Not everyone has the luxury of saying they’ve traveled outside their native country. Traveling is about more than just visiting new places; it’s also about trying new cuisines and making new friends. But what about when things don’t go as planned? Having plans go awry while traveling is never pleasant. Things falling apart while exploring a foreign country, however, can be downright terrifying. These globetrotters can attest to having some of the worst experiences while traveling abroad.
All stories have been edited for clarity.
“My scariest travel experience took place while I was backpacking through South America.
I had been traveling through the region for several months and was making my way through a remote, mountainous area in Peru. I was hiking along a narrow trail that clung to the side of a steep cliff, with a deep ravine below.
Suddenly, the trail gave way beneath me, and I found myself tumbling down the steep slope. I tried to grab something to stop my fall, but I was sliding too quickly. I eventually came to a stop, battered and bruised, at the bottom of the ravine.
I soon realized that I had broken my leg in the fall and was unable to move. I was miles from the nearest town and had no phone signal. I was completely cut off from the outside world. I was also in a remote and rugged area, where it was unlikely that anyone would stumble across me.
As night fell, I had no idea how I was going to survive the night. I started to feel the effects of my injury and the cold. I was shivering and felt helpless. I started to panic, imagining all sorts of scenarios, from being attacked by wild animals to freezing to death overnight.
Just as I was starting to lose hope, I heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance. I started to shout and wave, hoping to attract their attention, and after what seemed like an eternity, they finally spotted me and came down to rescue me.
The experience was terrifying. I came away from it with a new appreciation for the fragility of life and the importance of being prepared when traveling in remote areas. It was a wake-up call for me, and I made sure to be better prepared for future trips, carrying proper gear and being mindful of the risks involved in traveling to remote and wilderness areas.
I will never forget the fear and helplessness I felt at that moment. I will always be grateful to the rescue crew who saved my life.”
“I ate dinner with a murderer.
I travel for a living. I go all over the world, though mostly I travel domestically in the USA. One time, I checked into my hotel, delighted to find it had a decent restaurant-bar combo in the lobby.
I went down and sat at the bar, one seat down from a random man. He was a tad older than me, muscular, and rough around the edges. Something odd about him struck me almost right away. He had a duffle bag at his feet. Most people would have left a bag like that in their room.
The man started up a conversation with me. I’m pretty much always willing to engage with people if I’m sitting by myself at a bar.
We shot the breeze. The man asked what brought me to the bar. I said I was just relaxing with a nice meal before having to start work the next day.
‘I can’t bring myself to eat,’ he said suddenly.
‘Well, I just killed a man a few hours ago and I can’t get the image out of my head.’
Everything came to a screeching halt. I don’t remember what I said. I was completely flabbergasted. The man was clearly unnerved. Unsettled. I wasn’t positive he was telling the truth, but he was obviously agitated.
I do remember uttering a simple, ‘Oh?’
He weaved in and out of the conversation. The man openly gave me bits and pieces of the crime he committed. He said he knew the police would catch up with him, and that he was just trying to keep ahead of them.
The waitress overheard our conversation. The man noticed her lingering. He went off on her, telling her to mind her own business. Fear washed over her face before she soothed the man and said she was just cleaning, and ‘didn’t hear anything.’
Then, like I was in a poorly written melodrama, the news which had been playing the whole time switched to a story about a shooting/homicide that took place about thirty minutes from us. The minute it came on, he pointed and said, ‘Look. It’s what I was telling you about and now they’re finally talking about it.’
The man then gestured to the duffle bag and told me the murder weapon was in it. He said it had been his friend, but his friend had done him wrong. So he shot him.
I’m trained in situational awareness with my company. Maybe not well-trained enough. I mean, I did sit down one seat from him. But, I already knew where the exits were and who was around me.
I sized him up. Whether he really did kill anyone, the man was not stable. In a situation like this, I knew I needed to be ready to fight or flee. Hiding was out of the question.
Fleeing also was a long shot, I realized if the situation turned violent. Assuming the man had a loaded weapon on him, it was a long straight path to any exit. If he decided he wished he hadn’t confided in me, it would be easy to shoot me dead. If it came to it, fighting was my only option, and I didn’t like my chances against him.
I kept things light, waiting for the food I already ordered. I felt it would be too obvious that I was getting away from him to ask for the food to go at that point. I wanted to seem interested, but not too interested in what he had to say. I ate, skipped dessert, and paid my bill.
When I got up he shook my hand and said, ‘I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. No reason to say anything beyond that to anyone.’
I agreed and thanked him for an interesting conversation.
After that, I walked toward the lobby entrance and saw hotel security sitting just around the corner. I considered and rejected the idea of informing them. I didn’t want weapons drawn around anyone, and didn’t think security was equipped for such a thing.
What happened next solidified the truth of the matter.
I went up the elevator and looked up the news story. There had been a hotline number. I called it, getting me in touch with the county sheriff from the city it had taken place in. The dispatcher listened to my story in a bored voice until he asked me to describe the man. No details had been given in the news story.
After I described him, the dispatcher perked up. He put me on hold and a minute later had someone else on the line with me. I gave the details again. They said they’d pass it on to the local police department. Ten minutes later, they called me back and I gave my report again. I let them know the bar closed soon and they should get there quickly if they wanted a chance to apprehend the guy.
Part of me felt bad. Our handshake seemed like a confidence of sorts. I was also, oddly, more frightened calling the police than I had been during the dinner. Maybe it was the adrenaline. But, I didn’t know if he was staying there or not. If he was, and he noticed the police coming but they didn’t take him in, chances are he’d associate their arrival with telling me. And I knew he had already killed a friend for a perceived act of betrayal.
I let work know about it. They had me in a different hotel the next day.”
“I had been traveling for three days when I finally arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was exhausted.
Unfortunately, Johannesburg is a hub for human trafficking. I knew this so I was very wary about where I went and what I did. I was traveling alone and I was only eighteen.
When I found my gate for my short connecting flight to White River, South Africa, I sat down to breathe.
Remember, I was tired. I had traveled from Houston to London and from London to Johannesburg. That was two nine to ten-hour flights including a layover in between.
I had also thrown up landing in Johannesburg which made me even more worn out. It was something I ate most definitely.
Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep on my bags.
When I woke up, one glance at my watch told me I was in deep trouble. I asked the nearest gate attendant about the flight.
That’s when she told me my plane had boarded and left a long time ago.
She said it had gone and they had called me. Thinking about it now I wonder why no one woke me up. But that was beside the point. I was panicking more than I’ve panicked before. I was stuck in a foreign city and I didn’t know anyone.
Immediately, I called my dad and started to cry. Thankfully, my dad was a morning person and even though it was three am at home, he was up and alert. My dad was calm and didn’t get mad at me. He helped me figure out my options.
My options were catch another flight, ride in a taxi or catch a bus. All of which sounded scary to both of us. I spent all day talking to airport officials trying to figure out what I could do. The whole day I had my dad on the phone as he talked to them to.
Eventually we figured out I could ride the bus. By that time, it was night, so I rode a bus across South Africa by myself. I was very scared and so tired. At this point I hadn’t slept for three days.
Meanwhile dad was still on the phone and I told him every update like when I got on the bus, when I buckled my seat belt.
In the end, I made it safely to my destination after a three-hour bus ride across South Africa. Nobody stole me and I didn’t lose any of my bags. Oh, but did I mention the airport people didn’t tell me my suitcase was at the airport the whole time?
Yeah. I wore my friends leggings and T-shirt’s for days. I even had to borrow underwear. It’s a glamorous life I live.”
Who Let The Dogs Out?
“It was a warm night in Goa, India. The sound of barking jerked me out of my thoughts as I made my way through the winding alleys that lead away from the beach.
A tawny street dog had emerged from a gloomy alley baring its teeth. The dog was so slim it almost looked two-dimensional, with patches of skin crusted over by a hard-looking, dark mass. A closer look revealed it was the scarring left by some skin disease that never got the chance to heal.
I hastened my pace, but the strange dog followed at a distance of twelve feet or so behind me.
BARK BARK BARK.
The dog’s bark was menacing. Each bark echoed as I tried my best not to trip on the uneven pavement. Nervously, I looked back and felt my soul leave my body.
There were now three dogs. All of them had a hungry look in their eyes. This was not going to end well.
A smaller, black one that was missing an eye had a pus-filled pink membrane in its place. A mocha-colored, large, and more powerful dog, had sharp teeth almost as yellow as its fur, and battle scars adorning its flanks.
My heart was racing. I didn’t slow down.
The dogs may have been gaunt and sickly, but I had heard numerous stories of people being torn to shred by packs of street dogs in India.
Even if that didn’t happen, I began to wonder, ‘What if they’re rabid?’
BARK BARK BARK.
The sound was sharp and savage.
I looked back, still marching away as quickly as my feet could carry me.
To my horror, two more dogs had joined them. There were now a total of five feral beasts hot on my trail. All of them inched their way closer. The barking felt as if they were right on my heels. In reality, I had about a good ten feet of space between us.
There was not a single person in sight. All the cafés and shops were closed on the strip. If there was someone living behind or above them, they were either sleeping soundly or desensitized to the barking.
Suddenly, the larger mocha-colored dog lunged forward with a ferocious snarl. My heart skipped a beat. The dog proceeded to bark madly, frothing at the mouth, its lips as dark as the night.
Another one, a dirty-white mutt, mottled with patches of black and missing an ear, sprang out of an alley and joined them barking.
I quickly realized just how serious this was. The dogs showed no intentions of losing interest. In fact, they were getting braver.
BARK BARK BARK.
It was the baring of teeth, the snapping of jaws, and the glimmer of sickly canines that intensified the frightening moment as the dog got closer and closer. Their dark, beady eyes all glared at me. Each one of the dogs were foaming at the mouth.
My heartbeat was exploding in my ears.
I knew if I ran, the dogs would all break out and charge after me. I wasn’t sure how I knew this, but I did.
I passed a stretch of unpaved road, littered with stones. The fear was so thick inside, so heavy it clouded my thoughts, my intellect.
I turned to look again, still striding away.
The dogs were closing the gap more and more and were bolder than ever. The mocha-colored one appeared to be the dominant one. The entire group of dogs reeked of evil and grime. Fur and pus were caked into wounds that would never heal. I couldn’t help but notice how ugly the dogs were. The dogs were hungry and desperate. I could tell they had been mistreated by humans. Most stray dogs were beaten with sticks and driven away countless times.
It was dogs like these that hated humans. I was no exception.
I had to act.
Without thought, I spun around and shouted at the top of my voice, in as low a tone as I could, puffing and pounding my chest like a gorilla. I felt intense anger—no, rage—but it was purposeful, not like when you get angry over something insignificant.
If someone had seen me alone, the sight would have been hysterical.
But I was fighting for my life. The dogs would rip me apart, limb by limb, unless I fought back.
They all stopped barking for a moment, clearly confused.
Wasting no time, I dashed to the side, picked up two rocks, and hurled them at the dogs while yelling and screaming madly.
I heard the sickening sound of stone hitting bone followed by a whimper and a yelp. Again, I pummeled two more stones at the dogs.
I screamed again at the dogs before I hurled more stones in their direction. Again, the thud of stone colliding with stone, followed by startled whimpering lit up the night.
I took off again. Paws clattered against the road behind me. My heartbeat was like two gigantic drums pounding in my ears.
I sprinted, not daring to look back.
I ran with everything I had, my leg muscles, spiked with adrenaline, pushing against the ground with tremendous force.
The dogs and their barking did not help my fear. But there was one good thing I quickly realized.
The barking was farther away.
I kept going until I was back at the guesthouse, safe in my room.
That was the last time I wandered alone through those alleys at night.”
“When I was thirteen, my parents took me and my three younger siblings on a tour through Mexico.
We were driving in a rental car one night on a highway through the state of Guanajuato. After spending some time riding in the car and having a blast, I noticed a large Chevy van was following us.
I begged my dad to let him pass because I became frightened. My father pulled over to let the van pass us, but the van mirrored our actions and also pulled to the shoulder behind us. The driver turned on the high beams and got out of the van, walking toward us. That’s when we saw him carrying a large stick of some kind.
My father told us to duck down into the seats before he peeled out and drove like a madman toward the nearest town, which was 5 miles down the road. The van quickly caught up to us, but this time without any headlights on.
The poor Buick we were in gave us its all, and we made it to a hotel. My father began honking the car horn up the driveway, and the van backed off and drove away.
Explaining our ordeal to the hotel clerks, my parents were told of local area kidnappings, in which a vehicle would turn off the headlights, run a car off the road, and kidnap the occupants while waving weapons in their faces.
My dad later told me the man’s ‘stick’ was a firearm.”
Here Comes The Calvary
“I was twenty-one and traveling in South East Asia. I had just arrived in Bangkok and was drinking on Khao San Road with a bunch of US Servicemembers. I myself have never served.
After a while, I met a Canadian guy who suggested we go to a nightclub, so we did. We drank and danced for a while and had fun. I was dancing with a South African girl and we went outside for some air and had a light.
Suddenly, I heard screams. I looked around and saw a native, in a short-sleeved shirt physically assaulting a woman. He was doing it so nonchalantly I couldn’t believe it.
I ran over and separated them. I can’t remember his face, but he looked at me with dead, expressionless eyes.
The girl slinked off and no one was paying attention to her anymore. All eyes were on me.
I tried talking to him, ‘You can’t do that!’
The man said nothing, but the tension began to build seriously. I thought he was a tuk-tuk driver, but as the bouncers from the two clubs and tuk-tuk drivers began to encircle us I began to get the inkling he was somebody important.
Still, the man glared at me. He said nothing while sporting a small smile on his face.
A massively built, blonde man walked past me straight to the native man. He leaned right into his ear.
I thought, ‘Great, someone else with a conscience is sticking up for this girl!’
The blonde man, however, turned to me, with a very serious look on his face.
‘Do you know who this guy is?’ He said as he walked towards me, square on.
‘No,’ I responded, but started to feel uneasy about the situation.
He placed his hand on my shoulder, then ran his hand up the back of my neck and grabbed me from behind. With his other hand, he threw a heavy right hand to the bridge of my nose. Luckily, I was able to block the punch by dropping my head and raising both hands to my forehead, absorbing the impact without injury.
I have some training in martial arts and was able to use his grip against him, by twisting him away and putting him in a vulnerable position. He was left half facing away and I could have easily struck him in the face, neck, groin, or the back of the legs, for a sweep and he would be unable to defend or counter.
I raised my hands in a defensive, but passive position and stepped back creating more space between us.
At this stage, I knew it was bad.
The big guy turned to face me again. ‘Do you know who you are messing with? This guy’s dad runs Bangkok,’ he said in a Scandinavian accent.
Another smiling local standing next to the man chimed in, ‘We’ll take you in there and teach you a lesson!’ The man pointed to a quiet bar next to us.
At this point. I knew I only had one course of action. I had an expendable metal baton in my pocket, which I really knew how to use effectively. I reached into my pocket and held it by my side, retracted. If anyone came a step closer they were going to get hit. I planned on fighting my way out and running out into the traffic if they made the first move.
We all stood in silence, for what seemed like an eternity, they had to respect the fact I had a weapon and I had to respect there were many of them.
Eventually, the man that was beating a poor defenseless woman just a few moments ago said, ‘Go in,’ and pointed to the nightclub I had just left. I knew it was going to be some sort of trick, ploy, or something, but I just wanted to get out of the circle I was in. I went. Cautiously. At least if anything kicked off inside, then there would be witnesses.
I sat with my back to the wall, side onto the bar. Scanning the room and ensuring none of the thugs or bouncers were coming toward me. I could see them watching me across the room, but not doing anything apart from that.
Eventually, I saw a group of familiar faces. It was the service members I had been drinking with on Khao San Road. They spotted me as they came to the bar and I bought them a round. It was literally like the cavalry had come.
I told them about the situation and they said they would keep an eye out and would back me up if anything kicked off. They were not ready to leave though and I desperately wanted to get out of there. So we stayed and drank… I knew if I left alone there was a good chance I would be set up for a trap or surprise attack.
When we left, the bouncers and thugs outside all burned holes into me with their eyes, but nothing happened, they had to respect the fact that I was with seven muscle-bound Americans.
To this day, am so glad I met those guys.”
“Is That How You Say It?”
“At the turn of the century, prior to having children, my wife and I decided to go on the holiday of a lifetime to China. Taking a train from Beijing to Xian, and against the advice of our guidebook, we decided to try eating in one of the dining cars. The food wasn’t the best but was edible. However, when we returned to our seats we realized we’d forgotten our guidebook. In other words, the only thing which allowed us at least the slightest ability to understand Chinese.
My wife boldly proclaimed the only possible solution was for me to go back and retrieve it. Nervously, I headed back to the now-closed dining car. I tried knocking on the door and was soon ushered in by an employee, who gestured that I should sit down.
Immediately, a rather tall policeman sat down beside me, trapping me in place. He stared at me as if to challenge me to try to escape. Then one of the staff sat opposite us. She then pulled the guidebook from a large pocket and looked at me with a stern gaze.
‘Do you want a drink?’ she asked.
‘Not really,’ I replied timidly, ‘I just want that guidebook back.’
But the woman was not prepared to take no for an answer.
‘Do you want a drink?’ She demanded a second time. The policeman beside me looked at me accusingly.
‘No,’ I squeaked.
The woman’s eyes bore into my skull. One last time she intoned.
‘Do you want a drink!?’
‘Ahh,’ I stammered desperately., unsure of what I could possibly say. This time, the woman looked confused.
‘Is that how to say it?’ She asked.
Only then did it suddenly dawn on me.
‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘That is how you say it.’
Suddenly, everyone broke out in big grins. It turned out they didn’t plan to send me to a Chinese jail for twenty years but just wanted to practice their English.
After they leafed through the book and tried out some more English phrases, I was eventually sent back to my cabin, unarrested and with my guidebook.”
“I was a twenty-one-year-old Norwegian rebel who was traveling alone to Los Angeles.
When the security officer asked me to walk through the scanner, I realized it was one of those scanners where another officer in a secluded room would see your bare body, or that’s what I thought.
Me being a brave idiot, I straightened my back and looked at the officer,
‘I don’t want to. Can I go through that other one?’ I pointed to the regular scanner.
The officer quickly turned to his walkie-talkie attached to his uniform and ‘called for backup’ to scanner 4.
As a Norwegian, and I imagine this is true for many non-Americans, we get an impression of American law enforcement through movies and tv-shows.
So when he murmured ‘backup scanner 4’ into his walkie-talkie, my reaction was a combination of being starstruck and my lunch entering my pants.
I expected the worst. They would definitely violate me while searching for long-lost treasures. I kept thinking, ‘Maybe they are going to waterboard me? I hear it gives the sensation of drowning.’
The officer asked me to step aside, and another officer brought me past the scanner to some sort of machine.
The officer then took out a cotton ball and rubbed it against my jeans and shirt. He then placed that same cotton ball through the machine, which made some noises.
After that he just said,
‘You’re good to go.’
And that was it.
It went quite fast and I was a little puzzled. I was semi-hoping for some good cop/bad cop interrogation or a lie detector test or something…
I guess I watch too many movies.”
One Heck Of A Ride
“My scariest travel experience was when I was on a flight from London to New York.
We were about halfway through the flight when without warning, the plane started shaking violently and we dropped several thousand feet in just a few seconds.
Everyone around me started screaming and panicking as we all thought it was the end for us. I legit thought I was going to die.
Thankfully after what felt like an eternity of turbulence, the pilot managed to get control of the plane again and eventually we landed safely at JFK airport.
It definitely wasn’t my most enjoyable travel experience but I’m thankful that everyone made it out alive!”
Something’s Just Not Right…
“My scariest travel experience ultimately ended with me changing travel plans entirely.
I was supposed to fly from London to Milan. It was nothing problematic. In fact, I had taken that flight probably twenty times before.
This was before 9/11, so nobody was giving a great deal of thought to the kinds of security measures that are in place today.
I got a phone call the morning of my flight from a friend of mine in Tennessee. It would’ve been around 4 AM her time. She had just woken up from a terrifying dream involving me and the flight I was getting ready for. My friend became hysterical and was begging me not get on the plane.
At the time, I kind of shrugged it off. It was only a dream, and I wasn’t about to change plans and inconvenience people because of something that wasn’t real.
My cab to the airport had already been arranged, and the driver was already on the way to pick me up, so I was determined about going through with it.
A short while later, my phone rang again. When I answered, I was surprised to hear a different friend, this time in Australia on the other end. This was someone who didn’t even know the first person who called me. He asked me if I was supposed to be traveling that day because he somehow had a really really bad feeling about me and an airplane.
At that point, it was an awfully big coincidence. I was starting to feel a bit freaked out. But the cab driver pulled up so I locked the house, put my bags in the cab, and headed to the airport.
My phone rang again while I was riding in the car. When I answered, it was yet another friend, this time in Milan, telling me the same thing. She was the friend I was supposed to be meeting up with. Despite this, the urgency in her voice was all too disturbing, ‘I have a really bad feeling about this. Don’t get on that plane’.
By then, I was petrified. There were three unconnected people on three different continents telling me the same thing.
Don’t get on that plane.
Once I got to the airport, I was convinced not to board the aircraft.
I’m not one for superstitions and premonitions, and I’ve never had any fear of flying, but it all felt like far too big of a coincidence to just ignore.
I walked up to the ticket counter, and I told the woman there what was going on. I then asked her if she could put me on the next flight instead. I felt like an idiot telling her why I was having a sudden change of heart because let’s face it, dreams and bad feelings and stuff like that? It defies logic.
The ticket agent, however, was super nice about it. A lot of people are afraid of flying, so she probably figured I was just another one of those, and she wanted to accommodate me in a way that would not lose the airline any money. She booked me on the next flight and reprinted my ticket. All was good.
I immediately felt relieved but had one more request. I asked the woman, just for the sake of peace of mind, if she would be willing to relay a message to have the plane checked thoroughly before that flight, even if I wasn’t going to be on it.
After I find a seat in the airport, I tilted my head back and sighed. I was going to be sitting for four hours while waiting for the next flight, so I had heaps of time. I called family, and let them know I was going to be on the next flight instead, just so they didn’t have to sit there at the airport waiting for me.
About forty-five minutes later, I had two cups of coffee and was finishing up my third crossword when all of a sudden a message sounded over the PA summoning me back to the ticket counter.
I immediately begin to worry that the ticket agent accidentally overbooked me. As I made my way back to the counter, airport security and local police were waiting there.
As it turned out, there was significant damage to one of the plane’s engines. It looked like ordinary wear and tear rather than sabotage, and as such, they assured me I was not personally under investigation, but they wanted to know how I knew.
I told them the same story about the dreams and premonitions my friends had. I gave them the names and numbers of the people who had called me, as well as people who could vouch for my movements and activities over the preceding few days. That evidently satisfied them that it was just a bizarre coincidence.
The plane never left the ground. The ticket agent told me afterward that the damage was so severe that they weren’t sure the engine would have lasted the flight. If it failed mid-flight, they weren’t sure it would have maintained enough altitude to get over the Alps.
So in the end, everyone who had been booked on my original flight was bumped to a later flight, and the dreams and premonitions of various friends around the world may have prevented something pretty nasty.”