with my bag. Despite a daring chase, first on foot and then with another motorcyclist who had saw it happen, the thieves were long gone with my mobile, money, room key and an array of worthless but sentimental bits and pieces I’d picked up along our travels. Fortunately my passport was locked up safe at the hostel, so we were able to continue our travels, without the burden of another bag to carry.

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The pizza, on the bright side, was delicious.

Welcome to Vietnam

We were in two minds about using the new E-Visa to get into Vietnam, while it’s significantly cheaper the level of awareness of it’s existence at airports and land borders seems to vary enormously. In the end, our cheap side won out and crossed our fingers, and getting progressively more and more nervous we boarded the bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
It didn’t help our anxiety levels when the Kumho Samco bus attendant, who insisted on taking everyones passports for crossing the border, had very limited English, and despite us asking him three times about the E-Visa he was unable to give us an answer, and didn’t take our paperwork.
Figuring that we would have to just show our Visa when we went through Border Control, we held onto them. However, when we got there we managed to glean from the gentleman screaming at us in Vietnamese this was the wrong thing to do. Disappearing with our passorts and Visas, he left us to watch despondently as every other passenger on our bus went through.
Thankfully, we only had to wait another 5 minutes before we were reluctantly let through, and having seen our bus attendant poke his head round the corner to see where we were a couple of minutes before, we rushed through baggage check and out the door to catch up.
At first, we didn’t believe the people who told us our bus had gone. Surely, we were only 5-10 minutes after everyone else, he saw where we were, surely he wouldn’t just leave¬†without even telling¬†us? After circling the Vietnamese side of the border (and nearly being sent back to Cambodia in the process) we were forced to conclude that, yes, they had just left us, and we had to pay again for seats on another bus so we weren’t left stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Unimpressed to say the least, we arrived in HCMC just 45 minutes after our original bus, and full of righteous hanger. We marched to the Kumho Samco office and were told that we weren’t entitled to a refund because the attendant ‘wanted to tell us he was leaving, and that we could wait two hours for the next bus, but he couldn’t say it in English’. Fortunately, they didn’t account for the tenacity of two broke travellers and after a couple of visits into the office they relented, and refunded us the additional money.

7.8 on the (Richter) scale of disaster

Admittedly, some of these previous points we had our part to play and with better time management/organisation/Karate skills they could have been avoided. Nothing we could have done, however, could have prepared us for the Earthquake in Kaikoura, New Zealand.
We had just gotten into bed in our bunkroom when the beds started to shake. Then the door frame. Then the entire room. Pinned and unable to move we had to accept that the Apocalypse was happening, the World had ended and we were stuck in some ‘This Is The End’-esque purgatory. What had actually happened was we were stuck uncomfortably close to the epicentre of the Earthquake and as a result, were stranded in Kaikoura for 3 days.
An uncomfortable night in a car, one incongruous crayfish dinner and a naval boat later we had been evacuated to Christchurch, with a truly unique travel experience. You can read the full post about this misadventure here.

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All of these setbacks, as frustrating as they were in the moment, pale into comparison of how awesome travelling is the rest of the time. Things don’t always go to plan but that’s part of the experience, part of testing your mettle and gaining confidence in yourself and ability to deal with adversity. Sure, things have gone wrong, but we wouldn’t have changed our trip for the world.

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