If there’s something I always invest on when I travel, that’s a good travel insurance policy. In fact, I travel so much nowadays that I eventually decided to get a 365 days policy, so that I don’t have to worry every time I step out of town – not to mention, the savings are considerable. It comes down to little over $1.50 per day, and I believe that it is a good investment.
That’s why I cringe every time I hear someone saying he travels without travel insurance. It’s especially a backpackers’ habit, and there are various reasons backpackers refuse to buy travel insurance. The most typical one is that it is too costly and they are trying to travel on an extreme budget (I guess I am an unsuccessful backpacker, then!).
Yet, most people decide not to purchase travel insurance because the odds of something happening that requires that kind of assistance are extremely low.
But are they, really?
I could go mention a million nightmare stories I have heard from other travelers that would convince anybody to get travel insurance. Instead, let me tell you a few reasons why I always get travel insurance. But first, let’s get the basics covered and let me clarify what travel insurance is.
Here’s why travel insurance is really necessary
What Is Travel Insurance And What Should It Include?
The term travel insurance can actually be confusing, as it may refer to a number of different things. There are many travel insurance companies around, and picking one isn’t always easy. Some are quite reliable.
Whichever company one may opt for, travel insurance policies should always be read and understood before being purchased, and a good way to go about it is via a travel agent, who typically sells that many that he can clarify almost all questions.
A good travel insurance typically includes health insurance, which means coverage for accidents and hospital or doctors’ visits while traveling. This means being able to go to the doctor if that food poisoning isn’t going away on its own.
Travel insurance should also include medical evacuation insurance, which means that if something happens during the trip and there’s no hospital nearby, the insurance will organize transportation to a major hospital.
Trip cancellation means that the travel insurance also covers for unexpected interruptions and changes to travel plans – ie when a natural disaster causes flights to be cancelled; or when a variety of reasons means we can’t go on that trip anymore.
Finally, a good travel insurance also has a baggage and property insurance which covers for thefts, loss or damage to luggage and gear while traveling. The most typical example of this is an airline not delivering luggage, or a phone being stolen while on the metro.
Now that we are clear on what travel insurance is and what it should cover, let me clarify the reasons I always get travel insurance.
Travel insurance may protect against natural disasters
Ten Reasons I Always Get Travel Insurance
Luggage actually gets lost…
… and although airlines say that they will deliver lost bags the next day, it takes more than that to get them back. That may be one of the most annoying things that can happen when going on holidays, but a good travel insurance provides coverage to replace the lost items.
I know the odds that an airline loses luggage aren’s so high, but trust me: it happens. Indeed, I don’t even know how many times Alitalia lost my bags or those of my family and friends. We almost take it for granted that our luggage will be misplaced – and the only thing we can do to protect ourselves is getting travel insurance.
Many of you may be wondering why I keep flying with the same company since I know that they regularly lose my stuff, and why I don’t pick another carrier. Guess what: that’s easier said than done. I live in Sardinia and my options are limited. If I want to go to get out of Europe, I usually have to fly via Rome Fiumicino and Alitalia is the only airline that takes me there.
The good news is that while there’s not many airlines that fly out of Cagliari, there’s excellent travel insurance policies I can pick from.
Adventurous travelers should always get travel insurance
Stuff gets stolen
But a good travel insurance will protect against that. As a travel blogger, I almost always carry my precious MacBook everywhere. While not all travelers take their laptops everywhere, most carry at least a smartphone, and many go around with expensive cameras or a tablet. Besides, we all have ATM and credit cards in our wallets.
While I always recommend my readers to keep valuables locked in the room while out exploring, I know that theft can happen and that’s why travel insurance is necessary. For example, sitting down at a café, most of us take the smartphone out of the pocket and place it on the table: someone may walk by and steal it, and it would be gone in a matter of seconds.
And what about the time I was working as a tour leader and took my group to Chichicastenango Market, in Guatemala? I remember warning everyone not to take any valuables inside the market, but sure enough someone did and within a few minutes someone told me that his wallet was taken right out of his pocket. Thankfully he had a good travel insurance that assisted him to replace his documents and stolen credit cards.
Travel insurance is recommended when traveling to Thailand
Sometimes I forget my prescription medications…
… and I will need a refill. I have asthma. It is nothing major: I keep it well under control swimming, but I am on regular medications too. I should be used to packing my prescriptions, then.
The sad truth, however, is that whenever I pack my bags for a trip (which generally happens a couple of hours before my flight) I forget something – it can be a pajama when I am meant to sleep in a dorm; and even my asthma prescriptions. That’s when my travel insurance comes in handy, as it will help me locate the nearest pharmacy and get a prescription.
I often lose things
Never mind losing a book, a head lamp, or a pair of socks while I am doing laundry. That happens and while it can be annoying (I want to know how a book ends!), it hardly disrupts any travel plans and no travel insurance company will ever cover it.
But losing a passport? That’s a wholly different thing.
And it can happen even to the most experienced travelers. For example, I forgot mine in a shop in Nicaragua moments before getting on a bus to Costa Rica. Luckily, I could trace it back and managed to retrieve it, but it would have been a nightmare had I not been able to do that.
A good travel insurance can also include passport loss coverage and that means helping in the process of getting a new one.
Clumsy travelers need travel insurance
Volcano erupts… (and flights get cancelled)
… and airlines duck out when it happens. Airlines don’t refund tickets when flights are cancelled due to things such as natural disasters, strikes or terrorism attacks, and I only know too well. Thankfully a good travel insurance helps sort things out.
During my first trip to Argentina, back in 2012, first a strike caused the cancellation of one of my flights: I was meant to go from Buenos Aires to Trelew, but the flight landed in Bahia Blanca, about half way, when the pilot came out to announce that due to a strike he couldn’t go forward and passengers would have the option of either returning to Buenos Aires or land there, and make their own way to the final destination. My travel insurance covered the costs of the shuttle that took me to Trelew.
On the same trip (what are the odds of more than one flight being cancelled on the same trip?), a volcano erupted in Chile causing flights cancellation. That meant I had to change my itinerary, and give up on some places (and flights) altogether – because I simply could not make it to the destination in time. My travel insurance refunded me for that too.
If a flight gets cancelled or delayed, it is actually possible to claim compensation for flight delay or cancellation. Various companies help travelers get their money back in case of a cancellation, and even in case of a delay, and it’s much much easier to go through them than dealing directly with the airline, having to spend hours on the phone or emailing back and forth to just obtain what is – quite simply – within your rights as a traveler.
With the risk of food poisoning, it’s better to get travel insurance when going to Mexico
I am clumsy
This means that at times I injure myself. I trip, fall, bang my head – stuff like that. A good travel insurance helps me locate the nearest hospital or doctor, so that I can get medicated.
Sure enough, this is what happened when I traveled to Jordan in March 2017. I was on a 5 days hike from Dana, a lovely historical village, to Petra, the famous archaeological site. But on day 3 of the hike, following my guide, I walked through some bushes and a hard, wooden branch got right into my leg, causing a deep, painful wound.
I was in the middle of nowhere and had no choice but to continue walking, but the first thing I did as soon as I was able to get phone reception was call my travel insurance, which immediately sorted out a doctor’s appointment at the nearest hospital and paid for all the expenses, including the antibiotics I had to take to prevent any infection.
Long term travel means I may get sick on the road
And sometimes seeing a doctor is actually necessary. A good travel insurance will sort out doctors’ appointments, pay for any test the doctor may want to run and also cover the prescriptions.
I mostly travel to developing countries. Travel insurance is a must when going to these places, because not all hospitals are good, and the hygienic conditions are not always ideal. I use all precautions: I try to only eat street food that’s cooked in front of me, for example. But at times this just isn’t enough.
I remember one time in Mexico when I was actually thankful the toilet was right next to the bathtub – you can figure out why. I was so sick, I could not even hold down water, and had to call my travel insurance who managed to find a doctor that could come visit me in my room.
Another time, in Peru, I had a bad sore throat – in fact, it had been lasting for over a month. I eventually decided to seek the advice of my travel insurance, who recommended I get all sorts of tests to see if I had some sort of bacteria and sent me to the international clinic, where the doctors ran all sorts of tests and determined I had a staph infection, for which I needed strong antibiotics.
Some tour companies require travel insurance
I generally prefer traveling independently (and solo), but I occasionally go on a guided tour, sometimes even for a week or so. Most tour operators, and especially adventure ones that take travelers on hikes and other fun activities, actually require people joining their tours to purchase travel insurance, which normally has to include trip cancellation and medical coverage.
And some countries too
But there’s more! Some countries actually deny entry to travelers who don’t show proof of having a travel insurance. One of them is Cuba, and other countries are thinking of implementing this policy too.
Why I Always Recommend Buying Travel Insurance
I can hardly stress the importance of buying travel insurance. It’s helped me, my family and friends a bunch of time. The thing is, life is really unpredictable and for as optimistic as we want to be, we really can’t predict the future.
I always hope that I don’t need to use my travel insurance, but in case I do, I am glad I have it. It is a safeguard against the unexpected, and as a responsible adult I know it is worth having it.
Make sure to also check out my post “Why You Need A Good Backpacker Travel Insurance.”You can buy your travel insurance here.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to rely on your travel insurance?
Pin it For Later
I admit it – I have yet to make the transition into the digital era when it comes to travel. I still carry around a heavy guidebook (I guess it goes back to me being an unsuccessful backpacker), more because I like reading the background information about the country I am visiting than for the actual need for finding hotels through that. Besides I like paper books, I like the whole flipping through pages thing, and I still refuse the idea of reading a book on a screen.
Yet, I have to admit that as of late I have had to rely on some travel apps, and on a few occasions they have literally saved my neck (ok, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea). This is to say that although I am not an app freak, there’s a few that I like using and find very useful.
So, here’s my ultimate travel apps list – in no particular order:
I say, keep it basic. I know most people will laugh at me for even just considering this a travel app, but I love maps because it gives detailed information on how to get from one place to another either by car, public transport or walking. It’s easy to follow, it screams at me if I am going in the wrong direction, and if I save the map I can use it offline too.
I sure was glad to have it when I arrived in Varanasi and the taxi dropped me outside the Old City. I don’t think I would have ever managed to navigate the intricate tiny alleys to get to my guest house without.
Google Maps saved me from getting lost in Varanasi
Trip.com is what happens when the community gives back and when a fantastic team of people is dedicated to help travelers to have a better experience. It’s a series of reviews, organized in short yet juicy guides, where to find the best in terms of attractions, hotels and restaurants. The guides are organized by tribes (there are a whopping 19 tribes), so that budget travelers, family travelers, backpackers, luxury travelers etc can all find what they are looking for. Trip.com can also be used to make reservations.
In search of the best food in Israel with Bite Mojo
This is one app that I hope will get exported to many cities. I have had the opportunity to use it in Jerusalem. Bite Mojo allows people to organize their own self guided food tours – they can select the places they want to visit from the list, they can even select what they want to eat in each place, and they can set their own pace. If food is part of the culture of a country, Bite Mojo certainly helps a lot in getting to know a destination.
Go Euro is the go-to Rail Planner app when traveling around Europe, as it allows to find the cheapest, fastest and best travel options either by bus, train or plane across the continent. What I like about it is that it allows me to compare the companies for any route I may be searching for, and then it gives me the best price. And there is a great customer service that is always ready to help if any issue arises. The app is both available on Google Play and on the App Store.
I read reviews before I book a hotel
This is the one app that I always recommend using with a grain of salt. Anybody can writes reviews on Trip Advisor so it can happen that some particularly bad ones are written to hit a business, or that some incredibly good ones are written by the owners or their relatives. Yet, as with everything, truth lays in the middle and Trip Advisor, with its millions of reviews and listings, which are always up to day, is a great place to find useful information about restaurants, hotels, attractions, and even to ask question to the community of travelers. It’s my go to for a last minute check on where to eat.
As a traveler, I spend a good share of time in airports in between flights. Some provide free wifi for an unlimited amount of time; but most put a time limit to wifi access, or demand fees that go from slightly expensive to ridiculous. That’s why I love WiFox, a super cool app created by the incredibly smart blogger Anil Polat. This is a regularly updated map of wireless passwords from airports and lounges from around the world, that Anil managed to put together thanks to the information provided by travelers and airport staff (pilots and so on).
Not exactly a travel app, but why should I not consider it such? Created with specific intentions in mind, Tinder developed to be an interesting platform. As it follows the movements of its members, that means that Tinder will know if I am in my hometown or in Tel Aviv, and this way it has the potential of putting me in touch with locals, wherever that may be. And there’s no better way than getting to know a place through the eyes of a local. Sure, a local may not necessarily be the best tour guide but he will surely know where to go to have a drink, and that is a great part of traveling!
Do you have a favorite app that you use while you travel? Let me know in the comments below!
Clouds on the horizon: the prelude to a stormy day?
“Stop wasting my time! Open the bus and let me check,” I yelled to the bus driver. I was so exasperated that I eventually raised my voice. People around us stopped and held their breath. I guess I scared them.
I am a hot tempered Italian. Worse than that. I am Sardinian, which also implies that I am stubborn and chances are I (almost) always want to have the last word.
Read more about the stubborn Sardinians on my post “Eleven things you should never do in Sardinia”.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t endorse arguing as a daily practice. And surely, I don’t burst at just about every little thing. In fact, I try to avoid direct confrontation as much as I can, and to be as understanding and polite as possible.
So, if people scream in my face, I generally make it a point to keep my cool and stay calm. I do this for two reasons. First of all, I don’t think that just because someone is screaming, it means they are right or they should get their way. And second, the sadistic part of me enjoys the dirty pleasure of seeing others getting increasingly frustrated as I keep my cool (I know it is passive aggressive but I take it as a sociological exercise).
My general policy is to be respectful and demand respect. I can’t stand discrimination of any kind and the minute I sense I am being treated disrespectfully either because I am a woman, or because I am a foreigner, I try to put people back in their place. And on some rare occasions, I do argue quite fiercely: frustration builds up to the point I eventually explode.
The following are just a few tips, based on the lessons I have learned from some of the most epic arguments I have had while traveling, and how I reacted each time. Feel free to draw from my experiences!
Do what you can to cool off before fighting
Try to keep your cool
“There’s a cockroach in my bed!” I ran to tell the owner of the hostel were I had just checked in, in Playa Las Lajas, Panama.
I had arrived in Playa Las Lajas after about 8 hours of traveling from Bocas del Toro. It was a fairly isolated place, with not much in terms of facilities for tourists. All the better for me, as after the crowded and dirty Bocas del Toro, I needed somewhere quiet.
I had not bothered making reservations for a hostel. I had just read online that there was one, and I showed up at the door. It was around 7:00 pm, and the owner let me in saying that I was lucky: she would lock the gate at 8:00 pm and after that, no new guests would be allowed in. Just in time, I thought!
Before showing me to my dorm, I was lectured on the hostel rules.
“This is an ecological place” they said, sipping a glass of wine. “Please turn the lights off when you leave the room, and make sure to take very short showers so as not to waste water,” they added.
The yard was dark. Really dark. I couldn’t see a thing dark. I switched the light on in the dorm, and picked my bed. I made my bed and carefully placed the mosquito net around it. I then walked to the toilet, and went to wash my hands before going to dinner. That’s when I spotted a huge crab right by the sink. Except, it was not a king crab but the biggest spider I have ever seen.
One hour later, when I walked back and got to the dorm, I spotted something moving on my mosquito net. A closer look and I realized it was a cockroach. And it wasn’t outside. It was inside! There was no way I could sleep there. I appreciate the need to respect the environment. But I can’t take dirty and I won’t accept cockroaches as roommates.
“Sorry to bother you, but there’s a cockroach in my bed,” I warned the owner who was still sipping wine.
“There’s no cockroaches here,” she said, not making a move.
Except there were, not just in my bed but around the entire property. And, despite years of backpacking experience in tropical climates, I still haven’t managed to overcome my sever cockroaches fobia. They. Just. Disgust. Me.
I don’t like sharing my bed with cockroaches – photo courtesy of jo.sau (flickr)
“Well, perhaps if you came to my dorm you could see…” I started.
“I told you, there are no cockroaches here!” she insisted.
There was no point in arguing back, I realized. So I went back to the dorm, grabbed my backpack and walked back to reception.
“Look, I didn’t even use the sheets or the towels. If you give me my money back, I am out of here,” I suggested.
She stood up, slowly walked to the office, and handed me the money back. Then she started insulting me in Italian. She had known all along I am Italian, and it turned out she was too (we had only spoken English and Spanish until then, and I picked an accent but was unsure).
“Careful, wherever you may go it may be worse than here” she started.
“As long as there’s no cockroaches,” I said.
“This is not a place for snotty Italians” she started.
I didn’t answer to that. I just made my way to the door. As I walked out, I could hear her screaming all sorts of swearings in my direction. My total lack of reaction must have aggravated her alright!
Always stay calm and show respect
Respectfully put people back in their place
“Pasen y vean,” (come in and take a look) is the typical welcoming sentence that souvenir shop owners in Central and South America use to invite tourists in. Usually, saying “no thanks” and moving on is sufficient to discourage an eager vendor. However, at times the vendors become “too welcoming.” So welcoming indeed that they feel intrusive, if not outright rude and aggressive.
“No, thank you!” I automatically yet politely replied to the shop owner inviting me in, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. As I turned to talk to my sister, he heard we were Italian and decided it was a good idea to insult us.
“You stupid Italian w@@@@s,” he screamed as we walked away.
I really dislike racial and sexual harassment, so I stopped, turned around and right there, in front of his friends and co-workers, I calmly said to him: “We may be stupid Italians, but at least at the end of the day we have food on our tables. With that attitude of yours, we’re not sure you’re going to be eating tomorrow.” Not a word more, and I left. He was so surprised by my reaction that he didn’t reply. I wonder if he’s figured out that rudeness is not a good marketing technique.
Walk away from situations you can’t endure
Know how much you can endure – and walk away when you’ve had it
“I am leaving tomorrow,” I finally told the owner, after having only worked at her farm for 3 days.
“You are going to have to pay for tonight’s accommodation, then,” she said. I guess she didn’t take it well.
Soon after arriving in Tucurrique, Costa Rica, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to survive at the farm for nearly as long as I had planned.
I had been “employed” as a volunteer at the farm to tend to rescued animals – dogs, cats, a horse and two pigs. That seemed a noble enough cause to dedicate my time and efforts and to volunteer for.
Find out what I think about voluntourism on my post “Is voluntourism really worth the time and money?”
However, soon after arriving at the farm I found out that tending to the animals would only be a minimal part of my duties, which included endless cleaning shifts for what was meant to become a profitable business. All of this, in a place that was severely infested with cockroaches (thankfully none in my room) which I wasn’t allowed to kill – due to the owner’s belief – and where I was pretty much starved due to the owner’s dietary fixations (which she wanted to impose on me).
Feeding the pigs? No problem!
Every night, I pondered on what to do. I loved the animals, but the fact that I was literally starving didn’t help and after yet another horrible night, I eventually announced that I would be leaving.
When I was told that I would have to pay for that night’s accommodation, I replied before I actually had time to consider the various options.
“Fine, I am leaving today then,” I said. I went back to my room to pack my stuff and go. The fact that it was the 1st of January and public transport may not be running as normal, if at all, didn’t worry me. I may hitch a ride if necessary.
Not long afterwards, she was banging on my door, screaming that she’d call the police.
“What for?” I asked. “Exactly what crime have I committed?” I didn’t barge. I closed the door behind me, finished packing, and left.
The minute I was out the door, a car drove by and I hitched a ride to the village. As I was waiting at the bus stop, I spotted the owner of the farm. She had been driving around, looking for me. She was begging me to go back. There was no way on earth I would.
Customer service – a lo cubano!
Accept that customer service is not a given in some countries
“I am going to call the police,” said the short, bulky travel agent in Spanish.
I was in Trinidad, Cuba. After 10 days of fiercely haggling my way around with taxi drivers, working hard on avoiding scams, dealing with dodgy guides who’d take me where they wanted rather than where I wanted, I’d had it.
Read more about Cuba on my post “Things to do in Cuba: the ultimate guide for a trip to Cuba.”
“Let’s book a tour with a travel agency,” I begged my sister, who was traveling with me. So we went to one of the State owned agencies, and browsed around for a tour that would suit us. After asking the agent about a million questions, we decided to visit Cayo Blanco. We’d travel on a catamaran that would take us to the coral reef, were we’d be given gear to snorkel, then head to Cayo Blanco to have lunch and relax before heading back to town.
It was an all inclusive tour, so we’d have drinks included (“Even mojitos?” I asked, hopeful. “Yes, even mojitos!” the agent confirmed), lunch included (“Beware I am severely alergic to bell peppers!” I told the agent), transport included. And, most importantly, not a single worry about being scammed, about any service, product, souvenir, guide, or whatever else forced on us. That sounded like a good deal to me.
Customer service?! What is that?
Too bad we didn’t get to do any of the things the brochure and the agent promised. We never saw the coral reef and never stopped to snorkel. Lunch was a sad business where I had to beg for some food as everything had bell peppers; and there surely were no mojitos included – though the rest of the people on the tour were not bothered and got drunk on cuba libres.
The minuted we got back to Trinidad, the westerner in me could not resist: I went to complain about the tour and to demand at least some form of compensation. A conversation started, in Spanish as the agent didn’t speak a word of English. Try to explain the concepts of “customer service,” “customer satisfaction” and “compensation” to an agent who works in a State run agency in Cuba, and it’s easy to understand why I call it mission impossible. They have zero incentives to give a better service, so they make close to zero effort.
“You said we’d stop at the coral reef, but we never did,” I explained.
“Yes, you did,” said the agent.
Luckily, some other people who were on the same tour walked in and confirmed my version of facts, because it was pretty clear that the agent had no intention to listen to me.
“Since we didn’t get to do anything that was promised to us, we’d like compensation – we want at least a partial refund,” I suggested.
Bewildered looks followed. “A what?”
“I want my money back,” I stated more clearly. “You sold me a tour that said I would go to the coral reef, and I never did. So I want my money back, or at least some of it.”
That’s when he started getting seriously mad at me, suggesting I had called him a liar and I had offended him. I suppose the fact that I was a foreign woman didn’t really help: in a country where I was generally seen as a sexual object or, in the best case scenario, as a tourist to be ripped off, being a stubborn foreign woman demanding respect wasn’t exactly expected nor welcome.
“I am calling the police!” he announced.
“That is fine, let’s wait here to see what they say,” I gingerly said.
Saying “I am calling the police” in Cuba is a good way to get rid of someone. People generally don’t like having to deal with the police. I suppose I was meant to be afraid too. But I wasn’t in the least.
In the end, I was offered to go on another tour to the barrier reef the following day as compensation. But I had to pass on that offer as I was leaving to go to Cienfuegos. Needless to say, I never got my money back and it turned out that I just wasted my time arguing. Do I regret wasting that? Not one bit. If anything, at least I gave him a piece of my mind, I showed him that I could not be easily fooled and quite importantly so for me, I proved myself that my Spanish is good enough to get into some heated conversation and even have an argument if needed.
When a pretty smile doesn’t work, be prepared to have a row
Lose it when you need to
“I am sorry, sir, I think one of our day packs may have been left on the other bus,” I told the guide as soon as we realized that one of our day packs was missing.
I had been traveling through Argentina for a few weeks and for some reason I decided that joining a guided tour of Torres del Paine, in Chile, was a good idea. That was simply poor thinking: I read the words “Torres del Paine” and was hooked. I hadn’t realized how vast Torres del Paine National Park is and how much there is to see there. I had not consired that the best way to see such a fantastic natural attraction would be by hiking one of its many trails and not hopping on and off a bus where at most I’d be allowed 1 hour to walk around by ourselves. I guess this goes to show once more that I am an unsuccessful backpacker.
Read more on why I think I am a lousy backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”
At 4:00 am sharp I boarded a bus that would take me to the border. The guide seemed nice enough. The driver, on the other hand, was snappy.
“Hurry up!” the driver yelled at me after a stop to use the toilets.
“I am sorry, but there was such a line for the toilet!” I offered as an apology. There had been such a long line that of course the 10 minutes we were allowed off the bus turned into almost 30. I would have imagined that, since he was right there with the rest of the group and saw that most of us were in line, he’d notice. Apparently not.
I took my seat again, not bothered by his rudeness.
Be prepared to raise your voice when needed
As we reached the border, immigration procedures were longer than expected. Apparently, despite having been told several times not to, someone on the bus was carrying fruits across the border, and the Chilean authorities were fining him. The overall process took a long time, so the guide told the group to wait at the coffee shop (it was so windy that waiting outside and walking around was not an option) while the driver and he would transfer our bags on the bus that was waiting for us right across the border.
When we eventually were called to get on the (new) bus, we noticed that one of our day packs was missing.
“One of our bags is missing,” I warned the guide. He immediately stopped the driver, so that we could get on the other bus, which was still parked outside, and check if it was there.
He explained the situation to the driver as politely as I could. He didn’t flinch. All he said was “We took all the bags on the other bus.” That was it. He didn’t offer to check.
“Well, I looked everywhere, and the bag just isn’t there. Do you mind if we get on the other bus and check? Could you just open it for me please? It will only take one minute,” I promised.
“No. All the bags were taken to the other bus. You already made us wait forever when we stopped for the toilets, now I can’t wait for you any longer.” That was it. He had been picking on me all day for no reason. We had been stuck at the border due to someone else’s, and there I was, trying to explain that if he’d just let me on the bus, we could quickly check, and move on.
I raised my voice: “You’ve been picking on me all day and it is time you stop. Just let me on the bus now!”
I guess he wasn’t expecting such a potent voice to come out of such a small girl. Taken aback, he finally let me on the bus, where I triumphantly found my bag which he had omitted to carry to the other bus.
Was raising my voice worth it? Totally. This guy had no intention to listen to me. He was on his own agenda which did not include being polite to tourists. That put him in his place and we could finally move on, and (not) enjoy the rest of our day.
Read more about Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”
Do not mess with me: I am small, but I am tough
Today, I have somehow fond memories of those arguments, as they still represent a crucial moment of my travel and life experience.
Have you ever had an argument while traveling? What did you learn from it? Let us know in the comments below!
We’ve all spent at least one nightmare night in a hostel during our backpacking years, haven’t we? Well, I can count at least 3 that have been less than memorable in terms of getting proper rest, but which somehow managed to stick to my memory for the hilarity and absurdity of what happened.
Fighting the drunk hordes in The Terrace, Antigua (Guatemala)
I had only been in Guatemala for four days. This was meant to be the beginning of my 6 months adventure across Latin America. I was sure I had everything under control and I would be able to face any bad experience that may occur along the way. After the first three nights in Antigua, I decided to spend an extra night before making my way to Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, the lovely hostel where I had been sleeping was all booked up, so I decided to make online reservations for another one. As a backpacker on a tight budget, I was looking for something cheap. The Terrace, at $ 8 per night, breakfast included, in a 4 beds dorm, looked good on the pictures and it had good reviews on hostelworld. One of the most popular hostels in Antigua, indeed: there must be a reason for this, I thought!
Another church in Antigua – as many others, it has been destroyed by an earthquake
I made my way there in the morning, wanting to drop my backpack and have time to browse around town more. I missed the front door a couple of times before actually finding the place – it was hardly visible. When I finally found the place, I walked in to be welcomed by a 20-something American receptionist (and her lovely dog). She seemed nice enough. The hostel seemed a bit old and in need of refurbishment but I did not think too much of it. I would only be staying here for one night after all. When I was shown to my dorm, I realised it would be worse than what I had expected. A dressed guy was sleeping in his bunk – considering it was around 12 pm, it was a bit odd to me. The dorm was tiny, to say the least. The only window faced an internal covered patio and hardly any natural light or fresh air would come in. You can imagine the stench. The toilet and bathroom in front of the dorm had the mouldiest rug and shower curtain I have ever seen. The wooden door was so rotten that I thought it would fall apart if I pulled it too hard. The electric shower had wires coming out – I thought I might get electrocuted if I did not pay attention (or even if I did).
After a day of walking around and a lovely dinner, still a bit jet legged, I wanted to have an early night and went back to the hotel. I then realised I had accidentally booked at a party hostel, were all the other backpackers except me were in their early twenties. Noise travelled easily in the badly organised place: young boys and girls were all getting ready to spend a night out and party. I thought that, as soon as they would leave, I could finally fall asleep. Wanting to be extra safe I even put my earplugs on. I jumped on the bed to find out that I could feel the wires – this was by far one of the least comfortable beds I had ever slept on. I thought of sleeping on the floor, but there was not enough room to do that. The synthetic sheets on my bed were so old that they would come off the matress, revealing stains. I kept my clothes on, in an attempt not to catch bed bugs (luckly, it worked).
Worried but exhausted I fell asleep but my rest only lasted two hours: that’s when the other guests started making their way back to the hostel. Completely drunk, they kept laughing loudly, screaming, opening doors (which I kept on closing). To top this off, despite my earplugs I could hear them gagging and vomiting (and then laughing about it). The entire affair must have lasted about one hour, without anybody from the reception intervening to stop the noise. When the drunken crew finally collapsed, I sighted and thought I could finally rest a bit more. Or not. One hour later, somebody entered the room, pointing a flashlight at my face, calling for a girl named Myra. I told him off, and said there was no Myra in that room: I was the only girl there and I definitely wasn’t Myra. He then asked if I knew where she was, as he had to wake her up for her bus. I told him to go away, I did not know who this Myra was and I had no idea where she may be.
That was the end of my attempts to rest – I decided to get up, shower, and wait for my ride to Lake Atitlan – where I found a super cool hostel and finally rested my sore bones. However, the cherry on the cake was finding out that The Terrace was actually meant to be the hostel where I was supposed to volunteer in Antigua – I had talked to the owner several times over skype, but I had forgotten the name and despite being offered the position I decided I did not want to work on my first week of travelling.
The lesson I have learned? Always always always check Tripadvisor for reviews, and also check the age of the reviewer. Always read the bad comments – they are usually honest comments. Try not to book online, as you may end up having to pay for a terrible room and thus get stuck. It is better to walk around a bit, check the rooms, the bathrooms, and the overall vibe of the place. And, more than anything else, stay away from The Terrace, in Antigua.
Dancing the night away in Cartagena (Colombia)
I was happy to find Mama Waldy when checking for places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia. Conveniently located in the heart of Getsemani, a cool area undergoing constant restoration, popular among backpackers and with a lovely relaxed feel to it. I soon discovered that the location was just about the only positive thing about this hostel.
Tiny streets of Getsemani
Upon checking in, I knew I had made a mistake. This is possibly one of the worst hostels I found in my entire life. It used to be an old colonial house. By the look of it, this had never been restored nor properly cleaned. I arrived there at night, after a day of travelling, to find there was a party going on. My dorm was just on the main lobby, and since there were no keys to the dorms, people could walk in and out as they liked – and by people I mean people, not just guests. In fact, while I was there, somebody who was at the party just did. All the guests belongings were left around for people to grab them if they liked. The room was so dirty (paper, food, clothes, shoes and what not on the floor, under the bed, etc; no bins to place garbage), the bathroom so cramped, small and filthy, that I did not even consider using the toilet. I just locked my stuff away and ran out to eat and breathe.
As I got back past midnight, it was finally quiet. But the dorm was so hot and suffocating (there were no windows in any of the room, just a door to the lobby) that I soon realised I would be unable to sleep there. I walked out and I must have looked so disheartened that one of the owners saw me and asked what was wrong, and I plainly said that my dorm was filthy, hot, and I could not sleep there. He eagerly explained that they cleaned the rooms regularly but there was little they could do against messy backpackers. Possibly, what would help would be putting less beds in a dorm and maybe a hanger and a basket to throw away stuff? Anyways, he thankfully offered to put me in a private room, which was only slightly better – yet, no shower curtain, tiny bathroom, and covered in an inch of dust.
Breakfast was supposedly included, and surely paid for, but consisted of 2 slices of toasted bread (with, I guess, cream cheese or butter), and coffee. Not even served on plates. After all, the kitchen hardly seemed equipped. There was a laundry service. That’s if you fancy your clothes being hung to dry on the roof of the hostel. By which I do not mean hanging lines in the roof, but actual tiles.
What really bothered me the most about Mama Waldy was the music and noise. It only stopped past midnight and was really so loud that, if one is up for an early night and feel tired, one won’t be able to sleep. It felt like being in a disco, really. And since noise travelled really easily and by 6 am people would start waking up, my sleep would be cut short every day.
Running water in Suchitoto (El Salvador)
I arrived in Suchitoto after a very long day of travelling from Leon, Nicaragua, during which I took a bus to the village of Potosi, where I did my immigration formalities; waited on the beach for 3 hours without having the possibility to go back to the village in search of shade, water or food (by then I was legally already out of Nicaragua!), as the Nicaraguan marina would not allow the boat to leave due to the rough sea conditions; eventually, 2 hours on the speed boat along the challenging Gulf of Fonseca during which I got completely soaked due to the bumping and the waves, and various more hours on a bus from La Union to Suchitoto.
By the time I reached my final destination, I was grateful that my hostel room at El Gringo had not been given away, since it was so late. The owner drove me to the hostel, on the other side of town from where he lives. His wife showed me to my room and explained how the keys worked. They immediately left and there was no staff on site.
The reality of the hostel was not hard to spot. My room was below a restaurant, the only window was on a living room which faced an internal living rooom (mind you, that is a big word). The bathroom, which was shared with another room, was no more than a sink in the patio, a wall to separate a toilet and the cold water only shower. And for as hot as it is in Suchitoto, I was not ready to have a cold shower that late at night, and went to bed with my hair full of salt from the Gulf. The room was so humid that it was covered in mould stains and paint was coming off the walls. The sheets so small and so acrylic that they would slide off the bed, so that despite all my efforts to arrange them, I ended up sleeping on the matress. The floor below the bed was so dirty and full of dust, hair, and garbage, that I wondered if it had ever been cleaned. I was so tired anyhow, that I could hardly be bothered with any of this.
This 97 year old lady keeps on rolling her cigars on a daily basis. What’s her youth secret?
A refreshing shower the morning after and a lovely day in Suchitoto almost made me forget about the terrible hostel. That was, until the new Canadian guest came in. Hard to avoid him since my window gave into the living room where he was relaxing on a rocking chair. So, we chatted along for a few moments, until eventually he decided it was bed time and he’d brush his teeth, and I laid on my bed to do some emailing. That’t when I heard a crushing noise, like that of porcelain plates being broken, and the poor Canadian kid screaming “what the heck!”. I ran out to check what had happened. Water was splashing all over and he was completely wet. The remains of the sink were scattered on the floor: apparently, the guy decided he’d lean on the sink with his hand while brushing his teeth, but despite being a fit guy the sink did not hold his weight and collapsed! You can imagine the hilarity of such a scene. We took pictures, we laughed and eventually we decided that if we did not want to flood the entire place, we had to close all the pipes. It worked, but it meant that we were not even able to flush the toilet.
Los Tercios waterfalls look a bit like the Giant Causeway
The morning after I was glad to have an early start and having to leave at 6:00 am, leaving the other guest alone to explain to the owner what had happened, and that perhaps restoration and refurbishing was much needed in the hostel!
What’s your worst hostel experience to date?
Click here for more of my misadventures.
Are you ever tired of having to travel by bus? Well, I must say I am and each time I get to a place, I need a long time to work up the courage to jump on another bus. Travelling up to Nicaragua was a real adventure, despite being very uncomfortable it was an interesting experience, and very funny – those chicken buses are really filled up to extremes, to the point that due to the heat, the amount of people, the way the drive (insane! Speeding like mad even uphill, overtaking in curves, hills and what not) you really can’t wait to get off. Yet, I enjoyed it as I got to sit next to the locals, chat, ask for information, they would ask about what I am doing, and I got to see a lot of their culture and way of life. There isn’t a real bus timetable. Buses leave when full, which means that you may be lucky and leave almost immediately after boarding, or you may have to wait for hours while the assistant driver/ticket seller calls people around the bus station, yelling the destination (“dale Granada Granada Granada!”). There are no real bus stops either. People just wait along the bus route, and wave at it to stop. Same thing to get off. Whenever somebody wants to get off, he yells at the driver. People get off wherever, so the bus may stop 10 times within 200 meters as people really want to get off in front of their homes!
Traveling by bus in Central America is no joke – photo courtesy of Zhu (flickr)
Buses are a bit more comfortable in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, where they may even exceed European standards. On some of them, seats are so comfortable that they can be reclined almost entirely, leaving plenty of room for the legs. So, if you have had a rough night in a terrible hostel, you may actually rest on the bus. The only problem is that, for some reason which I fail to understand, air conditioning is kept so so low that, when it is 35 degrees outside, you may have 18 inside and have to wear a sweater, a jacket, scarf and, if you are travelling a long distance, carry on board a blanket or sleeping bag. I have asked around why they do this, but received no real explanation.
Safety is apparently an issue on certain bus routes in Colombia, at night, and indeed passengers are searched for weapons before boarding, seats are assigned and a security officer gets on board to snap pictures of all passengers before leaving. Sleeping is apparently the best thing one can do, unless willing to get terribly scared. If asleep, you do not enjoy the amazing views, but you may also be spared to experience the bad driving, with drivers overtaking on hills, on curves, overtaking dangerous trucks when really there is no distance to allow it, and speeding-breaking all the time. Drivers behave like they are driving a Ferrari! I should know something about crazy drivers, I am from Italy and we are world (in)famous for being terrible drivers. But it does get really scary in Colombia, to the point that backpackers may get discouraged from going to certain places they would otherwise like to see, because too afraid of the long distance, dangerous road and crazy drivers.
Traveling comfortably is not a thing in Latin America – photo courtesy of John Barie (flickr)
The funny part though is that people are supposed to express an opinion on the drivers. Indeed on each bus, cab, minivan there is a sign asking “como conduzco?” or “how do I drive?”, which refers to an application through which you can judge. I have no taste for apps, but at times I get so scared that I really feel like yelling to the driver “tienen buses super-lindos, pero conducen como locos” or “your buses are amazing, but you drive like crazy!”
Then there are the unexpected incidents – getting a flat tire. While in some places drivers immediately stop and check what the sound is. This happened on my bus from Santiago to Baracoa in Cuba, where we stopped in the middle of nowhere so the tire could be changed – passengers took the chance to walk out, take pictures, and chat along (this is actually how I have met one of my best friends!); and on my ride from Flores to El Florido in Guatemala (where on the other hand we all had to stay on the bus as the tire was being changed, and it was tremendously hot inside). However, at times passengers have to protest and the drivers will keep on driving for kilometers without bothering to check what has happened. In Ecuador, on a 10 hours bus ride from Quito to Guayaquil, we all had to stand and scream, as the assistant driver said we had only hit a can while we all did hear the explosion of the tire and the bus was shaking! Eventually, we stopped and changed that tire.
All in all, I really can’t understand why drivers all over Latin America play with peoples’ lives like that; at times, seeing how there are even children and babies on the bus, I end up thinking that in these countries life is too cheap for them to care at all. Most of all, drivers do behave like real Kamikazes!
Want to know more about travelling by bus in Central America? Read my post on chicken buses!