There. I said it. Travel, like anything else in life, brings challenges along with rewards. For those of us that love travel more than anything, we eventually look back upon many of those bad moments with a smile while we’re planning our next trip. If traveling’s your thing, then the positive aspects significantly outweigh the negative. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to bounce back.
When those not-so-great feelings suddenly become associated with the trip you painstakingly planned for, what do you do? Here are some of my negative stories from trips, and how I learned from them to be come a more informed traveler.
*Content warning: non-aggravated sexual assault discussed
1 // theft
This one’s at the top of my list because it’s occurred and been attempted multiple times in my travels. It’s also one of the most common crimes against travelers, so you have a higher possibility of being pickpocketed relative to other crimes. Here are my personal stories involving pickpocketing:
pickpocketed in Kyiv
When I was in the Peace Corps, my training group went to Kyiv for immigration paperwork that can only be done in the capital. When we were on the metro, it was very crowded and this girl kept looking at me. Staring. I had my purse with a zipper and I was holding it close to my body. When the metro stopped, a flood of people got off. I didn’t even feel someone unzip my purse, take out my wallet, steal all my cash, and throw my wallet on the ground, all before the doors closed and they left without a trace.
That really hurt, because Peace Corps pays even less to its trainees than to its Volunteers. I was on an insanely tight budget, especially considering my training site was a city with inflated prices. These people are professionals. You can’t know who’s surrounding you, so make sure you protect your belongings as best you can and don’t beat yourself up about it when bad things do happen.
phone stolen in Rome
The second time was more recent. I just returned from a 2 week long trip to Europe. My mom, grandma, friend, and I camped out at a gate next to ours in Roma Fiumicino Airport, waiting for our flight to leave. We had my mom’s phone charging at a free pod down the walkway from us, but I was watching it. Apparently, someone was watching us. When my mom and grandma got up to find some dinner for everyone, I kept one eye on that phone. I checked again a couple seconds later, and it was gone.
When I looked behind me, I saw a guy who had just sat down with his wife and child wrap the charging cord around the phone. I was out of my seat before I even fully knew what was happening. Adrenaline coursed through me. Those memories of what happened in Kyiv came flooding back. I chased him down, took the phone back, and when he tried to resist, I yelled “IT’S MINE!!!”
I definitely made a scene while the passengers boarding their flight watched next to us, but I didn’t care. The man came back, trying to calm me down in Italian. I very angrily pointed to the photo of me on my mom’s home screen, saying, “See that?!?! That’s me!!” He never apologized. Instead, he came up with some BS story that he got confused, thinking it was his wife’s phone because hers also has a pink case. It was probably more of a decoy to make me look crazy and keep me from telling security.
purse-napped in Barcelona
A few days later, the third event occurred. The four of us were walking from Sagrada Familia to my host mom’s apartment in Barcelona. We had scheduled a visit to see her after two years apart. It’s a short walk, so we just were having a leisurely stroll. We were on Avinguda Diagonal, a very popular, long street in the city. While we waited for the pedestrian light to turn green, a motorcyclist came up and snatched my grandma’s purse, then rode off going at least 55 mph on the pedestrian part of the street.
We had to call and cancel all her credit cards and alert our Airbnb host, because one set of keys to our place was inside. Fast forward 2 hours, and we were at the police station. We waited there for 4 hours to fill out our report after waiting in one line and an officer told us *in English* that she didn’t speak English and we had to get in the translator line.
As it turns out, this was a lie. Two hours later, she was filling out a report in English, having a full-fledged, fluent conversation with another person. Finally, a real jerk-off officer came out and told us we were next, and then called at least 4 people back instead of us. We left. Honestly, I was more disappointed with the police than with the thief. Do better, guys. Do better.
2 // non-aggravated sexual assault
I won’t go into full detail here for my own healing process, but it is unfortunately very common for travelers to be victims (I despise that word) of non-aggravated sexual assault while traveling. Non-aggravated sexual assault is most commonly understood as being groped, grabbed, or touched in private areas of your body without your consent. It can also occur if someone touches private areas of their body on you without your consent.
This has happened to me multiple times, one of which occurred in a bazaar in my training city while I was in the Peace Corps. Another time that same day, I was on my way home on the marshrutka (or minibus). A man got on, looked at all the empty seats, saw me, and made a beeline to stand next to my seat. He took that opportunity to rub his crotch all over my shoulder, effectively trapping me into my seat. I felt so dirty. I was debating which stop to get off at, trying to throw him off my trail since I didn’t want him to know where I lived.
Events like these change you. I never looked at traveling the same after these two events, and a multitude of others that I’ve chosen not to share here out of my own self-care. If anything has happened to you that you were not comfortable with, you’re not alone. If you need to talk, I’m here.
3 // racism
Every single country in the world has some sort of issue with discrimination. It may be towards a specific ethnic group, or immigrants. But many, many countries have a problem with race. As a traveler of color, I have witnessed and even experienced this many times.
When I was in Peace Corps training, I was racially profiled every single day on my commute. I usually took a trolley bus, which is a bus attached to electrical wiring above the street. It costs 3 UAH per way, in cash. I always paid, but I noticed many locals wouldn’t if the conductor didn’t come to them. This was common if an influx of people got on at once; it’s easy to confuse who was already on the bus and who wasn’t.
The conductors singled me out at every stop, even on buses that were almost empty, and forced me to show my receipt. Why me? Because I have comparatively dark skin to everyone else on these buses. It’s possible that I was mistaken for a Roma person, a group that is one of the most marginalized in Ukraine.
Regardless, it certainly doesn’t feel good for people to assume you’re stealing just because of your skin color.
This is just one story of many I could share about my experiences in countries all over, not just Ukraine.
4 // missing flights
Ugh, isn’t this the worst? Whether it be from a short connection, or an issue with long lines at the airport, airlines are the biggest jerks about late passengers. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a late passenger. If you’re late, you’re not a passenger! In all seriousness, airline representatives with horrible customer service skills spoke to me like a child too many times to count. I’ll share one story here, and save the rest for another post.
the airline i will never fly with again (or one of them, rather)
When I was studying abroad, I booked a flight from Barcelona to Madrid with Iberia. I got to the airport early, and tried to print off my boarding pass. Since I was relatively new to travel, I didn’t know you could print it off before arriving to the airport or even show a mobile boarding pass and just go straight to security.
Iberia’s kiosk wasn’t working, so I had to get in line with all the people that had checked bags even though I was only carrying on. Because the line moved at a snail’s pace for a different flight, I missed mine. To top it off, the rep was incredibly rude. All he had to do is give me the facts, instead of speaking to me like a child. Same with the other rep he directed me to.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard many similar stories about them aside from my own experience. I also noticed online that they partner with LEVEL, a French low-cost airline for transatlantic flights. Through this partnership, Iberia will charge customers their typical (way too high) price and operate the flight through the low-cost airline, so passengers get an experience worth less than a quarter of what they paid.
Also, customers get to the airport and LEVEL expects them to pay extra for luggage on top of that hefty ticket through Iberia. Yikes! I don’t care if by some magic Iberia has the lowest ticket price for a route. I will never fly with them. Some things just aren’t worth it.
Pro tip: Read the fine print on a reservation before you book the flight and it will say who is operating the flight if it’s a different airline!
5 // crappy Airbnbs and skeevy hosts
I touched on this at the end of my post about Pisa, but I have a newfound love/hate relationship with Rome. For some reason, the only two negative Airbnb experiences I’ve had were in this city. The first time, our hostess gave us one towel for two people…for three days. She thought this was sufficient, and found it more worthy of her time to argue with me than to send someone over with a second towel. When it came time to review her place, I was polite, yet honest. She replied, blasting me and essentially made herself look unprofessional.
The second time, I stayed at a place with stellar reviews. I figured the first time was an anomaly. This place, however, was ridiculous. At check-in time, our hostess opened the door (even though the listing is self check-in) to explain that the cleaners weren’t done yet. They ended up staying another hour to finish.
On top of that, the WiFi wasn’t working. This isn’t a huge deal if you have data, but that’s expensive on our phone plan. It’s difficult to travel plan without internet! She claimed she would go check on it, and left. We read in the handbook later that the router was in the kitchen, and to reboot it if necessary. We looked. No router. Finally, she came back and announced that she didn’t know what was wrong, so she deducted the Rome city tax for the inconvenience. This cost was extra aside from the $200 room. Basically, she discounted 14 euros.
I will never stay in an Airbnb in Rome again, and I don’t even know if I’ll go back there for a while.
6 // the complications of traveling with a big group
One of the most exciting aspects of any hobby is sharing it with the people you love. But sometimes, you just don’t vibe in the same way. Travel works just like this! I think it’s interesting, challenging in the best ways, and has made me a better person. Not everyone else feels that way…
It can be complicated to travel with a large group. It can take what would have been an amazing trip, and make it horrible. As the main traveler in my family, I end up doing most of the planning and navigating. That can be exhausting when you’re trying to coordinate 4 people during the most popular travel time of the year!
I underestimated how tiring it would be, especially since I hadn’t traveled on such a tight schedule in a while. Aside from that aspect, international travel just isn’t for everybody. Some people aren’t even interested in it, and it can take that first trip outside the country to learn that.
In my experience, it’s been in the best interest of maintaining relationships to be patient with people who are realizing that they aren’t enjoying a trip abroad, and love them where they are. After all, how many times have they done the same for you?
For every negative experience I’ve had with travel, there are 100 positive ones. All of these moments have shaped me as a person, have changed me and molded me into the more seasoned traveler I am now. All the times I’ve been robbed, assaulted, discriminated against, and otherwise mistreated were difficult. Really difficult.
But I’ve also learned more about myself, the world around me, and God through those hard times. I’ve realized that it’s okay to take some time off and seek counseling from these kinds of travel experiences. And after a negative experience, the positives feel that much better.