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My Worst Travel Moments

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The mind is an odd place – it enhances the positive and glosses over all those things that made you cry. At least that’s how mine works.

Travel is usually a superb experience, a series of discoveries that take me into someone else’s world for days, hours or sometimes a single moment. For years afterwards I’ll remember that South China Sea sunset, the white sands of the Bazaruto Islands, or the starry nights of Panama, drinking from a gourd on a distant mountaintop with the Ngobe-Buglé, the stars so visible they were almost at eye level.

Sunset over the South China Sea

These are the kinds of visions that stay forever, the hassles and problems tend to fade with time, at least for me

That is the joy of travel, and most times, at the end of a trip, these are the things I remember.

But – and there is always a but – things don’t always go according to plan.

Like that time I was lost in a Mozambique minefield right after the civil war, driving around in circles with a park ranger who lost his way and was even more terrified than I was. During that long half-hour, one of the longest in my life, I wondered about being blown to bits and scattered across this patch of southern Africa. Eventually we found a de-mined road but it took several hours for my heartbeat to return to normal. The only emotion I could feel for days afterwards was gratitude.

And that time I almost drowned off Zanzibar. I was in the water with friends and we decided to swim to a nearby rowboat. Now in deep water, I panic and sink. We reached the rowboat – I was so proud – and when we turned around the tide had rolled in and the boat was no longer ‘just off the shore’. As the others swam back I clung on, desperate. I finally pushed off and began to drown. Somewhere I remember saying over and “If you panic, you die. If you panic, you die.” I flipped onto my back and somehow floated myself back to shore. Water still isn’t my friend but we’ve achieved a certain peace. We get along, without being in love.

Another awful moment was when loneliness struck. I had been backpacking solo in rural Kenya and was staying in a decrepit hotel whose other guests were all African men. The turquoise paint on the walls was peeling, it was unsafe to go outside on my own… and I started to cry, deep tears that I’d been saving up for half a year. I had left home to put some distance between myself, a bad relationship and a ho-hum routine and had crammed all those feelings deep inside. That night they resurfaced and everything I had held in for six months tumbled out. Next morning I was smiling, feeling light and alive.

Travel isn’t always fun. It’s not always relaxed and joyful. It can be tedious, and you can get ill or lonely. Yet every trip, every encounter teaches me something. For each unpleasant or dangerous experience, I have a dozen beautiful moments to relive in my head.

So I don’t think much about the bad. Not unless someone asks.

This post is Day 8 of the #Indie30 challenge – 30 Days of Indie Travel, by Bootsnall. 


  1. Sheila Archer on April 8, 2014 at 10:43 pm


  2. James on April 12, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Travel definitely puts us in some hairy moments sometimes, but it beats suburban life. Rather live with feeling than be numb in suburbia!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on April 12, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      I’m betting suburban life can be pretty hairy sometimes too!

  3. Sue on May 6, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    Wonderful stories! I can relate… especially to the crying jag of loneliness. But the experiences make it all worthwhile. Thanks for what you do for us all!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on May 7, 2014 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Sue – when I think of the ups and downs of my travels, especially my solo travels, let’s see… downs: 1%, ups 99%!

  4. Caroline Achieng Otieno on May 13, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I can relate, I lost my passport in Malaysia..turns out I left it in the bus from Singapore..though I quickly had contact with the bus office and managed to locate the bus driver, it was one of the most scary moments of my life..harrowing actually, it darkened my trip for a bit.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on May 13, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Ugh, these things happen to all of us… The Canadian Embassy told me Canada had a policy of not ‘allowing’ you to lose more than two passports – as though I had lost it on purpose… and that if I ‘lost’ a second one they wouldn’t replace it. Whaaaa? A life with no passport?? Can’t quite figure how that would have worked!

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