10 SCARY TRAVEL HORROR SITUATIONS AND HOW TO AVOID THEM!
On the Backpacking Housewife website, I want to share with you all my travel stories. I want to tell you about the fabulous experiences I’ve had while travelling and exploring amazing destinations all over the world. I want to do this to inspire you to travel and to explore the world too.
BUT I wouldn’t be being entirely honest with you if I ignored the fact that sometimes, although thankfully rarely, accidents and the unexpected can happen and things do occasionally go wrong while travelling.
Sometimes things can get a little bit scary when you suddenly find yourself outside your comfort zone.
I’ve been asked if anything dangerous or scary had ever happened to me while travelling.
In recent media interviews, I’ve not only been asked about the wonderful and amazing experiences I’ve had while travelling, I’ve also been asked about travel safety and if I’ve ever personally felt unsafe while abroad.
My answer is yes. I have on occasion felt worried and unsafe or scared while travelling.
But it’s important to keep this all in perspective because I’m also aware that travel fear is something that keeps many people from reaching out and achieving their own dreams of living a life of travel and adventure.
So, in telling you about these scary travel horror stories that have happened to me, it’s certainly not my intention to put you off travel – the opposite in fact – I want to encourage you to recognise and to accept your fears, knowing that they are completely natural and normal and there is a lot you can actively do to keep yourself safe while travelling.
I’m living proof! I have travelled around the whole world twice – exploring 56 countries – over 7 nomadic years!
Because, in reality, travelling anywhere in the world shouldn’t be any more dangerous than travelling in your own country.
We all know that life itself is inherently dangerous.
And being afraid of travel is just the same as being afraid of the unknown.
Yet, the unknown is simply something – good or bad – that we haven’t experienced yet.
In the same way that a stranger could be a great friend whom we just haven’t met yet.
To stay safe we must keep our wits about us and learn to trust our own inbuilt intuition.
We should be sensible. Be aware. Be prepared. Be cautious.
And, importantly, we must learn to always trust our gut feelings.
While travelling, I personally like to take onboard astronaut and commander Chris Hadfield’s advice in his wonderful book ‘An Astronauts Guide To Life On Earth’.
In his book, Commander Hadfield shares all the life skills he learned as an astronaut training to travel further away from home than most of us are ever likely to travel in our own lifetimes.
Commander Hadfield says, that first imagining and then anticipating all the things that might possibly go wrong while travelling, and then planning in advance exactly what you might do to tackle the imagined and anticipated situation will allow you to release the fears and concerns you have about keeping safe.
So, in the spirit of anticipation and in being fully prepared, in the same way I have also shared a post about Mishaps and Misadventures While Travelling, I’m now going to share with you ten of my own real-life scary situations and how I dealt with them and ultimately – and very importantly – what I learned from the experience about staying safe.
And as a result, if you ever find yourself in the same scary situations, you might feel more prepared and less afraid to travel!
10 Scary Travel Horror Stories
1: Finding ourselves in a notoriously dangerous part of town at midnight and during a blackout in Nassau, Bahamas.
We’d been in the Bahamas for a few weeks, renting an Airbnb at Cable Beach, just outside Nassau. One evening, my husband and I had travelled into town on a Jitney Bus to meet with a couple of new tourist friends we’d met earlier that day.
We’d arranged to meet for dinner and drinks at the famous Arawak Fish Fry area – a strip of beachside seafood restaurants and street food stalls offering local foods that are a famous tourist attraction.
We ended up staying out much longer than we’d intended. We were having fun and had found a bar with a nice vibe. When the bar closed, just around midnight, we were the last to leave.
We decided that we’d all share a taxi back up the road so we went out into the street to look for a taxi but found the street empty and quiet.
We’d all had quite a few drinks, but I suddenly felt quite sober on realising we might have put ourselves in a precarious situation. We’d been warned that this part of Nassau was a potentially dangerous place for tourists late at night.
And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, we were plunged into complete darkness.
There were no lights on anywhere and we soon realised this was a power cut situation. We just stood there in the dark not knowing what to do. There were no taxis on the street. There was nowhere open. The bar we’d been in was locked up.
We used our phones as torches but realised that we didn’t have any taxi numbers.
Then suddenly a big truck appeared out of the darkness and stopped right beside us. I was scared. The four of us were caught in its headlights and must have looked like frightened rabbits in a spotlight.
Luckily for us, the driver wasn’t about to rob us or kidnap or murder us. He simply wanted to offer his assistance. He saw we were tourists and he knew we shouldn’t have been there. He told us so – saying this wasn’t a good place for us to be so late at night – and he offered us a ride back to the area where we were staying.
Seeing he had lots of pots and pans and cooking paraphernalia in the back of his truck, and that he was obviously a street food vendor at the fish fry, we gratefully accepted.
As he dropped us off on the road where we were staying, his passing comment and instruction as we thanked him profusely for his kindness (and offered him some cash for his fuel and inconvenience that he refused to accept) was to suggest to us that if we ever saw him lost and in the wrong place in our country, that we would also stop to help him out.
Lesson learned: Take responsibility for your own safety but also know that not everyone is out to get you. There are good people everywhere in the world, and in my experience, the kindness of strangers is more widespread than you might expect.
2. Thinking we might be kidnapped in Central America.
We’d arrived in Central America late at night on a planned layover flight into a city with a notorious reputation for being potentially dangerous especially at night. I’d prearranged by email for our hotel to send out a car for us.
Top Travel Tip: if you are unfamiliar with the place you are arriving – particularly at night – and you’re not sure of the route to your hotel then do prearrange with your hotel to send out a car or taxi to meet you. Ask for the driver to hold up a card with your name on it to avoid you having to get into an unknown car at airport arrivals.
After arriving at our hotel and after checking in, we walked a short distance to a nearby fast-food restaurant for something to eat. It had been a long flight and we were hungry. Perhaps because it was quite late in the evening, the restaurant was empty. We paid for and ordered our food and sat in a booth with our drinks.
It was then that I happen to notice an old car pull into the car park and park directly in front of the window. The driver of the car looked right at me and for some strange reason I still can’t fully explain, I felt spooked.
The man came inside the restaurant. He glanced the menu and then deliberately looked our way once more. Once again, I happened to catch eye contact with him.
This time, I knew something was wrong. I had goosebumps. My heart was racing.
When the man went back to his car and I saw him still glancing our way and talking on his mobile phone, I took my hungry husband’s hand and I insisted that we were leaving immediately. We hurried back to our hotel and locked ourselves in our room. It’s not completely unheard of for tourists to get kidnapped and held for ransom in some parts of Central America.
We’ll never know if the danger that I instinctively felt was real or imagined.
I’m glad we never had to find out.
Lesson learned: Trust your gut. If a situation feels wrong act immediately to protect yourself and feel safe.
3. Dealing with a drunk taxi driver in Asia.
We’d just flown into a big city in South East Asia that we’d visited many times before and so we felt confident about taking a registered airport taxi to our hotel. Only, after climbing into the back seat of the taxi, my husband and I both sniffed the air at the same time and looked at each other.
We could both smell alcohol. It seemed to be coming strongly from the driver.
This time it was my backpacking husband who acted instinctively.
He said “no, stop” to the driver and turning to me he said “okay, we are getting out.”
Lesson learned: Don’t feel embarrassed about asserting yourself and putting your safety first in a compromising situation. Trust yourself. If something doesn’t feel right… it probably isn’t.
4. Bus going off with our backpacks in Mexico.
This is a story that we laugh about now but when it happened it was quite stressful. We were backpacking in Mexico. Having flown into Cancun and travelled by public bus along the coast, spending some time in Playa del Carmen, heading over to the island of Cozumel on a ferry for a few days, then heading back to the mainland and continuing by bus onto Tulum set on seeing the famous Mayan ruins there.
When we identified our stop just outside Tulum – and our hotel just across the street – we alerted the bus driver to stop the bus and let us off.
The problem was that as soon as we had stepped down off the bus, he continued on, without allowing us to collect our backpacks from the luggage compartment under the bus.
We watched him drive away in stunned silence for a moment then we saw another bus coming along the road. We ended up chasing the bus with our backpacks on it all across town on the second bus until we were able to retrieve our stuff!
Lesson learned: if the unexpected happens – don’t panic – look for a solution!
5. Tarantula in the bed in the Caribbean.
We’d been on a small island in the Caribbean for a week and rented a small house in a tropical garden. There were beautiful flowers and plants everywhere and trees laden with banana and cashews and coconuts – but unknown to us – this is a perfect habitat for the tarantula spider.
So, of course, not long after staying in the house we came home to find an enormous and hairy tarantula spider crawling on our bed. I will admit to you that my heart was pounding because back then I didn’t know if these types of spiders are poisonous or not. In fact, I’ve since learned they are not poisonous, but they are known to ‘fire their hairs’ at you as a defence mechanism, when they are afraid.
Feeling very afraid myself, I dashed next door to alert our landlady, who send her rather amused husband to extract the spider on our behalf while telling us that he ‘used to keep a tarantula spider as a pet when he was a child’.
In our bedroom, he approached the huge hairy beast with a broom onto which it dutifully crawled, before he put it back out into the garden.
Lesson learned: If you are faced with local wildlife try and find a local person willing to come and help you deal with it!
6. Scorpion in the shower in Honduras.
While in Honduras, Central America, I was horrified to be told by a new friend I’d met there how she had recently been hanging her washing outside when she’d been stung on the hand by a small black scorpion. She described the pain as horrific and ‘like being struck by a hammer’. Her hand was horribly swollen and she said she was still in a great deal of pain.
She also told me that luckily a local scorpion’s sting wasn’t fatal. Good to know.
But that still didn’t stop me from feeling absolutely terrified when, just a few days later, I was taking a shower and happened to look down to see a black scorpion showering with me and crawling over the top of my foot!
I didn’t scream. I froze. I stood completely motionless waiting for the hammer of pain to hit me or the scorpion to climb off my foot. Luckily it moved away – and disappeared into a small crevice in the corner of the shower base.
Lesson learned: I knew I wasn’t in danger of death from a scorpion sting but I was in danger of experiencing extreme pain. I now feel it’s perhaps a good idea to be forewarned and acquire some knowledge of any dangerous local wildlife while travelling to tropical places so that you can assess the level of danger you might be facing.
We actually lived in that house for several months not really knowing where that scorpion actually went or if he would come back.
I learned to check for him every time I took a shower.
7. A venomous snake in the house!
While we were housesitting in a fabulous chateau in South West France we had an encounter with a very large venomous snake.
Inside the chateau, the rooms were huge and the stone walls so thick that in the summer when temperatures outside were at their hottest – we had 42 deg C – inside the house always remained refreshingly cool. This was probably why a large and very long snake decided to come inside and go to sleep behind a piece of furniture.
Having spotted the snake, we took a photo of it in order to identify it by its markings.
We discovered it was a viper – because it had slit-pupils rather than round pupils and from its distinct pattern and scales – and that it was highly venomous.
Not wanting to tackle it outside ourselves, while assuming there must be some kind of protocol in place for dealing with poisonous snakes in France, we went and sought the advice of our French neighbour.
We explained our situation and showed the photo on our phone.
He looked startled (both the snake and now our neighbour) and he confirmed that the snake was indeed very dangerous and he immediately armed himself with a broom (in the same way as our neighbour in the Caribbean had armed himself to catch the tarantula spider!)
But… worryingly… when we all returned to the house we discovered the snake was no longer behind the dresser and was in fact nowhere to be seen.
We’d left the door open so had it slithered away on its own accord?
Or, was there a hole somewhere in the stone walls of the chateau, that enabled it to enter and exit the room whenever it chose to come inside?
Lesson learned: We never did see the snake again. But, for the whole time that we lived at the chateau, I learned to be vigilant. I was always careful whenever I moved anything or cleaned the floors around the furniture anywhere in the house.
8. Dentist – root canal treatment in South Korea
Before the backpacking husband and I left Scotland, having sold everything we owned in order to travel the world, we had a checklist of preparations to travel.
One of the things on that list was to get a full dental check-up in order to pre-empt any future problems with our teeth while travelling.
So, I was both surprised and frustrated to find, just a few months into our travel itinerary and while on a small island in the Caribbean with no dentist, that I had developed a toothache.
The tooth ached mercilessly for weeks and all I could do was swill it with rum and take a paracetamol. Then, the pain seemed to settle down for a while, but started up again when we set off on our travels again.
We took a long flight to South Korea to visit our son and I think perhaps the plane’s cabin pressure started my toothache off again.
Thankfully, in South Korea, my son was able to arrange for me to see a dentist.
The dentist’s name when translated to English was ‘The Happy Dentist’ but I wasn’t happy after my consultation to be told that I’d need root canal treatment.
However, this did solve the problem of my excruciatingly painful toothache.
Lesson learned: Sometimes even when you try to pre-empt a situation you can’t avoid every possible scenario. What you can do is have a backup plan and that should certainly include having a travel insurance policy to cover any medical and dental emergencies while in another country. You might like to read a full post/article I’ve written about Travel Insurance options.
9. Getting a badly infected foot in Thailand.
Hurting my foot in Thailand was actually an awful and extremely painful experience. My husband and I were walking down a steep pathway (ridiculously steep for a path, actually, but that’s Thailand for you!) and the path had dried in the sun after a heavy rainfall leaving a fine sand screed that I slipped on in my flip flops.
I went down so quickly that I believe if I hadn’t had my arm linked through my husband’s I would have probably broken a leg or something. Anyway, the damage seemed to be superficial at first, and just a sore scrape to the top of my foot.
Three days later however and the foot was obviously horribly infected.
I actually spared you the photos of this as the photo above was taken a few moments after I fell and before my foot got horribly infected.
I cleaned and dressed the wound as best I could but with the heat and humidity in Thailand, it is common for even a small abrasion to get infected.
I went to see a pharmacist and spent a small fortune on antiseptic cream and dressings but the foot soon got worse. It looked horrible. It was so painfully infected that I couldn’t even put it down on the ground never mind walk on it.
But I went back to the pharmacist, who seemed both surprised and concerned at seeing my foot in such a mess, and so cleaned it for me and prescribed a very strong course of antibiotics.
I can only describe the pain of having my infected foot cleaned as it being hit hard by hammers and slashed with glass both at the same time. It was excruciating.
The antibiotics started to work after a few days and the foot (eventually) healed. But I was left with a nasty reminder of what had happened to me with a scar on the top of my foot. A year later, I had the scar covered with a tattoo of a sea turtle in a coral garden, which I like much better.
Lesson learned: sometimes accidents happen no matter how careful you are. I was simply walking down a steep street after it had rained. I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t being silly but I slipped and fell and hurt myself. It could have been worse. Again, it’s important that you have travel insurance to cover any medical costs while abroad.
If you are in your 50’s or 60’s or older it can be more expensive and difficult to get the right travel insurance for your needs so you might like to read a post I’ve written especially for you: Travel Planning – Travel Insurance For Over 50s.
10. Suffering Sandfly Bites Everywhere.
Many people prepare for their holidays in warm or tropical places by including an insect repellent in their packing essentials to deter mosquitoes from biting them.
But there is also another variety of biting and blood-sucking fly that can cause terrible skin welts and skin swellings that many people like to call ‘no see um’s’.
These are tiny sandflies that are so small that you cannot actually see them – only the damage they do to you – and unlike mosquitoes (who mostly prefer to attack at dusk) sandflies are fully active at all hours of the morning, noon, and night!
I was blissfully unaware of the existence of sandflies when I took myself down to the beach to lay on my towel and sunbathe one afternoon while on a beautiful island in the Caribbean.
The sun was shining. Palm trees swayed. The sea was blue and crystal clear as waves lapped the shoreline of the pristine white sand beach as I lay there feeling strange tingles all over my skin.
I applied my sunscreen thinking I was getting ‘prickly heat’ and carried on trying to enjoy my afternoon. Eventually, unbearably uncomfortable with my skin feeling itchy, I went for a swim and then feeling restored I went back to the beach, picked up my towel, and headed for home.
Home was the beautiful Caribbean style beach hut we’d just rented for our stay and where my husband was when he saw me and suddenly cursed out loud like a pirate.
I was unknowingly at that moment absolutely covered in tiny red sandfly bites.
There was hardly a space between any of them but the ones on my back were worse from where I’d been lying on my towel on the sand. My husband took a photo of my back so he could show me what it looked like and I was horrified.
A few hours later and the tiny red welts grew bigger and were so itchy and looked so awful that I was driven quite mad. My only relief at that time was an antihistamine ointment that we’d sensibly brought with us to the island in our emergency travel kit.
Lesson learned: Sandflies are common all over the Caribbean and in many tropical places. I learned how to best deal with sandfly bites from talking to local people who helpfully told me what I could to use to treat the bites and to help prevent the sandflies attacking and biting me.
I was also told that after spending about three months on the island, a person’s natural immunity would usually kick in, meaning that the skin would not then react as badly to the sand fly bites.
I assume that’s why the local people around me didn’t appear to be suffering from sandfly bites or to be covered in the distinctive red welts.
I have written a post on all the tips I learned about dealing with sandflies and treating sandfly bites especially for you: Suffering SandFlies – the dreaded no see um’s. It’s one of the most visited articles on this website!
I do hope this post on scary travel horror stories has entertained and informed you and not put you off travelling.
If I’m not put off by all of this then neither should you be because:
There is so much in this wonderful world to see and experience.
There are far more good people in the world than bad people.
The kindness of strangers is more widespread than might think.
So… don’t be put off by what may or might not ever happen.
Instead, prepare yourself for anything by taking a leaf out of Commander Hadfield’s wonderful book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth’ BUY UK or BUY US and equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to overcome any fears you may have troubling you or any reticence you might have in the back of your mind about travelling near or far.
If you are over 50 years old you might like to read my post: 10 Reasons To Travel In Your 50’s and 60’s
And bravely go after your dreams of travel and adventure!