Looking Back: My Worst Travel Memories.

water ski mauritius, water skiing

There are some stories that I promised myself I would never write. Like the time I fell into an open drain in Rajasthan. Or when I was convinced a leopard was going to eat me alive. Or a painful trip to a hospital in ‘paradise’.

In the crevices of my mind, I’ve been hiding away such memories. But it’s time to pen them, for these are the moments that keep travel real, and have gradually become good stories or memorable lessons:

Spending a chilly night alone on a broken-down bus.

Diu photos, Diu sunset
Last sunset in Diu.

On an ill-fated December night, a friend and I were on an overnight bus from Diu to Ahmedabad (Read: India Last Beach Paradise?), which broke down in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. The locals disappeared one by one, some finding refuge in the house of friends, others walking many miles to a bus stand to hail a local bus. The road was absolutely deserted and we, unsure of where to go, decided to spend the chilly night in our broken-down bus. We shivered through the night alone, unsure if we’d get mugged or even survive the cold. Probably the longest night I’ve ever lived through.

Being offered to eat worms in the Philippines.

Philippines sunset, Philippines islands
Sunsets like these helped me survive staring at gross foods in the Philippines.

On a casual evening in the 9th grade, in the midst of a serious discussion with a friend, I swore I would give up eating meat. It’s been 12 years since that resolution, and more difficult than sticking by it has been trying not to judge other people – people I know, live with, travel with, eat with – who eat meat. But my recent trip with the Funbassadors squad to the Philippines challenged me on a new level. I had to sit and watch as people sitting next to me cheered each other on to eat slimy wood-worms dipped in a gooey sauce. It was the single most disgusting thing I’ve had to witness. And I don’t even want to tell you about the balut…

Sleeping on a blood-stained bed in Vietnam.

northwest Vietnam, Vietnam countryside
Stunning landscapes in Northwest Vietnam.

One of the strangest things about travelling along the rural, untravelled countryside of Vietnam is that local buses which are to ply from point A to point B, stop at the nearest town as soon as night falls. Or atleast they did 5 years ago, when I was travelling there. We were on our way to Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam, but at nightfall, still a distance away, the bus driver decided he could drive no further. There was only one shady guesthouse in the rundown town, with what looked like fresh stains of blood in the bathroom and on the bed. Enough said.

A cough so terrible, I could barely talk.

dzongu, north sikkim, chee local drink
Sipping Chee in Dzongu. The only photo I got from that trip.

I caught a cough just before my recent trip to the eastern Himalayas (See: In Photos: Hiking from Darjeeling to Sikkim), and by the time I reached Dzongu in North Sikkim, it got so bad that I could neither walk nor talk without coughing my guts out. I decided to go back to Gangtok and see a doctor, who prescribed a bunch of medicines for a respiratory tract infection, and advised me to rest. I ended up spending an unexpected week in Gangtok, and am now authorized to write a travel guide about the city!

Creepy driver on the shared taxi from Kaza.

Spiti , Spiti roads, Spiti to Manali
Stunning drive, creepy driver.

I’ve been asked several times about creepy men I’ve encountered during my travels. Lecherous looks and lewd comments aside, only one experience really stands out. I took a shared taxi from Kaza to Manali against my gut; the driver, a non-Spitian, appeared creepy even at the start, but when I saw two French guys get into the back seat, I figured I’ll be okay too. I sat in the middle seat with 3 men squeezed beside me, and they couldn’t help leaning on me on sharp curves. I wasn’t comfortable, so I asked to sit in the front seat next to the driver, which he took as a sign of me hitting on him! When we stopped for breakfast, he wouldn’t leave me alone in the open-air bathroom, and the entire journey, he made harassing, obnoxious remarks. In a long traffic jam near Rohtang Pass, he told me, it looks like we’ll have to spend the night together. After the overwhelming acts of kindness I had witnessed in Spiti, it was a rude jolt back to reality. I’ve never gone against even the slightest stirring in my gut since.

Trip to the hospital in Mauritius.

water ski mauritius, water skiing
Falling into the ocean while water skiing in Mauritius.

A trip to the hospital in any part of the world is bad enough. But when you’re surrounded by pristine beaches in what feels like a tropical paradise, it’s worse. I went water skiing in the Indian Ocean (Read: Mauritius: 9 Experiences to Take Your Breath Away, Literally!), and found myself cringing with a painful ear-ache in the days that followed. A trip to a hospital emergency clinic became unavoidable, and it was the only time I had travelled out of India without a travel insurance. Thankfully, neither the diagnosis nor the monetary damage was as bad as I expected.

Convinced that I was going to be eaten alive!

jungle camp sattal, camping uttarakhand
Beautiful isolation by day. A little scary at night!

While I lived in Delhi, I made a weekend trip with a friend, to a jungle camp in Sattal, across the river and a 20 minute walk through the jungle. There is no electricity or connectivity at the camp, and we happened to be the only ones that night, together with 2 caretakers. We spent hours by a bonfire, hearing stories of leopards who came down into the valley, to kill dogs with a single sharp attack on their throats. We went on a night walk, and found the forest to be eerily quiet.

Late that night, I woke up to the sound of hoarse breathing right outside my side of the tent. I woke my friend up, and both of us, scared for our lives, tried to call the caretakers. There was no signal on our phones, and no response to our meek calls for help. We tried to stay silent, and when my friend shone the torch, we could see an eye and a tooth in a creepy silhouette. All I could think was, if it’s a leopard and he decides to leap at me, it’ll atleast be a quick death (Read: Camping in the Jungles of Uttarakhand). I’ve never been happier to see the sun rise.

Going on the Jagriti Yatra.

jagriti yatra, hubli
Docked near Hubli on the Jagriti Yatra.

It was only a couple of months since I had moved back to India from Singapore. I was trying to find my feet, looking for interesting causes to work with, and toying with the idea of India Untravelled. I got accepted into the Tata Jagriti Yatra, a train journey for wannabe social entrepreneurs to discover rural India. From the moment I boarded the dirty train with half-broken windows and beds, and rats running around, I hated it. We were served unhealthy, unhygienic food, prepared on the filthy stations where the train docked. Every morning, some 500 of us would bombard a small village to hear a small company boast of their successes. On day 4, when I decided I was leaving, the organizers threatened to come after me if I stepped off that train! Step off I did, feeling ripped of the precious money I had spent on the trip, and feeling sorry for the people who wanted to leave but were afraid to do so.

Falling into an open drain in Udaipur. 

Udaipur cafes, Udaipur photos
Catching up on work in Udaipur before the ill-fated evening!

I wish there was a more dramatic story to tell you how this happened. But we live in a country where potholes are aplenty, and silly me was walking one evening in Udaipur, from my hotel to the old town for dinner, while whatsapp-ing on my phone. Not once did I look up to see the path I had walked a few times that day. I literally walked straight into an open drain, much to the shock (and delight) of the taxi guys who hung around the area. Phone se upar nahin dekhte madam, they mocked. I had to shower a few times, wash my shoes more times, and throw away the track pants I had been wearing. D.i.s.g.u.s.t.i.n.g.

Your turn, tell me about your worst travel moments.


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Confessions of an Indian Travel Blogger
2 Months on the Road: Highs and Lows
Confessions of an Indian Nomad: 7 Months On

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  1. A great mix. Not sure on who of the care-takers were there during the sattal camp thing but the owner (Gauri, an old friend) is a superman when it comes to story telling of leopards, chudails and what not. hehe.

    For that Spiti thing, since it was a shared taxi, I am kind of surprised. Bad luck. Now you have written, forget it.

    Wishing you more of drains and sattals. – Nandan

    1. Hemu was the master storyteller, Gauri wasn’t around (fortunately?). Haha. More of Sattals is good, more of drains – no thanks!

      1. Hemu, really ?. May be when I was hanging out there then probably Gauri and I were making so much noise (and stories) that Hemu would have chosen to stay sober. But Hemu has been a great guy. Haven’t met him after Lockdown though, he was going through some intestinal issues.

  2. Thanks for sharing the pitfalls of a sole lady traveler. I recently travelled solo, and loved it.
    Everybody loves to share the rosy side of a travelling, but very few are willing to share the unpleasant ones…

    1. I’m glad to hear that, Kayura, though I think these stories could very well be coming from a male traveller. The difference is mostly in our minds and perceptions!

  3. 1000000000 X 10000000000000000 LIKES!!!!

  4. Scary :/ and drain part is actually funny *in Indian scenario* 😛

    1. Haha, it is in retrospect. I wanted to get swallowed in when it happened 😉

  5. Sorry to be pedantic, but you are liking someone’s bad experiences on holiday. That’s schadenfreude isn’t it? It’s the bad experiences that make you appreciate the good times when travelling all the more.

    1. well at least now we know what to avoid in these places.

  6. Some of the moments are so hilarious, Shivya! I’m sure it wasn’t funny to live them. My worst nightmare is being ill while I’m travelling international. I don’t know how you must have coped in Mauritius. To only happy memories! 🙂

    1. It sure wasn’t funny to live them, but I laugh in retrospect for sure! It was scary having to go to a hospital in Mauritius, but the doctors was so nice and the hospital in such a scenic location that it actually turned out to be an experience to remember 😉

  7. Roberto Amaral says:

    Funny! Makes interesting reading… keep going!!! 🙂

  8. Loved reading about the other side. More than simply just embracing the good, bad and ugly of it all, it gives aspiring travel writers a peek into the not-so-green-grass of being a travel writer.

    1. Thanks Faye! I haven’t really gone into the downs of being a travel writer here, just those of someone who can’t stop travelling.

    1. I know! But considering these are the only bad memories that stand out from 5-6 years of travelling, so bad huh?

  9. Maybe not the most fun to recount, but it’s great to hear about the other side of travel in addition to the good stuff! It’s more realistic 🙂

    1. Took me a long time to pen it, but you’re right, it had to be done to keep things real.

  10. This was indeed a candid post, Shivya. All these are also part of your travel tales. Glad that you decided to share them.

    1. I’m glad too, Sangeeta. Hope to share more such realistic posts in the future.

  11. Its experiences like these that make us appreciate the good things isn’t it! Often they make for great stories too 🙂 Even just reading about your leopard experience makes me shudder with fear! I was scared enough hiding from wild elephants on a hiking adventure near Kumily last year…

    1. Oh wow, tell me more about that! And yes absolutely, I’m grateful that after all these years of travelling and thousands of awesome experiences, only a few bad ones stand out.

  12. I’m shocked to hear about “Tata Jagriti Yatra”. Agreed, some wannabe entrepreneurs brag like crazy…..

    1. RIGHT?? I had been accepted a few years back and still regret not being able to go. After reading this, I’m finally at peace 😉

      1. I’m sure there’ll be people who’ve been on it, who would disagree with me. But I’m just being candid about how much I hated it. I’m glad you’re finally at peace, Surya!

  13. The day you decide to publish your travelogue, I’d be the first in line to buy it and get it signed from you.. 🙂
    This is the most honest travel account i’ve ever read, and trust me, I read a lot!

    1. Thank you Mathangi, that really made my day! I hope the day to line up comes soon enough 😉

  14. I hate to admit this, infact I am ashamed, but I was scammed big time in Istanbul by this guy whom I had made friends with. He said he was taking me to a “good local restaurant”, I initially refused, but then I thought, why not give it a try? Turns out the place wasn’t decent, you know what I mean. I immediately walked out, the guy accompanied me, we took a taxi, and I had to give him a “ransom” of about Rs.3000 (bargained down from Rs.20,000) to free myself from the taxi, because the guy worked with the taxi guy in doing this to unsuspecting tourists.
    I was glad I left the “good local restaurant”, because I’ve heard worse things happen to people(young,male tourists) ,losing ALL their money. I’m just glad I made it by paying a relatively small ransom. And all this while, I knew I shouldn’t have gone with the guy. But still..it happens to people who travel frequently, who are a little less wary of strangers.
    And this happened on the second day of my trip,so it was a little scary, but now that I look back, I feel it’s really ok, I know I should be a little more careful while traveling.

    1. Omg, I’m glad you got away with a small ransom, Ashwin. I read Istanbul’s wikitravel page before I went there, and it’s possibly the only city with a section on Scams – and this is a very common one. Usually they make you buy a really expensive wine and pay for it. But it’s one thing to read about and really quite another to have it happen to you. A good lesson for sure, and hopefully you’ll laugh about it someday!

    1. That’s my worst too. I plugged in my earphones and blasted music, praying to the universe to let me reach Manali in one piece. But it taught me the most important lesson of all too – never, never go against your gut. Off to read your post now!

  15. This post is a gentle reminder to everyone who think travels are always fairy tales. Yes there are bad incidences but each one of them prepare you to accept bad turn of events next time with more ease. Few years back if something bad happens on travel, it would have spoiled my mood for few days :). But now it takes few minutes to move on most of the times :).

    My recent bad experience was in North Sikkim where the guest house room I stayed had a broken window which I noticed late in night when temperature dropped to zero degree :). The caretakers were too drunk to understand any thing and I was left with no choice but to manage till morning in that cold night.

    1. Ouch, feeling cold just thinking about it. You should’ve borrowed some alcohol from the caretakers to stay warm 😉

      I know what you mean, bad moments just pass by once you get a little more used to them!

      1. To make the matters worse, I am a teetotaler 🙂

  16. Rohith Jyothish says:

    I regularly follow your posts. This is my first comment though. Thanks for telling the other side. Most people don’t. It’s a great way to get a reality check. Keep ’em coming. All the best! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Rohith! I didn’t expect so many people to identify with this post, but now that I know better, I will try to share the other side more often!

  17. Ouch ! Scary indeed. I once fell and broke my arm in a small hill resort near nainital. They had no medical care to speak of and I actually traveled back to Delhi with my broken arm just in a sling the next day. We had our own share fo creepy guide at Andaman who behaved well with us while we were there but started sending us obscene love notes once we were back in Delhi !

    1. That must’ve been painful, carrying your arm in a sling. Can’t believe Nainital doesn’t have any good medical facility, wonder how the locals survive.

      And haha, I guess it’s better to receive the love notes once you’re in the safety of your home. Block him or get someone scary-sounding to call him and give a piece of your mind!

  18. I’d been waiting to see a post like this from you 😀 The blood stains waala is definitely the worst! I think I’d have just stood in the corner all night!!
    My worst experience happened last August when I was hitchhiking from Budapest to Ljubljana by myself. 500kms and it eventually took me 7 rides in 7ish hours. At one point after my 5th ride, not a soul was stopping. After over an hour of trying to flag down cars on the highway, this man finally stopped and asked me to get in. I didn’t like the look of him much, but I was carrying a 22kg rucksack and a 5ish kg knapsack in front and was getting desperate. Just like you said, I should have listened to my gut. After an hour or so of driving in silence (he didn’t speak much English), we were in the middle of nowhere when he turned to me and said, ‘Hey, you! SEX???’ I said NO, and he said ‘okayy, okayy’ and made a call and started speaking in Slovenian to some man on the speakerphone.
    I was mortified and crying, and I was sure I was going to be raped and dumped in the forest on the side of the highway, and no one would know cause my parents thought I was on a train and I had no phone. Getting off and running was not an option because I’m a jackass and I had kept my wallet and passport in the boot along with all my other stuff (lesson learnt: ALWAYS KEEP YOUR ESSENTIALS ON YOU!!). Thankfully, he didn’t push me, and just dropped me off when I told him to at the next gas station.
    Looking back, I think he meant no harm and just tried his luck. But those moments… SHEER terror!!

    1. OMG, Surya! This is so scary. I think I would’ve tried jumping out of the car nonetheless. I’m so glad you survived. Also a 22 kg rucksack? Please start packing light!

      1. It was my first time 😛 My next trip, I packed 2 weeks’ worth of snow-weather clothes in a backpack that fit into Ryanair’s cabin luggage specs.

  19. hackdeals.com says:

    Absolutely Great Experiences!

  20. Aashlesha says:

    Very very surprised to see your bad experience regarding Jagriti Yatra! Sad you had to see the other side though! 🙁 as a yatri, I have *completely* opposite and positive views! 🙂 PS : the other downside experiences though put things in perspective.. and the most terrifying being the leopard being outside your tent. *phew*

    1. I’m glad the yatra experience worked out well for you!

  21. Your story of a stay in the blood stained bed in a hotel is really insightful… I dont know what I would have done at that time or managed. It can be really really disgusting..

    1. It was disgusting. I don’t know how I survived that night!

  22. coralcrue says:

    i’ve rescued my sister from a very deep drain. it was one of the worst panic attacks of my life. a truck driver came out of nowhere, jump deep into the drain and got the sinking sister out. we’ve been so grateful.
    am glad you shared all these stories.
    on a trip to the ‘sacred’ Haridwar, i stayed in one ashram and the garbage collector wouldn’t stop asking if he could offer me a free massage. i can’t tell you how disgusting and creeped out to the bones i felt.
    in agra, the room i stayed in had the bathroom open into it, more like a closet and barely any space to shower. and there was a huge black scorpion in that closet ‘bathroom’ i had to keep one eye on it while i had to take a bath or go to the loo. these are just some of the most scariest moments in my life and this is just a small part of it that i choose to remember after reading your account.

    1. Whoa. Those are all scary stories, but I’m glad you made it through them. If you don’t already, you should definitely read reviews on Tripadvisor before choosing where to stay. I’ve rarely ever gone wrong with accommodation. Also leave these places a review yourself so no one else has to face the huge black scorpion!

  23. Abhimanyu Singh says:

    First of all thank you! I was invited for Jagriti Yatra and for past one year have been feeling that I didn’t go. Doesn’t feel that any more.

    Worst memory would be accidentally creating a airport scare after leaving my luggage unattended, next four hours were horrible.

    While exploring Gwalior Fort I felt in a deep sink, still surprised how no bones were broken..

    1. Haha, glad that feeling is gone now 😉

      Whoa. Which airport was that at? And boy, I know all about ‘falling’ into places. May the force be with us!

  24. 🙂 funny & sometimes worst things happen only when we least expect them in life. Like always, it was fun reading this post Shivya.Thank you for sharing this side of travel as well.

    1. I agree, and yeah, most of them are funny stories in retrospect!

  25. Wow..! You have such eclectic mix of travel experiences..M so jealous 😉

    1. Haha, that wasn’t a reaction I was expecting from the readers of this post!

    1. I know. Putting them all on one page feels that way!

  26. There are a few 😐 but from off the top of my head, eating pizza from a bar in Merida, Venezuela. Here’s a tip: DON’T do it. You’ll be sick the whole weekend. 😐

    1. Ouch! Hope you recovered quickly from that. Leave a review on tripadvisor so others don’t fall for it!

  27. Pingback: Looking Back: My Worst Travel Memories. | The Talking Sloth - Asia
    1. Thank you! And yes I agree, the bad stuff is equally part of the adventure, in retrospect atleast 😉

      Thanks for the heads up on the blog mention; off to check it out now!

  28. Thanks for sharing your worst travel memories it tells us how you have acted well within the worst moments of your lifetime. Great Post more to hear from you.

  29. Got mugged in Rome. Had to fly back because I was way too traumatised to continue the journey alone.
    Almost got sexually assaulted in Amsterdam after getting a little drunk.

  30. Manali one would have been tough. My sister who is basically a nomad had experienced similar bad encounters. Nice to hear the other side for a change. BTW, does airports allow taser?

  31. Love your blog! I could read for hours. My worst moments were also in Sikkim. The place where we stayed was so nice, I forget where I was and brushed my teeth with bathroom tap water, as I would at home in Chicago. I got sooooooooo sick … vomited everywhere because I still tried to see things. Have lots of memories of the grossest public toilets where I would have to spend 30 minutes retching until I got sick, then I knew I’d be okay for another hour or so. Squeeze an hour of sightseeing before the next gross public toilet. So bad. Then just as I was recovering, I brushed my teeth with the tap water AGAIN …

  32. Its admirable how none of the incidents have deterred you enthusiasm and thirst for travel.. Its hard being a solo traveller sometimes. I think my worst experience has to be the one where I almost drowned in Gokarna. There weren’t many people around to help. My friend hardly made it back trying to save me. A good samaritan from “somewhere in Europe” managed to pull me out. Sadly I don’t even know up his name. I was caught up in looking out for my friend who was still in the sea that I didn’t realize when my saviour disappeared.

    C’est la vie.. Two hours I was back in the waters to celebrate (and to make sure I didn’t end up with a phobia)

  33. Wow! Glad to know your awful experiences will not stop you from traveling.

    A couple of years back I was once detained at my home airport by the customs authorities after finding a bottle of alcohol in my luggage, it took thirteen discomforting months to conclude the entire case. I learned my lesson though.

    Wish you all the best in your adventures.

  34. Oh my, your misadventures range from scary to funny to sorry, but your stories surely say tons about how brave you are! You go, girl!

  35. Every word made me more curious and interesting . Well written article. Thank U

  36. Its experiences like this that make a great story to tell later…. We were on Table mountain in South Africa. Very very cloudy and white- we took the trolley up and decided to walk down, all the time wondering why people chose to do otherwise ( wouldn’t it be harder to climb up against gravity?🤔). I and my husband we chatting away to glory, following an old but fit couple, not bothering to spend time to read the worn down signs of the track. There were multiple tracks and we Ofcourse decided to take the easiest 45 min walk track down the mountains. About 30 min into the walk, we were so busy chatting that we realised we lost the couple we were following, and the cloud cover had become so thick that the visibility was next to zero. That’s when the panic began. Long story short, 4 hours later we found ourselves shouting for help (with no signal on phone). I had legit tears running down my face at the thought of spending the night lost in the mountains – our legs were shivering with all the downhill walk (yes, that’s why people don’t walk downhill- it kills your knees!) . Alas a man heard our cries for help and showed us the way down. That was the start of our Cape Town trip and both of us literally limped our way through the rest of the trip on achy knees and sore feet.

  37. Vignesh RJ says:

    Once I went to a trekking in south India and camped there.. I had forgot my blanket and it became literally cold at night.. time moved at its slowest pace, I had a severe headache due to the cold and never had I waited to see the sun so badly

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