Lonely Planet’s travel nightmares

Even the most careful travellers occasionally find themselves getting lost, failing hard at local etiquette, or otherwise blundering and puking around a new destination. And while we’re seasoned explorers, Lonely Planet’s writers and staff have experienced their fair share of travel disasters.

Multicoloured painted Mexican skulls. Image by David Pedre / E+ / Getty Images.

But there are some anecdotes we only dare to share in hushed whispers, to wincing, open-mouthed (or nauseated) listeners. The run-up to Halloween seems like a fittingly morbid season to share them further. From pyrotechnic failures to illness on the road, all the way through to guns waving and wildlife encounters gone horribly wrong, these are a few of our travel horror stories.

Brothel-bound in Malawi

Lusaka, Zambia. We’re headed east to Lilongwe, Malawi, by local bus. We’ve bought reserved seats on an express bus… that never arrives. So along with two other busloads of resigned people, mostly locals, four hours later we’re herded aboard a bus making any stops and detours it is the driver’s wallet-guided whim to make.

Somehow, my girlfriend and I wedge into side-by-side seats within reach of our bags, which have lurched aboard on the backs of touts who demand exorbitant service premiums. Most of the remaining freight gets piled on top of the bus to heights so excessive that roadside villagers point in shock. Uncustomarily for Southern Africa, the driver even slows on turns and we watch the bus’ metal superstructure shift and strain under the unwieldy weight.

Well after dark, 12 hours into a nine-hour journey from which we have had only one short bathroom break, the bus limps into Chipata, a town several kilometres short of the border. But we’re not disgorged at the station; we’re at a depot deep within a shuttered and unlit market. Not at all comfortable, we follow the sound of music. To a brothel, of course. The owner sees me as an opportunity and my girlfriend as a business buzz kill, but he takes pity on us. We secure a room until dawn if we promise to stay inside it. This suits us just fine.

Ethan Gelber is a writer/editor with a passion for responsible, sustainable and local travel. Follow along @thetravelword

Bikini leech

I was wobbly and parched from 10 hours of trekking through the land-before-time jungle of southern Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park. After a thorough leech check (at our guide’s behest), I melted into a bamboo lounger at my guesthouse. A meal, sunset and several icy Singhas later, as I peeled myself from the chair, I felt the slightest sensation on my upper thigh. I glanced down to find a leech, engorged with (my!) blood to the size of a fingerling potato, between my feet. Realizing that it had fallen drunkenly from my shorts, I found the energy to sprint to the toilet, where a small hole drilled into my bikini line proceeded to bleed for three days. Straight.

Emily K Wolman, associate publisher in Lonely Planet’s California office

The slithery form that sends a shiver …read more


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