Think travelling is all fun and games? For the most part, it is. But sometimes, shit happens (literally) and you end up with unforgettable times of roughing it in foreign countries. Here are 5 times my journeys turned into travel horror stories.

Travel Horror Stories: When Globetrotting Gets Messy

2 people dressed up as pirates sandwiched between an old man
This was a fun time, not one of my travel horror stories

1. Mayhem in Mexico

I learned a valuable lesson on my first trip to Mexico. My then-boyfriend (BF) and I arrived in Playa del Carmen the morning after a boozy night before in Cancun. I was disgustingly hungover and tired. We didn’t pre-book accommodation so when a friendly chap approached us with a deal to good to be true, we took it. For $15 USD (prepaid in cash, of course), we got the key to a cute beachside cabin. It was very basic, but for $15, how could you complain?

Although we were tired, we wanted to see the town and get something to eat. We dropped our bags in the cabin and set off for dinner. By the time we got back to the cheap-as-chips bungalow, it was dark. Ex-BF fumbles for the light as we step inside.

When the lights finally brightened the room, the shock and horror of what followed still haunts me 20 years later. About two dozen cockroaches scramble over the sheet-covered double bed as we freeze with fear and disgust.

We grabbed our backpacks, which were in the small closet, and headed back into the main street where we’d just come from. By now it was late. And we had no idea where to go. And forget about finding the bloke who sold us the cabin. We knew that wouldn’t happen.

“Let’s just sleep on the beach,” he said.

I was so tired, and now cranky af, so I agreed. I pulled a sarong from my pack to act as a blanket, not that it offered much warmth. We huddled together on the cool sand but it was hard to find peace in our make-shift bed.

Wake up

I drifted in and out of sleep until a tap on my shoulder startled me awake. I opened my eyes to a cop looming over us, shaking a baton.

“No sleep here,” he said.

He also rattled off a bunch of words in Spanish, but neither of us understood him. But it was as clear as plastic wrap that we were not welcome to snuggle down on the beach. Once again, we trudged back down the main street, wandering and wondering.

At about 2 am, we finally gave in to the fact we’d have to fork out more money to a proper hotel. Luckily, we found a small boutique hotel with a 24-hour reception. We paid $60USD for the night (which by this time was about an 8-hour stay – though we ended up staying for a few nights). The first thing I did was get a hot shower. That may have been the best $60 I’ve ever spent.

Travel horror stories lesson: You get what you pay for

2. Marijuana mishap

When I lived in Canada (pre-2001), I ran with a pro-pot crowd. You’d be surprised just how many Canadians smoke dope – no wonder it’s now legal over there.

In the late 90s, I had a boyfriend who I’d consider a pothead (yep, same BF as in the Mexico story). He smoked every day. So when we were planning a trip to Europe, Amsterdam was high on the list of places to visit (I’m not trying to be punny). Since we only had two weeks of vacation time (we were both Monday-Friday 9 to 5ers), we booked a Contiki tour. You know, 9 countries in 7 days kind of trip.

When we hit Amsterdam, we pretty much went straight to a coffee shop. Ordering cannabis off a menu was ridiculously awesome – we just couldn’t believe it. And we could roll and smoke right there at the table. Crazy.

Later that night, we went to a nightclub with fellow travellers. Again, we were able to order pot from a menu at a little window inside the club. I can’t remember what we ordered, but let’s just say, it was outta our leagues. Well, I was fine – I didn’t overdo it. But when BF nearly passed out in the street, it was clear that he’d overindulged. Who knew pot could fuck you up so much? We didn’t. Luckily, he came right before needing an ambo.

Caution: No matter how chronic you are at home, have your wits about you when experimenting overseas (legally, of course).

colourful cans and bottles in a vending machine in Japan
Japan, the land of many colours, including the technicolour yawn

3. Jarring john experience in Japan

I love Japan. I’ve only been once – for my 40th birthday – but I’d love to go back. Even though I had a terrifying experience. At the end of our first full day in Osaka, we went a basement eatery chosen by my brother-in-law who was living in Japan at the time.

The dark and smokey dungeon was teeming with the after-work office crowd and hipsters aplenty. BIL ordered a range of share plates using his broken Japanese and we all ate greedily – modern Japanese foods to die for. Little did I know that I would actually almost die.

Disclaimer: Okay, let’s clear this up. I’m exaggerating a little but I FELT like I nearly died that night.

It was about 3 am when I woke up with severe stomach cramps. My husband and five-year-old son were sound asleep. I let them stay that way as I made my way to the toilet outside our room. By the time I locked myself in the tiny single-stall, I was doubled over and sweating.

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Am I going to die here?

The pain came in waves, which rippled and tore through me threatening explosive eruptions from either end (I didn’t know which one). One second I sat on the john, the next, I hovered over it. To touch my skin was like patting a dead fish. Alone without the ability to get help, I had no choice but to ride it out.

After about 30-45 minutes of death-like cramps and violent bodily functions, the waves ceased. Exhausted and scared, I crawled back to my room.

The morning came too quickly. Tired and cranky, I reluctantly tagged along on another long day of sightseeing. I suspect it was food poisoning, yet nobody else was sick. I was just lucky, I guess.

Travel horror stories tip: Take your phone to the bathroom in case you need to call yourself an ambulance in the middle of the night.

woman leaning over toilet with a striped blanket draped over her back.
Travel Horror Stories | Hangover number 999

4. Hangover from Hell

The year is 2003 and I’m in Vancouver. It’s my last night in town before flying to London to start a 6-month contract as a photographer aboard the Mv Adonia. It’s a dream job for me. Shame it began as a nightmare.

There’s little to tell – I can barely remember a damn thing from that night, and not just because it happened 16 years ago.

What I do remember about this travel horror story is this:

  • A Vancouver nightclub
  • My BFF
  • Beer
  • Shooters
  • Dancing
  • Passing out on said BFF’s sofa
  • Missing an overseas call to my then-boyfriend in New Zealand
  • Boarding a British Airways flight around 5 pm, still sick as a dog
  • Arriving in London tired, cranky, and in no mood

Travel horror stories advice: Limit pre-flight drinks. Better yet, skip the booze.

mother and baby sitting on the steps of a gazebo in Nova Scotia, Canada
Travel horror stories
Mere moments before our trip to Nova Scotia went due south

5. D&V shame in Canada

The first time I’d heard the term D&V was when I worked on the Mv Adonia. Before then, I’d only been on one cruise ship vacay, and luckily there wasn’t an outbreak of the Norovirus.

But while I was trapped at sea for six months working as a photographer, there were plenty of D&V moments amongst the crew and passengers. Again, I was lucky and didn’t contract the D (diarrhea) or the V (vomiting).

It was when my family visited Canada in 2009 that it chased me down. One minute, we were driving around Lunenburg, Nova Scotia looking at the pretty painted buildings and seaside, the next, the toddler was vomiting all over the back seat of the rental car.

By the time we got to my BFF’s house, Toddler was a mess. I spent most of that night tending to him with a bucket beside the bed. When he finally slept, I retreated to the sofa for some shut-eye (the 3 of us were sharing a double bed…gah).

Rank smells exiting my ass

When your time at home is limited, the itinerary has to go on. So, we travelled to Kingston to my sister’s place for a night. Lucky for me (not), the illness started with the D and the worst gas I’ve ever had (then, and since). I spent most of the time in the bathroom trying to cover up the rank smells exiting my ass.

By day 2, the vomiting started. We were nearing our last days in Nova Scotia and had not spent much time with my father. I’d already cancelled a lunch date due to Toddler being sick, but I couldn’t cancel anymore. After a 2-hour drive (I have no idea how I survived that trip without shitting myself), we got to my dad’s place. I made a bee-line to the toilet for some hugging action.

I felt so bad for being sick when my father went to a lot of effort to make a meal of my favourite foods (including lobster) that I forced myself to eat. Of course, it ended up in the loo promptly after.

It doesn’t stop there. Although the D&V had stopped, the deadly gas continued all the way across Canada (for anyone on that WestJet flight – I AM SO SORRY) to Victoria where I contaminated another family member’s bathroom. SO disgusting.

Travel horror stories fact: People who travel with a stomach bug are selfish pricks (I hang my head in shame).

Do you have any travel horror stories to share?

I’d love to read them. I’m kind of messed up like that. Share in the comments.