Learn from my rookie travel mistakes and have a good chuckle. We all have awkward stories to share so here are a few of mine!
A decade ago, was young & naive midwestern 24 year old who had fallen in love with Thai culture over a 3 week trip during my last year of college. How could you not fall in love with the Land of Smiles? It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. So a week after I graduated college, I was back on a plane to teach English in southern Thailand.
I lived in a small quiet city called Trang in the southern peninsula. I chose this place because it was off the tourist path and I wanted to get a better feel for the culture. I spent most weekends going on road trips to small tropical islands nearby with my new friends. School holidays were spent traveling to Chiang Mai (where I visited first in college), but mostly south to Malaysia for visa renewals better known as “visa runs.”
During these trips, I found myself in a few sketchy situations al due to my lack of research and mostly my naiveté. Things could have gone terribly wrong, but I’m grateful for these experiences that snapped me out of my midwestern “everyone is so nice and friendly here!” mentality.
1. Don’t ride a motorbike unprotected.
a. Motorbikes are the easiest way of transportation around Thailand and pretty cheap to rent or buy. Helmets are a must (duh). Many people are careless drivers and people die everyday from motorbike accidents. Don’t be dumb, protect yourself. It’s that simple.
b. I bought a really cute Suzuki motorbike that I drove to school everyday usually while wearing a skirt. This wardrobe left me with many “Thai Tattoos.” These are not the edgy bamboo kind of tattoos either. These are nasty burns from brushing your calves against the hot exhaust pipes. Luckily, those scars faded after a few months, but boy do they hurt! Pants are a much better choice despite the hot sticky weather.
c. As for having your belongings on your bike, wear your bag across your shoulders or around neck so your bag is both on and in front of you.
Once while driving at night (right before the crazy Full Moon party), some dreamy guy drove up right next to me, flashed a beautiful smile then snatched my bag right out of the basket. ALL. WHILE. DRIVING.
I screamed then laughed as I watched him drive off into the dark night with my stuff. I didn’t have anything too valuable inside, but it was pretty scary. I could have easily avoided that by 1. Not driving on some random road all alone at night & 2. Not making myself the perfect tourist target with my big old backpack on.
2. Don’t go to a new place without doing ANY research. I’m all about going with the flow, but planning ahead is how you can accomplish that. I ended up in a handful of super shady guest houses due to my lack of research. I could have avoided feeling totally creeped out if I had planned my trips better.
Having to go on visa runs every 90 days, I usually went to a great little hostel called Jim’s Place on the famous Chulia St. in Penang, Malaysia. During a week off from school, I was in Penang and decided to travel to the west coast Perhentian islands for a relaxing beach getaway.
I didn’t know exactly how to get to these islands (no internet on phones those days) and assumed I could easily find the ferry port. Instead, I ended up way south of those islands and had to spend a night at some sketchy hostel in some random town. Not fun.
The next day, I found a nearby island to visit which sounded perfect. So I got on a ferry and was bamboozled into paying way more than I budgeted for just to stay at the only open resort on the island. When I arrived, I realized someone had stolen my cell phone on the ferry. I was getting used to having stuff stolen by now!
It wasn’t exactly the trip I had in mind and I went way over budget, but Redang Island was incredibly beautiful and quiet nonetheless. I still made the best of trip and enjoyed my time exploring.
3. Don’t do something you wouldn’t do at home. Laws are not the same in Thailand as they are at home. That means don’t do the dumb stuff other people do.
Some bus drivers take uppers to stay awake while driving at night, many people don’t wear helmets or seatbelts, and the party scene can get REALLY out of hand. Never take risks with your safety (another duh).
Once I took a bus to a city a few hours away one weekend (I forget where) and had to head back to Trang on a Sunday night for school the next day. I got to the bus station late and the last bus back to Trang was completely full. I explained to the driver that I needed to get on this bus. He said “OK, but you’ll have to ride in the luggage area under the bus.” I laughed because that was totally absurd, but then he opened the door and I saw a few other people already slouched in there against suitcases. I said “F*** it”, hopped in and was terrified the whole way home. In retrospect, I should have paid ANY amount for a taxi ride home.
Four stolen cell phones, a handful of Thai tattoo scars and just a few bucks left, I came home in one piece with a bunch stories to share. What tips do you have for safety while traveling? I’d love to hear your weird travel experiences!
From my kitchen to yours,