I think it would be impossible to visit every country in the world without experiencing problems. That said, I also think I expected to experience a lot fewer problems than I did in my travels before I decided to travel the world. I could easily write about 50 very unpleasant experiences in my travels, but for the top 10 list series, I have limited it to just the ten, however here are some honourable mentions.
Ambulance in Dubai. Breathing problems in a bus at night in America. Denied entry to Ethiopia. My taxi driver was jailed in South Sudan. The world’s most remote inhabited island was a disaster. Lomé to Niamey, a 30-hour extremely uncomfortable bus ride. Cancelled trip to Tokelau. Taxi nightmare in Azerbaijan. Locked inside a toilet in Newcastle. Credit card stress in Hawaii. Jamaican nightmare. St. Vincent nightmare. A stressful situation in Djibouti. Scammed in Beijing. Bitten by a centipede in a private home in Fiji. Horrible airport experience in Tel Aviv. Scary midnight hitchhiking trip with vodka-drinking Indian. Emergency in Bali. Someone stole my wallet in the street in Xi’an, China. Scary experiences in the Central African Republic.
Ambulance in Tallinn
The most recent horrible experience happened in Tallinn in 2021. I suddenly felt a horribly high level of pain and decided to call 112 (the equivalent of 911) for the first time in my life. A hard journey to the hospital followed, and after getting a lot of medicine, a scanning followed. It showed the problem was because of a kidney stone issue. The high level of pain lasted for less than a few hours, but it was one of the worst moments in my travels. However, I am in doubt if it should include it on a list of worst travel moments as I now live in Estonia, but in a way, it still feels like travelling.
Health issues in Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport
In 2018 I met up with a Malaysian friend at one of Kuala Lumpur’s international airport terminals between flights. The meeting started well, but I felt a little weak, but suddenly my body started to get weaker and weaker. I needed help fast. My friend got a wheelchair and quickly took me to an airport doctor, who gave me an infection. I had breathing problems, probably a lot of anxiety and was very weak.
I don’t know what caused it. Probably a soup I had in Thailand before flying to Malaysia. It was definitely one of the most challenging moments of my life. After the injection, I went to an airport hotel, got some sleep and was a lot less weak after waking up. This situation also cost me a lot of money as I missed a cheap Air Asia flight to Tokyo. Instead, I bought an expensive Malaysia Airlines ticket to Tokyo so that I wouldn’t miss my 25-hour ferry to Ogasawara, a Japanese territory in the Pacific.
Stress in North Korea – How I Avoided Prison
I travelled to North Korea with a man who has a project to leave his friend’s ashes in every country in the world. His friend was one of the world’s most travelled but had not managed to visit every country in the world. As North Korea is the only country where you don’t have independent travel freedom, he asked the guides for permission to leave his friend’s ashes in the country. They refused, so he had to decide if he would give up his project or do it anyway. He decided to do it anyway and did a selfie video of himself spreading the ashes of his friend at the North Korean side of the DMZ. On the way back to the capital, the guides would like to check his camera, but he wasn’t keen on that.
After arriving at Pyongyang International Airport, a group of North Koreans kindly requested him to show his electronic equipment. They checked it thoroughly before finally finding his selfie video from the DMZ on his computer. They then got furious at him and was told he had polluted their country. It was a scary situation, and I didn’t know what would happen. Would we be allowed to fly back to China, or would we be detained? What if they only wanted to keep him and no me?
It was just him and me travelling together, and it was some long minutes before they decided he should write an apology letter. Boarding was about to close, and they probably had to make a hard decision whether to keep him or allow him to leave the country. Fortunately, it worked out in the end, after the apology letter, but horrific things can happen if you don’t follow the rules in North Korea, so I think we were very fortunate.
In Samoa, I hitchhiked several times, but after a ride, I was in a small village and without water. It was on a very hot, sunny day. I suddenly got more and more dehydrated and weak. It was scary, I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed to God that a car would come to pick me up. It didn’t take more than a few minutes after that before a car went through the village, and fortunately, it stopped for me. It was a priest and his wife, and they took me straight to a shop to get some water.
Someone stole my passport in the Gambia
Due to extremely bad infrastructure from Dakar to the Gambia, I arrived after dark at the ferry station in Barra to take the ferry into Banjul. As I lined up, someone took my passport in my front pocket. I’m sure they were hoping for a wallet, but losing my passport was a lot worse than losing a wallet. It had my important stamps and visas I had worked hard to get. I was devastated. I screamed and cried in front of hundreds of people. Around 10 minutes later a policeman came to see me with my passport. It was perhaps the single best moment of my travels. I was very relieved to get it back.
My terrible experience in Pointe-Noire, the Republic of the Congo
Following a trouble-free visit to Brazzaville, I took a domestic Trans Air Congo flight to Pointe-Noire, the second biggest city in the country with around half of Brazzaville’s population. It is also a beach destination, and probably the closest Congo gets to a tourist destination.
Trans Air Congo had arranged for me to stay for two nights at Hotel Palm Beach, a comfortable 4-star hotel of international standards and one of the best in the city. I rarely take a taxi when I travel, but they are quite cheap in most parts of Africa. A taxi from the airport to the hotel cost me only 1,000 CFA (close to 2 dollars), and I was pleased with the quality of the hotel. Contemporary design, free internet that wasn’t slow and fine, affordable food.
The city itself does not have much to offer except the beautiful beach located right outside the Palm Beach Hotel, and this is where the scary story begins. On my day of departure, I decided to take some photos of the beach, but suddenly a man was yelling at me from a distance running towards me. Having travelled a lot in Africa, I was sure what this meant. Paying a fine for doing nothing wrong, and if I refuse, I might end up in prison like British adventurer Graham Hughes did in this country. I ran back to the hotel, went up to my hotel room and changed my shirt. I asked the hotel to get me a taxi to the airport to come right to the lobby entrance to avoid getting in trouble with the man from the beach.
I arrived at the airport, and some guys grabbed my passport and wanted to check in for me. I refused when I found out these guys were not airport staff to check my ticket, but there to make money out of people. At first, they refused to give me my passport back, and then I got upset and then got it. Following a successful check-in, a police officer took my passport and began to fill out my departure form and refused to accept my multiple “no thank you.” He, of course, wanted money and got upset when I refused to give it to him. I did not need his help, and it was again an awful impression of the city of Pointe-Noire.
Followed another bad experience, I arrived at security in this international airport where a man scared me. Some of the worst I have experienced in my travels. The guy did not speak English but wanted to check my entire bag and my pockets, including the wallet. He said it is not allowed to bring CFA out of Congo, despite its primary currency in West and Central Africa. I refused to let him see the wallet, and he got very upset and said something in French that felt very threatening. I must admit I got quite afraid and worried if he would call some of his “friends” at the airport to get as much money out of me as possible.
While waiting for permission to proceed to the gate, I moved my wallet to the inside of my jeans. That could probably increase the possibility of not having to give them money. Eventually, another guy came and also aggressively wanted money, but I was eventually allowed to go to the gate and leave this horrible airport. Despite a trouble-free visit to Brazzaville, thanks to Mikhael’s Hotel, I would consider Congo one of my least favourite countries based on the horrifying experience in Pointe-Noire.
Locked in a Taxi in Beijing
China is definitely not one of my favourite countries, and I have had some quite unpleasant experiences in the country. The worst was at one of the international airports of Beijing when I was around 20 years old. A taxi driver tried to explain he wanted what the taximeter showed in dollars, but that was, of course, an attempt to scam me. I paid in the Chinese currency, and he decided to lock me in the taxi. I screamed, but he didn’t unlock it at first, only after I kept refusing to pay the amount in dollars and kept screaming.
Chased and robbed in Brussels
I went to Brussels for the first time in 2016, and just as I had arrived in Brussels, a guy started following me. I was scared. I couldn’t lose him. Finally, I saw a hotel. I went inside and sat down, hoping he would stop chasing me. After approximately 15 minutes, I started to walk the streets again, and I thought I had lost him, but he came running from behind, stole one of my bags and ran away. It was a horrible experience for an inexperienced traveller like me. I went to the airport and flew home.
Food poisoning in the Andaman Islands
In 2014 I had some of the worst days of my life after getting food poisoning in the Andaman Islands at a resort, or rather a B&B called, Ixzire Resort. A fish curry gave me terrible problems. Some days later on the flight back to the mainland, I got breathing problems in the plane, but there was on doctor on board to help. I got oxygen, but I was so weak that I continued to lay down, even during the landing.
A big thanks to The Leela Palace and ITC Grand Chola in Chennai for taking great care of me. The hospital in Chennai was, however, an unpleasant experience. I cancelled the rest of my trip within India and went back to Europe. A few months later, I got breathing problems several times in America. I’m sure it was because of that same fish curry in the Andaman Islands. Since that horrifying experience, I am a lot more careful about what I eat and where.
Robbed in Liverpool
The worst time I got robbed was in Liverpool when I was 17. I was waiting for a train to Manchester in the evening when a young man grabbed a PSP (small video game device) out of my hands and ran off together with another man. I got close to them and offered them money, but they increased their pace.
I was in shock and too afraid to keep following them. Instead, I went to a local police station with the help of a friendly local. I filled a police report, and the friendliness of the local officer meant a lot for me as I think back. I said to him that I was stupid because I used the PSP at the train station, but he said clearly to me “You’re not stupid”. It made an impression on me as a young traveller that was very inexperienced with travelling and interacting with people outside Denmark.