Travel is amazing, but it’s time to ‘fess up. I have a few travel horror stories to tell. Sometimes travel sucks. It can be hard, exhausting, dangerous, boring or just plain icky. If you are squeamish or don’t like reading about matters lavatorial, maybe this isn’t the post for you.
Here are some of my worst, or best, of our travel horror stories from a lifetime of travel, the last 7 years being travel horror stories with kids. Don’t be put off, we got through it all and looking back makes us smile, mostly.
Worst Travel Horror Stories
Travel Horror Stories – Rats
I actually don’t mind rats at all and the kids find them fascinating but I get that some people are freaked out by them.
We see rats a lot, in London, in New York, in Australia, all over Thailand and just about everywhere else. But some rat encounters are more unusual than others.
There was that time we had a few hours to wait in the middle of the night at Chennai train station in India. People slept all over the platforms with rats creeping between the bags and bodies. I stood up the whole time, too bothered by hygiene to rest. I collapsed onto that train when it finally arrived.
Also in India, we saw a food cart, bread omelette, my favourite. It was locked for the night but still on the station platform. The rats were scuttling about inside the glass cabinets, all over the plates. Could you still order food there?
Or there was the rat as big as a labrador puppy that once wandered through the restaurant in Sri Lanka,
“Don’t worry, all restaurants have rats Sir.” said the proprietor.
He was probably right. One climbed straight up the wall in front of us in a restaurant in Saigon Vietnam.
Last year in Hoi An we were there for the flooding and annual rat exodus. Only once did one run over my foot but they were everywhere for the preceding weeks and much diminished afterwards.
In Bali, very recently we were strolling home in the late afternoon. My son stopped stared, turned and gesticulated. It took me a moment to see the tree rats he’d spotted tucking into scraps in the pizza preparation area. The restaurant was busy with customers enjoying their wood-fired pizzas. None of them had noticed and the rats were just a few feet away.
Travel Horror Stories – Public Toilets
I have no problem with squat toilets, they’re fine and, to be honest, we rarely encounter them, but sometimes things are just weird.
In China, Tibet, Nepal, and Cuba some public conveniences had no doors, no cubicles, no privacy. Squatting over a channel with a toilet attendant tapping me on the head wanting payment for using her facilities was a new and interesting experience.
Or there was the pig toilet in an undeveloped part of Goa. A squat toilet, a hole in the floor really, with a porcine snout a few feet from your nether regions. I know it’s recycling, but it was a little unnerving.
Toilets on long-distance Indian trains can be a horror story in their own right, but, you get used to it. Train toilets in the UK aren’t a bed of roses either. Remember that before complaining too much.
Travel Horror Stories With Kids – Where the Kids are the Horror
We’ve visited hospitals in too many countries!
My kids’ holiday isn’t complete without a visit to A&E. Very scary croup in Wales, prolonged vomiting in London, a dislocated elbow in Perth, blood tests in Laos and a very horrible hospital experience in South Africa.
That, and suspected glandular fever in Florida, but at $800 to see a GP, we turned tail and walked back out the door.
We lived in Australia for a while so maybe it doesn’t count, but we’ve had a concussion, fevers, worms, nits, and Giardia. Read about what fun impetigo or school sores is by clicking the link. It’s another joy of tropical living. It’s not only the kids that get it, this time they gave it to me.
Children can also be grumpy, uncooperative, argumentative or tired, they can easily spoil your plans and be their own adorable little travel horror story. It’s best not to get too hung up on plans.
Occasionally they make our lives more difficult, but they’re beautiful, fun, amazing little human beings and I wouldn’t have our lives any other way,
No Toilets at All
I fondly remember quatting by the roadside when I was cycling across Cuba. The cane fields were too snake-infested to venture off the road. We would all line up together at rest stops. You get used to it, it becomes a sociable activity.
Or turning up to catch a bus from Nepal into India, it was a few hours on the roof, no toilets, and nowhere to hide. The only toilet on offer was an open field so I climbed up onto the roof and hung on for a very long time. Girls are much better at this than boys, in my experience.
Travel Horror Stories – Danger
So much scary stuff. White knuckle moments on buses are common with the Himalayas providing the ultimate in terror. Then there is the flight into Lukla itself and those horrible footbridges on the way up to Everest, but there have been a few notably intense stand-alone incidents.
We were once almost hit by a runaway truck in Egypt. It wasn’t nice, particularly as for a few minutes we all thought we were caught up in a terrorist incident. You can read about that here.
Trekking in the Himalayas on the Annapurna Circuit and finding the mountainside had recently been taken out by a huge landslide was memorable. It was a week’s walk back down, or we had to cross. Picking our way across deep, sticky mud praying it wouldn’t all start moving again tested my nerve. Despite that, and a couple of nearby avalanches, trekking in Nepal is one of our best experiences ever.
There was also the time I was alone, separated from my dive group, not a boat in sight, while scuba diving the Yongala wreck off Townsville. This is an area known for tiger sharks and it was seriously terrifying. Luckily another boat happened past and scooped me out of the rough sea. High waves meant my boat, although not far away, was completely hidden to me and me to them.
Once, in a motel in Lake Tahoe USA, we had a gunman and armed cops running around outside. Actually, we just thought that was cool and maybe just normal in the US. We didn’t see the danger at the time.
We were in a fairly large earthquake in Peru, the hotel shook but the Inca buildings were rock solid. The Incas were incredible builders. We’ve felt many, many aftershocks in Nepal too, they’re scary. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to be there for the big quake but we saw the devastation just a few months afterward.
We were in a smaller earthquake in El Salvador. The kids loved that, it was their first time. They loved the smoking volcanoes of Guatemala too along with the steaming crater we climbed in Bali.
There was once a green mamba in the shower cubicle at St Lucia Wildlife Park in South Africa. Lovely rangers saved me, but I rather like snakes and honestly, it was great to see one. Other dangers we have encountered include sharks, cassowaries, stinging tree, crocodiles and marine stingers.
Travel Horror Stories – Sickness
Touch-wood, I’ve never had anything too nasty in the way of sickness, but Chef had 5 days of terrible tummy bother in Varanasi and Calcutta.
It’s really boring hanging around while somebody else is sick!
Luckily, no doctors needed and I was a good nurse, I didn’t give him a hard time.
He had another bad dose in Laos, again, the rest of us escaped.
There was also the small matter of his surgery in Thailand. He’s more trouble than the kids!
I once saw live rabbits being skinned for the pot in a market in China. I can cope with most things, but that had me in tears. This was one of those wet markets now made famous by a virus. I would never wander into one ever again. I know worse things happen at sea, but I’m a bunny hugger.
Travel Horror Stories – Our Own Fault
Sometimes even the most experienced travellers just get it wrong. We have spent the night in an airport because we got our dates wrong. This is actually really easy to do when your flight arrives around midnight. Days get muddled. You can read about that in our Bandaranaike airport post.
Our worst travel disaster was expensive and a nightmare to resolve. Our family turned up at a London airport ready to fly to Dubai and from there to Kathmandu. As we stood bright-eyed at the check-in counter our plans to trek to Everest Base Camp were quickly crushed. Our seats didn’t exist. The problem was between our bank and a third party booking agent ( it was Go To Gate). They kept our money and yet didn’t give us our seats. Luckily we could spend a couple of thousand pounds on the spot for new flights and we did, eventually get our original money back from the bank. It wasn’t something I’d ever want to go through again. Read about that here.
Travelling and Boredom. Yes Travel is Boring Sometimes
Ever spent a whole day in Mt Isa, Queensland waiting for a bus? Once you’ve been to the flying doctor museum, and it’s tiny, that’s it. Not one of my most exciting travel horror stories, just a very long day spent in KFC.
Or did you ever put up with the most boring man in the world and his halitosis on a ten-hour flight? You’re a captive audience and it’s hard to feign sleep when travelling with a baby.
Then there was that time in Fort Lauderdale airport, 15 hours of waiting in possibly the least interesting airport on earth.
Strangely, I don’t get bored on buses and trains, so long as I can look out of the window I’m a very happy traveller. We’ve spent days and nights on moving vehicles, all good.
Travel Horror Stories – Spider Stories
I really don’t like spiders. But we run into big ones less often than you might expect.
I once went elephant trekking early in the morning through the jungle of North Thailand. On elephant back, you are just the right height to go directly through all the golden orb spider webs slung between the trees. That’s those things pictured up top. They are as big as my hand and one ended up on my arm. I freaked, shut my eyes and waited for it to all be over.
Stopping for a food break on an all-day bus trip in Vietnam, from Sapa to Hanoi, we found the whole place, ceiling, walls, totally overrun with large arachnids. No way could I go in there, I went hungry instead.
Also in Hoi An, where we lived for 6 months, we had huntsman spiders in our rooms twice. My children like to “prank” me by shouting ” Huntsman!”. This time they weren’t pranking and the mother of all arachnids was just a foot from my head.
The tarantula in the featured image was in my back garden back home in Port Douglas Australia. We rescued it from a cat. Or maybe we rescued the cat from it.
The toilet hut in one of the villages we stayed in during a Hill Tribe Trek in Thailand had so many spiders I couldn’t go in there. My poor friend got hit by tummy bother that night. She said she was on first name terms with all of them but so sick she just didn’t care.
Travel Horror Stories – Bad Food
Having to eat food to be polite is hard for some of us sometimes. Meeting a family of nomads in Mongolia was an incredible experience but I have a strong aversion to milk which made sipping mares milk tea, complete with flecks of blood, pretty unpleasant.
The homemade biscuits that came with the tea were good, if full of horse hair. We were perfect guests, we did what we had to do and smiled politely. I hope nobody ever expects me to drink butter tea as it’s my worst culinary nightmare.
Finding a dead cockroach in the bottom of my soup, in Lao wasn’t too good either. But the soup was great. Likewise the mouse poo in the rice in Ooty, India.
Voluntarily, as a family, we have tasted all manner of bugs, civet cat, mouse deer, jellyfish and KFC. I have been vegetarian for most of my life so mostly I’ve been able to skip the worst of the bad eats.
Travel Horror Stories – Accidents and Injuries
A lady dropping her bottle of spirits on my head on an aeroplane, a fellow traveler spilling hot coffee all over me, sunburn, mozzy bites, sore feet, scrapes from a scooter crash, sore back from trekking and carrying a pack. There are lots of ouchy moments.
Our only serious injury to date was a spontaneous hernia appearing in Thailand. Thankfully we had good travel insurance which covered the resulting surgery costs
Travel Horror Stories – Theft
I had THE bag stolen at Cairns Airport when we were emigrating. The one with the paperwork, cameras, photos, jewelry and insurance. It was horrible, very traumatic and it still upsets me now to know that somebody just took my valuables and threw all my photos of the kids and our wedding in the bin.
It’s always the hurt that gets to me more, we had two petty thefts in Malaysia, nothing too valuable, but I can never believe that someone would do that to other people.
Why Travel When So Many Horror Stories Happen?
Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do people travel? Because we LOVE it. We just keep on coming back for more.
The good far outweighs the bad and a lot of the bad is kind of good, in a way. It makes for amazing memories and stories.
You’ll find more on this theme in the post “My Biggest Travel Regrets“, a post I was tagged to write by Bethaney at Flashpacker Family. It was hard, I’m not good at having regrets.
Don’t worry, all this happened to us over 20 years of travelling, 7 years nomadic. You’re unlikely to run into any difficulties on your next trip. Have you got any good travel horror stories to share? If you’d like to sign up to follow and receive our newsletters and travel information, you can do so on our about page. Check out our related posts below, some more tales from the road might interest you.
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Sunday 9th of February 2020
My two worst toilet experiences were in China. On a road trip by bus, sqatting over a hole surrounded by maggots and a flimsy bit of sacking hanging from sticks, and a public toilet in Dali. You entered the concrete shed, chose which of the 30 public slits to squat over, then let your business slide down the channel to the huge tank below while the kid on one side of you coped with diarrhoea and the elderly lady on the other side of you contentedly read the paper and chewed on her nicotine slug. No water at all and the smell.....
Alyson for World Travel Family
Monday 10th of February 2020
Well that sounds like fun! China was very different back when we visited, I wonder if hygiene has improved now?
Wednesday 16th of November 2016
Thats a lot of horror, but it makes the stories good :-) I think my worst is getting lost in the jungle in Malaysia and having to stay the night at a riverbank, while I felt all kind of insects walking over my legs and saw thunder around the mountain tops. But we found our way back the next day, discovered plenty of scorpions (!) and had a good story to tell at home. Thanks for sharing your stories, you're very inspirational!
Saturday 23rd of August 2014
Cooool stories, one tip I can say for those that are sensitive to parasites/bad food that can have you laid out for a week or more at times: I never go anywhere without apple cider vinegar, a few spoonfuls of it will stop the vomit/diarrhea in minutes. There are tons of info online about it:)
Saturday 23rd of August 2014
Thanks MiChael. I'm not prone to vomiting, I'll have to carry some for my husband, he who should know better!
Monday 30th of September 2013
Rats! Big ones the size of horses (okay maybe I'm exagerating...a bit). Vietnam has plenty of them. We got used to seeing them scuttle about the streets, shops and markets but when they congretated under our table looking for crumbs and kept running between the kitchen and dining area in the restaurant where we were wedding guests it was just too much. Equally horrifying were the BBQ'd, skewered rats we saw in Vang Vieng. In Asia you get used to seeing things that are confronting to our western sensitivities but the little white monkey being sold at a "bushfood" market in Laos was too much. Poor little buggar was petrified and stuffed into a cage barely big enough to turn around in. Other travel woes...Fire ants in Borneo rate a mention - yeow!!! Poo eating dogs in Java a very similar experience to your poo eating pigs. Maniac drivers (northern Laos, Cambodia & Vietnam) and finding ourselves in the middle of a 40,000 strong political rally in Phonm Penh. And of course the dreaded travellers belly.
Tracey - Life Changing year
Friday 15th of February 2013
Oh god, diarrhea on an aeroplane for HOURS wins hands down for me. And as you know I didn't quite make it to the toilet in time!! It's hysterical now, but at the time there was this crazy, wild-eyed woman staring back at me in the bathroom mirror!!! Most horror stories I would happily re-live. Not that one!