When you travel the world, anything can happen.
Sometimes you’ll have incredible moments, like when I was surrounded by wild sea turtles while swimming in Sri Lanka, when we spotted wild koalas while hiking on Magnetic Island, Australia or when we watched the sunrise over the salt flats in Bolivia while soaking in a geothermal pool.
However, sometimes you have those awful moments where everything goes wrong, or when you do something so dumb and embarrassing that you want to just curl up and disappear. These awkward moments happen to everyone and although they might be horrible in the moment, I find that as time passes you can always look back on them and laugh.
So, I thought I’d share some examples of when we have made fools of ourselves while traveling the world. Here are 8 stories of our epic fails, including the time Lee said something very inappropriate in Spanish, the time we got lost in the jungle in Malaysia, the time I nearly puked on a temple in India and the time I accidentally dyed my hair green in Vienna.
Please, feel free to laugh at our misfortune – this post is very high in schadenfreude.
Lee Goes Shopping in Spanish
When we travelled in South America we realised that we needed to learn a bit of Spanish in order to get around. However, learning another language inevitably leads to moments where the wrong word is used – resulting in hilarity.
Lee went shopping in a supermarket in Argentina, looking for ingredients to cook dinner for us at the hostel that night. He couldn’t find the onions, so he asked one of the employees, “Donde están los caballos?”
The supermarket employee gave him a bewildered look of confusion. “No tenemos caballos!” He laughed.
“They don’t have onions?” Lee thought. That seemed a bit strange to him, as he had never had trouble finding onions at any other supermarket around the world.
He looked around for a little longer and finally he found the onions. Next to them was a sign that said, “Cebollas” which, of course, means onion in Spanish.
So what the hell did caballo mean?
Yes, Lee was asking for horse in the supermarket.
While there are countries that do eat horse meat out there, it really wasn’t what Lee was looking for. Now it makes perfect sense why the supermarket employee was so confused and bewildered by his request.
Flashing My Ass at an Elephant “Sanctuary”
Looking back on it now, the real embarrassing thing is that we when we were young and in Thailand for the first time, we participated in elephant tourism.
At the time we didn’t really know any better. We didn’t realise how poor the conditions were and how the elephants were mistreated, we just thought it would be pretty cool to ride an elephant. Since then we have learned a lot about the treatment of elephants in Thailand and now I would never want to visit a place like this.
But either way, the big goof in this story comes from the fact that I was wearing one of those bikini bottoms that tie up on the side. Our day tour group had just been swimming in a waterfall, then had squished our wet selves into the van to go see the elephants.
When we got there I jumped out, but the string of my bikini got caught on the door of the van. I took one step forward and the bikini tie unraveled.
My bottoms were still hanging from the van door and my bare ass was exposed to the humid air – pale white in contrast to my suntanned skin.
Frantically, I grabbed my swimsuit bottoms and ran around the back of the van. I quickly put them on again, double knotting this time. However, Lee saw the entire thing and could not stop giggling at me.
Almost Puking on a Temple in Agra, India
“Could you pull over please? Now?” I pleaded to the driver as we weaved through the busy streets of Agra, India. I leaped out the door and ran to the side of the street, my stomach churning and an acidic taste burning my throat.
I steadied myself on a railing, only to notice the driver gesturing wildly to me. I looked up and saw an ornately decorated temple right in front of me. I ran a few meters down the street away from it before doubling over and retching yellow bile into the ditch.
It’s simply good travel etiquette to try not to puke near places of worship.
We had been on a tour of the Taj Mahal, an exquisite marble masterpiece that is one of the most breathtaking works of art that I have ever seen. However, when we stopped for lunch I should have avoided the creamy, milky lassi that had a slightly sour tinge.
We were drinking chai tea in a cafe in Agra when it hit me – a pain like I was being stabbed in the gut. I curled my knees up to my chest in agony, something was wrong.
After narrowly missing the temple on the way to the train station, it became clear that I was going to be violently atoning for that lassi every 10-15 minutes for the rest of the evening. I realised that I was a long way from my bed in the hotel in Delhi – a three-hour train ride that felt like an eternity.
I felt like everyone was staring at me as I stood there, wavering unsteadily on my feet, drenched in sweat and looking as pale as a ghost. I’m not sure which was worse – vomiting into a rubbish bin on the train platform while an Indian family looked on in amusement or being sick into a squat toilet while trying to balance on a moving train.
When I finally staggered through the garbage strewn streets of Delhi to my hotel, I collapsed in exhaustion and stayed within close range of a bathroom for several days afterward. Getting Delhi belly is a rite of passage when visiting India, but just try not to puke on any temples.
Dying My Hair Green in Vienna
I’ve dyed my hair so much over the years that I barely remember what my natural colour looks like. It’s kind of a mousy brown, which doesn’t really suit my personality – I love being bright blonde, deep chocolatey brown or fire-engine red instead. I always dye my hair myself rather than going to a salon, because the at-home dying kits are so much cheaper.
99% of the time I get it right and my hair looks just fine. However, every now and then I mess it up.
One day in Vienna during our trip around Eastern Europe I realised that my roots were showing and I needed to touch up my hair colour. I bought a dye kit from the local pharmacy, but all of the words on the packaging were in German so I had to guess at the right colour. The shade of blonde looked right, but as soon as I washed and dried my hair I knew I had made a terrible mistake.
My hair was green.
I must have used an “ash blonde” rather than a “golden blonde” and the resulting chemical reaction gave my hair a greenish tinge that made it look like my head was growing mould. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t noticeable, but I was lying to myself. As soon as Lee saw me, he started laughing at my ridiculous green hair.
It was definitely not the look I was going for.
Fortunately, I was able to fix it by going to the pharmacy and finding a staff member who could translate the text on the backs of the hair dye boxes for me. I found a golden blond dye and layered it on top to get my hair back to a semi-normal shade. I’ve never made that mistake again!
That Time I Had a Night Terror on a Crowded Bus in Peru
Ever since I was a teenager, I have occasionally had scary dreams from which I wake up screaming. I will be having a terrifying nightmare, like being pinned to the ground and sliced up by enormous robotic spiders with glowing red eyes, and I will try to scream in the dream.
The sheer terror and the drive to call for help will somehow wake up my body and I will suddenly find myself safe and warm in my bed with my heart pounding and my throat raw from shrieking.
The first time it happened with Lee he was a little freaked out, but now he knows just to reassure me that I am safe and I will quickly fall back asleep. It doesn’t happen very often anymore as I have learned to manage my stress levels better. However, one of the last times it happened was in one of the worst possible situations – on a crowded overnight bus in Peru.
I was drifting in and out of sleep (you can never really get into a deep sleep while curled up awkwardly on a bus). I found myself in one of those strange dreams where everything is the same as it is in real life – except everything feels a little bit eerie and off.
As far as I knew at this point, I was awake – feeling the rocking motion of the bus and watching the lights of the passing cars in the opposite direction make patterns of light through the windows. Then, I saw a large hooded figure moving down the centre aisle of the bus towards me. Stumbling with the motion of the moving vehicle and gripping the backs of the seats with one hand, it took one step after another towards me. It seemed to be searching each of the seats, peering at the sleeping passengers as if looking for someone.
As it got closer, my eyes struggled to make out the figure in the dim light. The closer it got, the more my body became awash with a sharp sense of foreboding.
It got closer to me and stood still, directly facing me.
I tried to see the face of the figure, but the hood it was wearing was so dark my eyes had no light to process. Until, we passed another car and the headlights illuminated the figure’s face for a split second.
Yet there was no face.
Just a yawning-mouthed skeleton, crumbling with decay.
I opened my mouth to scream, but no sound came out in the dream. My chest felt like it was being pressed under a pile of bricks.
I tried to scream again and then felt myself waking up with a whooshing sensation, like the feeling of falling backwards. I was curled up in my bus seat, my heart racing and sweat trickling down my back.
Lee was staring at me with a look of horror.
I glanced around and saw dozens of startled sleepy-eyed passengers looking around the bus, trying to figure out why someone had just screamed bloody murder at 3am.
I whisper-shouted apologies to everyone I had woken up. “I’m so sorry, I just had a scary dream, I’m okay, so sorry…” I was so mortified that I wanted to curl up in a little ball and never look anyone on that bus in the eye again.
“Yo Soy Caliente!”
Here’s another story that involves failing at speaking Spanish. After all, there are always bound to be some funny moments when you are learning a language and you use the wrong word or phrase. This one took place in a hostel in Quito, Ecuador, where we met a couple of friendly Colombians.
Lee was sitting in the common room of the hostel, chatting to the lovely Colombian girl. She spoke very little English, so he was practicing his basic Spanish. She had been telling him that she wasn’t feeling very well and had a fever and that the room felt very cold to her. Did it feel cold to him?
Lee wanted to reply and say no, he was feeling warm.
He knew that “caliente” meant hot (in terms of food or weather), so he figured the thing to say would be, “Yo soy caliente.”
The Colombian girl’s eyes widened. She giggled and glanced to her male friend nervously. As soon as her friend (whose English was a lot better), understood what had happened, he dissolved in laughter.
What Lee should have said was “tengo calor.” The direct translation of this is “I have heat” but it is the correct way to say “I am hot” or “I am warm” in Spanish. “Yo soy caliente” or “I am hot” has a distinctly sexual connotation.
So, from the perspective of the Colombian girl the conversation went:
Her: I’m not feeling so well. Is it cold in here or is it just me?
Lee: Well… I’m horny!
No wonder she looked so shocked!
A Shitty Time in Koh Lanta
Here’s a helpful travel tip: if you are on Koh Lanta in low season, don’t order the fish curry at the quiet, empty local restaurant. Then, don’t wash it down with a glass of lemongrass tea, which has a known laxative effect.
Koh Lanta is a gorgeous island paradise, but that evening it became my own personal hell. (Fortunately, Lee was safe because he doesn’t like fish so he ate something else.)
After our lovely meal, we decided to take a stroll along the quiet dirt road along the beach. It was the middle of wet season so Koh Lanta was almost deserted – there were times when we felt like the only visitors on the island.
We could hear the whooshing of the waves on the beach, feel the humid tropical air on our skin and see the stars twinkling above. We were strolling slowly along, talking about life and philosophy and travel and our future dreams. It would have been a perfect moment, until a sharp pain started twisting in my gut.
“I don’t feel good.” I mumbled. “Let’s head back.”
Our leisurely beachside stroll turned into an urgent march. I felt like someone was stirring my intestines with a hot poker. I started to sweat and swallow convulsively.
“Are you okay?” asked Lee.
“No.” I gasped.
Although the walk away from our beach bungalow had seemed easy and short, heading back was the longest journey of my life.
Clenching with all my might, I strained to hold in the thunderstorm that was growing in my belly.
There finally came a point where I could see the bungalow in the distance. I knew I had mere moments left, so I decided to make a run for it. It was a slow and careful run, my insides were a bubbling cauldron threatening to spill at any moment.
I made it to the bungalow and frantically tried to open the door. The time it took to fumble with the key was a few seconds too long. Thunder struck, the clouds open and the storm began. I stood there, powerless to stop it, as my pants became warm and wet in an instant.
When Lee arrived back to the Bungalow a few minutes later I was in the shower, hosing myself down.
He said, “Did you make it?”
“Almost,” I sighed.
Getting Lost in the Jungle in Borneo
This story is not only embarrassing because of our dumb mistake, it also could have been quite dangerous if we hadn’t eventually figured out how to find our way.
We were staying in a simple wooden hut in Lambir Hills National Park in Malaysian Borneo and we had set out that morning to do one of the hiking trails in the park.
We pushed our way through thorny underbrush, sweat pouring down my back in the sweltering heat. I stopped a branch from thwacking me in the face as I followed Lee through the brush. This really didn’t seem like a walking trail.
We couldn’t understand it. The trail to the waterfall was supposed to be clearly marked by red trail markers, but the red ribbons seemed to be on every other tree and in no discernable path. After a few minutes of traipsing through the thick jungle we came around a corner and sighed in frustration. It was the same scene we had passed minutes before.
We were lost in the jungle in Borneo and we were going in circles.
I was starting to get worried, as we were getting low on water and we didn’t have any food with us. Would Lee and I survive overnight in the wilderness?
We had a simple map which had one landmark on it – a communications tower. When we finally found that tower, we were able to triangulate our position and figure out which direction to walk in to get back to the camp. Lee had no phone signal, but he was able to use his location marker on Google earth as a compass to make sure we were heading in the right direction.
After three hours of whacking our way through the bush we finally emerged at the camp again, hungry, thirsty and covered in sweat and mud.
We still couldn’t understand why the trail markers had been so confusing. It wasn’t until after lunch when we set out again that we realized our mistake. In fact, the walk to the waterfall is on a well laid out path which is quite easy to follow, designated by spray-painted marks on trees. So where in the world did Lee and I wander off to?
Well, Lambir Hills National Park is also an ecological research site and there were numerous sample collecting sites deep in the jungle. We started following the ribbons that the ecologists were using to designate specific trees for environmental testing, thinking they were marking the walking trail. Note to visitors, don’t make the same mistake we did!
Have you ever made a fool of yourself while traveling?
Now that we’ve shared our embarrassing stories, it’s your turn! Tell us your travel fails in the comments below!