5 Worst Moments From 5 Years Of Travel

Last Updated on March 23, 2021

After sharing my five best moments in five years of travel yesterday, it’s now time for the five worst experiences. Contrary to yesterday’s post, for which I had a hard time narrowing down only five favorite moments, it was much harder to come up with five really horrible experiences. I guess I am just lucky that nothing really bad has happened (yet… And knock on wood that things continue to go well).

So here are the five worst moments of five years of travel:

Getting scammed in Bangkok

This is still the worst travel experience for my ego – after priding myself for years for always researching every destination down to the smallest detail and knowing all about possible scams, I got scammed really bad on my first day in Bangkok back in 2011. I fell for the ‘friendly Thai guy’ and the ‘tuktuk scam’ and learned later on that they are among the most common scams in Bangkok. Instead of planning my trip around Thailand independently, I handed over a whole bunch of cash to a shady travel agent for plane and bus tickets – both of which turned out to be fake. All because this one time, I hadn’t done any research. A quick look in the Lonely Planet would have warned me.

It took me nearly four years to finally make peace with Bangkok (something like this can really ruin your impression of a city) but I was frustrated to witness this year that the scammers were still going strong around the main tourist sights (and my article about the experience is read by at least 50 people every day – most of whom I am sure find it after getting scammed). My ego is still bruised from the scam but the experience also helped me to become more careful and vigilant and to read up on potential scams even more – I see it as a very expensive lesson learned.

Read more: Getting scammed in Bangkok

worst travel moments
On a recent visit to Bangkok, I couldn’t help but intervene when I saw a scammer trying to scam an elderly tourist

Experiencing a 7.6 earthquake in Costa Rica

I don’t think I’ve ever panicked the way I did when the house started shaking uncontrollably at 6 a.m. on a random October morning while I was house (and dog!) sitting in a small beach town in Costa Rica in 2012. Luckily that wasn’t my first earthquake – I’d experienced my first major one a few weeks earlier, when the homeowners and my partner were still around, but during this second one, I was the only person in the house, and there weren’t any neighbors nearby.

The second one was not only scarier for me because I was by myself, but also because I didn’t have my contact lenses in and was basically blind, and it was still dark out. I grabbed the little dog and ran from the bed to the door frame where I waited out the earthquake, hoping the house wouldn’t collapse and bury my contact lenses.

I was once again very lucky that there weren’t any major damages and that neither me or the pup were hurt during the earthquake.

Read more: Notes from the beach house: The earthquake edition

nosara earthquake
The local supermarket after the first earthquake

Every single time a stray dog breaks my heart

Admittedly, this isn’t a particular moment on my travels, but something that happens all the time, at least when I’m traveling in third world countries. Anyone who’s ever traveled with me can confirm that I can’t walk by a stray cat or dog, always having to pet them and if they are in really bad shape I go and buy some food for them – in Central America I was even traveling with dog food in my day pack.

While I’ve always considered myself a cat person it’s the dogs who keep breaking my heart when they join me for a few hours or even a few days and I get too attached to them, wishing I could take them with me. I hope that I’ll be able to rescue at least one stray dog one day, taking him with me and share my home with him or her (as soon as I have a home, that is.)

Read more: It’s a dog’s life for animal lovers on the roadanimals

Getting terribly sick in Bolivia

I’ve had several minor sicknesses over the past five years: stomach bugs, head colds, giardia, but nothing that didn’t go away after a few days. Until I got to Bolivia. It started with a terrible cough that turned into a full-on cold with pain in my lungs and difficulties breathing, altitude sickness and finally a stomach bug which resulted in me not being able to keep in any meals for nearly three weeks. My body got weaker and weaker and I just wouldn’t recover, no matter how much medicine I took. In the end, I had to go see a doctor and it turned out that I had a protracted lung infection, a bronchitis and a stomach bug on top of it. I had to get several injections and antibiotics and it took me nearly a month to get back on my feet after this.

Read more: Heaven and hell in Sucreworst travel moments

An attempted robbery in Montevideo

It happened in Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo’s old town. It was late at night, we were on our way back from dinner, the street was empty except for a few guys we passed. All of a sudden I felt someone pulling on my backpack from behind – with such a force that I was thrown to the ground.

It was a blessing in disguise that the guys who attempted to rob us weren’t armed, and the fearless Ms J put them to rout by yelling at them in Spanish really loud. However, it was still a scary moment and I was shaking when we got back to the guesthouse – I would have lost my camera gear, had they been a bit more persistent, but I had left my credit cards and cash back in the guest house. Even though I didn’t lose anything in the end, it was an experience that left a bitter taste in my mouth – I couldn’t enjoy Montevideo after that and was always afraid when we walked outside in the dark (something we tried to avoid after hearing that this wasn’t the first time this had happened, with others being less lucky).

Read more: She said, she said: Perspectives on an attempted robbery in Montevideo

worst travel moments
Ciudad Vieja in Montevideo, where it happened

Have you experienced any horrible travel stories? Share in the comments below!

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  1. Good for you for interfering with the scam in Bangkok! I also got scammed in Bangkok, despite the fact that I researched my itinerary and was fully aware of all the scam tactics. Like you, I think this is the main reason why I’m so turned off by the city. I’m sure I’ll give it another chance someday, just not anytime in the near future.

    Otherwise, my “worst travel moments” is nowhere near what you went through. I once got pick-pocketed in Milan, but I was able to recover my wallet in a trash can with all my credit cards and IDs intact. They only took my cash, which wasn’t much to begin with. Suffice it to say, I always keep a very close eye on my purse/day pack after that incident.

    1. These scammers in Bangkok drive me nuts. But I don’t think they’ll disappear any time soon… I can’t believe you found your wallet with all your cards!! That’s amazing, Pauline!!

    2. Hi Pauline,

      Could you elaborate on how you were scammed in Bangkok? I’m travelling there next spring and have also read up on the common scams, just as you did, so I’m curious how they were still able to get you.

      Any extra tips would be appreciated!


      1. Hi Connie,

        How exciting! Will you be traveling throughout the SEA circuit or just Thailand?

        We were offered a ride on the long boat for some outrageous amount (i think 800 Baht or something of that sort). The catch was that the ride would be 1.5 hours long and they would take you along the Chao Praya river as well as Bangkok’s back canals. While we did see the smaller canals, we didn’t go on the river. Moreover, it was only ~30 minutes long tops. They asked for the money before we got on (which we stupidly handed over), so we couldn’t even refuse to pay them! I think it’s best to stick with the city’s boats if you want to cruise along the river.

        We also encountered “the palace/wat is closed” scam multiple times throughout our stay. I don’t judge the country based on this, but it’ll take me a while to return to Bangkok. Perhaps I’ll do Chiang Mai next time 🙂

  2. Unfortunately travel stories will happen. I have a few with the Chilean earthquake in 2009, being robbed on an over night train in Italy, or getting pick pocketed in Argentina then had to walk to my hostel. It makes you more aware of situations that can take place. I know what you mean regarding being scammed not fun at all.

    1. Wow, that’s a lot of bad travel experiences, De’Jav! Where were you during the earthquake in Chile?

  3. I have done a post just like this one and I must say I think you have experienced a few worse things than what I have. Thankfully I have never been robbed or anything like that. Scammed, yes, but in a way of paying too high of a taxi fare and stuff like that. Something I didn’t mention in my post is all the poverty and horrible living conditions for so many people. I’m still not over the father and son I saw in Istanbul 3 weeks ago whit a sign saying they were refugees from Syria, just something about the two of them (there are so many in Istanbul), that hit me straight in the heart. When I found some money in my bag, that I wanted to give them, they were gone and I am still not over it. Sometimes you just get intuitions that you need to follow. I feel the same way about stray dogs as you do and if I was a millionaire I would build loads of shelter for them and educate people to work there and take care of the animals.

    1. The poverty and horrible living conditions are definitely a huge downside of traveling. I feel that this topic requires an entire post of its own at some point!

  4. With all your years of travel, it’s good to hear nothing completely terrible has happened to you. The potential theft in Montevideo must have been terrifying though. I know I would have been completely freaked out. Cheers to another 5 years of bad experience free traveling.

    1. Thanks, Tricia! I think that I’ve been pretty lucky in the past five years – nothing severely tragic happened.

    1. One experience I should’ve included was when I volunteered at an animal shelter in Guatemala – and only lasted one day, instead of a week. The conditions were just unbearable for me 🙁

  5. It’s terrible, but in a sense it is great that you shared these experiences. I think that reading the travel blogs I sometimes forget that behind those amazing stories and stunning pictures, there are also some bad things and that it’s always necessary to be careful 🙂

    1. Thanks, Patricia. When I looked back at the past five years and couldn’t remember anything uber dramatic I was surprised – one might think that there would be more bad stuff, but I think I was pretty lucky 🙂

  6. We fell for the “Wat is closed for Visitors because it is New Year and we can take you on a tour this morning while we wait for it to open”. When we refused to look at/buy gold jewellery they kicked us out of the tuk tuk and we had to walk. We flet really silly because we knew about the scam. They were just so damn good at it!

    1. This is horrible! I heard from several people that they were kicked out when they refused to buy something! Glad you made it out there without losing any money, Jan 🙂

  7. Great roundup of sucky things! 🙂 I totally feel ya on the stray dog bit, too. Bums me out so much everywhere, but especially in Mexico. Always want to take care of them and offer them food, but then I worry because I don’t want them to learn to be dependent on people… ugh, so upsetting! I wish everyone cared about animals like we do!

    1. Thanks, Amanda. Oh how I wish every traveler cared about strays, but I got laughed at by other travelers in the past when I was sharing my sandwich with a dog or got them some food. Or they’d yell at me ‘Don’t touch the dog!! Don’t you know that they have all kinds of sicknesses?!’ (I probably go through way more hand sanitizer than the average traveler, lol). But I can’t understand people who just don’t care about them.. don’t they have a heart? :O

  8. I have had some bad experiences, but yours are so much worse! I’m glad you interfered in Bangkok! I constantly helped tourists in Buenos Aires who were doing things that would make them a target and directed them to safer places.

    1. Rease – Luckily I don’t think any of my bad travel moments were too dramatic. But my ego is still bruised from getting scammed in Bangkok, YEARS LATER!

  9. As a traveler and backpacker, I can totally relate to this. About the Bangkok incident, I think one of the best ways to prevent getting scammed is to really research about the place. That’s what I did when I visited. It’s a shame that people still do it and fall for it…

    Anyway, these are really worst moments, Dani. It’s cool you still love travelling!

      1. In Bangkok we had wanted to go to a particular restaurant we had read about…
        so we got in a taxi to go, the driver told us the restaurant had closed,( after he pulled up at some other place) But we went in anyways, sat down and noticed the menu had no prices listed – so we left! I’m pretty sure we would have received a very high bill at the end had we stayed, and the taxi driver would get a kick back for taking us there!

        1. You were luckier than I was, Janet 🙂 I hate it when restaurants don’t have prices on their menu – definitely a sign that it’s a sketchy place!

  10. Bangkok is one of my favourite cities and I have been many times on various trips. The tuktuk scam is so common and so pleased you interveined as it does ruin your experience of a place. It’s interesting how differs things can impact on a trip and ruin your view of it. I love Bangkok but have never (yet) had a bad experience there. On the other hand Vietnam and Italy have been completely tainted by bad experiences for me. In Vietnam while taking my very ill girlfriend back to our hostel (turned out to be dengue) we were scammed by a taxi driver and it only got worse from there. I injured my knee further up veitnam, I was hit by a bus driver, terrifying bus journeys with drivers refusing to stop for a break despite it being a 15 hour journey with no toilet on board and then a horrific storm in Halong Bay where the boat started leaking. For this I have never forgiven Vietnam but everyone’s experience is different. In Italy it was the pickpocket on the number 2 bus in Naples. Had I done my lonely planet research we would have known not to catch this bus but as you said the one time I didn’t do my research. Italy was also the only place as a couple in 28 countries that we experienced homophobia. We were made to feel very uncomfortable in multiple places we were staying which saddened me because I had been dreaming of Italy since I was a child. In saying that none of these experiences have dampened by wanderlust and the positive always out weighs these things!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Rivka! I heard from several people that getting scammed ruined their Vietnam experience for them. It took me years to forgive Bangkok.. And I can’t wait to get to Vietnam finally (mainly for the food, I think!!) to see how I like it. A shame that you experienced homophobia in Italy of all places.. one of my favorite countries!

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