It’s time to countdown – not the best but definitely some of the most memorable moments of the year.
Travelling is inspiring, fun, and a break from the routine. It opens our eyes to a whole different world, teaches us compassion and tolerance, and takes us to fantastical places that we could only dream of.
It also sucks.
Seems like many would like to believe that travelling is always fun and glamorous. Blame it on those glitchy Instagram shots or just the fact about human nature that we’d always like to imagine that others are doing better than us, if not for anything else than to have an adequate reason to dwell in vague self-pity. Well, us travelling folks would like to get in on feeling sorry for ourselves too – because travel, in fact, is not always great. Sometimes it downright sucks.
I love to share the best moments of my trips to inspire others to go as well but I want to be honest about the realities of budget travel. That’s why I like to also share my worst travel moments of the year; to remind you that sometimes travelling isn’t a holiday, that even a paradise has rain, and that the Insta influencer that just posted a sunny selfie captioned ‘buns out in Mejico’ might’ve spent the night before puking her guts out thanks to a suspicious shrimp dinner.
Before we get to the actual stuff, here are some honourable mentions:
- Getting ghosted by someone I’d been talking to over a year (then meeting up later and getting ghosted again the day after lol)
- Being followed and catcalled at night in Baku, Azerbaijan
- Having to worry about money as work dwindled
- Being stuck on an island in Iran for three days in a terrible pothead hostel without wifi with a grumpy Polish girl
- Having a guy ask me to move in with him, then four days later say he’d found someone else
- Climbing up to the Masada fortress in Israel at sunrise after 36 minutes of sleep
For the worst moments of 2018, click here.
For the worst moments of 2017, click here.
1 Losing my favourite shirt in Spain
The year started out pretty great – without too much hangover and wrapped around a handsome Australian – when my dear hostel friend, who’d joined the party straight after her shift, let me know she had lost the cropped sweater I’d borrowed her the night before. She called all the bars we’d been to but we never found it. It was from a Primark collection from a few years back so it was impossible to buy a new one, and it was legit my favourite shirt.
How I got over it:
I still haven’t, Bianca.
2 Losing my driving licence and debit card in Georgia
Once upon a time there were a few friends I’d made in Tbilisi, a Friday night and an AirBnB where one of them had a bright idea: ‘Hey, let’s play King’s Cup!’
I love that game but it always makes me drink too much. And like all Finns, I handle my drink spectacularly badly.
After several waterfalls, categories, chicks&dicks and manners, we found ourselves in a Latino bar where I proceeded to pour not one but three tequila shots down my throat in about ten minutes’ time. (Allegedly.) And somehow we ended up in Bassiani, the most famous and exclusive techno club in town, and against all odds we made it in.
In the gigantic, confusing space, I immediately lost everyone I knew, and I just… panicked? I don’t know why. I felt abandoned and lonely and confused; somehow I made my way home and I remember sitting in my dark kitchen, my heart running a million miles an hour feeling like I might die.
The next morning I woke up feeling in a way that made me wish I had actually died the night before, and when I checked my purse, I noticed an old phone case was missing – and in it, my driver’s licence and debit card. Since my phone and wallet were still there, I figured I had just dropped them instead of getting pickpocketed.
How I got over it:
I dragged myself out of the house feeling like death itself and met up with a friend – the one whose idea King’s Cup had been, to be honest – and sat in a corner of his favourite café gulping an ice coffee and feeling sorry for myself. That day we made a pact: we wouldn’t drink more than three drinks per night, and not more than three times per week.
Oh, and I did manage to get all the lost cards back. My driver’s licence was easy to renew online and I sent it to my parents’ house – luckily I was in a part of the world that doesn’t usually ask for ID when you go out or buy a beer at the store – and my bank was luckily able to send my new debit card to my AirBnB host.
I went to visit Luxembourg last summer. It was kinda on my way up from Munich to Hamburg and I was like, hmm, I’ve never been to Lux, I should go. I intended to hitchhike there in two days because apparently hitchhiking in Germany is not too hard. Uhh, WRONG. The first night, I’d booked a hostel in Strasbourg, France, but got stuck outside of Stuttgart in the rain for five hours before finally giving up and going to the city to find a cheap hostel. So, that was 33 e down the drain. The next day, now apparently wiser, I decided to take a bus to Luxembourg City, but it got there late and I missed the last bus to the town where my Couchsurfing host lived, so I had to shell out 70 e for the cheapest hotel room I could find in town. I might’ve cried a bit. (Or a lot.)
The next day, I finally got to my host’s place and it was awesome, but when I left again, my hitchhiking ended on the outskirts of Cologne. After three hours of standing in the rain (do you see a common theme here), I gave up and headed to the train station to find another way out.
How I got over it:
Once I got to the Cologne train station, I sat on the floor in front of a Starbucks and booked the cheapest train to Hamburg I could find (44 euros – with a whole four transfers) and went to buy some salad and chocolate. As soon as I got to my friend’s in Hamburg, life turned out all right again.
4 Mystery illness strikes in Lyon, France (and haunts me down to Switzerland)
In Lyon, I was couchsurfing because I wanted to meet new people but also because, as it turns out, France is expensive as shit. I’d requested to stay with my host because his profile showed he had a roommate and I was like, hey, if there are two people in the house, it’s not going to be so awkward if we run out of things to talk about.
Turns out the roommate was on a holiday. The remaining roomie and I ran out of things to talk about during the first hour of my two-night stay. Uh.
So we did what adults do when they’ve got nothing in common: they drink.
(Hey, this was weeks before my three-drink rule.)
Maybe it was because I hadn’t been drinking in about two months – I’d just come off from Camino de Santiago. Maybe the dark beers we ordered were stronger than I thought, or I just hadn’t been eating well. Whatever the reason, I ended up getting super sick from just three drinks and throwing up in his apartment later. The sickly feeling followed me around for a few days after, making me think it wasn’t just a freaky hangover but maybe a mild food poisoning. (I knew that anis ice cream was suspicious.) It took me three or four days to feel normal, and kinda watered down my visit to Switzerland.
How I got over it:
I mean, it just passes. By Luzern, I was already feeling plenty well (and happy to be back in a hostel, even if it cost me 37 euros per night.)
5 Breaking my phone screen in Georgia
Confession: I’ve never smashed a phone screen.
Correction: I had never smashed a phone screen.
When one morning I was putting my phone back on the edge of the sink and it slipped down and fell face down on the tiled floor… I knew it was screwed.
My old phone had been struggling for a few months at that point, and after it got so fucked the only way for me to open a new app was to shut the screen, open it again, pull down the notification bar, click on the Avast antivirus app, find their “help” section that would take me to Chrome, where I could google app store, click on it and find that app I needed on Google store – after all that, I decided I needed a new phone. This incident happened only a month after buying one. I wanted a protective glass for the screen at the store but because it was Georgia and the sales assistant didn’t really speak English, I never found out if they had one or not, so I just was like eh, it’s probably fine.
(Narrator: It wasn’t fine.)
I had to shell out 100 euros for a replacement because ya’ll, Samsung screens are fucking expensive. I might’ve cried a little bit.
And all just because I wanted to browse Twitter while I sat on the toilet.
How I got over it:
After I got the screen replaced, I went to buy a protective glass and new phone case. The case doesn’t really give it any more protection than the one I had on before but it was pretty so I bought it. It’s light blue and full of silver stars and glitter. It looks like it belongs to a ten-year-old girl. I love it.
6 Friendzoned in the Georgian mountains
(Wow, Georgia really wasn’t kind to me lol.)
We’d been dating for a couple of weeks. Or so I thought.
Everything seemed to align perfectly. We could talk for hours without boring each other; we made each other laugh; we shared the same values, the same life style and the exact same views on relationships, including what we wanted in that moment. He was tall, boyish and handsome. I rolled my eyes when we went to get brunch on that one Sunday but secretly I loved that we had so quickly become “those people”.
But he had been turning a little colder lately, it seemed. He blamed it on a low week and a flu, and I thought that maybe we could still amend things when we travelled away to the mountains together for a weekend. The bed we shared was ridiculously tiny. If it had been a movie set, it would have been a clear choice from the director’s part to demonstrate the claustrophobia of the awkwardness that was soon to follow.
We talked in the darkness and he told me he just wanted to be friends. It seemed too ridiculous to be true. I was lying so close to him I could feel the heat radiating from his body, a little present I’d got him a few days before still uncovered in my backpack, in the most romantic room imaginable. Seriously, the packet on the hand soap read “Rose in love”.
How I got over it:
How you get over any break-up, even when there really isn’t anything to break off in the first place: Writing. Listening to Taylor Swift. Going on Tinder. (Actually, terrible crutch. When I got home and started furiously swiping, I swear all the guys on the app looked like unhappy potatoes in comparison.) It helped that we did actually end up becoming pretty good friends after. I asked him if there was anything I could’ve den differently (because I am dramatic like that) and he said that it was just something he didn’t feel. And you simply can’t argue with feelings.
7 Miscalculating my money in Spain
Walking Camino de Santiago, you’ll overnight in a hostel or an albergue every night, so you’re never too far from civilisation. At this point I’d been already walking for 28 days and I guess I got sloppy because I forgot to check where I was going and what they had.
I arrived in the tiny village of Borres to find that it pretty much consisted of a dozen farm houses and one singular café where I ordered a ham sandwich for lunch. But when I went to pay I realised I’d committed one grave mistake: I had not calculated my cash that morning and I was almost out.
After the sandwich, I was left with 10.6 e. Five euros would go towards the hostel the next day. That meant under six euros for food for two days – which in turn meant that in this town that was too small to even host a minimarket, I would be left without both dinner and breakfast.
That night, my dinner consisted of an orange and half a dozen biscuits, and I went to bed with my stomach growling, cursing my own stupidity.
How I got over it:
There’s a saying on the Camino that all pilgrims are well aware of: Camino provides. Meaning, whatever you need, you’ll soon find in your way.
(Didn’t bring me a hot Spanish boyfriend but I digress.)
That morning I was the last to leave the albergue, and as I was walking through the door, I noticed an apple someone had left on the kitchen table. Was it simply forgotten? Considered too much of a weight and abandoned? Materialised out of my pure hunger? Whatever it was, I gratefully took it with me and had it for lunch with the rest of my cookies.
In Berdecedo, the next town, all albergues were full but I was able to stock up in the supermarket – and hallelujah, they actually accepted card! I bought the whole shop. That night I had a nice (?) tuna salad dinner, and for breakfast – more tuna. It didn’t matter. I managed to make it to Grandas de Salime where I finally withdrew some cold hard cash money.
8 Pickpockets in Iran leave me poor
Well, it sucks double that I still got robbed.
Because Iran doesn’t accept foreign credit cards, I had 800 USD in cash on me, hidden in different places. I’d hidden 200 dollars in the box that my new phone had come in where it sat together with my old, fucked up phone (refer to above). When I went to get the money one morning in Yazd, I noticed it wasn’t there. (The phone was. Guess even the thieves didn’t want that piece of shit.)
I’d had the phone box either locked away or on me at all times, and the only time I could think of it being accessible was when I forgot it in my big backpack on the night bus from Tehran to Yazd. But it was so bizarre since who has access to the luggage in the compartment under the bus? Only the personnel, I’d imagine. Did they rob me and then put everything neatly back in its place?
The worst part was probably being alone for it again. The hostel owner was completely unhelpful: he basically asked me if the money could be anywhere else and then disappeared.
How I got over it:
Pretty quickly, actually, and I don’t even know why.
Two hundred fucking dollars is a lot of money – probably half of what I made that month, to be quite honest. But what could I do? My insurance only covered medical emergencies, not stolen property, and to make a police report I would have had to take the 8-hour bus back to Tehran. I still had enough cash to continue my Iran trip – so I did.
9 Caught in a thunderstorm in Dilijan, Armenia
It was the last of four days of intense hiking, and after 70+ kilometres my knees, feet and calves were hurting because apparently, I am an old hag. As I was huffing and puffing up a hill, I looked behind me towards beautiful golden sun: good. Then I raised my eyes towards the mountains where I was going and saw that heavy dark clouds loomed around the peaks. Not good.
What started out as light rain developed into hail in five minutes. Soaked, I was using my jacket as a rain cover because who knows where I’d lost my backpack’s actual rain cover. And then I heard the rumbling of the thunder. It kept creeping closer. Every time I thought it had passed me, another ripping sound would follow a quick flash on the horizon. I was absolutely terrified – exposed on a mountaintop, pelted down by heavy rain, so sure I would get struck by lighting any second. I think I actually prayed. I’m not sure to whom since I’m not religious, but I do distinctly remember saying the words please please just let me get to the cave all right out loud.
How I got over it:
Oh, the cave I mentioned? When the rain started getting heavier, I checked my maps for possible shelter and found a cave about a kilometre away. By some miracle, I managed to stumble there without getting struck by lightning, so I curled up there to wait for the storm to pass. It took an hour of shivering in wet clothes and a soothingly funny episode of the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno to keep my spirits up, but eventually the storm passed and I was able to continue. Luckily, no more rain that day!
Does Georgia hate me? When I love it so much? Georgia, why?
Caucasian shepherd dogs are known for aggressively protecting their herds with all their doggy might. I’d heard the stories but after multiple successful hikes in the Caucasian mountain range, I’d yet to have a bad experience with these big, territorial dogs. In fact, two days before one giant, white fluffball had jogged up to me and offered to be pet. I posted him on my Instagram stories captioned: oh look, it’s a vicious Georgian mountain dog.
Note to self: DO NOT TEMPT FATE.
I was hiking up towards a village when I rounded a corner and came face to face with a big white dog. We both froze up for a second – then he came to me. I had already had a close brush with death another dog earlier that day, and his owner had advised me to get low, avoid eye contact and wait for the dog to pass if another one tried to make any trouble.
So I sat there on my knees, staring at the ground, leaning on my hiking pole. The dog was behind me, barking so loudly it felt like I was being shooketh to the very core of me. (I might’ve cried a bit again but you’ll never know since you weren’t there.) I had all these thoughts going through my head. What if he doesn’t go away? What if he attacks? Do Georgian dogs even like Finnish girl meatloaf?
Eventually, after maybe ten or fifteen minutes, he seemed to get embarrassed by how pitiful I looked and loped off. I got on my shaking feet, kept walking – and around the next bend, faced off another three dogs.
How I got over it:
This time, the dogs were with a shepherd; and as soon as he saw them coming at me, he told them off and then walked me all the way to the village to make sure I wasn’t bothered anymore.
Well, it has surely been a ride. But as much as I’m whining here, I am truly grateful of a year full of travel – in all of its beautiful, bizarre and bad moments.
Thanks for reading!
What’s your worst travel experience from this year?