As autumn approaches and our thoughts turn to the spooky events of Halloween, I remember times when my travel experiences have been far from sun, sand and sangria. Sometimes, events can turn sour and we experience some pretty frightening events during our travels. For instance, I’ve experienced earthquakes, riots, coups, broken bones and many other incidents during my years of travel. So prepare to be freaked out by travel blogger stories of eleven travel horrors you probably want to avoid!
11 travel horrors to give you the frights
Narrowly avoided a riot – Anne of Travel The Globe 4 Less
A few years ago we happened to be in Tunisia when a number of tourists were slaughtered by gunmen on the beach. We were staying in a neighbouring resort and understandably were terribly saddened by events, but keen not to allow terrorism to curb our plans.
Just a few days later we decided to take the train to Tunis, but from the moment we arrived we knew something was off. There felt an edge to the city that I have never experienced anywhere else. Police were beating elderly people in the streets with their truncheons and locals were hurriedly trying to get out of their way. I was horrified by the brutality.
As we approached the city centre, we could see a group of people protesting. The next thing I knew, Jason grabbed me and shouted for me to run in the opposite direction. A stampede was heading towards us, as events kicked off and the police chased protestors in all directions. It was seriously scary so we did the sensible thing and took the train back to our resort.
Tips to avoid this travel horror
Use common sense and do your research before visiting a city to establish if civil unrest is a common occurrence. If there are regular hotspots you may choose to avoid these.
Held up by armed police – Talek from Travels With Talek
I was working in Nigeria as a business development manager for an American company. I was visiting distribution points in Lagos with our local distributors, two Iraqi gentlemen. We were traveling around the city one night by car and were returning to my hotel.
There was very poor lighting and debris on the road so we were driving slowly. Suddenly, two soldiers appeared on either side of our car. They had long weapons. I don’t know anything about weapons so I couldn’t identify them, but they were not handguns! We stopped and they ordered us out of the car. We got out and saw several more soldiers sitting around a fire drinking liquor. They searched our car, found nothing then said they needed to remove the seats to continue searching.
At this point, one of our colleagues said we were in a hurry and offered them the equivalent of about $20US to let us go. They did. Needless to say, I was relieved.
Tips to avoid this type of situation
If you work in dangerous countries there is always a chance something scary will happen. The best advice is to work with locals who know the territory.
Being caught in floods – Kylie of Our Overseas Adventure
The most frightening thing that’s happened during my travels is being caught in a flash flood due to a heavy downpour in Madurai, India. The weather was fine and dry when we entered a restaurant for dinner, but then the heavens opened and a huge monsoon downpour filled the streets with deep water.
Now if you’ve travelled in India, you’ll know what potentially was in that water – rubbish, excrement from cows (and humans), snakes and nasty potholes to fall into! Stupidly, we left the restaurant because we thought the downpour was over, but as the ankle deep water quickly became knee deep, it was clear that it was dangerous to continue. We found another restaurant to wait the rains out and finally it drained away.
Afterwards, I returned to my hotel, threw my Birkenstocks in the rubbish bin, had a very long shower and then rubbed my feet in Betadine ointment all over.
Tips to avoid this travel horror
My advice is to keep a close eye on the weather if you’re travelling to India in monsoon season. Think carefully about having vaccinations prior to travel and always carry a first aid kit with good antiseptic cream in it.
Picking a fight – Gemma of Two Scots Abroad
I’m Scottish. We’re well aware that we are known for being thickskinned and often a little blunt. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone asked me ‘what I was looking at’ while riding a bus in some of our Scottish cities but this interaction did not happen in Scotland. It happened in the ‘nicest’ country in the world, Canada!
I was travelling by bus from Kitsilano to the centre of Vancouver, a route I took often while living there. Listening to music and staring into space, my daydream was rudely interrupted by a young girl asking me – ‘what are you staring at‘? I smiled, pulled out my earphone and replied ‘sorry?‘ I hadn’t heard her.
‘What are you looking at?‘
I burst out laughing and responded in my thickest Scottish accent, ‘I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice, I’d expect this to happen in Glasgow, not Vancouver‘.
Tip to avoid this happening to you
Child kidnap – Sally of Our 3 Kids V The World
I’m always hyper sensitive when travelling with the kids. I watch them like a hawk and never let them out of my sight. On our first overseas trip, we visited Ocean Park in Hong Kong, a large theme park. Keira, who was then 7 years old, was walking on a raised garden bed at the rear of our group of 7. I was walking next to her but about 5 metres away.
I noticed a gentleman quickly walking up beside her and thought he was an employee about to ask her to jump off the garden bed. Instead, he picked her up and ran in the other direction with Keira in his arms looking back at me. I panicked, I didn’t know whether to try and get my husband’s attention or chase her. I screamed and chased them for about 80 metres when the man stopped and started taking photos of her with a large Chinese tour group.
Once I realised they were only taking photos, I was relieved and started to gather myself again. With that, my husband had realised what had happened and he wasn’t as forgiving as I was!
How to avoid this travel horror
Keep hold of young children’s hands or attach them to you with a bungee cord.
Threatened with jail – Stefan of Nomadic Boys
One of the most frightening things that has happened to us when travelling was almost being arrested for being gay in India. Recently, the Supreme Court in India repealed the archaic anti-gay laws, but when we visited India a few years ago, being gay was still a crime. In reality, infringement was rarely enforced, but used as an excuse for the police to extract bribes.
In our case, we wanted to go to a gay club in Delhi on a Saturday evening. As being gay was illegal at the time, there were no official gay places. Instead, there were unofficial underground parties that would be announced by word of mouth via gay dating apps like Grindr.
The club was in Connaught Place in central Delhi and was packed. We arrived around 10pm and quickly made friends. It was a a lot of fun, and everyone was having a great time. But suddenly just after midnight, the music switched off, lights went out and everyone was told to remain calm. The police had arrived!
We of course were panicking – the last thing we wanted was to get involved with any dodgy law enforcement in a place like India! Our friends saw we were nervous and told us to relax – this was apparently the norm for them. Basically, the police would find out where the gay parties were taking place and turn up to demand their bribe from the club promoters.
So, after the police were paid, everyone walked out of the club and quietly went back to their homes. No one was harmed or arrested. This was the norm in India when being gay used to be a crime.
Tips to avoid this travel horror
Sadly, the only way to avoid such discrimination is to avoid countries with archaic laws.
Experiencing an earthquake – Angie of Feet Do Travel
The most frightening thing to happen to me whilst travelling, and indeed the scariest day of my entire life, was experiencing the magnitude 7 Lombok, Indonesia earthquake on 5 August 2018.
I was living on Gili Air at the time, a small 2km wide island a few kilometres off Lombok’s north west coast. We were eating dinner when we heard a rumble all around us, then the building began to shake. The lights went out, screams could be heard all around and the shaking intensified. Furniture moved and as we ran out of the building, the floor shook so much I could no longer stand and fell onto the road.
As I stood up, the shaking stopped. Panicked people ran up and down the street yelling “get to the middle of the island, there’s a tsunami warning in place”. A tsunami would wipe out the island. For an hour we lived in fear, then a strong aftershock rocked us again. At this point, we were sitting in the middle of a field with nothing around that could fall on us, no buildings, no walls, and no electricity cables. It was the safest place to be for an earthquake, but not for a tsunami – for that you need to be somewhere high.
Thankfully a tsunami never hit, however the lives lost on Lombok, and devastation caused on all surrounding islands was huge.
Tips to avoid the travel horrors of an earthquake
Sadly, there is no way to really avoid this but take Angie’s advice and get to higher ground where possible to protect against the impact of tsunamis.
Helicopters shooting rockets – Alex of Lost With Purpose
It was the 10th day of Muharram, the Day of Ashura. A significant day in the Islamic calendar when Shia Muslims commemorate the death of Imam Husayn ibn Ali. Processions of Shias fill the streets.
Our host in Kabul warned us to stay inside—Shias are sometimes targeted by extremists who consider them heretics.
Stubborn as we are, we insisted on going out to a hilltop park overlooking Kabul. The park seemed so far removed from the images Afganistan in the media. Boys sipped tea while smoking hashish, whilst families enjoyed picnics. Nothing out of the ordinary.
At the edge of the park was a magnificent view of Kabul, where we could see processions below. Then, out of nowhere, an army helicopter appeared and headed straight towards the hill we were standing on.
Torn between excitement and panic, we stared at the helicopter as two bright orange balls burst from the side of the helicopter. “Rockets!”, we exclaimed simultaneously, looking around us fearfully to see what our fellow park dwellers would do. They didn’t even blink.
When we turned to the helicopter once more, another set of bright lights erupted from its side. The lights were not rockets at all—they were flares. Our hearts stopped racing, and we laughed nervously. At least our gravestones won’t say “Death by rocket.”
Tips to avoid this travel horror
More research maybe?
Being charged by a gorilla – Nicole of Nicole LaBarge
Trekking with Gorillas in Rwanda was an amazing experience. Your guide takes you into the jungle to a gorilla family where you spend an hour observing them.
After we arrived, we hiked about half an hour into the forest with our tracker. The trackers go out first thing in the morning to find the gorillas and know where they are. They radio the guides and tell them where to go. Once you reach the tracker, you must leave all of your stuff except your camera. I was the first one in following the guide and next thing you know I was face to face with a gorilla.
I turned to the guide and was pointing excitedly ‘there’s a gorilla right there’. My next experience was both amazing and terrifying! This picture of Kubaka was taken moments before he charged me. Our guide was cutting down some foliage and Kubaka didn’t like him cutting down his food source. Can’t say I blame him!
Our guide made sounds like a gorillas to tell them everything was alright. It was amazing to see how fast he could move towards us and watching his face get angry was just as amazing as it was scary.
Tips to avoid being charged by a gorilla
Go to the back of the line?
Robbed by gypsies – Sherrie of Travel By A Sherrie Affair
One of the most frightening and exhilarating things that has happened to us while traveling is being robbed by gypsies. It was our second time visiting my favorite city, Rome, and we decided to go shopping around the area of Barberini Piazza.
First, let me explain, we knew all the warnings and tips about gypsies; don’t carry money with you unless it’s in a money belt. Don’t look like a tourist by checking a map on the street, and of course make sure you aren’t carrying a lot of shopping bags. Well we failed on two out of three counts on this little outing.
As we came out of a store with bags galore, I was checking our handy little map when all of a sudden a very wrinkled woman, dressed in old rags started pushing a sign into my husband’s stomach. The next thing we knew we were surrounded by teenage girls, all pulling on my husband’s coat and yelling. Being a gal from New York, I started pushing them away and yelling back. As fast as it happened, all of a sudden they were gone.
My husband checked his front pocket for the small amount of cash for cabs that he had kept there – gone. We took off running after them screaming “Police, Police”!! That did it, they stopped dead and one of the girls came running back begging us to stop calling for the police. She shoved the money back into my husband’s hand.
It shakes you up a little being robbed, so we gave each other a high-five!
Tips to avoid this travel horror
Take Sherrie’s advice and don’t make it obvious you are a tourist and keep valuables in a safe place.
Claire of Claire’s Footsteps
Something that any Australian outback connoisseur will tell you is to not, in any circumstance, drive at night. Night is when the animals come out, when road trains ply the highway at their fastest speeds and when driver fatigue is at its highest risk. I was very aware of this most of the time, until one incident when my timekeeping wasn’t up to par…
Driving along a highway in the dark, we saw cows and goats standing right by the unfenced road, and once had to slow down as a cow crossed the road. The amount of roadkill is a sordid reminder of how easy it is to have a run in with one of these animals.
Kangaroos jump into lights, so it is very easy to hit them when driving at night. Luckily, we saw one jump into the road far enough ahead of us that we managed to slow down in time.
We ended up turning off the road early to stay at a different campsite. This being the Australian outback, I didn’t have any phone signal during the drive, but picked one up when we arrived at the campsite. Creepily, I discovered a message from my dad, who didn’t know I was driving at that point, just saying ‘stay safe’….
Tips to avoid such travel horrors
Do as Claire says and do not drive at night.
Have you ever experienced such travel horrors?
Maybe you have experienced a nightmare when travelling. I’d love to hear how you get on and remember peeps, it always pays to have travel insurance, just in case!
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