When people decide to travel abroad, there's an expectation their trip will be the highlight of their life. They've saved up for it, planned it out, and have been looking forward to it for a long time. Although, just because they've worked hard on it doesn't mean the trip will go according to plan.
People on Quora share their worst experiences abroad. Content has been edited for clarity.
“Didn’t Know How To Handle It”
“When I was 19, I traveled to Paris on a school trip. Up to this point I had already been to Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, and of course, my home country, the USA.
In none of those places did I ever feel unsafe or bothered by men beyond what I was already accustomed to in the United States.
In Paris, however, the catcalling and creepiness from older men was completely over the top. It was only from older men, too! I never had a creepy encounter with anyone within 10 years of my age.
For example: I was in a shop waiting in line idly looking out the window when I saw a man, who was at least 60, across the street. He saw me through the window, darted across the street and banged on the window. I looked at him, startled, and there he was, grinning maniacally and waving at me. I looked away and stared determinedly at the floor until he (presumably) went away. This scenario happened repeatedly in various permutations while I was in the city.
Also at 19, I was on a train from Aquitaine to Annecy sitting across from an older man and a young man. Every time I woke up, the young man was reading or sleeping and the old man…was staring at my chest.
This was a four hour train ride. The old man never stopped staring once. Putting on my jacket and zipping it up all the way didn’t deter him either. I would have moved, but the train was full and it was assigned seating.
I was a very sheltered 19 year-old, and didn’t know how to handle it in the slightest.”
“What Do You Want Now?”
“I went to Milano, Italy two months ago to catch The 1975 on tour.
When I got there, absolutely no one was helpful. I needed to return to the ticket office a couple of times because the first time, my card didn’t work, the second time I had questions about the whereabouts of different locations, and the third time to actually buy a ticket. Being a tourist, I only spoke English in these circumstances, which seemed to annoy them to no end.
The third time I returned, still with a smile on my face, the ticket lady uttered the words ‘What do you want now?’ real loud.
I said I only wanted to buy a ticket with a confused look on my face. She just grabbed the money out of my hand, gave me a ticket and gave me a look that told me to leave. I asked for my change back, and she looked like I had said something completely offensive to her before she slammed them on the counter and turned her back.
When coming into the city, I was dependant on taxis to get everywhere because of the big distance between things. Of all the 6–7 taxis I took in the span of 24 hours, only one was really nice. It was a young lad who tried his best to communicate with me and shared some personal experiences living on the inside of Milano. I truly appreciated his happiness during that trip. The rest had a verbal match about who needed to drive me. I understand some words in italian, and could clearly catch the word ‘black person,’ ‘fat woman’ and ‘ugly.’ Words I’ve never been described as. It was really hurtful to watch and overhear. At one time I just turned my back and went to another taxi line and grabbed one there. That really seemed to annoy them even more, and they started yelling profusely at me.
When I arrived to my hotel, which clearly online stated it had English speaking staff, I had to as nicely as I could argue for a good 20 minutes with a lady who knew little to no English, and insisted I hadn’t booked a room with them. She kept yelling to the back room to her husband, who I after a while figured out was at the toilet, flushed, DID NOT CLEAN HIS HANDS and proceeded to grab my passport. Gag.
He insisted on keeping my passport there, which I promptly objected, as I work as a cabin crew, and must never leave it out of my sight. He then very irritated told me I had to wait until he filled out my passport details, or I could get it tomorrow. It ended with me staying there for 30 minutes while he very, very slowly fill out my details. I guess this may or may not be on purpose, but it wasn’t very nicely handled of him.
After my concert, I needed to take yet another taxi back to my hotel. I had taken this route by now, and knew how much it cost by previous routes and a taxi fare calculator. He drove around the city centre instead of straight forward, and then proceeded to try and claim my money. I refused to pay more than it was worth as I had the route pinned down on the app, and left it with a little more than the original route would cost. He then started to yell, but I just got up and left.
After so much nonsense in that 2 days, I was mentally exhausted and couldn’t wait to return back home. Never have I been treated so badly, and never have I wished to go home so much after a trip. I know that not all Italians are like this, but suffice to say, I don’t have any needs to return to Milano anytime soon.
I would love to visit Rome though.”
“Nice, But Completely Clueless”
“My sister’s experience was flying from Paris to Newark. About halfway through the flight, a woman collapsed in the aisle and became incontinent. She briefly lost consciousness and had diarrhea all over herself and the aisle. After getting no response when asking if there was a doctor onboard, they asked if there was a nurse onboard. My sister is a registered nurse, so she responded to the situation.
Upon arriving to the patient, she asked for any type of first aid bag. They had none. She assessed the patient when she regained consciousness, but had basically no supplies. They didn’t even have gloves! Do you know what they handed her to clean up the feces? Moist towelettes! She asked if they had anything better, and they couldn’t help her. They kept asking if the woman was okay or if they would have to divert the flight. My sister didn’t really know what to tell them. They were nice, but completely clueless.
It took my sister two hours to help this woman and to get her cleaned up. She eventually took her into the airplane lavatory, and helped her get washed up with paper towels and soap and water. They decided not to divert. The poor woman had to take her pants off and put them in a plastic bag. The flight attendants had nothing for the woman to put on, and she ended up putting her scarf around her bottom half for the remainder of the flight. She was extremely embarrassed, but my sister tried to make her feel better.
When the situation finally calmed down, my sister returned to her seat. The woman next to her (not the woman she had just helped) asked if she happened to have a sanitary napkin. Of all times. My sister didn’t, but that woman ended up asking the flight attendant for one, and do you know what they brought her? A moist towelette. The airline did not officially thank my sister or give her a voucher. NOTHING. At least she was hysterically laughing as she was telling me the story. She said she took an hour long shower after.”
“Is This For Charity?”
“It was June of 2017. My family and I visited Paris, France. As any tourist would do, we rode on a tour bus to the Eiffel Tower, took pictures in front of it, and walked back to the tour bus stop. However, rather than walk back with my family, I decided to stay behind and write down the names engraved on the Eiffel Tower. I found them interesting, since I never noticed them before. After I was done, I strolled through a large field beside the Tower. I noticed a few raindrops pouring overhead. Meanwhile, my family was on the other side of the field, although I could hardly see them. The next thing I knew, a girl with a clipboard approached me. I would learn she was a Roma, commonly known as a ‘Gypsy.’
‘Excuse me, do you speak English?’ she asked in English.
This is where my naivety comes in. Without a second thought, I replied, ‘Yes, I do.’
She handed me the clipboard, which clasped a signature form titled, Association for Homeless Deaf and Mute Children.
‘Please sign this,’ she asked. At this point, red flags and alarm bells should be going off, but they didn’t. I was too relaxed and unassuming to understand what I was getting into.
‘Is this for charity?’ I asked.
‘Yes, this is for charity!’ she responded.
I took the pen and looked at the form. Several signatures were on the page. I scanned for the required details. Surname, ville, postal code, signature…
I should write my name in the surname box, I thought.
The moment I wrote my name, my dad sprinted through the field and yelled, ‘We’re going to miss the bus!’
In one fell swoop, he grabbed the clipboard and pushed it towards the girl, while shoving me out of the way. Like the polite, naive Canadian that I am, I apologized for my dad’s intervention. I don’t think she heard me.
‘Excuse me! How rude! You’re bothering us!’ she cried.
My dad couldn’t care less. We ran out of there. He yelled that it was a scam; I could have been in major trouble if I filled out everything in the form. He knew because he revealed his encounters with scammers while working in Italy fifteen years ago. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so experienced. I had been more afraid of pickpockets than scammers.
While my dad reminisced his rough time in Italy, another girl with the same form walked up to my family (this was ten minutes after my incident with the other Gypsy) and asked the same question: ‘Do you speak English?’
My dad replied, ‘No. Italian.’
Unfortunately, the girl also knew Italian.
For a few minutes, both of them had a heated conversation (my dad told her he had already signed the form) before the girl became frustrated and walked away with her Gypsy group.
After she left, everything finally hit me. That’s when I realized I should have done my research on scammers before traveling to Europe. I shouldn’t have been a clueless tourist. I really wasn’t cut out for traveling if I didn’t know enough about staying safe in another country. However, I have learned my lesson. I’m determined to be more prepared and cautious if I travel again. I suppose I should thank my dad and the Gypsy girl for the unforgettable experience.”
“Sorry, Closed For Tonight!”
“On the last leg of a 3-stop flight home from a few weeks backpacking around Europe, I was seated in seat 22D of a regional jet – window seat, last row before the lavatories – for a flight from JFK to Rochester, New York, just short of an hour of air time.
After takeoff, I notice that something REEKS; a realization shared by nearby passengers, who complain, at least two of them, to the flight attendants, pointing in my general direction. They assume it’s me; the smell wasn’t exactly that of dirty backpacker, but it could be said there was some resemblance. Rotten cheese mixed with concentrated fart juice, left to marinate in a soaking wet hiking boot, might have been a better description.
As we’re crossing Long Island Sound, one of the flight attendants approaches me with a respirator mask and rubber gloves, and tells me that due to my odor, the flight might have to divert to Binghamton (remember, the entire flight should only take 54 minutes anyway) to deplane me. If that were the case, I would need to find an alternate way home.
I try to explain to them I barely have a sense of smell (caught a bad cold in Berlin) and still know how bad this is. I maintain that it is not me, and they never would have let me fly Stockholm-JFK in coach smelling like this. She leads me a few rows up, and presumably notices that the other passengers aren’t wincing in disgust as I walk by, takes off her mask, and agrees that the stench is not mine.
To placate the rest of the passengers, though, the flight attendant orders me locked in the bathroom for the remainder of the flight and tells me not to leave until the plane is on the ground and the jetway doors are open. At this point, I have to wonder if I’ll get a ride home from the airport in a police cruiser – and whether we will in fact be diverted to Binghamton to add insult to insult. I more or less accept my fate, and ride out the rest of the flight in an airline bathroom. Luckily, it was a cold, clear night with no turbulence to be found. Probably the one positive out of this experience.
The flight lasts as long as it should, a reassuring sign that we weren’t diverted.
Eventually, the seatbelt sign goes on, and I try to perch above the toilet just in case the literal poop hits the fan. When the plane lands, the flight attendant lets me out of the bathroom, and starts apologizing profusely.
It was in fact, partially, my backpack that unleashed the epic stink. But only because someone’s forgotten bag of Southeast Asian food stuff from weeks ago, including a burst bottle of something resembling fish sauce, and possibly ‘stinky tofu,’ had been stuffed up and behind the last overhead compartment near my bag. Its contents had formed a semi-liquefied congealed mess all over the compartment, and apparently no one with a large carryon had sat in 24D for a while.
The flight attendants brought me to the gate, and after some arguing, agreed to give me a $100 voucher for the inconvenience. Not, mind you, for being stuffed into the lavatory for a flight back from New York City. Only for partial compensation for the damage to my backpack and its contents. But anything was welcome at that point…
By this time, I was just about the last passenger left at the airport.
As I approached the taxi stand, the dispatcher shut the window in front of me, and said, ‘Sorry, closed for tonight!’
I tried asking the cabs directly, since there were still about 6 lined up at baggage claim, and they responded that they couldn’t pick up airport passengers without a fare card from the dispatcher. The last one in line finally told me the obvious, that I’d stink up the cab.
I got to enjoy a rather long, refreshing walk back from the airport that night.”
“I Was Scared To Death”
“This happened almost 12 years ago. I was traveling home to Kerala from Guwahati, Assam for my summer holidays by the Guwahati – Ernakulam Superfast. They call it superfast, but it was a long, really long three days and three nights trip to Keralam and I was in a regular sleeper class coach. I was traveling alone. I was excited. I loved long train rides, I really did! And here I was, about to spend three days and three nights alone in a train. I was 16. What could POSSIBLY go wrong, right?! Yay!
At Rangia station, about 40 kms from Guwahati, three men dressed in Army fatigues boarded the train. They were Keralites, returning home for the holidays. We instantly hit it off – you know, the Mallu-mallu bhai-bhai thing! Language always helps people connect, no matter what god-forsaken part of the world you’re stuck in. Here I was, the innocent and docile me, with a few 40 year old army men laughing and sharing stories and whatnot. What’s so scary about that, right? Seems like we’re all having a good time! Fast forward a few hours.
The sun had set and the artificial lights had taken over the coaches and the men had changed into regular civilian clothes by now. That’s when one of the men took out a bottle and started handing out glasses to his colleagues. I had a side lower ticket and there already was someone with a side upper reservation. On the other side, there were the three army men along with four others in the six available seats.
Wait, the numbers don’t add up, do they!? Well, these men did not have confirmed reserved tickets and thought of bribing their way through or use their army card to get a seat. Now it is very difficult to get seats during holiday season, and there were absolutely NO seats available for them. I felt bad, and allowed one of the men to share my berth. Big mistake.
As the drink flowed, trash talk began increasing. There were two women in our compartment, a mother and her daughter, and I could see them fidget around very uncomfortably.
‘Don’t worry, sweetheart’ one of them slurred at the daughter. ‘We won’t do you no harm!’
The poor girl’s father kept whispering stuff into her ear, probably something on the lines of ‘Just ignore them.’
One guy, in the process of leaning over to get some chips, accidentally spilled some of the drink on the girl’s mother.
‘Whoopsie doodie!’ he grunted. ‘Look what I have done! Can I clean that for you?’
The woman clutched her mouth and just shook her head in abject humiliation. Her eyes had welled up. A few nuns from the neighboring compartment figured out the things going down at our side and came over to try and restore some sanity. They weren’t spared either.
One of them went up to the extent of offering some of the drink to the nuns saying: ‘Come on, Sister! There’s more where this came from.’ There was more?! I just wanted things to stop! I was scared. I was not used to hammered middle aged men. I did NOT know how to help the women in distress. I did NOT know how to tell them to stop! I lacked the balls to stand up to them. I did NOT want a bravery award given to me posthumously.
After two hours, hours that seemed like twenty, the men in uniform decided to call it a night. I was now in two minds of sharing my berth. The other two spread newspapers on the floor and crashed there. The lights went out and the dim blue hue of the night lamps took over the compartment. I lay on my berth with the army man sleeping the other way. Head to feet, i.e. my feet at his head and his feet at my head. Saves space! I couldn’t sleep. I was tossing and turning with the little space that was available and finally ended up on my tummy. Just when I thought it was all over, I felt a hand creep up my leg. I thought it was an accident and jerked the hand off my leg. Ten minutes later, the hand crept up my leg again. I snapped and jerked it off again.
There was calm for the next 10 minutes. But there was absolutely no calm in my head! I was scared to death! There was no way I could overpower this person – a skinny scrawny me stood no chance against a heavyset soldier.
Please, no more, I prayed.
Just when I thought it was done, he did it again. This time he grabbed me straight on my thigh. He held my thigh firmly in a powerful grip. There was no shaking that off. I did not move. I was petrified. But I did not shake. I did not move a muscle! I did not want him to know I was awake.
His hand moved further up my thigh, creeping and grossing out every single cell in my body along the way. Just as he was about to get into uncharted territory or in this case, no man’s land, I jerked my leg furiously and with all the energy I could muster, I kicked his face hard. Not once or not twice, but as many times as I could.
And then it stopped. No more hands. The next morning, I woke up to the pleasant sight of the gentleman with his lips swollen and slightly cut. All of them got off at Malda station and moved to a different coach, I presume
What a trip.”
“I Woke Up Screaming”
“I was on a two-day boat ride to get from the Thai border to Luang Prabang, known among backpackers as ‘the slow boat.’ The boat ride was actually enjoyable but long and hot – there was no air conditioning. It was so hot that when I bent down for a second to tie my shoe, there would be a small pool of sweat near my feet by the time I finished.
When we stopped for the night on a small island, I decided to stay in the ‘nice’ guesthouse for $12/night instead of the cheaper $1/night options where most of my boatmates were staying. I later found out this was a bad idea. The lack of frequent guests coming through meant that scorpions had made a home in the clean white sheets. I had just fallen asleep when suddenly I woke up screaming in the worst pain of my life. I woke up the guesthouse owners frantically, and was taken to a doctor’s home deep in the jungle a mile or two away. I still had no idea what had happened, but the pain was only getting worse and they said it was a small bug of some kind. It felt like a broken bone, a severe burn, and an electric shock all at once.
When we arrived at the doctor’s house at two in the morning, we spent about 20 minutes knocking on the door and then someone said, ‘Oh I guess he must be on vacation. We’ll have to go to the hospital.’
I thought a hospital sounded like a great idea until I was taken behind the doctor’s house to a row of shacks with no walls. The beds had blood on them and there was no electricity. A woman in regular clothes appeared with a syringe in one hand and a candle in the other, dripping wax on the floor. In Laos, many people don’t really believe in germs; they still think evil spirits cause disease, and my guidebook had warned not to take any injections in the country. The syringe was visibly dirty. I managed to ask whether it was just a painkiller or if it was needed to save my life. They said it was just a painkiller, so I refused and suffered through the pain for three days. The hospital had no painkillers I could take by mouth, despite being practically in the Golden Triangle. All they could recommend was ‘tiger balm,’ a topical ointment that did very little. I spent the next three days, including another day on a boat in 110F heat, putting tiger balm on my temporarily-paralyzed arm and waving it with a paper fan.
What might I have done differently? I will never go to a place without medical care without bringing some serious pain meds with me.”
“It Was Quite Sad”
“I was in Bermuda at the end of 2016. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, in my opinion at least. On my last day there, I woke up extra early and went exploring. I stumbled upon a beautiful cove, where I sat and read a book for an hour. No one else was there, and it was so peaceful. On my way out, I snapped a beautiful photo to remember my travels. Seeing this, a loud Southern couple about 10 feet away started grumbling loudly about how Chinese people are disrespectful and the worst tourists. Meanwhile, their three humongous kids were cursing and littering along the highway.
They followed closely behind me and made fun of my braid and my ‘ugly’ dress, which was from H&M. When the resort staff was within earshot, I turned around and told them that if they said another word about Chinese people, I would kick them so hard that they’d roll down the hill. I’m not sure if the shock on their faces was from the fact I spoke English better than them, or that I spoke English at all. Or maybe they were in shock that I had essentially called them out in front of everyone at the entrance. Still, it was quite sad that this idiot family ruined a nearly perfect trip.
On the flip side, when I spent two weeks in Guangzhou, every other non-Chinese person would ask me for directions in broken Cantonese and then would get mad when I told them that I didn’t know. Hey, I get it, I look Chinese, but I do not naturally know where every street is in China.
Anyway, a British family approached me for directions. In broken Mandarin, the man asked for the nearest train station to get to Hong Kong while his wife snidely remarked to her young son, ‘England should have colonized China so these barbarians can speak English too.’
I looked her dead in the eye and countered, ‘I’m American and I particularly like what happened after you colonized us. I don’t recall it ending well for England. So why don’t you try to learn the local language like your husband, instead of teaching your son to be an ignorant fool like yourself?’
She stormed off but her husband tried to apologize profusely. I don’t understand how such a nice man could be with such a bitter woman. It’s also unfortunate that there are always kids around these awful parents but then again, this also explains why there are so many ignorant idiots in the world.”
“I Never Expected This To Happen”
“In 2011, I visited Budapest with my parents and my friend. We were normally waiting for the metro, saw the metro on the opposite side that arrived but neither did the doors open nor did anything else happen. Next thing I know, the doors open, lights went off and at that point I could hear people screaming.
Moments later, I hear the police officer yelling ‘There’s a bomb!’
People started screaming, crying and running towards the stairs and the escalator, trying to get out of the station as fast as they could. I could see people crying, screaming from the top of their lungs and running towards the exit. As soon as we were outside, we encountered the police, the special forces, emergency response car and whatnot.
The whole moment seemed like it was from a movie and I never expected for something like that to happen.”
“I Woke Up With A Jolt”
“I was travelling from Goa to Bangalore by Seabird Travels bus. I was alone, hence had booked a single sleeper seat. The last upper seat was the only one available, hence took that. Journey was more-or-less normal, nothing new there.
In the morning the bus stopped at Majestic bus stand where everyone was alighting. I wasn’t aware that the bus had reached and was fast asleep. Suddenly I felt a pinch on my chest. I woke up with a jolt, wondering, What the heck?
The driver was there, and he said ‘Last stop madam.’
I was in a combined state of sleep and shock, picked up my bags and walked out, without saying anything. There was no one in the bus at that time. I got off took an auto home. Later that week, I wrote in to both Seabird about what had happened.. Neither of them responded.
It was overall traumatic – took me a few days to get over. I went over and over the events of that trip in my head. Did me saying ‘Hello’ to the driver make him think I was interested? Was it my fault for not wearing a padded bra? Why didn’t I put an alarm to wake up before the bus reached? Why did I book a sleeper at all, why didn’t I take a seater?
Went to the police – no use, they beat up the guy a bit and dropped it at that.”