In celebrating the joys and thrills of travel, one often glosses over the upsets, scares, disasters, bad memories and misadventures—and often, one hopes, with good reason. However, more often than not, negative experiences significantly shape one’s attitude as a better traveller—one who is cautious, patient, and alert at the same time. Our readers recall their most harrowing travel episodes:
Anu Sai Meena G. M., Chennai
On a solo trip to Torna Fort, I took a government bus to reach the site from Pune. It’s a day hike, so one can trek and return on the same evening. The journey was a little hectic but I loved it when I reached the top! It was off-season time, so not many people were around. The last bus was at 5:30 p.m. but unfortunately I missed it, and government buses were the only way to reach Pune from the village. I was so scared. I also don’t speak Hindi. The people around me understood I was panicking and few of them asked what was wrong. They asked me to not panic and one of them said they’ll drop me on the highway where I can get a shared jeep to Pune. They came all the way to drop me and waited until I got a jeep and waved bye to me.
Akhila Shahid, Kozhikode, Kerala
Myself and a group of other exhausted architecture students—tired, fed up, and in a deep existential crisis— planned a trip to the nearest source of happiness, Kanyakumari: its beach famous for its sunrises and sunsets. I was unwell, experiencing a runny nose and a really bad sneezing episode. We took a midnight bus from Trivandrum and got down at the Kanyakumari Railway Station to crash there, since we arrived too early for the sunrise. Around the break of dawn we took an auto to the beach and found a good spot to sit and watch the sunrise. I had begun to relax a bit but then I realised I had, on top of my runny nose ‘crisis,’ chosen a cloudy day for my sunrise at the beach! I got on the next train to Trivandrum, all alone. Never again will I ever travel for a special sunrise without checking the weather report.
Shalini Motwani, Mumbai
I had come to Thailand with my two close girlfriends, my first vacation abroad with just friends. The trip was going well and I was so excited to click pictures on my new phone, a brand new OnePlus, which I had bought with all my savings. On the last day of the trip, we were in Bangkok outside the Wat Pho temple. We were in a hurry as our flight would be leaving in five to six hours. We quickly got a cab and after we got down at the airport I started looking for my phone; I realized I had left it behind in the cab. For a person who has quite a bit of anxiety and keeps checking her stuff all the time, this was a slap in the face. My tears wouldn’t stop.
Somehow, I feel I subconsciously only remember the bad things about Bangkok, now. I tried really hard to not associate Thailand with something that I had lost, but everytime I think about my trip I can’t help but feel I ended up spending double the total amount I planned, due to the lost phone. I might have to go back to wipe out the bad memory.
Purvi Rajdev, Mumbai
After a week marred by volcanic eruptions and constant flight cancellations during my best friend’s bachelorette in Indonesia, we shifted the trip to Seychelles. My friend got all our USD converted to SCR before leaving. The next day, in Seychelles, we discovered that this currency was no longer valid due to local demonetisation. We had seven more days in front of us with no money except for a little IDR leftover from Indonesia, and were told to go to the Seychelles Reserve Bank to get them exchanged.
We managed to hire a car and drove all by ourselves to Victoria from Mahe, stopping for much-needed local guidance on the way. We tried our luck at the Indian Currency Exchange office as advised by locals. Initially, they denied us, but after many requests and teary eyes, an officer helped us.
Anjali Manohar, Bangalore
My hotel in Siem Reap was located deep in a bylane with thick foliage. Habitations dotted here and there, but there weren’t too many people around. The hotel was not very fancy but had a charm of its own.
On the night of my last day, I ordered dinner as usual and watched a bit of TV. I realised I was out of bottled water and called up room service. There was no answer. I then called up reception, and still no answer. I went out to the balcony and looked around. All the rooms that I could see were dark. Not a soul in sight. Even the lights in the garden and the swimming pool were off. At first I wasn’t too concerned, thinking maybe there was a power outage. But even later on there was still no response from room service and reception, and I started panicking. Everytime I went to my balcony and looked around I saw dark rooms with curtains closed. My imagination went wild and I started thinking that there was someone behind the curtains watching me. It was a very eerie feeling.
As time passed my stress levels rose and my thoughts went totally berserk. Movies I had seen about murders in hotel rooms came to mind and got me even more stressed. Every now and then I repeatedly called room service, each time without a reply. As time passed and the rest of the guests didn’t come back, I was pretty sure that something bad was going to happen.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. I put a chair under the door handle( as I had seen in movies). The bathroom was a challenge…it had a long sliding glass window that opened into the verandah outside. The lock was broken, and even if it wasn’t, the glass could easily be broken…so my mind told me. What else could I do to protect myself, I wondered. I looked around the room and saw a bread knife. I kept it under my pillow. Then I got a brilliant idea, again thanks to all the Hollywood movies I had seen…I would make a cosh out of a sock filled with travel-size perfume bottles, a bar of soap, and lipsticks.
I put it under the pillow and turned on the TV. At some point I dropped off to sleep. I was in a deep slumber when I got my wake-up call. When I asked the man at reception why no one answered my call last night there was silence, and then a soft, “Sorry.” The excuse was that since all the guests had checked out, and as I had never used the pool at night, they didn’t turn on the lights. Besides, they said, in all the days I had stayed there I had never called room service after 9 p.m. so they assumed I wouldn’t.
And where were they? At a party nearby! I didn’t know whether to scream, laugh or cry. A little later, when I got my breakfast, the waiter apologised for what happened. I told him what a stressful night I had and he said, “Madam, why do you worry? Mr. Cho on duty, no?”
P.S. Mr. Cho was a street dog that always slept at the entrance of the hotel.
Nayantara Deshpande, Mumbai
Our family was staying in Giza in a room with a view of the pyramids. Having already visited the pyramids, we decided to spend the day in Cairo, which is around 6 km away and usually takes around half-an-hour by road. When we decided to return it had already become dark and all our phones were running low on battery. With no Ubers available, we decided to take a local cab. We told the cab guy we wanted to go to Giza, close to the pyramids. He nodded and asked us to get in. After 20 minutes of driving my sister-in-law, who decided to track the ride, realised we weren’t anywhere close to Giza. One invaluable lesson I learnt is that it’s always best to learn a bit of the local language and what famous sites in the country are called in the local language.
Aftab Ahmed, Jaipur
We were returning from Goa on a college trip. Our train seats were reserved from Madgaon to Jaipur and everything was going smoothly. But when we reached the station, I checked the ticket once again and I was speechless as I realized that the train had already left hours ago. I told my friends and they were full of anger (actually, I had gotten confused with the 24-hour format of train timing). We were left with no option other than to board the next train, which was going to New Delhi. We purchased a general ticket and boarded the train, but it was our biggest mistake as it was the Diwali time and the trains were fully packed. Somehow we managed to reach Madhya Pradesh, standing the whole night near the comportment door. We deboarded the train at Khandwa and took a local bus to Indore, and from there we took a sleeper bus to Jaipur, ending our 48 hour journey.
Tanisha Kalra, New Delhi
On a family trip in 2006, on our last day in Barcelona, before we were to fly to Paris, my dad got a call from the travel agent, saying that our hotel booking in Paris had been cancelled. After a few more frantic calls, we finally found a hotel room for the four of us. At 11 p.m. we reached the area, and our hotel was located in Pigalle: the red-light area of Paris. While this went over my head at the time, my parents were shocked that they had to stay there with their 7- and 10-year-old daughters. When we made it to the hotel, the receptionist told us there were no rooms for us since the hotel was fully booked. He also added that there were no hotel rooms in the entire city. After much persuasion and innumerable calls, he gave us two tiny rooms until seven the next morning.
The next day we began exploring Paris without a room to spend the next night. The travel agent was finally able to make some arrangements. We managed to stay at Hotel Castiglione, right by the Arc de Triomphe, but only for one night. So after our day out exploring we took our bags and carried them up and down the Paris Metro stations, looking for lodging. We finally found a duplex in the Latin Quarter, near St. Michael’s Square. Not that bad, except after two nights the agent told us that the duplex was fully booked and we needed to shift to another apartment. When we arrived at the airport to take our flight back to Delhi we were told that the airline booked more passengers than the seats available, so they couldn’t take us. They offered us €600 per person and hotel rooms at the Sheraton. But my parents didn’t take even a second to decline it. They got into a heated argument, and won, and soon we flew back to Delhi.
Ankit Adiga, Erlangen, Germany
It was the end of December in 2019. My wife and I were traveling in Spain. It was pitch dark and we were headed to a parking lot. That was when I saw two men in their twenties slowly approaching us. One of them had a deadly stare. They looked very shady. My wife was already heading to the car towards those men without noticing them. I felt uneasy as they were the only other people there. I smiled at them but one of them gave me a very strange, cold look. Now I was very sure something was wrong so I ran to my wife, grabbed her hand and yelled, “Baby run, run!” We ran out of there while they chased us. The entire street was eerily empty so we ran towards the main street hoping to catch up with the crowds. We ran straight to our hotel without looking back. We must have lost them as soon as we hit the main street.
Avanish Kumar, New Delhi
On a solo trip in Sweden, due to some train cancellations, I had to de-board my bus at Halmstad, a small town. It was around 3 a.m. and the town was eerie at night. Oh, and it was chilly too: Swedish winters are notorious for their high-speed winds. I entered an elevator that took me up to a footbridge across the train station, only to realise that the station was not operational at night, meaning I couldn’t wait in any designated area or platform. The next train was at 6 a.m., which meant I had to spend the next three hours in the chilly darkness. Then I realised there was the warm elevator— I entered, sat on the floor and watched a couple of Netflix flicks. At 5 a.m. the lift moved and the door opened, revealing a perplexed station staff member, clearly wondering why I was relaxing in the lift of a closed train station.
Menorca C., Mainz, Germany
After reaching a sledding spot in the Swiss Alps, I got to know that there would be no more buses that day. The only way to reach the base would be sledding down 12 kilometres. Also, there were no guides, just a sledge rental place. I wasn’t prepared for this; I had never sledged before and didn’t have proper shoes or lights. It started snowing and raining, and then it started getting dark. Eventually, I went ahead and rented a sledge and started trying it out. I soon realized how foolish it was to not have good shoes that wouldn’t skid in the snow. There weren’t even enough lights along the path and other newbie sledgers were slamming into each other. Every time a sledge bumped into mine it reminded me of amusement park bumper cars, except it was scary because we were high up on a mountain, and I was scared of falling down into the valley.
Anujit Sarkar, Kolkata
In October 2021, I started off for Sikkim from Kolkata for the famous Goecha La trek. We were a group of 10. When we started the trek from Yuksom it was already drizzling. We reached the next campsite at Sachen, amidst the wilderness of Kanchenjunga National Park. We did not have any clue what awaited us. Incessant rains took over the next two days and we were all stuck in our tents, our rucksacks and sleeping bags getting drenched to the core. After a hectic trek on the treacherous terrain we reached Tshoka. But I was already exhausted due to the cramped stay over the last two days and also was feeling a backache. We were eight at Tshoka, along with other trek groups. By that time we came to know of the massive landslides and rains all over Sikkim and other parts of Himalayas, including, Uttarakhand and Himachal.
Rishabh Verma, Lucknow
In 2013, I was travelling to Badrinath from Kedarnath with my parents in Uttarakhand. I, at 26, was the youngest in the group. As we reached Badrinath and visited the holy temple, one of the elderly ladies asked to go to Mana village. The driver denied, telling us that there were disastrous floods everywhere in Garhwal. On our way back to Haridwar, we witnessed several landslides and flood destructions. It was so overwhelming. We didn’t know whether we were going to make it back amidst the long road blocks and falling boulders–it was so devastating. The most shocking part is that as we came back safely to Haridwar, we got to know the magnitude of the disaster through the news.
Priyanka Kamath, Mangalore
My friend and I were attacked by honeybees at Sathodi Falls in Karnataka. We were on a trip to Dandeli and decided to visit this waterfall on the way. After a while, we realised that the crowd was heading back and they were rushing. We did not understand why because the sound of the waterfall was so loud; we could barely hear anything. By the time we realised what had happened there was a swarm of bees above our heads and they stung us everywhere. We all rushed to the hospital and we were given injections.
Prateek Nayak, Rajasthan
I was on a bus going from Jaipur to Ajmer. There was only one seat left and I took that. But then one of the two policemen nearby whispered in my ear that I was sitting next to a prisoner—who had recently died on that very bus journey! They asked me not to panic and keep my composure for the journey because if I shouted, the whole bus would freak out. I sat for over two hours on that trip alongside a dead man.
Dipankar Dutta, Bangalore
I spent the first night in a five-star hotel suite, and the second night in a bus stop. This was the winter of 2017 during my solo Europe trip. I was headed to Brussels and the world was witnessing the worst winter hits. All flights were cancelled. The first night’s hotel was compensated by the airline. I had a ball, the dinner was fabulous. The next day’s morning and evening flights were cancelled. The airport was jam-packed. Confused passengers were everywhere. The airport announced that all flights were cancelled without any more rescheduling. We were asked to find our way out. I managed to book a two-day bus trip to Copenhagen.
Prerena Kush, Gurugram
We were a group of five friends who went to Thailand. One of our friends was carrying a laptop bag with his passport and two of ours as well. One night we had an amazing dinner and later took a stroll near the beach while we discussed, “What is the worst thing that could happen to a person travelling abroad?” The loss of a passport came up. All of a sudden, we shouted in unison, “Our bag! Oh s**t!” and ran frantically back along the path we came on. Two of us went to the police to get help and three of us went back to all the places that we had visited. Suddenly we remembered to check the restaurant where we’d had dinner. It’s still a blur to us when and how we reached the restaurant and asked the manager if they had found any bag. What we do remember is holding the bag to our chests with our hearts pounding frantically because we all had to board the flight back home the next day.
Lipika Sharma, Gurugram
This was in Udaipur. I lead tours professionally for foreign tourists. One time I was leading a tour around 2018 ( during Dussehra) and I was in Udaipur, leading a group of 16-17 boys and girls and I took them out for dinner. On the way back, we had to walk for about 30 minutes to get to our hotel; while walking about five-six young men came and started calling names and saying derogatory things to the female members of my group. I stepped up and said, “Say it to my face and try to touch my ladies and see what I do!” Then they ran away. My group thanked me for bossing-up but it was my responsibility to protect my group and the guests of my nation.
Rod Deckard, Sydney, Australia
At 2:35 p.m., in Athens, my friends and I were running late to get our Egyptian visas processed. We pleaded for the Egyptian Consulate official to allow us in despite the 2:30 p.m. closing time. The four of us managed to get our visas processed, which then allowed us to book an early flight. He said we were lucky and should have had to wait another day or two to get to Cairo. We all met at Athens Airport on Thursday, the 21st of November, 1985. The plane we should have travelled on, except for the generosity of the Consulate official, was hijacked as it flew out of Athens: Flight 648. Of the four Australians who should have been on that Friday flight, two–Chris and I–were safe in our hotel on Talat Haab Street, Cairo having breakfast in the dining room watching the news while terrorists shot passengers point blank and shoved them down the stairs onto the runway in Malta. The end result of the attack was 59 dead and 32 wounded.
Arpita B., Mumbai
Barcelona is an exciting city. It is also the pickpocketing capital of the world, or so I have been told. After a tedious flight from Vienna, I was too tired to figure out the right metro station in Barcelona to reach my hostel. I was travelling solo with a suitcase and a backpack. The metro station had a long staircase and I got help with my luggage. Two gorgeous (maybe one of them shirtless) guys helped me out. I realised that they were climbing too quickly with my suitcase, which I was holding from the other end, and one of them always stayed behind me. I decided to amp up the pace to reach the top of the staircase where the security pointed and alarmed something in Spanish. I was scared and the security continued to say something in Spanish. I saw these guys run and disappear while a few other security guards chased them. I realised they were pickpockets and I checked my bag for my belongings. Thankfully, I kept all the junk (half eaten potato chips, less valued items) on top, so they never reached my wallet or passport. But this shook me for a good half-an-hour.
Mohanpriya Subramaniam, Texas, U. S. A.
Me and my husband, along with our friends, were on a vacation in Colorado. We decided to river raft there and around seven of us hopped on the same raft along with the instructor. I was sitting in the back and my husband was sitting in the front. Initially, the river was smooth and we were able to maneuver the raft pretty easily. After a while the river started getting rough and we were all rowing really hard. Then came a big shallow place in the river and the instructor gave us a heads up to row hard and we were all ready. In a blink of an eye we did what she said and crossed that section only to discover my husband and another friend both fell into the river.
The friend caught the bottom of the boat and was saved quickly, but I could see my husband ahead of the boat going with the flow of the river. I was shouting for him like crazy and I don’t think he heard me. We were all in shock and our instructor stopped our raft on a nearby shore. Fortunately there was another instructor who was following us in a separate raft. He went and caught hold of my husband and pulled him to safety on his raft. Though it was a terrifying experience at the moment, we all had a big laugh later. Luckily no one was hurt and thank God for our life jackets and our well-trained instructors.
Krithika Saptharishi, Kolkata
My most harrowing travel experience was in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya. My friend and I had decided to trek to this beautiful three-tiered waterfall called Wei Sawdong falls. The trek was mostly downhill and we had almost reached the base of the falls when this man came up to us and asked us not to move any further since a boy had jumped into the falls and died. We were too traumatized to continue the trek. Soon we saw two men carrying up that boy’s body in a makeshift stretcher and we made way for them. I think I learnt about a hundred life lessons that day.
Ritu Sanyal, Bangalore
My parents, sister, and I went for a trip to Mangalore, Udupi, and Murudeshwar. We returned from Murudeshwar to Bangalore during the late evening, and took the shortest path as per Google Maps and we almost died! The route was through the ghats and the forest and it was pitch dark. There weren’t any indicators on the road after a while. Also the route passed from on top of Jog falls so the whole area was completely foggy, because of the waterfall. We could not see anything. We were scared of either falling off the valley or hitting a wild animal. I was checking Google Maps to figure out what the next bend in the road was so that the car didn’t fall off. On top of that there were local buses coming through. We somehow managed that night. Later I thanked our driver for literally saving our lives.
Rishabh Bajaj, Nainital
Venice turned nightmarish when I boarded a local bus, cramped like a Mumbai local, and I started sweating profusely when nausea set in. Aghast I might vomit on co-passengers, I took out a bottle of chocolate milk, emptied hours ago, to fill the mucous-laden stuff. Surprised the bus reached the destination, I darted out puking in the bottle. Finding a trash can nearby, my gut threw out everything inside me, draining me off energy and consciousness. Thirsty, I fell asleep like a drunk, only to realise I may not get help from anyone. I stumbled to the hotel and slept there like a baby.
Atreya Mukerjee, Cardiff
My flight from Delhi to Hanoi got delayed by a couple of hours on the morning of departure. As I was standing in the queue ready to board, my name was called out. I was told by the airline staff that as the flight was delayed I wouldn’t be allowed to board it because I’d anyway miss my Kolkata-Hanoi connecting flight. I immediately started convincing the crew to let me board so I could figure out the rest of my journey after reaching Kolkata. At that moment, reaching Vietnam was all that mattered to me. In the few minutes before take-off and with patchy internet at hand, I somehow was able to find a suitable flight from Kolkata to Da Nang and asked my friends to help me book it while I was in the air. Flying to Kolkata seemed like the longest two hours I’ve ever experienced.
To my eternal relief, my friends made sure it was booked before I landed, even though they were occupied in a meeting that day. I spoke to the airline crew for almost one-and-a-half hours at the Kolkata airport and they agreed to book me a hotel room for the night before my flight. I found a few others who were in the same flight in the same situation. We began talking and ended up having lunch together at the hotel. I had a room to myself, but instead of grieving over the full day that I missed out on, I decided to go explore the nearby areas. I ate lots of street food (Kolkata’s street momos are so underrated) and spent the evening soaking in the warmth of the city when I was supposed to be in Hanoi instead. I lost one day out of the five-day trip, along with the money I spent on hostel bookings for the night and the Hanoi-Da Nang flight.
Pooja Tawanappanavar, Mysore
While returning from visiting the last L.O.C. village, Chakwali, my GoPro that was fixed on my car bonnet fell into the valley by the road. I was devastated. Not only had I captured such brilliant memories of this place on the camera but it was a gift from my close friends. For the next 20 minutes I tried finding the camera. With no luck in this territory almost devoid of human existence and so close to one of the most tense borders in the world, I was losing hope. Just then, I saw two trucks coming my way, and had a choice of asking for help from absolute strangers; to my luck, both men came to help. In the process they enquired about me, about the situation and the worth of the camera, and many other personal questions. Eventually the two men went walking down to the valley to help me find my camera, and after 45 minutes of searching they actually found it and shouted loudly, “Mil gaya, aur toota bhi nahi hai” (Found it, and it is not broken).