a blog about seeing the world

The best of the worst

Along with all the incredible memories of beautiful places and good times, travel is filled with moments that are unforgettable for other reasons. Moments that bring a sick feeling (sometimes literally) to the pit of your stomach and make you wish you had never left home. It’s about time we share seven of our worst travel experiences. Hopefully, you can learn from our mistakes, or at least get a good laugh.

1. Possibly the lowest moment of the trip came early on, at the end of five otherwise flawless weeks in Japan. We checked in at the Osaka airport, ready for our long flight to Thailand with a 16-hour layover in China. As we prepared to board, however, the attendant grew confused over our lack of a visa and told us to grab a seat.

The U.S. and Chinese embassies both state that you only needed a visa for layovers exceeding 24 hours, but apparently China Southern operates by different standards. To make the matter even more frustrating, the flight attendant kept tacking “Is that OK?” onto the end of statements that were definitely not OK. As in, “We’re not going to let you on the plane. Is that OK?” or  “You’ll have to buy a new ticket. Is that OK?”

Finally, she told us she would take us out to the front desk so we could discuss a refund. The woman dutifully led us out through customs and the busy airport, and told us to proceed to a counter just around the corner. In fact, there was no one waiting to help us just around the corner. China Southern had packed up its operation for the day, leaving us tricked and abandoned in a busy foreign airport. Many failed phone calls later, it was clear there would be no refund. Time to buy tickets to Thailand… again.

2. Funds were getting uncomfortably low a few months into our Australian road trip, but that was OK, because we were still expecting a nice fat tax return. It seemed to be taking a while, though, so we logged on to the IRS tracking website and quickly discovered where the money was. It had arrived right on time. We’d already spent it, weeks ago.

3. At least after the tax return debacle, we could still expect a tidy sum for the buyback on our car. No such luck. Though we’d had conversations with the folks at Traveler’s Auto Barn after hitting an unfortunate wallaby, they’d assured us that we should just leave the dent in the car and they’d take a reasonable sum off the $1,200 buyback price.

We should have kept in mind that they are, after all, used car dealers. Something that became glaringly obvious when they handed us a check for a measly $400.

4. You may have noticed a common theme up until now. Let’s take a break and review a medley of low moments that generally comes along with Southeast Asian overland travel.

-Getting dropped off on the curb in Bangkok at 3 a.m. at the end of our “overnight” bus ride from Koh Tao.

-Being awoken at approximately 1 a.m. on a bus ride Koh Phi Phi by the loudest, most horrendous music you can imagine. It was time for our “complementary meal.” Which apparently was mandatory.

-Being awoken at approximately 1 a.m. on a bus ride to Vietnam because the bus was mysteriously filling up with noxious engine fumes.

-The 14th hour of our 14-hour train ride from Sapa to Hanoi. Also, the 11th, 12th and 13th hours were pretty bad.

– All eight hours of an impressively curvy bus ride through northern Laos. Made worse by a killer hangover from a few Beer Lao Darks the night before, and the many locals puking out of windows.

5. Nate’s intense bout of sickness in Bangkok. Along with several hours spent on the bathroom floor, it included a lot of moaning, writhing, and a next-morning statement of “I feel like I didn’t take that like a man.”

6. Up in a remote corner of Australia’s Northern Territory, we woke up one morning to find that our car simply wouldn’t turn on. After a failed jump-start, we hitched a ride to the nearest tiny town, Pine Creek. The town mechanic was nowhere to be found, and a few phone calls revealed that it was going to cost $500 just to tow the car to a shop an hour down the highway. Not good. We spent an hour wandering around the depressing confines of Pine Creek, wondering if this was the end of the road.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. After asking around some more, we were directed to an old guy named Roscoe, who had a yard full of broken down cars and seemed buried in other projects. It wasn’t long before he gave in and kindly agreed to bring us out to our car and got it running. Thank you Roscoe!

7. More recently, we returned from an overnight hike to Brewster Hut, tired, hungry and ready for some relaxation. Instead, we found our car window smashed and many of our belongings missing. They grabbed two bags containing nearly all of Steph’s possessions—clothes, jewelry and souvenirs from Thailand, journal, toiletries, etc.— the tripod and random camera accessories, battery chargers and USB cords, Deborah’s backpack and everything in it. Luckily, everything of real value (passports, wallets, ipods and the Macbook) was safe in the DOC office for a $5 fee.

A few days later, we got a call from the police department—Steph’s pack full of clothing had washed up along the river.  Another somewhat happy ending to some dark times.


9 responses

  1. Hilary

    Oh Nate and Steph I hate to laugh at your misfortunes, but I’m glad that you can. OK, fine, I will too. my favorites are the 1am mandatory meal on the bus and the post sickness comment from Nate. Sucks about your stuff being stolen though. Hope that doesn’t thwart any more video/photo making. You guys are badass for sure. A VT summer is just around the corner!

    February 19, 2012 at 1:26 am

  2. Harold Avers

    Life is normal on travel times, also, I see. What a contrast to the beautiful pictures you have been willing to share – now life is balanced. Praise God you made it through these adventures.

    February 19, 2012 at 1:35 am

  3. Jesse Littlefield

    Oh man, I laughed so hard at this post! Especially Nate’s comment about not taking it like a man – I can picture him saying that! You 2 have the perfect temperaments for this type of travel! Anyone else would have packed it up and broken up long ago I’m sure! Great post!

    February 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

  4. Aunt Jan

    Stephanie and Nate, What a great post. i concur with everything Jesse said. I too loved Nate’s quote!!! You two are amazing and though we all miss you, we love hearing about this incredible experience! Glad to hear you got some of your clothes back! I hadn’t known that previously! Love to both of you!

    February 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

  5. Aunt Julie

    Love this post and the fact that humor has not been lost!! What an amazing adventure you both have had and so glad you have kept us informed through the blog! We love you both and can’t wait to see you this Summer!

    February 19, 2012 at 6:04 pm

  6. Anonymous

    I too love this post, not because I am happy to hear of misfortune, but because you were honest that traveling definitely has its ups and downs. I remember finally arriving in Africa with Shel in tow at 1 a.m. to discover that our hotel rooms had been given away. There we stood together in a small lobby, glad to be with a group of friends. Our paid guide was able to find another, less desirable place, and left telling us to make sure to lock the doors. We awoke to roosters crowing in the back alley below a few short hours later. The roosters were all caged and stacked up on top of each other and it looked even less unsavory in the light of day. Needless to say, we got the h out of there asap when our ride came. Love and miss you both…remember, when that door closes, find the nearest winbdow!!!
    Aunt Cathie

    February 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

  7. Aunt Laurie

    You two are so lucky to be able to get thru all this together and!! still find the happiness
    .. Can’t wait t see you and hear more Love yourselves

    February 19, 2012 at 7:50 pm

  8. thanks guys!

    February 20, 2012 at 2:24 am

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