I recently read a great post by Alison from Adventures in Wonderland. She writes about things as they are, not embellishing travel moments at all. Still, her overall style is always upbeat and polite, even when she talks about adversities or destinations she didn’t care for that much due to reasons she then goes on to explain.
My blogging philosophy had been based on steering clear of offending anyone, not wanting to stir up trouble or start any heated debates, and just keeping this blog a happy place. So that makes me hesitant to write about any negative travel experiences.
I also know that the places I didn’t like are surely someone else’s favorite – or even their hometown. Experiences, interpretations and feelings about a destination are very personal, subjective, and arbitrary, after all.
But… Alison inspired me to look at it another way. To just be open about it and tell it like it is, without leaving anything out.
And I feel like that’s something the social media craze has swept under the rug for all of us.
I don’t want to give the impression that my life or my travels are always perfect, since they’re not. We all have our ups and downs and the more you travel, the more likely it is you’ll encounter difficulties on one of your trips, too.
So, despite my original plan, here’s a short list of some of my worst travel experiences, or at least the ones that I can remember just now. Though I’m not sure I can write about them quite as eloquently as Alison!
All in all, I’ve been quite lucky in my travels, considering that I’ve been traveling all my life (since an infant!) and I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been to many of my most-visited countries. I must’ve done hundreds and hundreds of “trips” in my life, if you define a trip as the moment you leave your home to explore somewhere different – whether it’s for a day, a month or a year. Statistically, something bad was bound to happen at some point, I guess.
Well, here goes…
My not-so-great travel moments
1) Landing in Paris on Nov 13th, 2015 just as the terrorist attacks began, for a weekend of nightmares. Such is the world we live in.
2) Random men following me and calling after me on the streets in the middle of the day or even in a supermarket.
Where: Paris, Istanbul.
(Bonus points: Rude stares from women, without commentary: in Dubai and Al Ain.)
I love Paris, but it’s not perfect. When I lived there, I used to get approached by strangers every single day, asking me “Mademoiselle, mademoiselle! Quelle est votre nationalité?” (what is your nationality). I always took it as just a conversation starter rather than an actual question, but it still annoyed me.
Naturally blond and way too pale, I obviously don’t look French. But I wasn’t completely fresh behind the ears, either. I’d studied French for 12 years and lived there on-off for about 3 years during a timespan of 6 years. I knew what I was doing, I wasn’t lost and I wasn’t a tourist. When you’ve spent a long time blending into a culture, it’s not fun to still be treated like a damsel in distress, just based on the way you look.
Many of my naturally blond Finnish friends living in Paris had eventually caved in and dyed their hair darker, hoping to pass a bit more unnoticed.
Other FAQ’s included:
“What are you doing here all by yourself? Don’t you miss your family back home? Wouldn’t you rather be there?” and “Why would you want to come to Paris, of all places? Paris is horrible!”
As for Istanbul, during my week-long visit, I covered up despite the heat and didn’t show any skin… and I felt oppressed. A couple of years after my trip, Turkey’s President famously stated in the media that he didn’t like it when women laughed in public. That pretty much sums up my interpretation of the atmosphere there.
As someone from a Nordic country where women are complete equals to men (we even pay half the bill on a first date!) I just couldn’t get into the vibe of Istanbul, no matter how much I wanted to like it – I originally wanted to go there for the architecture. You can read about my experience here (just the good stuff).
3) Dropping into a ghost town. Where: Trelew.
During a 7-week trip to Argentina and Uruguay, hubby and I spent two nights in Trelew. Trelew was a small town in Patagonia with Welsh roots. It was on the way to our next destination and it had a dinosaur museum, so we decided to give it a go. We advance-booked our hotel on an iPad app which had worked fine for us before.
But on arrival, the whole town felt eery. There were no people anywhere (in retrospect: maybe they were all just at work) and our hotel looked dodgy. The hotel had darkened windows and everything looked very dated and depressing. We decided to stay there anyway to avoid the hassle of finding another hotel – and I actually ended up getting the best sleep there!
The dinosaur museum was small but it did have lots of interesting details, like a real piece of dinosaur bone which you were allowed to touch! It was huge. I’m still wondering if it really was real bone, but then again, why not? There are continuous excavations going on in Argentina, they are still finding dinosaur bones there to this day.
Would I go back to Trelew? No, thanks.
4) Dublin in the rain: This one, I have to admit, was probably my own fault.
I did a 24-hour solo trip to Dublin once because I got the flights almost for free. It was raining and I was soaked and cold. I walked around town and there was nothing to see or do, it felt like a boring place. There were pubs at every corner but as a solo female traveler, I wasn’t really looking to get drunk.
I did go into a pub for a meal though, and later I bought some books on discount at a shopping center somewhere. I ended up going back to my hostel very early and the room was absolutely freezing so I just went to bed. Basically, I’d traveled all the way to Dublin just to sleep!!!
But I’m pretty sure that if I’d been traveling with someone else, my Dublin experience would’ve been better. I guess I just wasn’t in the mood to explore a new town that day. I’m sure Dublin would be worth another try.
5) When you’re left last in the passport line on arrival at the airport, and all the booths start closing up while you’re still waiting, and you’re redirected to another line, and you’re last again, and a planeful of people are let in front of you, and it’s getting late, you have a headache, and you’re still in line… then when it’s finally your turn, you get treated in an unfriendly manner by the employee manning the last open booth.
Where: JFK, Buenos Aires, Willemstad (Curaçao), and probably somewhere else I can’t remember…
JFK was ridiculous, we must’ve stood in line for about 2,5 hours though we were transferring onto another flight! Many airports prioritize transferring passengers so that they won’t miss their flight, plus they’ll have time to shop and spend money, leading to more profits for the airport, obviously. JFK did have a staff member who took care of those who were most urgently in danger of missing their flight, but we weren’t amongst them.
Once we finally got to the counter, the woman was incredibly rude, for no reason at all! To top it off, all information at our corner of JFK was in Spanish, nothing in English at all. Now I don’t mind practicing my other language skills, but it just felt a bit surreal, in an English-speaking country. I kept thinking, “Did we really just land in New York? Where are we?” It made me feel like an outsider, like the airport’s services weren’t meant for me.
6) As an aviation lover, I’ll rarely criticize an airline. But for the sake of coming clean (the whole point of this post), I will allow for one bad airline experience here.
Details: An American Airlines flight from LAX to Honolulu (2010)
The air conditioning had broken, resulting freezing temperatures in the cabin. Everyone was dressed for Hawaii, in either shorts or a skirt, and flimsy summer shoes or flip-flops. It was so cold you could almost see your breath. I still had warm clothes with me in my carry-on bag since we’d just debarked from a long-haul flight from Europe to LAX. But even after adding on my extra clothes, it still was absolutely freezing.
The flight was 5 1/2 hours long and so I asked a flight attendant for a blanket, which normally every airline stocks and offers for free. They said it wasn’t free. I can’t remember the amount but it cost something between 10 and 20 USD. I ended up buying a blanket because I couldn’t imagine being so cold for so many more hours.
As an ex-employee of four different airlines, I thought that was really poor service. I don’t blame the flight attendants, since that was probably company policy. But seriously, when your air conditioning is broken, you should offer blankets for free! (And you should stock up on them pre-flight, since they obviously were aware of the problem before we departed.)
7) Solo travel
I love solo travel because you can just be yourself, you don’t have to take anyone else into consideration (yay for being selfish for a bit!), and you might end up meeting lots of new people. Traveling alone gives you the chance to reinvent yourself, to become anonymous.
But… sometimes aimless wandering around by yourself can make you feel a bit sad and you start to question what you’re doing. So when traveling solo, I always like to have a plan ready, an itinerary, a reason for being there. And sometimes you just want to sleep, you can’t be bothered to try to absorb everything possible, and then you get a bad conscience for not taking full advantage of it!
To balance out all this negativity, here’s a list of some unexpected, happy incidents:
Munich’s airport offered an unlimited amount of free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate the last time I visited. How cool is that, in this day and age when nothing is free anymore! If you can, choose Munich as your transfer airport. (This was five years ago, though, things might’ve changed.)
A hotel’s reception staff in Gothenburg once let me use their computer when I needed to send my employer an urgent email. I didn’t have a laptop, iPad or smartphone back then (this was ages ago).
I sat behind the reception desk, still in my crew uniform, busy writing an email, when another crew from my airline arrived to check in. They all had to make jokes and ask me if I’d started working at the hotel. How kind and accommodating of the hotel staff, they saved my day!
3) Finding new friends
I once was looking for a hotel in Florence, during a 3-month-long solo journey around Italy.
It was August and all the hotels were fully booked, since it was prime holiday time. This, too, was before hotel apps, smartphones, etc. People still made bookings over the phone or in person.
I walked around town with my huge backpack and finally, as the sun was setting, I found a hostel which had one available bed. The last bed in Florence! I took it, and then the receptionist told me my roommate was another Finnish woman. I was a bit apprehensive, since I was traveling in order to forget home and to get new experiences, not to meet more Finns. (Which is a very Finnish trait, by the way!)
But when my roommate came back from her day out, we instantly bonded and became friends. She had the same aviation office job as me but with a different airline. We were both happy to be with someone who wouldn’t get jealous when we told them about our travel adventures, but who would instead chime in with their own stories. We sat there in the room telling quick versions of our life stories and long versions of our Italian summer, and we went out for drinks that night.
We spent most of the rest of the summer together. Later, we even worked together and she came to visit me in Paris many times. She, too, moved on from an office job at an airline to working as cabin crew.
4) Some small luxuries
I’ve only flown with Emirates once, but based on that one time, I’d recommend you give them a try if you’re ever flying a route they operate.
I flew from Dubai to the Maldives in economy class and let me tell you, even economy was more luxurious than many business class flights I’ve been on! As an airplane aficionado, I appreciated the cute stars they had lighted up in the corridor ceiling and how the seats were slightly wider than usual. They kept serving more and more food all the time, ice cream and sparkling wine…
The friendly flight attendants chatted with me and my travel companions, and later on brought us boxes of the Godiva chocolates they were serving in first class. The selection of inflight entertainment was much better than other airlines had at the time. It was such a pleasure!
I love hotel breakfasts. Sofitel Krabi (Thailand) had the best brekkie ever, including – but not restricted to – a bountiful selection of any and every tropical fruit you could possibly imagine, and they made you a fresh fruit juice of anything you wanted while you waited.
There were many other memorable hotel breakfasts. A business hotel just outside London made you fresh waffles quickly enough to go back for seconds. A hotel in Montevideo had the most amazing fresh pastries, we left completely stuffed each time.
Hotel chains in Scandinavia, like Radisson, generally have delicious home-made yoghurt smoothies at breakfast. A hotel in a small town in Finland, Kuopio, served a traditional, local delicacy called “kalakukko”. It’s fish baked into a sort of pie, and it was one of the two only times I’ve ever tried that treat. Certainly a nice surprise to start your day with a new experience.
This is where I’ll end my two lists. Next time, a short photo post!