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A Little Oops…My Top Six “Oh, Crap” Travel Moments

Countries are built to make their own citizens more comfortable – there’s a quote somewhere out there about that and it so clearly rings true over and over again whether I’m home or on the road. One of the common refrains from foreign backpackers I meet is a critical eye toward the huge food portion size in the US – it’s a cultural thing and is expected and accepted by the masses of Americans, we’re simply used to it and a big dinner fits into how we structure our work days (but I do think there’s room for change for the record).

Abroad though, there are a host of situations that were just not built for me…whether it’s issues because of my stature, pale skin, delicate stomach, or hygiene habits, there are some countries where the “oops” moments just pile up. In other countries  there’s a heaping mountain of oops’ until I am able to override my instinctive responses and habits and adapt to the new environment.

My Travel  “Oops” Moments

Look Right

Perhaps Sydney was tired of scraping American tourists off the road?

I’m looking at myself mirror, pondering the day while brushing my teeth and realize that the water noisily swishing around in my mouth is from the tap…in a country where tap water is a poor choice.
This whole blog post was born out of this moment. I spent the summer months back home in the US and out of travel mode, so when I landed in Bali I spent the whole two weeks fighting the long-held instinctive habit of washing my mouth out with tap water after brushing my teeth (six times I did it!) – I came back stateside with a stomach bug…the water? Perhaps.

Following instinct I glance left first when stepping off of the curb and now there’s a wildly honking bus tunneling into my field of vision.
Traffic direction is one of those issues that I’ve given up on completely and it keeps me totally confused half of the time because it varies from country to country. From the time I was a child I was taught that you look “left, right, left” frequently shortened to just a glance to the left before stepping off the curb! My solution now is to stand on the curb rubber-necking it half a dozen times in each direction…I look a little silly but no more getting brushed by an oncoming motorcycle! (Side note, way back in the beginning during the Oz leg of my trip my directional challenges meant a sidewalk collision with a cute guy, so it can have benefits!)

Indian Women

The door frame looked just like that window!

A tenth of a second before my head ploughs into the five foot high door frame a fleetingly fast realization pops into my head…I forgot to duck.
There was a four foot wide, five foot high arched doorway at the palace in Udaipur, India that nearly gave me a concussion because I stood up to soon and there were decorative little “v” shapes pointing downward from the frame. I cried. And I’m still surprised that there wasn’t blood involved.

Toilet paper? I know I have it here somewhere…
I get sick on the road and having TP is essential to a Westerner like me who is used to it (I realize that they have buckets, bidets, and other/better methods but I still haven’t figured that all out…)

It’s two days into a new country and I suddenly realize that the 10,000 currency notes and 100,000 notes look incredibly similar…and somehow I’ve already blown through that $100 I withdrew…
The US has some of the plainest looking money in the world – besides the few splashes of violet now on many of our bills our money is green, that’s it. So it’s fun to have purple, green, blue and pink money to differentiate the bills in other countries. The problem? When you have as many as seven or eight zeros following the numbers, and they’re a similar color, well it’s difficult to keep it all straight when you first land in a new country!

Colorful foreign money

Rupiah, Kip and Taiwanese Dollars

I realize that my watch is on the wrong time-zone and my bus left an hour ago, not two hours later.
Time zones – fun times. For the first week in Nepal I was consistently 15 minutes late to all of my language classes (as a part of my volunteer program) because Nepal is 15 minutes different than India! Another fun time – I booked a plane ticket for the wrong day because I was doing the date math in my head…but the date on my watch was still in another time zone :(

Have a great “Oh, Crap” travel moment? Please, please, please share…funny moment recounts hugely encouraged :-)


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  • Kristian

    Haha great list there. I think my best moment was when I was on a beach in Vancouver, deciding to have a couple of nice cans of beers whilst watching the sunset. Then somebody told me that it was illegal to drink on public beaches (or any public place) in Canada, and almost at that moment a policeman came along. Luckily I had a plastic bag on me so I just dropped the can in that. He came and spoke to us to say the beach would be closed after sunset, then turned to me and said “Have you been drinking alcohol?”. I said no. He replied “well can I look in your bag then?” I gave it to him hoping that he wouldn't look past my socks, but he pointed out the cans in there. So I stuttered “well, I just found them littering the beach so I picked them up….” A smile went across his face and he said “That's what we like to see!” and left. I don't know whether he believed me or not, but I was glad to avoid a heavy fine.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry for the late reply! Thanks for sharing your “oh crap” moment – I can’t
      believe that the cop believed you- what an awesome excuse! I have so gotten
      in trouble for drinking on the beach and was scared out of my mind when the
      cop came over and made the group of us simply dump out our stash of
      alcohol, whew, was relieved :)

    • RazzleDazzle

      Too funny. Were they cold ones?

  • http://www.sharingtravelexperiences.com Andy Hayes

    Only six? I figured you'd have more than that. I have so many, I have no idea where to start.

  • http://www.GoSeeWrite.com/ Michael Hodson

    Good list. My #1 one was arriving overland at the Ethiopian border (from Kenya) after hitchhiking on a truck through the desert (and getting hijacked on the way), only to find that you can't get a visa at the border. Although the US Embassy in Kenya told me I could. And they wanted me to hitch a ride back to Nairobi, about 2 1/2 days by truck, to get a visa to come in. Thank God I managed a way around that…. after 4 days at the border.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your “oh crap” moment Michael and sorry for replying so
      late! I can’t imagine sitting on the border like that for 4 days wondering
      if they were going to let you through! But I guess it makes a great story
      later – did you manage to get to know any of them?

  • http://UncorneredMarket.com Audrey

    When I was in high school, I took a trip with my mother to London. On that first day, not only did I look the wrong direction crossing the street, but I was actually hit by a car! It was just a bump, I was mortified and brushed it off – I think my mother had a mini heart attack though!

    Dan has a lot of: “oops, forgot to duck and now I've got blood spurting from my head.” He could write a book on the trials and tribulations of what it's like traveling as a tall person!

    • Anonymous

      I can’t believe you were actually hit – yikes, your poor mum…bet she kept
      a close eye on your after that! I so feel Dan’s pain…sadly…though no
      blood for me yet so I’m grateful I don’t have a couple extra inches on
      me! Sorry for the week-later reply :)

  • adventurouskate

    Being so into a guy at a bar in Florence that I actually left my purse there without realizing it. Wasn't even drunk, just lovesick…and had a flight to London the next day at 8. The bar opened at 7. *FACEPALM*

    • Anonymous

      Aww, Kate, please tell me this story has a happy ending tho and you still
      talk to his hunk in Florence?!

  • Erik

    Oh yes, I've hit my head more times than I can count too.

    I would add to the list drinking too many cups of coffee / soda / beer before boarding a long-distance bus, boat, hot air balloon, etc. without toilets.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for weighing in Erik – you are sooo right – can’t believe I forgot
      that one. I’ve had tears in my eyes on some epic bus rides as I regretted
      downing that litre of water!

  • Earl

    One of my “oh crap” moments involves not checking out the menu before paying for an incredibly expensive New Year's eve meal at a restaurant in Prague. I loved the look of this small restaurant, with its fireplaces, unique furniture and cozy atmosphere and so I pre-paid for their NYE set meal when I saw it advertised. When I arrived with my friend two nights later for the the meal, I discovered that every course was some form of pork (that was their specialty), which I don't eat at all. Well, I did that night as there weren't any alternatives! But it was not a fun eating experience…

    • Anonymous

      Yikes Earl, that really sucks…especially since you were probably pretty
      psyched about such a neat place to spend the New Year. I have definitely had
      some hungry meals too that I had to pay for anyway because they snuck in
      beef or something like that :( Hopefully you made up for it the following
      year?!

  • http://twitter.com/legalnomads Jodi Ettenberg

    I never have problems with your #3, but can certainly relate to the rest! One lingering “oh crap” moment: taking the metro out out of Kuala Lumpur to my bus station (called Putra PWTC), only to find out that Putra actually means terminus in Bahasa Malaysia and I had taken the metro to the end of the line. The bus station? Back in the middle of KL. Had to grab a cab back to Putra PWTC (aka PWTC Station), which was within walking distance from my hotel. Sigh.

    • Anonymous

      That is def a ::sigh:: moment – I’ve taken the metro in the wrong direction
      before and then had no choice but to hunker down for another hour in the
      other direction. :( I thought for sure though you were going to weigh in
      with your literal “oh crap” moments with all of the bird crapping you’ve
      experienced! ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/Brendanvanson Brendan van Son

    Hahaha… I have definitely been a victim of #3 and #5

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Brendan..glad to see I’m not the only one sometimes baffled by new
      currency and conversion rates!

  • http://www.travelfunnytravellight.blogspot.com Claire

    Mine involves a pesky stalker in India. We were walking down the street in Calcutta and he just wouldn't leave us alone, despite our repeated efforts at yelling at him in Bengali. We finally ducked into a local shop to evade him and report him. The shopowner took matters into his own hands and went out to the street and beat him to a pulp. OH CRAP. He we annoying, but that was not our intent! We just wanted him to stop following us!

    • Anonymous

      Oh yikes Claire! I mean, he totally shouldn’t have been stalking you and
      freaking you out…but I would have had an “Oh crap” reaction too – though I
      hear that is a fairly accepted and normal form of punishment in India for
      those deviating from norms (they beat the cab driver who causes a car
      accident too). Glad you made it out safely though :)

  • http://twitter.com/OverYonderlust Erica Kuschel

    I had several “Oh Crap” traffic direction moments while driving a moke in Barbados.

    • Anonymous

      What were you doing driving is my question?! :-) I rented a car in Ireland
      and twice found my self on the wrong side of the median on a road :(

  • http://www.gourmantic.com Gourmantic

    The Look Right signs were done for the Sydney 2000 Olympics when the world converged to our shores.Not a bad idea for those unaccustomed to the 'other side of the road'!

    • Anonymous

      That makes a lot of sense – I wondered what prompted the painted road ways
      (and figured it was a squashed tourist so glad that it wasn’t that!) -
      it definitely helped me enormously when I was there :)

  • SoloFriendly

    Oh yeah, I know that tap water thing from hard-earned experience. My most common “Oh crap” moment usually involves getting lost. I have a terrible sense of direction.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, getting lost, especially when you have your luggage too can be so
      frustrating…our senses of direction are similarly poor :-/

  • Jules

    My latest OH, Crap moment came on my trip to Norway 2 weeks ago. You can read about it at http://julesfredrick.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/yikes-i-hope-they-serve-beer-in-norwegian-prisons/

    • Anonymous

      Thank goodness Willy and the Boys were allowed on the plane! :)

  • razzledazzle

    After traveling on a red-eye and during a layover in Las Vegas I tiredly walked into the bathroom stall and closed the door behind me when it hit me…I didn’t see any urinals in this bathroom. Afraid to look out through the stall cracks I quickly exited the bathroom. Funny, but not one woman noticed the man as he walked out of the woman’s bathroom!

    • Anonymous

      Oh no! I would be horrified…but because there’s a whole lot more going on
      out in the open in the men’s room. :) Hilarious that no one noticed you make
      your exit…bet you thoroughly check the signs now!

  • Lainy Miller

    My best ‘Oh crap’ travel moment ……. Sitting on the coach, half asleep at stupid o clock in the morning on my way to the airport, to fly off to Egypt with my favourite travel buddy in tow, who I’ve known forever and trust her completely after everything weve been through travelling together! She suddenly sits upright with a strange look on her face and says check your passport!….I reply Ive got it dont worry, I saw it in my bag at the last rest stop….to which she replies just check it ive got a funny feeling. So I open my bag, pull out my passport and flick through the pages only to find on the last page……. a photo of my boyfriend, Mike!!!!!! Oh Crap….wrong passport hehe ooops another blonde moment for the books : )

    • Anonymous

      Whoa! That’s a huge “oh crap!” I take it that you were able to switch the
      passports and make it one time?! I am so paranoid when I leave
      internationally about quadruple checking my passport – now you gave me a
      whole new type of passport fear to worry about! :-)

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