As beautiful as travelling may be, it's inevitable that you'll run into mishaps or have some bad experiences. It's part and parcel of travelling but what matters most is being able to face the situation head on and learn from it. Negative experiences also shape who we are and it helps us to be stronger and better travellers too.
That's why our team has decided to share their worst travel experiences and how they overcame them, in hopes of helping you to be better travellers ❤️ Even after being pick-pocketed to being stranded on an island, running into unfriendly locals and more, our team still has an undying love for travel because travel helps us to achieve so much more.
1. Getting pick-pocketed/Losing valuables
Suzana & Mikhail
"We were pick-pocketed on the Metro on our first day in Paris. We were waiting to board the train and when the train came, I boarded thinking Mikhail was behind me. But when I entered and turned around I realised he was at the door and there were people between us. He tried to get over to me but the guys in between cornered him. When he told them that I was his wife, they reluctantly let him out. Then another guy came in from another carriage and started “losing his balance” and kept bumping into Mikhail. We knew something was up and decided to alight at the next stop but it was too late. Mikhail’s wallet was stolen and he actually put it in the front pocket of his jeans. While we could replace everything when we were back, it’s extremely time consuming and he lost his Muslim conversion card 😞
We went back to the hotel and cancelled all of Mikhail’s credit cards, called the travel insurance hotline and the staff told us what we could claim. The only way we could claim was to make a police report so we went to the nearest police station to make a report. It took about 1.5 hours and it was really a mood dampener as it was our first day. While this was a bad experience, we still love Paris very much and want to go back. But we now know that we need to be extremely cautious on public transport and tourist attractions. It actually shaped the next part of our trip when we went to Portugal - we were super cautious! Regardless where you go, there will be pickpockets and thieves but that doesn’t mean you should stop travelling just because of this. Rather, read up in advance about common scams in the country you’re visiting and be extra careful."
Tips to avoid being pick-pocketed
[P.S. Find out more about Suzana's and Mikhail's experience in Paris here!]
- Be extra cautious of your belongings on public transport and tourist attractions.
- If you’re with friends or family, stick together like glue and look out for each other. We were too careless on hindsight because for the subsequent days, we saw tourists being extra vigilant on trains (they huddled in a circle), especially during peak hours.
- Don’t bring out too much cash, don’t bring your identification cards when you travel (Mikhail had to replace his and there was a fee, very troublesome). Just having your driving license will do.
- Know what is in your wallet because when you make a police report, this will determine what you can claim with travel insurance.
"I lost my handphone while travelling alone in Montreal, Canada in 2015. The worst thing was that I didn't even know how it happened!😞 But my guess was that it had probably dropped in the thick snow when I was about to go snow-sleighing. I immediately lost it and bawled my eyes out. Thinking back, it was pretty stupid to have cried over a phone but I wasn't crying because of the material loss - it's more because I was alone and had no one to rely on. All of my memories from my 4-month exchange were also on that phone. I didn't back up all my photos which was a huge mistake.
What stuck with me from the experience were the kind staff that I had met at the snow park. They were super nice to me and they helped me to comb the area several times to look for my phone, even though there was a slight language barrier (they were French-speaking Canadians). I even had to borrow a stranger's phone to contact my Couchsurf host, Bibo, through Facebook to inform him that I had lost my phone. Bibo was really nice too - he brought me to the police station to make a police report so that I could claim insurance. My friends and family back home also showered me with so much care and concern. Some of my friends even tried calling or Whatsapp-ing my phone. Truth be told, I wouldn't have been able to handle the situation if not for the helpful people that I met and my wonderful support system ☺️
Fresh after the incident, my instant reaction was that I wanted to fly back home straight away as I had spent 4 months away and I wanted to be in the comfort of home. (Thankfully, my flight home was in a few days so I could endure it for just a little while more.) I stayed in for the next 2 days because I was afraid of being uncontactable. But looking back, perhaps I should have just enjoyed the last few days of my trip.
I guess this was Allah's way of telling me not to be afraid to reach out to strangers and to see the good in everyone. It's easy to be so engrossed with your phone when you're alone but I was totally missing the point of solo travelling. I also kept reminding myself that there was a reason why this incident happened. I was thankful that it was just a phone that I lost, and not a limb, or my life. Losing my phone also didn't stop me from travelling alone as I still enjoy the thrill and fulfillment of it all. I've been on several solo trips after the trip and I even returned to Mont Royal last year, the park where I lost my phone (pictured above)."
Tips for solo travelling:
- Always be mindful of your valuables! After the incident, I made it a point to keep checking if my valuables are secure, especially after leaving a place.
- Never be afraid of asking locals for help, even if there might be a language barrier. They are usually more than willing to help, so always see the good in others. But that said, do be extra vigilant when you're alone too.
- Always have important contacts stored in multiple places (better to have it written down somewhere) - I didn't keep my host's contact information but thankfully, I could find him on Facebook!
- Make sure you inform your loved ones back home of your travel plans even when you're alone.
Don't miss anything out when you travel, make sure you follow these steps
to keep safe!
2. Getting stranded
"One time while travelling with friends in Tasik Kenyir (a lake in Malaysia that's one of the largest in the region - 260 sq km), we were left out on one of the islands by our boatmen. We spent a good 3 hours in the dark jungle there with various wild creatures - snakes, scorpions, giant bees - you name it 😨 Sadly, there was no reception on our phones which made the situation worse. We tried to think of ways of how we could spend the night and wait for the boat in the morning. Lucky for us, we had enough water and snacks to last the night. Turns out the boat men had left with the wrong group of people at 5pm, and we were there till like almost 10pm. Though we were out on the same night, it was very messed up as we could hear noises from the creatures in the jungle, plus it was super dark!
Not to mention that the lake is also known for paranormal activities. Only a few islands have visitors, 90% of them are untouched and remote. The island we were on was shut down in 1987 after a landslide, so it was very eerie hiking there. It was like a horror movie, with old huts and rooms. We were initially not scared as we thought maybe the boat men were just moving around, fishing for dinner. But as it got dark, we started getting scared as nobody wants to be stuck at night on a remote lake island 😅
Thankfully, the hotel knew where we were planning to go as we put our luggage with them after we checked out. So when we didn't come back, they checked with the boat man and realised that we had been left behind. Who knew what would have happened if we didn't inform the receptionist where we were heading?!"
Tips to handle getting stranded
- Always carry a back pack with basic necessities in case of emergency such as water, snacks, torch light, lighters, extra clothes etc. especially when going travelling at remote locations.
- Make sure you inform the hotel and friends who are staying back about when you expect to be back if you are going for a remote location tour or adventure. This way, someone will always check back and notify authorities if you are not back in time.
3. Meeting unfriendly locals
"I was on a road trip to Penang with my mum, auntie, grandma, uncle and dad. My uncle drove a Singapore car during this trip. A Malaysian car which was occupied by ‘gangster-looking’ people stalked us on the road for a very long time around Port Dickson. The car ended up ramping onto our car from the back. My uncle panicked and suddenly had this epic driving skills where he swerved and sped up like a racer. The car at that point of time, started chasing us.
My uncle then drove to somewhere that was safer (where there were more cars and traffic). Everyone was very disturbed. Despite being very scared, I had to remain calm as my other family members were already panicking!
After the incident, I was initially afraid but I didn't let this experience stop me from going on road trips. Road trips are fun! I just have to make sure that I have mobile data (in case of emergency) and to travel in a bigger group for a long distance road trip. I learnt to travel in bigger groups for longer road trips and have at least 2 cars. I would recommend at least 3 guys to come along too and rent a Malaysian car if you can. The most important thing is to be alert of such dangers, even on the road. If such things happen, stay calm, think clearly on what to do next to get to safety 😊"
"I got into a car accident while driving in Western Australia 😞 Nobody was hurt, and both cars were fine, but it was the heated exchange between both parties that was humiliating and upsetting. The guy, whose car I bumped, was talking down to me. He said I ruined his car but there was no mark, whatsoever. To make things worse, he scoffed when he found out that I'm Singaporean (from my driving license). He even mocked me and questioned my driving abilities!
But I was thankful as my travel buddies were there to "be angry" with me. I was so frustrated that I couldn't think straight and they managed to defend me against baseless accusations. Looking back, I wish I had been calmer, more level-headed and represented Islam a little more, to be honest. I let my nafsu get the better of me by trying to win the argument of the other party. After the incident, it definitely made me more careful when driving overseas and I keep reminding myself that I'm a representation of not only my country but also my religion (being visibly Muslim).
If there was one thing I learnt, it's to not let the attitude of one person dictate your attitude towards a whole country or a particular race. Because a few days ago (on the same trip) when we went coasteering, our instructor was very kind to us and he told us he wants to make Muslims feel welcome as he knew some Australians can be quite hostile to Muslims. So, from this trip, I was reminded that a bad experience shouldn't cloud your judgment of everyone else, and that's why we should keep travelling to promote peace between Muslims and non-Muslims ❤️"
4. Getting into accidents
"I got myself into a car accident when I was travelling in Kagawa, Japan back in 2017. I stayed in an Airbnb that’s located in a pretty rural part of the town.
On the last day of travelling, my car hit the stone wall right outside the apartment as I was reversing. Nobody was injured except for the rear light of the car - it shattered. Of course, it was pretty scary for the first few minutes since it was the first time I’ve ever gotten into a car accident. Thankfully, I had bought insurance with the rental company so all I had to do was to follow the procedure.
We called the police to make a report and it took them quite a while to arrive since the Airbnb was located in a relatively rural area. After the police arrived, they just inspected the area and talked to us to find out what happened. The police officers were really friendly and they just did what they had to do (i.e. get a photocopy of my driving license, etc). We had a nice chat about my travel history and the places that I visited in the past.
What made the experience better was that our Airbnb host was kind enough to bring us to a popular local udon shop for a quick meal and drove us up a mountain to catch some nice scenery before we headed back to Tokyo. After this minor accident. I learnt to be more careful especially if I'm not familiar with the roads. Accidents can happen to anyone anywhere even if we take all the safety precautions beforehand."
Tips to handle a car accident:
- If you ever find yourself in a traffic accident, try to stay calm and not freak out. Get out of the car to check the damages.
- If you’re driving a rental car, the store assistant would probably have already briefed you on the things to do following a car accident. Most companies would also have a 24h hotline to assist their customers. Just call the hotline if you’re unsure of what to do.
- The last thing you want to do in an accident is to freak out, panic and drive off without making a police report as it could escalate into a criminal offence.
5. Getting scammed
"During my last trip to Beijing, my friends and I were tricked into joining an affordable tour that had hidden shopping trips. We were forced to shop at mattress, jewellery, pillow and porcelain shops. On our third day, we were frustrated by all the shop visits and wanted to skip the shopping round at this random porcelain shop. Since our tour guide made prior arrangement with the shop owner that we will ‘shop’ for an hour, we had to stay until the time was up.
We had no choice but to stay and do nothing! Honestly, it was hard not to feel angry at the tour guide or shop owner, but we tried our best to stay calm. We just sucked it up, went through the entire shopping tour, and learnt our lesson the hard way. My mistake was not sensing something amiss when we received the itinerary from our tour guide. It was highlighted in a small section and we completely missed it. For my upcoming trips overseas, I learnt to read every single print in all emails and itineraries. So, make sure you read the fine print before signing up for any tours!"
6. Being unwell
"During my Europe trip back in 2011, I had a really bad eczema flare up (think puffy eyes and itchy splotchy skin) midway through the trip. It was around 20 days long, and to top it off, we also got pickpocketed in Paris at the train station. Thankfully, that was our last stop, before heading back to London for a day and flying back.
I always had sensitive skin (and eczema), but it never really flared up this badly on my previous trips, so I didn’t know exactly what was happening. My travel buddy helped to find a clinic, so I could do a quick check up and hopefully get medicine that was able to help. But unfortunately, it was pretty tough to understand the diagnosis due to the language barrier and the medication they prescribed didn’t work either. We then tried to get allergy medicine but again, it didn’t work.
As for the pick-pocketing, we were pretty much at a loss, and made the mistake of not reporting it at the police station either, so we were unable to claim insurance. I just did a quick call back home to alert my parents to cancel my supplementary card.
This incident made me realise the importance of being prepared for situations like those that I’ve faced. No two travel experiences would be similar and you’re bound to encounter things you’ve not really been able to plan for and I think that’s the beauty of travel in itself. So for my future travels, it was just more of ensuring that I had everything I needed (emergency medication, check!) before heading off, and to also keep it in my hand carry. I was also much more vigilant, and my second trip to Paris went pretty smoothly."
Tips for being unwell overseas:
- Always prepare your own personal medication, even if you don’t usually need them back home. The weather conditions and climates can be drastically different in various destinations, so it’s always good to be prepared.
- Sometimes you aren’t really able to find the exact medication overseas as well, so it’s good to check with your doctor what are the alternatives to look out for.
- Be vigilant and if your wallets are kept in your bags, always ensure your bags are completely zipped and in crowded and touristy areas (the train stations and on the trains are hot spots), keep your bags in front of you.
- Always have the hotlines with you as well - credit cards, insurance, etc. Just in case you need to contact people in an emergency situation.
"I was in Montreal, Canada in mid-March for a conference (so right before spring time, when it was still snowing heavily and the temperature below 0 degrees Celsius) and took a day trip to Ottawa the day before the conference was supposed to start. I was already sick the moment I landed in Montreal (dry weather + extreme cold = instant recipe for a bad throat infection) but I fell violently ill during the train ride to Ottawa with the worst stomach pain I’ve ever had 😔 At first I didn’t even realise it was so bad. I thought it was just indigestion, but the pain got increasingly worse until I finally reached Ottawa and was literally weeping from the pain. After about 20 minutes of just lying in the seats in the Ottawa train station, I sprinted to the toilet to throw up. Thankfully I felt okay after that, although I mostly ate biscuits and drank water because my stomach felt uneasy. I did manage to go around Ottawa as planned, but we had to cut out a few museums to make up for the time lost. I’ve experienced stomach discomfort on trips before, but nothing as bad as this. When I compared notes with my friends later, we realised we’d eaten the same things up until then (even the same sandwiches on the train) so it didn’t seem like a case of food poisoning. I think that my throat infection had just left my body really weak and vulnerable, and I did remain sick and feverish on-and-off for the rest of the conference. Thankfully that horrible stomach pain never returned. After the incident, I started taking care of myself a lot more before trips. I’d always fallen sick (colds, headaches, migraines) on trips before this but Montreal was a big turning point for me in realising that if I want to visit more places, I need to make sure I could survive the journey.
Now I get more sleep leading up to a flight (especially if I know it’s going to be a long or tiring flight) and I drink lots more water when I’m overseas. I’m more aware of what I eat too, and I listen to my body if I don’t feel so good and take it easy on myself. Pushing myself for a day on a trip won’t be worth it if it knocks me out for 2 days afterwards."
Tips to take care of yourself before travelling:
- Make sure you’re feeling okay before you travel. Travelling in a pressurised airplane cabin when you’re sick, even if it’s just a mild cold, is a sure-fire way to get even more ill.
- Have a bottle of water on you at all times, as well as any medication you may need (painkillers, gastric pills, etc.). You may not fall sick, but it’s good to have them on you.
- Prepare for cold or extreme weather too - don’t assume that your coat will be enough to protect you from the wind and cold, bring along scarves, gloves, hats, anything to help as a buffer.
There's no doubt that travelling is a blessing - it helps you to see the world, to learn more about other cultures and to seek peace and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. But it's also not perfect most of the time. Through it all, it's the lessons we learn that make us stronger ❤️
[P.S. Want more inspirational stories like this? Click this link to read more!]