Read 8 more real life scariest travel moments + advice for your own fearless travel. This is Part II of a 2-part series.
Scary Travel Part I – Accommodation; flying; wilderness
Scary Travel Part II – Passports; scary people; nature; anxiety disorder – Read On
Passports & Mothers
Did you ever have a passport scare? Was your mother involved?
Hridya Ramani, Freelance Writer/Blogger at Coinsnmaps.com
Passport Expiration in Hong Kong
This happened during our trip to Hong Kong (HK) in April, 2016. We are an Indian expat family of 3 comprised of my husband, daughter and me, and live in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia. This incident was a learning experience for me to stay on top of passport expiry, validity, visa and so on.
We spent 4 days in HK and were returning on the 26th of April to KL on Cathay Pacific airline. For entry to HK, a passport validity of 2 months is enough whereas for countries like Malaysia, a passport validity of 6 months is necessary for entry. While I took care of the former, I forgot the latter. We are resident pass holders in Malaysia and never had a problem with entry or exit anytime during our 7+ years stay.
It so happens people in Hong Kong are very strict when it comes to following rules. We managed to get boarding passes for my husband and myself but when it came to my daughter’s passport, the lady at the counter had it! She accusingly told us that my child’s passport had 4 months validity only and it would be impossible to allow her to board the flight! A 5-year-old having trouble boarding because her passport was not valid for 6 months – I had never imagined myself in such a situation, ever.
We were told that we might have to stay back, renew her passport, and only then return to KL. For almost 30 minutes we argued with the Cathay Pacific staff to let us all go through. But, they wouldn’t agree.
Passport Renewal is Imperative!
It was scary to imagine spending an extra week (hotel+food), re-booking 3 tickets and other expenses. We thought we were done for. Hong Kong is an expensive city to live in as tourists, so the entire trip turned sour for us.
We saw a ray of hope when one of the staff told us he could telex the immigration department in Malaysia and ask them for the green signal. We were told to wait for an hour; it seemed like a whole era. About 40 minutes later, we saw the staff showing us a thumbs-up signal! That 40 minutes was the scariest period of my life. For all the travel we do, we had the worst experience in Hong Kong. Thankfully we had come to the airport 4 hours before flight departure; else I wonder what hell we would have gone through. I thank my stars for helping us wade through this scary time.
Well, before flying or even planning a trip, it is essential to see if your papers are in order. Only then, book your flight and hotel. Because, if the person in question had been me or my husband or another adult, it might have not been possible to fly out of a country in such a situation. So, as a preliminary check, always remember to renew passports/visas as necessary.
Lorenzo Montezemolo, Network Engineer
Escaping Costa Rica, Thanks to Mom!
Several years ago I was traveling around Costa Rica when all my possessions were stolen from my rental car. I didn’t care too much about the loss of my luggage — that’s what insurance is for, after all. What really put me into a panic was that my most critical travel documents — my passport, airline tickets — were gone. Fortunately, I had my driver’s license and two credit cards in my wallet, and with these I was able to get assistance from the U.S. embassy in San Juan.
Although I get after my mom about saving everything, I’m really glad that she managed to squirrel away a copy of my birth certificate in her safe deposit box. She faxed the birth certificate to the embassy that afternoon, and I was issued a temporary passport the next morning. It was truly fortunate that my mom had copies of my documents, because I was born outside the U.S., and if she hadn’t had copies the embassy in Costa Rica would have had the embassy in Rome dig through paper records from 1971 to find my original documents. I was told this could have taken up to two weeks — yikes!!!
The Scariest Moment
Although I was successful in getting a temporary passport, the time between when all my possessions were stolen and when my mom called to tell me she had the copies I needed, I was really scared. Theft notwithstanding, Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with friendly and welcoming people, but a two-week extension to my vacation wasn’t what I had in mind.
To avoid this happening again, I no longer leave my critical documents in unattended vehicles AND I now keep scanned copies of my passport, travel visas, credit cards and birth certificate in a secure cloud storage location. I also have given several family members copies of these same documents, because you can never be too safe!
There are Scary People in this World
Heike Pirngruber – World Solo Female Cyclist, PushBikeGirl.com
Bicycling Near the Euphrates – Turkey
I am cycling solo around the world and had a few scary moments in Turkey nearly 3 years ago. Back then I cycled a short while with a Spaniard and this is what happened to me.
We crossed the Euphrates via ferry and cycled on a lonely road. Rafael was maybe 50 metres ahead of me when I saw two guys on a motorbike coming closer. They tried to touch my bum, but I turned around and kicked in their direction. I don’ t know if this triggered their action or if they wanted to rob us anyway, but a second after I kicked, one of the guys got off the bike took his knife out of his pocket, opened it and jumped with it towards my stomach. Full of fear, I stepped back and fell into a gap besides the road, but I couldn’t go any further because there was a wall behind me. The knife man said “phone, phone.” Rafael came back to help and shouted “no problem, no problem” and gave them his smart phone and 50 TL and luckily they left.
There is hardly a chance to avoid those kind of situations when I am on the road. The first few days after the attack I looked over my shoulder at the sound of every motorbike. But after about a month or two, my life on the road was the same again. I got my confidence back and have stayed positive ever since.
Stefan Arestis & Sebastien Chaneac, Travel Bloggers and Owners of Nomadic Boys website
Internet Dangers – Tokyo, Japan
We are a gay couple, Stefan and Sebastien, and have been travelling the world together since 2014 after leaving our lives in London. We love seeking out unique experiences and when in Tokyo earlier this year, we fulfilled a life-long ambition of dressing up as geisha. Ever since watching the famous film Memoirs of a Geisha and seeing them walking the streets of Kyoto, we’ve always wanted to dress up as geisha and learn more about them. Did you know the original geisha were in fact male?
After the experience, we were excited to show off our pictures. Naturally our Instagram gallery became a colourful whirl of us in pretty kimonos and bright white pale face. It received a lot of attention, but sadly a large amount of negative attention from several users in the #geisha hashtag gallery who misunderstood our experience. They saw it as being cultural misappropriation and posted quite a few nasty comments, which were in fact more racist than homophobic, such as “musty ass mayos”.
Online abuse is something we’re not strangers of and experienced it before. However, we fear physical harm to us, because we never know when a reader might see us on the street and possibly physically or emotionally attack us.
We made it clear we were merely celebrating geisha culture and learning more about it, not mocking it, but sadly the negative comments kept coming in. It turned out it was just 1 user who appeared to have numerous accounts and was trolling our Instagram post using the same language. We were finally able to block all her accounts, have them reported and comments removed. The comments were not productive and were clearly abusive with the intent of making noise and getting attention.
One Bad Apple Ruins Fearless Travel
We kept the post up and reiterated that we were not mocking or poking fun at the Japanese geisha culture in any way. Our intention was simply to discover more about it and celebrate this beautiful, fascinating and wonderful cultural facet of Japan. The comments have since been overwhelmingly positive from both Japanese and foreigners.
Kate Storm, Travel Blogger at Our Escape Clause
Touring the Tanneries in Marrakech, Morocco
I have never been more scared while traveling than when visiting the tanneries of Marrakech, Morocco. The tanneries are old fashioned, leather-processing factories located in a separate area from the souks and other tourist attractions. As my husband, Jeremy, and I made our way there, we were already getting nervous–the other tourists thinned out and then disappeared, as did the women and children on the streets. This was not a comfortable area of town to wander in.
We eventually made it to the tanneries with only a few hiccups. One hiccup was a persistent “guide” who followed us over our protests, insisting that he was taking us. He managed to isolate us after the tour, and began hustling and eventually demanded money from us.
This is an expected occurrence in Morocco–what was daunting was the fact that we were lost, extremely isolated… and four of the guide’s “friends” showed up and started yelling at us.
Were we in any physical danger? At the end of the day, I don’t think so. However, having five angry men screaming at us when no one else was nearby, demanding money, pushing up against Jeremy, refusing to let us leave–it was terrifying in the moment. We screamed and ran away to break free of them. Luckily, we quickly found our way back to the main road, but I shudder to think of all the might-have-beens.
Yes, they are probably would-not-have-beens–muggings are not common in broad daylight in Marrakech. But, this was definitely a lesson in raising our awareness.
My suggestion to avoid a situation like this: Research, research, research. It’s popular to go with the flow while traveling, but a lax schedule doesn’t mean a lack of research. We made a mistake by not looking deeply enough into the true experience of the tanneries before going (hint: the reviews are not good). Had we done some digging ourselves rather than relying on a well-meaning recommendation from a friend and the suggestions of the owner of our riad, we either would not have gone or would have prepared for the situation much differently.
Almost Fearless Travel in Nature
Viki Moore – Sailor, Astrolabe Sailing
Sailing in the Dark on New Zealand’ East Coast
I’m not afraid of the dark… well maybe a little bit.
It gets very dark when you are sailing at night. I am alone on watch on my 30′ sailboat Wildwood in the middle of the night, sailing down the East Coast of New Zealand. I feel like I’m on a space ship, hurtling through the blackness, into the abyss. The sky is filled with a million stars. Our wake glitters with phosphorescence. If I look really carefully I can see satellites tracking across the sky. It feels surreal.
A light appears in the distance, a fishing boat perhaps? It is hard to tell. A dolphin jumps and splashes beside the boat and gives me a fright. My heart races and I can smell its fishy breath.
The fishing boat seems a lot closer. Then the depth sounder alarm beeps warning me that there is just 2 metres of water beneath the keel. That can’t be right! We are miles offshore – the water should be a lot deeper. I rub my tired eyes and glance back at the boat, it is approaching fast, have they seen me? I squint at the GPS and see we are still on track; a cold gust of wind puts more pressure in the sails and heels the boat over. I shiver and start to worry.
A huge bright white light suddenly appears on the horizon, it seems to be streaking across the sea towards the fishing boat! “What on earth is that!?” I cry. I am so tired, my brain is struggling to comprehend what is happening. In a panic, I wake up my crew, they quickly stumble up the companionway as I try to explain what is going on. I turn around and point in the direction of the light, and then we realise what it is.
Isn’t everyone scared of the dark? When you are travelling or sailing in unfamiliar places, it is even easier to be afraid. My friends have confessed to having also been frightened by the moon. At sea it rises so suddenly and at random times of the night. Your mind plays tricks on you when you are tired, and when it is dark your other senses become more aroused. You smell and hear different things at night.
To overcome my fear, I try to be prepared for the unexpected, since I have plans to buy a bigger boat and sail around the world in a few years time. My anxiety decreases with each experience and my confidence in my boat and my abilities grow. I can recognise when I am getting too tired to be able to function properly, and aim to ensure that all the crew get adequate rest.
While my fear is mostly just in my head, it is always good to get a second opinion or to ask for help. Particularly if there is a risk of colliding with another boat, or if you are close to a coastline.
Allison Green – Travel Blogger at Eternal Arrival
Not Living in Fear in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Unfortunately, the specter of terrorism is something that’s hard for me to escape mentally, even if I know the statistics of it affecting me are incredibly low. I spent a decade living in post-9/11 New York City, and I think I absorbed some quiet “if you see something, say something” paranoia. I try not to be fearful, but when I see people walk away from their suitcases in crowded places – even if just for a moment – my heart begins to race.
Still, I try not to let it affect my travels. Last summer I was in Singapore getting pages added to my passport. I mentioned that I needed it done as soon as possible, because I was heading to Kuala Lumpur soon. A man at the consulate warned me that there were terror threats directed at the city. It took a lot of consideration on my part to decide whether or not to still go. Ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to live my life in fear, and I went anyway. I’ll admit, I was terrified at times: walking through crowded malls, busy streets, taking the train. I kept thinking to myself “this would be a good target.”
But, spoiler alert, nothing happened. I stayed alert, focusing on my surroundings as well as my own personal belongings the way you usually do in an unfamiliar place. It was an amazing city, with friendly people, beautiful buildings, and life-changing food. I was so glad I didn’t cancel my plans.
Travel is Unpredictable
We can never predict what will happen when we travel. We can never know if we will be safer at home (and unfortunately, due to gun violence in my home country of United States of America, that is actually rather unlikely!) or on the road. So, despite my fears, I try to overcome them – within reason. Obviously, I’m not planning a vacation to Syria or Libya anytime soon. But, life is too short to stay indoors afraid of everything around you.
Remember Zach from the introduction in Part I of this series? He’s the person who learned about the psychology of scary people from a woman he traveled with. Here is her advice for him, and his advice for us.
Zach Settewongse, Creative Manager Lowepro/JOBY
I used to have normal fears like everyone else, but then I met a girl who seemed invincible, who walked into any situation without fear. One day while traveling with her a group of guys started following us, I could sense they were up to no good. She immediately turned around and aggressively went straight for them. They panicked out of what seemed confusion and took off.
She told me those who prey on others are always looking for someone weaker than themselves, because they are insecure. By being dominant and taking control of the situation you are removing control from them. This works! Now, the moment I get a bad feeling about any situation or am confronted, I immediately act without hesitation. It works, it really works.
Of course, use a bit of caution for your own skill level. I practiced martial arts daily from age ten through my twenties. And, I was a police officer for a short time, during which I received additional training. So, don’t just go Jason Bourne into a situation. Most of the time, as soon as you feel a situation is or could potentially be hazardous it’s best not to act aggressively. Instead, leave or find others.
Have you read Part I of this series?
Have you experienced a scary situation while traveling? How did you deal with it? Or, have you already attained fearless travel? What tips can you share, so others can become fearless? — Comment below! We’d love to hear your stories + advice!
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