These 15 travelers share their scary travel moments, from walking in Marrakech to bicycling around the world. They also share how they overcame their scariest travel moments. This is real life travel— sometimes mistakes are made, and other times we just have bad luck. Either way, we learn from our experiences and change accordingly. If you have a fear, or know someone who does, hopefully some of the advice these travelers give will prove useful.

These stories had me holding my breath, laughing out loud, and shaking my head in disbelief. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

— Jess

Overcoming our Fear of Scary Travel Experiences

For fun, we’ll start with my friend, Zach. He has a much higher tolerance for scary travel than I do! Here’s his response to my email request asking him for a scary travel story:

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any time I’ve been scared while traveling. I’ve always been a ‘run towards not away’ person. When I travel, I walk the streets at night alone with my camera gear. Three times people tried to rob me but, eh, they picked the wrong person. I’ve had a guy twice my size say “Now I’m going to kill you,” and try and attack me with a knife. Eh..not scared, dealt with it. But the other day I went to my landlords and two dogs ran up on me barking … yup scared of the doggies :/

After a few weeks of us emailing (and me thinking that Zach is a little bit crazy, as I’d be freaking out if someone attacked me), he divulged that he learned his fearlessness from a woman. His story and advice on attaining his level fearlessness of scary travel experiences is at the end of this article. First, let us hear from solo travelers, parents, fliers, and a sailor.

Part I

Accommodation

Have you ever stayed in a place that’s just plain weird? Or with too many bugs or even animals?

Shraddha Gupta, Freelance Journalist & Travel Blogger: Streettrotter

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A Shady Nightmare in Brooklyn, New York

Scary travel in NYC

Shraddha Gupta, Founder of StreetTrotter, trotting through Times Square, New York with Mickey, Minnie and Olaf

When it comes to traveling, I am not a planner, and neither a cynic. I believe that the one thing a traveler needs the most is faith. So naturally it’s hard to scare me while on a trip as I keep my expectations low, and my trust high in new places and people. But last year I was scared, because I booked an Airbnb which looked like a cute little paradise in Brooklyn, New York. However, it turned out to be a shady nightmare.

The pictures of the accommodation were taken from the inside of the apartment, but nothing about the building and the street it was in was mentioned. It looked great and it was a few steps away from the train station. But, as we reached our stop, we realized the apartment building was right on top on the station – noisy all day and really creepy late at night. The building was older than vintage, with a scratched, graffiti filled main door and an unpainted, unmaintained staircase without lights nor any signs of life. Occasionally a door would open with screechy sounds and trippy shadows.

It Gets Worse

To scare us more, the home owner gave us a room with no locks and keys, and our luggage was left all in the open every time we had to leave. As someone who loves traveling to vibrant places, with lots of life and fun involved, this accommodation was certainly not what I bargained for and not my idea of a New York holiday. As a traveler I would be up to rough it out, but not to risk on something that was pre-booked on Airbnb – because misleading information like this scares me.

After this incident I ALWAYS look for accommodation with many reviews. I make sure I read all reviews and concerns past travelers have raised and consider them as per my ideas of comfort. Also, I have started leaving honest feedback for all accommodation I stay in, so other travelers can choose the best.  Another thing that this incident made me do as a practice is research the area we pick to live in well in advance, so that we know it’s up to our liking.


Claudia Tavani, Travel Blogger: My Adventures Across the World

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Too Many Cockroaches in Playa las Lajas, Panama

Scary travel with ClaudiaI arrived at Playa las Lajas towards the end of the day. As I had no reservations, I asked a taxi driver to take me to a decent hostel. He took me to a place that portrayed itself as an ecologic place which provided shelter for abandoned animals – I loved that idea. As I arrived, the manager took me to my dorm, carrying sheets and towels so I could prepare my bed. It was quite dark in the dorm, as the entire place was illuminated with solar power. The manager also insisted on turning lights off whenever I wasn’t around, and taking short showers to save on water. I gladly agreed. Anything to help our beautiful world. I thus made my bed and carefully placed the mosquito net around it. Then I made my way out for dinner.

Something Was Moving in my Bed

As I got back from dinner, I saw something in my bed was moving. It was a huge cockroach. It wasn’t outside the mosquito net; it was actually inside. I can’t stand cockroaches. I have a phobia for them and I was so scared that I would get it on my face or hair in my sleep. So, I decided to leave there and then. I got my bag, went to the lobby and told the owner I would go because there was a cockroach in my bed. She didn’t even bother to go check. I checked into a much nicer place next door where there were no cockroaches.

From then on, I make sure to read reliable online reviews of anywhere I may stay, even if I don’t make reservations and just show up. If I travel to tropical climates there will be occasions when I see cockroaches in the streets, which makes me think that they will somehow get to the rooms via windows and even the water pipes. I check the room carefully as soon as I arrive to make sure there are none around. And, to be on the safe side, I leave the bathroom light on, since cockroaches are afraid of light, and cover all sockets with whatever I can find – a shoe, a towel, anything!


Heather Cole, Blogger, Conversant Traveller (Day Job: Outdoor Education Marketing)

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Animals Under My Bed in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Scary travel with Heather ColeMost people love animals, and wildlife interactions are one of the top attractions in many a tourist destinations. But not for me. I’m terrified of most creatures, and in particular dogs. Something to do with once spending the day up a tree having been chased there by an Alsatian when I was 8 years old. Monkeys are no better. They’re not cute, they’re pesky, and they run faster than I do. I was once bitten by a baby spider monkey in Guatemala who mistook my reticence for a threat. So what were my chances with the big guys?

Imagine my alarm at discovering our beautiful Bali backwater hotel in Ubud could only be reached by walking through the famous Monkey Forest. Or, along a street frequented by packs of possibly rabid dogs who chased cyclists and bit pedestrians. What a choice. It was also dark, and the rustlings from the trees in all directions had me whimpering pathetically. Luckily Hubbie was there to drag me through the forest and fend off unwanted attention by snarling back at the furry blighters who assumed we were there to feed them.

The Longest 20 Minutes

It was the longest 20 minutes of my life. The screeches from branches overhead, the pattering of feet on the path behind us, and the ever increasing size of the monkey troop had me in near panic. Not being able to see them was the worst. I began to think longingly of the gauntlet of teeth gnashing dogs. We eventually made it to our guest house, and with shaking hands thankfully slammed the door shut. I didn’t even notice the geckoes on the ceiling or the colony of ants marching through the bathroom. Nothing would make me go outside again until it was light. Except perhaps the colossal spider that just scuttled under the bed.


 

Scared in an Airplane

How do travel professionals overcome their fear of flying? Their answers surprised me.

 

Laura Goyer – Culinary Travel Professional, The Culinary Travel Guide

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Turbulence & Fingernail Marks Somewhere over the Canadian Rockies

Scary travel over the Rockies

Although it might look like a black and white photo, it isn’t. It’s full color without a filter. This is actually what the Rockies look like from above in the middle of winter.

Flying doesn’t scare me but turbulence does. I’m talking about the kind of terror-inducing turbulence that makes you squeeze your eyes shut and whisper Hail Marys like your life depended on it. I’m talking about the kind where the flight attendants suspend the refreshment service and bolt themselves down in their jump seats.

I’ve left more than a few fingernail marks in the armrest while flying between Calgary and the interior of British Columbia. During these flights, the plane climbs to about 40,000 feet, stays there for roughly 3 minutes, just long enough to clear the highest peak, before starting its descent. The entire affair takes less than 40 minutes. There’s something about that short hop that almost guarantees a white-knuckle ride.

I’ve found that the best way to get through the flight is by distracting myself, and the best way to do that on this route is to just look out the window. With scenery like this, who needs a movie?

If you were expecting a Culinary Travel Professional to overcome her fear with some food, don’t worry. Read on for another scary travel experience.

Lisa Michele Burns, Travel Photographer at The Wandering Lens

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 Chocolate Up in the Air…

Scary travel with Lisa.As a travel photographer I take a lot of flights and had always loved gazing out the window at the world below and relaxing for a few hours before arriving somewhere new and exciting.

That all changed when I was in a tiny little plane flying between the Cook Islands.

After a few days in complete paradise, my return flight went through a series of thunderstorms that shook the plane like I’d never experienced before. So much so that I was holding onto the ceiling of the plane to steady myself, nearly in tears of shock as I tried to stay calm, block out the sounds and movement and think of landing safely. I had flown in seaplanes, helicopters, and commercial planes before, but this time was the one of the scariest moments of my life.

All Ends Well

Of course we landed safely. However soon after I developed a fear of flying, which is not ideal when it’s part of your job! I’m talking days of anxiety before a flight and a crippling fear before boarding a plane. Something I never thought would happen to me, a travel addict.

Once the fear became apparent I knew I had to overcome it because I had another 30+ flights already booked for the rest of the year. Each flight was for a job I’d been so excited to get and of course needed to fly to.

Overcoming My Fear of Flying

Flight by flight I tried different techniques. Everything from deep breathing and distractions to music or reading. None of them worked. For roughly 18 months each flight was a struggle. It’s only been in the past six months that I’ve become suddenly more comfortable on flights, sometimes even enjoying them again!

I found a large part of the anxiety stemmed from the turbulence I’d experienced on that really bad flight. After taking over 50 flights where I didn’t come across too much turbulence perhaps my mind relaxed into thinking it’s all going to be okay.

Also I’m super organised now before a flight to avoid any last minute stresses that will no doubt flair up the fear again! Oh and chocolate. Always carry snacks, as I read chewing makes your mind switch off any anxiety!


Rebecca Decker – Private Piano Teacher & Blogger at Where To This Time

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I Don’t Like Flying: Flight from Honolulu to Sydney

Scary travel with RebeccaI’ve loved travel ever since my friend and I went to London and Paris on a college trip in 1985. And, my Aunt Rosella traveled the world, so she was my inspiration. She did an around-the-world trip in 1966. The one thing about traveling I don’t like is flying. I don’t know if it’s just claustrophobia or fear of crashing. I’m just always a nervous wreck. The longest flight I’ve been on is from Honolulu to Sydney. We boarded the flight 12:30 a.m. and we were exhausted. It was the first time I ever slept on a plane.

To get me through a flight, I just keep telling myself I have to fly if I want to get to my destination. Also, I usually bring along my favorite music. And we take turns at the window seats. I know, it’s strange to want the window seat, but I always love looking out at the clouds. You would think it would make things worse. LOL


Scary Travel: in the Wilderness

 

Flora Baker, Freelance Writer & Blogger at FloraTheExplorer.com

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Trekking Safety on the Salcantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru

Scary trek with FloraA small group of friends and I were on a small Peruvian mountain pass on the second day of the Salcantay trek to Macchu Picchu. Led by a Peruvian guide from a small tour company in Cusco, a huge black horse came out of nowhere behind us. He had a saddle but no rider and had clearly been spooked by something: charging straight through our group, he knocked my friend, Fi, to the ground where she fell against a rock.

She’d broken her collarbone and was in severe pain, barely able to walk, and as we looked around in the strong midday sun we realised how much trouble we were in. We had limited supplies of water and food; we were at least four hours walk from the next campsite with only five hours of daylight left; and our clearly shocked guide explained there was no phone signal at this point of the route: he didn’t have a medical kit or a radio. Besides there was no space for a helicopter to land anyway.

Lucky Day

Unbelievably, after an hour of absolute panic a group of hikers reached us and there were two trained nurses from Ireland amongst them, who gave Fi some pain medication and said we could carry her. We worked together to build a stretcher from nearby logs and people’s jackets. For the next four hours two dozen people took turns carrying her through the mountains and hitching rides with locals until we reached a campsite.

We were incredibly lucky that there were nurses nearby – if we hadn’t had their knowledge and calm expertise, the situation could have been a lot worse. However, we clearly didn’t do our research on tour companies when in Cusco, either: only learning after an accident that our guide had no plan to find help was shocking, and made us feel both vulnerable and extremely stupid. After that event I always make sure to carry a first aid kit and a rescue whistle when I travel – you never know when you might need it!


A Note from Jess: scary travel moments can be mitigated

I took a Wilderness First Aid 16-hour course a few years ago with my caving club, as part of Cave Rescue. It was even more useful than I had expected. During the course I realized how valuable the knowledge would be for my trip in Mongolia a month later.

With help from my instructor, I packed my first ever first-aid kit. It is smaller than, and weighs less than a paperback book. I intended on horse trekking in remote areas and wanted to be somewhat self-reliant and avoid scary travel moments as much as possible. 

The Course is Cheap

Finally, the Wilderness First Aid course is about $150 in northern California, USA each April. Let me know if you’re interested, and I’ll put you in touch with the organizer. If you’re not in the area, look for a course near you. First Aid is a useful skill anywhere. My 2 recommendations for off the beaten path travelers confidence they are: trust your instinct and know how to take care of yourself in an emergency.

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