There is no better way to be immersed in a culture than to shove everything that is needed into a small backpack and slowly traverse a continent. Whether on foot, by car, or train, backpackers have criss-crossed continents seeking out new and exciting experiences. Some to better understand culture, and others to find the next best party. Our team scoured the internet to find the most outrageous stories from backpackers all over the world; their stories have been edited for clarity.
“They Were Nearly Sold Out”
“I was once in Frankfurt, just arrived and found the nearest hostel that did not have a strung out homeless guy out front. There was an Australian girl in front of me checking in. They were nearly sold out and wanted almost $100. I told the girl I would split a room with her at a hotel for that and she agrees. We call a cab and a large black Mercedes picks us up. We jump in and as I sit and reach to my left for the seatbelt, the driver flips a u-turn. As he does, I catch a flash of motion and it registers that the motion is a car and it is going to hit us. I drop the seatbelt and brace, the girl never saw it, and we get t-boned. I am ok, but the car hit on the girls side and her head hit the door pillar. She is not bleeding but is out cold. A crowd forms and I am yelling at people to call an ambulance. After the hospital trip I spend the next three days taking care of her at a hotel while she recovers. We decide to go to Prague after.
We get off the train in Prague, and are surrounded by bookers who connect backpackers with people renting rooms out of their homes. The girl I am with has a massive lump on her forehead from the crash, but it is hidden by hair. We go to a person’s home and stay the night. The next morning we wake up. The knot on her head has drained and now her face is bruised and her eye is swollen shut. When we got there the night before she looked fine. When we walk into the common area everyone is jovial and greeting me and then they see her. There is dead silence. They look at me, they look at her, and back at me. I realize what they think and start saying ‘no no’ but the lady starts yelling at me. After three hours, four police officers, and lots of explaining they let me go.
I married her four years later, and we are together to this day.”
“I Assumed He Was Joking”
“I was exploring this little village, and stopped at a restaurant for a cold one. A guy comes up and starts talking to me in very broken English. Within 5 minutes he asks, “You married?” I say no, so he then says, “You marry me?” with a big goofy grin on his face. I assumed he was joking, because we’d known each other for five minutes, so I said yes. He was not joking. He immediately began yelling something in Vietnamese, then grabs my hand and starts waving it around in the air. Within minutes we were surrounded by dozens of people who are all cheering and smiling and shaking my hand. He then took me to his house to introduce me to my future in-laws. I broke that poor boy’s heart when I left for another city the next day. And that is the story of how I accidentally became engaged to a local in Vietnam.”
“Back in 2006 a friend and I decided it was high time we go to Transnistria, a small, Russian-speaking breakaway part of Moldova, right next to Ukraine. So here we are, riding the train to Bucharest, then a bus to Chisinau, and finally on a local minibus to Tiraspol.
The trip between Chisinau and Tiraspol is pretty short, but because this civil war never really ended there are plenty of military checkpoints on the road, with heavily-armed militias or Russian ‘peacekeepers’. We finally arrive to what appears to be a border post and, as the only two foreigners, are quickly escorted out of the bus to a little interrogation room.
Well the interrogation was pretty short: an 18 years-old conscript is looking through our bags and asks the usual ‘do you carry contraband or weapons’ when an officer storms in, points at us, and says ‘you, ten euros; you, ten euros’ and leaves.
At that point there is an awkward silence on our part, but the guy is already gone and the kid, who obviously did not speak English, kept rummaging through our bags. He then reaches a Toblerone bar I had brought along, and looks at me. I point at it and say “it’s yours.” He then slips the bar into his sleeve, at which point I turn to my friend and say ‘I believe it is time to leave.’ We take our bags, walk quietly to the bus, and move on to our destination. Did not see the officer on the way out, which I think was a good thing.”
“The Train Is Already Gone”
“Back when I was 17 and on exchange, my friends and I decided to take a circuit trip to see more of China. We lived in the north (Harbin) so the first step was to take a train down to Beijing and meet up with some other exchange kids. Since we were underage and there were strict rules about travel, we told our host families we were visiting our friends in a town just a few hours even farther north called Jiamusi.
So the three of us get dropped off at the train station 15 minutes before the train to Jiamusi, planning to wait there for a few hours before the Beijing train boards. Long story short, we get a little overconfident about time and end up running to our gate just 10 minutes before the train’s scheduled to leave. It seems that timeliness can go a bit too far, the train is already gone. The gate manager just laughs at us, but a young looking guy comes over, asks to look at our tickets. We hand them over, and he takes off running. We give chase, to the laughs of the gate manager and others in the area, but this dude’s too fast and we lose him.
So there we were sitting in the train station. We can’t go home, because it’s not like we can say ‘Oh we missed the train to Jiamusi hours ago and just came back now.’ We couldn’t afford new tickets, so we stalked the station for the guy before, in true teenage fashion, we sat ourselves down and moped.
Suddenly this very shady older woman leans over and whispers in my ear. ‘You wanna go to Beijing? I can get you there for 1/2 the price of that train.’ Fool us once right? So we politely tell her we’re not sure we’re interested. She gets assertive, grabs me by the arm and starts pulling me up, saying she’ll take us to Beijing. My friend wrestles me back, and is now way beyond suspicious. He asks her to come with him as he goes from stranger to stranger, telling our situation and asking if this woman sounded trustworthy. Some said yes, some said no.
Well, that was good enough for us. We follow her out of the station to an alley behind it. We stop outside a convenience store, where three big guys ask to take our bags. We’re now VERY uncomfortable, and try to resist, but they snatch them and take them to the back. We’re trying to ask the lady what’s going on, but she just keeps telling us they work for her, it’ll be fine, sit here for 45 minutes, and then gives us each a lollipop to bide our time. At that point, we were really up a creek, so what are you gonna do? We sat down and sucked on our candy in very dejected silence. 45 minutes pass, more people are milling around. Shady lot by the look of most of them, and most didn’t speak Mandarin (or English). My friend starts crying (she cried easily, but it was stressful) so the lady keeps shoving convenience store snacks on us and not leaving until we eat them. We started joking about how nice it was that the thieves and kidnappers gave us candy.
Then, out of nowhere, I don’t know how it even fit in the alley, comes a bus. There are no seats inside, but beds stacked in threes. One of the men open the bottom hatch, and there were our bags. We’re told to take our shoes off, given slippers and a blanket. Turns out it was a commuter bus, actually a lot what I imagine the Knight Bus in Harry Potter was like. Over the trip, we end up having a ball with the other passengers, one of which was a very tipsy worker from the far off Uyghur province who sang folk songs the whole way. Came in to Beijing with a great story.”
“It Didn’t Feel Like A Risk”
“So, I was in Phnom Penh, and had got a job handing out leaflets for a local adult establishment and was saving up for a few days before my next bus. I was walking along and decide to stop and have a smoke. This guy around 50 years old approaches me and starts asking me where am I from and so forth. He shows me pictures of him on his trips and gives me some recommendations on where to go, we were talking for about an hour so my guard was down.
He begins to tell me about his job at a casino and how he dealt Baccarat. Fascinating, tells me he found a system to trick the casino and all he needed was a stooge (can’t think of another word) who wasn’t linked to him at all to come in and play the part. I was dubious but I didn’t have to put any money down so wasn’t against the idea.
I went to his house where we play a few games and shared a few drinks. His friend came to join us and they showed me the technique. His friend was older and had a long beard, thick hair growing out of his mole and an extremely raspy gravely voice. I forget the technique but I think it was just a special shuffle or deck switch that made it seem like it worked. He ran through the plan that involved him fronting me the money, I go to the casino and place the bets, use the technique, and split it with him later. I felt like this guy was a little naive at the point, how can he trust me with all his money. The poetic justice is ridiculous.
He tells me how he recently played a game with a friend who owed him some money and they can practice with him, I’m a little tipsy so I let the idea slip by but now realize he was planting the seeds. So his friend arrives and offers a double or nothing bet. I agree to play, I’m not losing anything but he says he wants the money up front before he will play.
So he has enough cash to pay but my ‘friend’ accepts the double or nothing deal but is $1,000 short.
Who will he turn to in this time of need, and when he has a 100% chance of victory with no risks!?
Me of course, fixated on his promise of riches decide to also put $1,000 forward. We go to a cash machine and luckily I can only take out $500. Thank god. I suggest we can’t play the game now because we are short $500 with the cash in my hand the reality sets in, but luckily another friend comes forward. So we return, we play the game, he flashes me the signals I play the way he showed me, it’s going great. Then he suddenly flashes me a signal that could be taken two-ways. It was between two fingers together and a pair of crossed fingers. It could mean one or another. What to choose? Well I’m sure whatever I had gone with would have failed.
Alas we lose the game, the man leaves and I am left in a room with two 50 year old Cambodian men seriously angry at me for losing. They suddenly take me to another room, a guy talks to me about not being able to afford his medication, and I apologize profusely. The lights go out, my friend informs me he borrowed money off his neighbour to play the game. His same neighbour happened to be an ex-security officer of Pol Pot and his personal bodyguard.
Ridiculous, I know, I realized that, but the 10% of me that wasn’t sure of it was still too shocked to act up. Within minutes I was being whisked outside, which was now the dead of night, and to a waiting tuk tuk. I was covered with a jacket to hide my face from the man who will certainly want revenge. Or so I didn’t recognize the street later when I possibly called the police? (Which I didn’t).
I told them I was staying at the hotel across the street, they drop me off I wait until the tuk tuk left and crossed the road to my hotel. Went to sleep around 4am after planning a detailed escape plan from my room and waiting to see if the ‘neighbour’ arrived at my door.
Looking back now it seems so obviously a con; I’m embarrassed but at the time it didn’t feel like a risk.”
“I Don’t Camp Alone Anymore”
“I spent the summer before starting college backpacking in the intermountain west of the United States. I went alone because I wanted to have some sort of Walden experience. Anyways, I was hiking along in Colorado and everything was going fine. I was about four days of hiking away from my car and hadn’t seen a soul. On the fifth morning, I decided to take a picture of the sunrise coming up over the mountains. When I attempted to take the shot, I was informed by my camera that I had a full memory card. I remembered checking my camera the night before to see how much memory space I had left: approximately 60 photos. Baffled, I hit the replay button on my camera. As I flipped through photograph after photograph I felt my stomach sinking. Allow me to describe to you the theme of the images. Vantage Point: tent door. Lighting: dim. ISO: high. Subject: myself snuggled up in my sleeping bag.
Someone had taken photographs of me sleeping from my tent door. To reach my camera they would have had to step inside my tent, reach over me, open the right pocket of my pack, and retrieve the camera. All without waking me up.
I don’t camp alone anymore.”
“So I was waking down the streets of la Paz at around 10:00 AM with a friend. We hear a voice speaking gruff, un-accented American English, ‘hey, hey you guys’. We turn around. Talking is a white guy who looks like he’s been on the streets for years. His hands are black. He asks where we are from, saying he is from DC. We are like, ‘Wow! We’re from DC too.’ He asks us where in DC. We say technically not DC, but a suburb. He says, he went to a specific high school: it was the same high school my friend and I went too!
Anywho, he invites us on a tour of San Pedro prison. We don’t trust him so we go to an Internet cafe. The prison tour is technically illegal, but recognized as a legit tourist attraction. We meet up within, pay him for the tour. He goes to talk to a guard, telling us to stay put to avoid more bribes. After talking to the guard a few minutes, some Bolivians helpfully point out we are being robbed. We run after him. He runs down an alley, never to be seen again.”
“You’re In Late”
“I worked for the Forest Service in the wilderness in both Colorado and New Mexico for a couple years. Often I worked in areas alone, fixing trail, cutting trees, doing erosion prevention, GIS, et cetera. I would hike in for anywhere from a couple days to over a week and do my job. Most times I would see no one, which I really had no problem with. Thing is out there, I had no contact, I could check in daily via radio, but if anything happened it would have been a while until anyone found me. Therefore, I wrote very few tickets. I really didn’t want to tick anyone off way out in the woods where you could never be seen again. I did carry a crosscut saw, a Pulaski (a tool with an axe on one end and a sharpened flat edge on the other), and a shovel which would have been great for protection, but you still meet some crazy people out there.
One night, after working a long day to clear trail into an area, I got to a site quite late. Dusk was passing as I tried to prep up my site, get bags hung and a tent up. The trail in was been pretty blocked so I really expected no one to be in the basin I was camping.
Out of the bushes I heard a call though. A man’s voice said, ‘hey, you’re in late’, after a few days in the bush alone I wasn’t too ready for this. A man came into view and said hello, he then kindly offered me some food he had just finished cooking. In need of some sustenance, I took him up on his offer and followed up a bit away from my camp to where he had set up. We talked as he pulled out a skillet with some meat on it and dropped it into my bowl. He had a small dog that stared up at me with beady black eyes that surveyed me as I eyed my food. I asked him what it was and he responded in a way they seemed offended, that I should try it. Trying to not be rude, but very curious I ate some, it was chewy and grisly. Keeping the conversation going, rather than eating this slab, I began to feel less and less comfortable.
He kept asking how it was and offering me more, while I hoped to see where he was hiking, if he had seen any animals, summited peaks, and the like — he would give me no information. He had been up there for a while, got his food where he could, didn’t usually talk to people. In the end I felt quite off-put by the man and wanted out of there. I ended up eating the meat and thanked him profusely, making my excuses to get back to camp. We offered me more meat to take with, as he ‘had more than he could carry’. He said he also knew the basin well would be hiking in the night if I wanted him to check on my site. I turned him down and got out of there. That night I kept my Pulaski close to me. In the morning I found no trace of his site other than some hair tufts near the fire. I have no idea what I ate that night and I have come to decide it was people, cause it’s the least logical decision. I don’t recommend it, but then I may have just had a bad cut.”
“You Are Going To Die”
“Two summers ago, I went hiking in New Hampshire. I was doing a 10 day, 110 mile hike up part of the Cohos Trail. I am not a greenhorn: I can read a topographical map and a compass. I packed for any emergency. Well, any emergency except for psychosis.
The biggest mistake I made was to go alone. The first day was a long one. I figured I’d get the harder days done earlier and take it easy for the last ones. The trail sorta worked that way too. I’d go up and down the Presidential Range early on, and a few smaller peaks later, but the last half of the hike was supposed to be much easier. I sent a pack of supplies to a bed and breakfast at the halfway point that I never made it to.
Honestly, I was never that close to death, but I sure felt like I was. Every possible malady that could befall me flashed continually in my head. Fall down a river bank. Trip down a hill. Twist my ankle. Hit my head. Be attacked by moose or bear. One scene that wouldn’t leave my head was me laying injured on a craggy rock baking in the sun. Lips cracked, throat parched, blistery sunburns, my weak, frail limbs swatting vultures away. Bleeding from some compound fracture or abdominal puncture. It was like I was continually looking down on the scene of my demise and I saw Death sitting there with my body, lazily swinging his skeletal legs off the edge of the rock, waiting for me to die. I couldn’t shake that image. Every step I took, a depressing mantra repeated in my head: you are going to die, you are going to die, you are going to die. So I quit after the first day.
I put up camp near a river so I could hear the running water to distract me from my thoughts. Normally, I’m a guy who finds solitude freeing, fun, relaxing. Here it was confining, claustrophobic, oppressive. I didn’t hear even a bird chirping. I imagined that Death started at the trailhead a few hours behind me and he was just taking his time to catch up. I had a fitful night of off-and-on sleep, plagued by nightmares. The next morning as I broke camp I noticed I had set my tent on top of a moose corpse. All that was left was moss-covered bones, but man was it creepy. I took the jaw with me, set out on a trail back to civilization. It was a beautiful day. After a few hours I saw another hiker coming my direction, I gave him a hug and a huge smile.
I got to a phone and called a family member for a pick-up. I never thought 18 miles and 10 hours of hiking would be enough to break me. I always remember back and think that if I pushed myself I could have done it and come out stronger, but in that dark place being stalked by the spectre of my death…I could do nothing. Apparently, the White Mountains and the Shenandoahs are VERY different ranges.”
First Time Overseas
“Mid last year I went traveling for the first time overseas to Las Vegas, and was alone, so all was very exciting as an Australian. I was staying at a hostel and made good friends with this English girl, I’ll call her ‘Emma’. One morning, after a big night out the day before, we were both hungover and craving pizza. We asked the owner of the place where the best place to get pizza is, he told us, and it would be an approximate 20 min walk to the joint. So Emma and I embarked on a long, hungover walk for pizza in 113 degree heat. We get there, wait 25 minutes, and finally get the pizzas. I got a small/medium pepperoni and Emma gets an extra large mixed one. We decide to eat it once we got back to the hostel, so once again, the 20 minute walk home. Just as we were 50 yards from it, in the middle of casual conversation, pizza under my arm, someone runs up and grabs my pizza.
Thinking it was someone from the hostel, I turn to face the person. Not a hostel stayer, but a complete random — trying to steal my pizza. We have a tug-of-war with the box, pizza is flying everywhere, and I just let go and let the female-thief run off with the remaining 3 slices, across a main road and towards a motel. For a brief moment, I considered chasing after her. Out of everything I could possibly say to this random girl, I get as Australian as I’ve ever gotten and shouted “KEEP RUNNING YOU FAT MOLE!” Mole is a derogative term for an Australian woman. So there I stood, pizza-less in Las Vegas, and my friend Emma, saying ‘THAT WAS HORRIFYING!!’ With me standing there, ticked off ‘Punk just stole my pizza…’ Laughs ensued once we got back to the hostel and Emma gave me half of her pizza.”
“Come On Dude, It’s 1 Ringgit”
“`I was taking a taxi returning from a night out in Kuala Lumpur. I was in the taxi with a 19 year old Somalian and a guy from Chile. We paid the driver 10 ringgit (around 2 pounds) and the guy wanted 11. I said something along the lines of ‘Come on dude, it’s 1 ringgit.’ Both the taxi driver and the Somalian got seriously steamed. The Somalian (who was staying at my hostel and had been perfectly friendly for the last 5 or so days) chased me around, causing me to hit him in the face. I walked away, and returned to my hostel, only to find him waving some steel around and threatening to smash a glass in my face. We had a shouting match, the owner of the hostel took the weapon from him and I went to bed, reluctantly and warily.”
Big Rig Surprises
“Was hitch-hiking in far northwest Australia and got a lift from a guy in a semi. A few hours in he says he’s pretty tired, asks me if I want to drive. I was a teenager, didn’t even have a car license. I said no, but a little while later I notice him nodding off at 130kmh carrying 37 tonne. So I said ok, I will give it a go. He showed me how to work the gearbox, waited till I got up to speed then clambered back into the sleeper for the next four hours. It was awesome.”