It goes without saying that travelling comes with a lot of highs and lows: not everything can run smoothly and sometimes things can and will go wrong. Here are some of my worst travel moments from 2016.
#1: Most disgusting moment
If we were handing out worst travel awards, this would be the clear winner of ‘most disgusting moment’ by a country mile. The gum wall in itself is a disgusting concept: people literally take out their nasty, chewed up gum and stick it to a wall and yet somehow I found myself at 2 of them in 2016 (shout out to the slightly less gross gum wall in Seattle). However, a mountain of old gum and spit isn’t what makes this a contender for worst travel moment. Oh no, in fact it was the man who happened to be at the Gum Wall that day. If I ever had to make a public safety announcement encouraging kids not to do drugs, it would just be a giant poster of this man and nothing else. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt, indecently tiny short-shorts, a pink feather boa and no shoes – this guy was wandering up and down the alley and looking very carefully at the gum. He looked at lots of different pieces, like someone picking a dessert from the menu at a fancy restaurant, and then he made his choice. He picked what was quite possibly the oldest, nastiest, most dried-up piece of gum off the wall and popped it in his mouth. I swear I heard it crunch from metres away and I nearly threw up on the spot. Apparently this wasn’t the right piece of gum for him, so he spat it on the ground and chose another piece. And then another. Maybe what he was going for was the complex flavour of multiple people’s spit at once: when we (hurriedly) left he was licking the gum like it was the flavoured wallpaper in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Nasty.
#2: Most painful moment
I am not good at sports – that is an absolute fact. I can’t run fast, I can’t throw far and I can’t aim well so I don’t know what possessed me to try surfing. If you haven’t tried it before, surfing is hard. It takes upper body strength (which I don’t have), abs of steel (which I don’t have) and impeccable balance (which I don’t have – can you see a pattern emerging here?). I managed to stand up two or three times in a 90 minute lesson which will go down in history as the peak of athletic achievement. About 15 minutes before we finished, I fell off my surfboard (naturally) and was kind of floundering around in the water. Now there was a lot of us trying to surf in one tiny patch of ocean and as I was splashing around doing the doggy paddle there was (unbeknownst to me) someone surfing straight for me. Thankfully, or maybe unfortunately, she fell off her surfboard right before she would have hit me. Her surfboard came up from under her, and came flying directly towards my face. I put my hands out in front of me, partially on instinct and partially because as a general rule I like to have my face whole and unbroken. The surfboard hit my right thumb with a distinctive crack and that, right there, was my one experience with surfing over. Immediately my thumb puffed up and I could barely move it. ‘Well,’ said my tour guide ‘I can take you to the hospital but I don’t think we can stay here for you. We’re on a tight schedule, we need to be in Arizona tomorrow. We would have to leave you behind in San Diego.’ Like hell I was being left behind (no offense San Diego, it’s nothing personal): I had waited all year for this trip and I wasn’t going to miss out because of a stupid surfing injury. So I iced my thumb, tried not to move it and did everything with my left hand for two weeks – simple. I still don’t know if it was just badly bruised or whether I had a hairline fracture, but it does still ache whenever it rains. And as for surfing… never again.
#3: Worst luck
What with travelling on a tight budget, I often took connecting flights rather than flying direct which meant I was also travelling on a tight schedule. I took a lot of flights during my 5 week trans-American trip and by week 4 I was very proud of myself – I hadn’t even come close to missing a flight yet! Cue my flight from New Orleans to Nashville via Houston – which makes absolutely no geographical sense and was a huge mistake on my part. NOLA to Houston went without a hitch. We landed on the runway, pulled up to the terminal and got up to leave: all with 45 minutes left till my connecting flight. Things were going well. Then the pilot came over the intercom. ‘Sorry for the delay ladies and gents we er… we can’t let you off the plane quite yet due to a weather issue.‘ A weather issue? Does the pilot know we have windows and can see outside? It was a glorious Texan day and the sun was absolutely blazing down. What possible weather issue could there be other than a slight risk of sunburn? We sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes, waiting for this non-existent weather to change and all the time I was getting more and more fidgety knowing that the take-off time for my connection was getting closer. A United plane taxied past us: I really hoped it wasn’t my Nashville flight. ‘Don’t worry ladies and gentleman, we are holding all connecting flights until we can get you off the plane.’ Phew. ‘Except Nashville: that one’s long gone.’ Yep, that sounds about right. What came next was a 6 hour wait in George Bush International, an incredibly late flight into Nashville, an expensive Uber because my airport shuttle was finished running for the day and a very long sleep.
#4. Worst moment involving a sea creature
After my surfing mishap, I decided that my next sporting venture should be something that required slightly less skill and athletic prowess. I went for snorkelling because how hard could it be: after all I was already a good swimmer. We took off from the harbour in Key West towards a beautifully calm, warm ocean on a perfect September evening. Our guides told us to be on the look out for jellyfish but ‘not to worry, we hardly ever see them and almost no one gets stung’. I climbed off the boat and into the water and immediately there was one in front of me. A jellyfish: an evil bag just swimming innocently around as though it wasn’t the stuff of nightmares. It turns out that our tour guides were slightly misinformed: the jellyfish were everywhere. I wasn’t too worried – they moved fairly slowly and I could do a pretty good job of avoiding them despite the fact they were virtually invisible. I managed to go for the whole hour without getting stung at all (although I did almost drop my GoPro on the bottom of the ocean after being startled by a fish…). Once again, things had gone too well. Another crucial thing the guides had failed to mention was that us swimming towards the boat at the end of our snorkel session would create a man-made current that would funnel the army of jellyfish to us in a seething mass of underwater evil. A few of the girls were sat on the boat ladder as I swam up so I wasn’t able to get immediately out of the water. Excuse me, I said politely could you please move? I seem to have found myself in the middle of a jellyfish cyclone and it is fairly painful. That’s a lie: what I actually said was probably more along the lines of OOH AH OH MY GOD AHH JELLYFISH with a few expletives thrown in for good measure. A jellyfish (did I mention that they are the worst?) had swum inside my life vest and stung all along the side of my stomach as well as my arm and my neck. It was so painful; a mixture of burning, stinging and the sensation you get from a static shock. I went up to the captain and told him I had been stung. Oh yep, I see a sting on your arm there, he said. I pulled up the side of my life vest and his eyes widened. Oh boy – he got you good. The rest of the crew asked to come over and see it, someone offered to pee on me and the really fun part: turns out I am fairly allergic to jellyfish and that little jellied bastard has left me with a scar. I probably would snorkel again, but next time I am wearing a head to toe wetsuit – just in case.
What’s been your worst travel moment so far? Let me know in the comments!
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