Our 6 worst travel experiences in 2015

Travelling ain’t all rosy. We’re sharing our six worst travel moments in 2015 and what we learnt from them.

When 2015 ended it also meant our biggest year of travelling (yet) came to an end. While most of our travels have honestly been fantastic there have also been some less glorious moments.

Travel blogs provide ample inspiration for future trips, but rest assured it’s not all hotdog legs on the beach and perfect Instagram snaps.

What was your worst travel experience? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @twourismblog!

1. Rip-off at Hanoi airport

After a month in Vietnam we were flying out of Hanoi, but still had quite a bit of dong left. (Yeah, the currency jokes never get old!)

As it’s a locked currency we couldn’t take it out of the country but airport staff assured us that the same amenities existed inside the security area.

Which, simply put, just wasn’t true.

A funny vest in Vietnam
Our thoughts entirely by the end of our trip.

There are NO EXCHANGE OFFICES after the security check at Hanoi airport. This means you CANNOT exchange dong after this, which we had no idea about. There are even signs inside the security area pointing you towards an exchange place but the signs lead you to a counter with big signs saying they don’t exchange money.

We ended up exchanging our last millions in one of the shops which claimed to only have $40 in cash to give us (i.e. not even half of what the money was worth), yet proceeded to peel the $40 off a stash of about $400. When we pointed this out, the staff maintained they had no more cash, despite the obvious lie.

This came after two days of taxi and cyclo drivers trying to cash in on us (claiming afterwards that the fee was “per person,” refusing to give change, and so on) and we left Vietnam with a heavy heart and light wallet.

Lesson learnt: Watch out for scams and double-check facts and fees in Vietnam. Coming from a culture with fixed prices, nearly no corruption and zero haggling, price hikes and scams are the toughest cultural shocks for me. I try to not take it personally, and just do what I can to avoid being duped.

2. Getting food poisoning on our last day in south east Asia

With a five-star hotel booked for that one night (after a month of somewhat roughing it), and an eleven hour flight to catch the next morning, this was not my favourite moment.

Street food in Hanoi
You can’t go do Vietnam and NOT eat the streetfood…

Not the big TREAT YOSELF finale I had expected.

Lesson learnt: If in doubt, go see a doctor. I’d rather take a day out to go to a good hospital than risk falling seriously ill on a long-haul flight or in a remote destination. Also, if you have to lie in bed all day, a comfy bed in a five-star hotel really is brilliant.

3. Blizzard in Hamburg

Travelling to Hamburg in February we expected it to be cold, but as the snow storm came in across the harbour we found ourselves huddling in a doorway. We only had a weekend in Hamburg and instead of our planned all-day walks we had to spend most of our time sheltering in a cafés and shops around the Nikolaiviertel and Hansaviertel.

Hamburg is a beautiful city, even when it is freezing. It looks warm here but don't be fooled...
Hamburg is a beautiful city, even when it is freezing. It looks warm here but don’t be fooled…

Admittedly it was not the worst way to spend a weekend, but we weren’t too keen on the icy winds and didn’t get to explore Hamburg nearly as much as we’d hoped.

Lesson learnt: Limit our expectations in winter-time. We’re headed to Riga in January where it’ll be around -15 and aim to see only a few major sights, and embrace the café culture to regularly defrost.

4. Overnight buses in Vietnam

I’ve been on long-distance overnight buses before, like the 30hr coach between Sweden and Serbia (with only upright seats). But the winding and bumpy Vietnamese roads combined with the tiny coffin-like “beds” set me off. To make matters worse, none of the overnight buses we took had toilets.

Cue me running through the dark mosquito-filled night to a toilet block full of bugs, at a dusty road-side stop along National Road 1. And spending hours trying to think of anything but vomiting or running water.

Part of the bus seat
Basically a moving coffin on the overnight bus.

Lesson learnt: Research buses more carefully, and if there is no on-board toilet, avoid overnight buses even if it is more expensive or eats into time spent at a destination. Bring motion sickness tablets (and take them).

5. First night in Istanbul

We were staying in a residential area and virtually no shop or restaurant staff in the area spoke English. It was our first night, had gotten late and dark, and we had no idea where we were going. After an hour of not finding a single vegetarian meal option but plenty of dark and dodgy alleyways, we were getting pretty irritated.

The streets outside of our hotel in Istanbul were certainly more welcoming in the daytime
The streets outside of our hotel in Istanbul were certainly more welcoming in the daytime

Having wandered around in the dark Istanbul streets, between rats, bin bags, and people looking through the thrown-out trash for food scraps, we found a supermarket and bought a jar of Barilla sauce and some pasta. (And realised it was a first world problem.)

Lesson learnt: Stay in apartments with a kitchen or kitchenette so you have a back-up. And ALWAYS research vegetarian food/restaurants if you don’t speak the local lingo.

6. Toilet in Hoi An bus station

If you ever find yourself at the Hoi An bus station in central Vietnam, I urge you to peak your head through the opening (there is no door) and have a look. It was the most disgusting toilet block I have ever seen, with shit (literally!) and dirt covering the walls.

lantern-lit street in Hoi an
Hoi An ain’t all bad. (You’re lucky we didn’t get a toilet picture.)

The squatting loo had feaces in it and the “flush” was a filthy plastic scoop swimming in a barrel of green and murky water where most of the bugs had gathered. The whole place stunk of urine, but it was that “WC” or the mud car park.

Lesson learnt: Most trips have a shitty (!) moment, and this was it. Travelling is about leaving one’s comfort zones – both literally and metaphorically. On the bright side, I knew I had hit the worst point of the trip and that nothing for the rest of the trip would be as bad.

Any you can share?

We spent a month in Vietnam which is why the trip included some of our worst moments. It also included some of our best experiences, which we’ll be sharing soon.

What were your worst travel experiences in 2015?

Let us know in the comments!

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