While traveling may seem like it’s always a collection of beautiful moments, incredible sunrises, and encounters with genuine souls, it can be quite the opposite. Before I embark on my second big solo backpacking trip next week, I would like to share with you my top 15 worst moments from 2 years of solo backpacking, in no particular order.
Traveling for 2 years alone has provided me with some of the toughest moments of my entire life. From having my belongings lost and stolen, to being in some freaky situations, these moments not only caused me to grow gray hairs and age 30 years, but have also given me strength and courage to overcome any situation I may be thrown into.
1) Getting threatened by a tuk tuk driver with a metal pole in Cambodia
Apparently tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia carry around a metal pole just in case they ever need to stab someone’s eyes out.
This particular tuk-tuk driver, as he swung his metal pole around in the air like a conductor, decided he wanted to orchestrate a very unsuspecting group of backpackers that included me, a friend dressed as a cop with a metal star badge that read officer, two more friends, and a ton of glitter.
Sounds like a freakin’ party, right?
This guy was mad. He was practically watering the grass from his angry sweat droplets cascading off of him, all because we didn’t want to pay his overpriced tuk-tuk ride, which we ended up doing any way. He forgot the meaning of personal space and came way too close for comfort.
2) Pioneer Park in New Zealand
South Island, New Zealand
If you’ve ever wondered where the cannibals from The Hills Have Eyes lurk, it’s in Pioneer Park in New Zealand.
I was living out of a van in NZ, so I had to sleep in campsites to avoid freedom camping and a very hefty ticket from the police.
Upon arriving at this campsite at dusk, my ex and I found it was home to hundreds of deer with glowing green eyes, a massive field with surrounding forest, and the creatures from the underworld.
We were the only two people at this campsite. And, once I stepped out of the camper van, I immediately turned my gaze to the forest. I felt like I was being watched. We were surrounded by tangled roots, towering trees, and shadows dancing in the dying light. Brown and orange leaves twisted in the wind, obeying their own rhythm as they swirled into the air and fell to kiss the ground, only to be lifted up again.
Once we said goodbye to the sun and any comfort we had of surviving the night, we got the hell out of there.
3) Altitude Sickness in Nepal
Kongma La Pass, Nepal
I was one week in on my three week Everest Base Camp & Three Passes trek in Nepal and feeling on top of the world, literally.
The ascent from 4800 m to 5535 m in one day over the first pass left me with a pounding head, uncoordinated feet, nausea, and extreme dizziness. I was 3 hours from one town, 4 hours from the next, in the middle of the Himalayas.
It was either pass out in the middle of the mountain and pray to the mountain gods to let me survive the night, or push forward to the next town, with the promise of lying horizontally on a bed.
Check out the story on my blog post The Hardest & Most Rewarding Thing I’ve Ever Done: Trek to EBC & Three Passes.
4) Sketchy Hitchhiker Driver in Malaysia
My friends and I went hitchhiking in Malaysia. The stranger who picked us up decided to host a religious debate in his car while speeding down the highway. The only thing going through my head was: blue pill or red pill?
Regardless of any of our beliefs, the situation we were in was alarming. The three of us were powerless sitting in this strange man’s car.
Luckily, he was too wrapped up in his own thoughts to give any of us time to speak, so he continued to rattle off his views for the next 40 minutes.
While I’ve had some amazing times hitchhiking, this one was for the books.
5) Bus Fight in Myanmar
I was on a 17 hour overnight bus from Yangon to Ngapali Beach. While my ex was puking his brains out and I was trying not to sh*t myself, a strange Burmese man was walking up and down the aisle collecting Westerner’s passports (aka, ours), while another Burmese man decided to spit fire at a random passenger, only to then grab his collar while they swung at each other as if they were fighting a bear.
While the fight was starting to gain traction, I handed the Burmese man our passports. My nauseated ex was in a queasy stupor and was of no help. I can clearly remember my blurred reflection in the blackened window, indicating it was the middle of the night. It stared back at me, a twisted contortion of human features that had looked creature-like.
Once I turned my attention back to the fight, I had no idea what any one was saying. People started yelling as the two men went at it, until finally, a hoard of Burmese bus-passengers stood up and grabbed the instigator all at once, shoving him down the aisle and out the front door. He was swallowed by darkness as if being sent to Hell.
6) Witnessing a Motorbike Accident in the Philippines
This is, by far, the worst moment in 2 years.
I had just arrived in El Nido in the Philippines, a tiny town in northern Palawan, when I saw a potentially fatal motorbike accident.
There’s no easy way to talk about this, so I’ll be as straight forward as possible. Blood poured down the man’s face. His motorbike lay on its side a few meters over, his belongings spread out on the street. Two men were holding him up and he was seizing, unable to stand on his own.
This was one of the most devastating things I have ever witnessed. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of nausea, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. We were 4 hours from any hospital, and this poor man was in need of emergency medical assistance.
7) Getting Lice in Cambodia
Weligama, Sri Lanka
While living in Cambodia, my friends and I shared more than fun at parties and beach bum days- lice.
These creepy crawlers decided to set up camp on each of our heads. Luckily, this went hand in hand with the free-loving hippy village we lived in. It allowed us to incorporate scratching our scalps into our dance moves during the weekly 12-hour jungle rave and nightly techno music dance parties.
Read the full story here.
8) When MASWings Sent My Bag to Australia
If an airline could royally mess up, it’s MASWings airline. On a 30 minute flight on a propeller plane in Malaysia, my bag was sent to Melbourne, Australia.
For 5 days.
I was starting to consider traveling without a bag and letting my crusted one piece bathing suit and shorts become part of my identity.
9) Vietnamese Lightening Storm on a Mountain
I was on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam in the middle of a lightening storm. On the top of a mountain, fully exposed. All while a lightening storm was poking its bolts around us like the fingers of a child jabbing at ants.
The guy driving the bike was loving every second, swerving around the bends as lightening danced around us like we were in some horrible romance film. Oh, darling, our love is so radiant, it makes the sky light up from our everlasting energy. Yuck.
I was so terrified that I practically jumped off of the motorbike the second I saw a lone hut, aka shelter. I waltzed inside like I owned the place, only to find a single bed that occupied the room, decorated with a quilt. A man sat on the edge of the bed sipping tea and staring off into the distance.
“Uhm.. hello,” I said, realizing that this was probably his home and I had marched on in here like I owned the place.
Instead of flailing his arms that an intruder had just entered his home, he stood up and walked over to his teapot, pouring two cups. He handed them to us as he smiled, his tongue pressed against his crooked teeth.
10) Crashing my Motorbike in Thailand
The second time I had ever ridden a motorbike, I managed to chop a fence in half while an entire remote Thai village watched in horror.
Read the story here.
11) Lightening Storm on a Mountain in Nepal
Everest Base Camp & Three Passes Trek, Nepal
I’m starting to think I find myself in lightening storms a bit too often.
This is how I die, isn’t it? I get electrocuted inside my tent in the middle of the night in the Himalayas, I thought as the lightening Gods thrashed and struck the ground around me, filling my stomach with dread.
All that was protecting me was a tent flap and metal poles.
If this were a News headline, it would be labeled:
“WHAT NOT TO DO IN A LIGHTENING STORM. Backpacker struck by lightening in the middle of the Himalayas.”
“It seemed she thought metal poles and cloth tent flap would protect her. What a dummy!”
Instead of running for shelter, I decided to go down with my ship, and with the two other people sleeping in the tent with me. I crouched down like the Humpback of Notre Dame and waited for the strike.
Which never came.
12) Plane ride in Myanmar
The pilot on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Yangon decided it would be funny to pretend to land the plane.
Yes, we’re here, I thought, staring out the window as the plane made its way towards the tarmac. I was then thrown against my seat as the plane veered back into the sky.
Nuh-uh honey, I’m messing with you.
I watched in horror as the plane moved further and further away from the tarmac. The entire plane sat in silence, the only noises coming from the roar of the engine.
Minutes dragged by without a word from the pilot.
We’re getting hijacked aren’t we. I freakin’ knew it, I thought, gnawing at my nails with fear. I couldn’t help but erupt in a nervous giggle, attracting attention from several of the people seated around me.
“Sorry folks,” the pilot finally said, “there was another plane in the way on the tarmac so we are circling Yangon until we can land again. Please standby.”
I think the universe loves seeing how quickly my anxiety can surface.
13) Bug in My Ear in Laos
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
While I was sound asleep dreaming about beautiful men, a Laotian bug decided to make its way into my ear and cuddle up for the night.
I managed to wake my hostel room, lose my watch, hitchhike, visit a Laos hospital, and become the talk of the town afterwards.
Read the story here.
14) Hula Hoop & iPhone Stolen in Vietnam
Apparently dancing in the rain with an English dude and keeping your iPhone do NOT go hand in hand.
Neither does wrapping your hula hoop inside of a blanket and shoving it under pillows.
Both stolen within hours of each other.
Read the story here.
15) Fire on the Train Tracks in Myanmar
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar
Because this was Myanmar, and their idea of safety is “out of sight, out of mind,” my train decided to stop meters away from a massive wild fire, leaving hundreds of confused passengers inside.
To feed into my horror like the weeds were feeding into the fire, I followed the other 20 brave souls off the train to see.
A few Burmese men were stomping around the flames as if they were pretending to be at Burning Man Festival.
I could feel the heat from where I stood, amazed at the fearlessness from the Burmese men. I got back onto the train, wondering if I was safer there or making an escape and sprinting away into the middle of no where.
Once the train lurched to a start, I held my breath as we slowly maneuvered directly through the flames, surprisingly, without a scratch.
All of the tears, anxiety, fear, and humorous experiences made my two years what they were. There cannot be highs without the lows; we cannot appreciate one without the other. From every experience I’ve learned something, and have grown from each and every one.