I have always been envious of those people who are just cool. They can stroll into a party and simply know what to say, regardless of what the conversation is about. I’m not that person. The only way I can ever be interesting at a party is because I have lots of tales to tell, and I only have tales to tell because I’ve spent the last 10 years cramming in as much travel as I have been able to. Here are some of my funniest, scariest and most memorable memories from a decade of adventuring.
I was 24 and skint. I had not long left university having stayed on to do a Masters and was working as a Management Trainee at Enterprise Rent a Car earning just enough to cover my rent each month. When I say rent, I mean the cost of the tiny single bed room I rented in a 6 bed house which I shared with a bunch of (mainly) lovely misfits. When my dad mentioned he had to go to Vegas on a work trip and offered for me to go with him I jumped at the chance! There was no way I was going to turn down a free holiday, even if 2 weeks in Vegas did seem like a very long time!
I’m sure the sprawling glitzy city of Vegas requires no introduction. It was everything I imagined. Bright lights, loud music, slot machines, scantly dressed women, lots of parties, and generally a fun atmosphere. However, Vegas is the place where people come to be naughty. “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, as the saying goes. This attitude though meant there was a little bit of confusion as to the relationship between my dad and me. Whereas I think in any other walk of life we would have looked like father and daughter (he is after all 40 years my senior!), in Vegas people just assumed I was his rather young wife, girlfriend or even worse, hired escort! Luckily though I was pretty oblivious to this, being a rather naïve 24 year old.
Realisation hit hard when it did though. We had gone to LA for the weekend and on the return for our second week on the strip we booked in to the Stratosphere (now The Strat), famous for having the tallest observation tower in the US. The receptionist informed us that as part of our stay we had access to a free show and asked us which show would we like to attend. There were a number of options so we asked for her recommendation.
“Well, I’d normally recommend ‘Americas Got Talent’ however the lead singer is off at the moment and the replacement isn’t very good” – she informed us. “So therefore I’d recommend Bite instead”.
The poster of Bite suggested it involved vampires. Not really that fussed we agreed and booked it for the following night not realising what was in store for us!
We were shown to our seats in the front row, to a round table with a couple on either side of us. As we waited I got chatting to one of the couples, exchanging pleasantries as you do. That is until it turned odd. “How long have you been with your partner” – the lady asked, nodding towards my dad.
“You mean my dad?” – I asked incredulously. Not as incredulous though as the look they gave me.
“Why have you come to see this show with your dad?” – they asked just as the show started. I was moments away from finding out why they had been so shocked that I had come to see Bite with my dad. It was an erotic show! What was even worse, is that it was an erotica that required audience participation and I got picked for that role!
I don’t think I have ever wanted the ground to swallow me any more than as I stood in the centre of the stage gagged and handcuffed whilst two naked women danced suggestively around me as a man bit their erect nipples!
Halfway House – New York
Doug and I hadn’t long been dating when he asked me to join him on a trip to the US. His grandparents lived in Ohio and he was suggesting we went to visit them before heading off on an epic 1,000 mile road trip. Although I had a bank balance of zero, I didn’t want to say no (especially since I’d told him on my first date how much I wanted to travel), so I agreed and figured out later how exactly I was going to afford it!
For 5 months I didn’t eat unless I was fed. True story! At the time I was working at Enterprise Rent a Car’s head office where they had regular training days for which they always ordered in too much pizza. I would always scope out the attendees and hope that nobody with a big appetite attended! Most days I got lucky and managed to squirrel away a slice or two for lunch. When there was no training though, I just had to hope it was someone’s birthday!
Anyway, grumbling stomach aside, I managed to scrape enough money to pay for the trip which saw us exploring Ohio, Detroit, Toronto, Niagara, Buffalo and New York. Our motto was simple, drive until we are tired and then pull over and find the nearest hotel or motel to rest our heads before cracking on again the next morning.
This approach had served us well up until now. We had sang classic dance tunes well into the night, enjoyed service station sunsets, eaten far too many Tim Horton ice creams, and managed to find adequate and cheap accommodation every single night. That is, until we were driving past Albany!
The art of finding cheap accommodation
We had left Buffalo later than expected that day having found a great cop bar. As we sat at our table enjoying some buffalo wings (of course) we listened to the cops share hilarious stories of crooks doing stupid things. It was exactly the kind of scene that you see in movies! Turns out our Motel 6 for the night was also going to be true to movies too!
It was 2 am when we decided to pull off the highway on the outskirts of Albany. There was a Ramada and a Motel 6 not far from the junction and having decided we would only be sleeping there for a matter of hours we decided to opt for the cheaper of the two: Motel 6. When I say we decided, I mean I insisted. Doug wasn’t aware of quite how dire my financial situation was right then since I had not wanted to scare him off by admitting to it! My argument though, how bad could it actually be?
We parked up at the front of the hotel and headed to reception where there was a surprisingly long queue. Shifty looking individuals with face tattoos and gold chains hidden under the cover of their hoodies. Doug instantly covered up his expensive watch and whispered in my ear that he thought it was a terrible idea. “Relax, it will be fine!” I replied. Although I was trying to show an air of calmness, even I could see that we stood out. Doug in his pink shirt and chinos, and me the only woman there. We did get a few odd glances but everyone was just keeping themselves to themselves.
Eventually it was our turn, we were given our room key and asked to move our car to the main car park as it would be in the way of the emergency vehicles at the front, where we were currently parked. This seemed an odd statement to make, after all how many emergency vehicles were they expecting? When we got outside it seemed quite a lot! The car park had now been cordoned off with police tape and blue flashing lights could be seen from round the corner.
Sleeping in a crime scene
“Bea, I really don’t think we should stay here, lets just hand the key back and go over to the Ramada” – Doug said upon being greeted by this sight.
“What, and waste the $26 we have just spent? No way!” – came my response.
Reluctantly, we drove our brand new hire car to the main car park, hoped it would still have wheels come the morning and headed back in. The queue at reception was even longer than when we had arrived, and as we walked down the corridor we were once again greeted by police tape blocking off part of the corridor. We quickly made our way up the stairs, got into our room, locked the door and moved the TV stand so as to block the entrance. I have to admit that by this stage even I was freaked out!
When dawn finally arrived I looked out the window to find that our car was still in the parking lot, and that opposite us was this large building with barbed wire fencing. Turns out, we had chosen the halfway house as our overnight stop! We were right next to one of Albany’s penitentiaries. It all made sense now!
Murder Mystery in Morocco
Following our American roadtrip I decided to surprise Doug with a trip to Morocco as a birthday present. It was our first holiday travelling to a culture that was considerably different to the ones we had grown up in and we had a certain amount of trepidation as to what it was really going to be like. Would I get exchanged for a camel? Was it safe? Would we get food poisoning?
The first thing I noticed as we stepped off the aeroplane into the suffocating heat was the smell of spices that lingered in the air. I was instantly enthralled with Marrakech, a city that seems to be bursting at the seams, a spectacle of colour and street theatrics. Toothless smiles greeted us everywhere we walked whilst the souk sellers murmured “pretty lady, I have necklace for you”.
On the second day we headed to the Medina, a labyrinth of souks sitting inside the walled city. The Medina is the mother of all souks, with narrow alleyways snaking through its still medieval layout. Here you can find everything from carpets to leather purses, lamps to carcasses. Whatever you need you will find it here.
We made it from one souk to another, Doug haggling to the best of his abilities over items we didn’t want or need. Meanwhile I was simply enjoying taking it all in. We were treated to tea (and a very aggressive sales pitch) in a carpet shop and we bought beautiful scarfs after the salesman had wrapped us up like Arabian Knights in them. We were having a wonderful time when all of a sudden we heard a commotion.
Run for cover
A woman had just been shoved and a man was running fast towards us, a leather handbag tightly clasped in his hand. Another man was giving him chase as the crowd parted to let them pass. People were shouting and I was rooted to the spot, mouth wide open, watching it all unfold before me. No more than a few metres from me the man chasing caught up with the thief who promptly span around and stabbed him!
At this point we were ushered into a nearby souk, incidentally the only one that seemed to have lockable doors. We found ourselves behind the glass doors of an antique shop watching the commotion unfold beyond. “Don’t look” the attendant said to me, but how couldn’t I? There was a woman shouting and a man bleeding just the other side.
It turns out the thief had used a pair of scissors to cut the bag which is what he used to stab his assailant. Our guide reassured us that it was nothing to worry about since it happened daily, and that the man who had been stabbed would be OK and wouldn’t even need medical assistance (What?!).
I won’t lie, this experience did dampen Morocco for us, however, we were also incredibly naïve at the time having never travelled outside of Western Europe and the USA. I wonder if now that we have visited 35 countries this event would have the same impact on us?
One of the things I love most about travel is interacting with locals. Even when in a touristy area we try and find the genuine experiences which often means visiting neighbourhoods or restaurants where nobody speaks English. I do always try and learn some words before we travel, but more often than not I have to rely heavily on sign language and a big smile in order to be able to communicate.
It doesn’t often get us into trouble although it has led to some rather funny interpretations of what I am actually trying to mime!
Following our less than ideal initiation to adventure travel in Morocco we did decide to give it another go, opting to spend two weeks travelling through China. To give us some reassurance I booked through Rickshaw Travel who take care of all the important stuff (like hotels and airport pick ups) but give you the flexibility to feel like you are travelling on your own. I suppose, they offer a safety net!
By the time we had reached Chengdu we’d been travelling through China for over a week and were becoming more and more confident to step outside our comfort zone, picking restaurants that were solely frequented by local patrons. We had had some really great meals doing this, and had also made some poor choices too. Turns out when you are looking at an illegible alphabet you are going to make mistakes! However, on the whole the experience up to this point had been good.
We travelled to Chengdu to see the pandas, which by the way, were the highlight of our trip. Chengdu is in the Szechuan province which is famous for its Szechuan peppers and the one dish that every publication said we should try was the Szechuan hot pot.
Having asked our hotel for a recommendation we headed to a local restaurant that specialised in these hotpots and placed our order, not really knowing what to expect. Turns out a hot pot is a big boiling pan of broth which is placed in the centre of the table along with an assortment of goods to cook in said broth. Sounds simple? Well, this was before either of us had smart phones and neither of us had researched it first. We had of course picked a local restaurant where nobody spoke English, and we didn’t have a clue how it worked or what the ingredients we had been given were.
One of the waitresses, sensing our discomfort, picked up my chopsticks, grabbed one of the ingredients, dumped in the broth, tapped her watch and then pulled it out, pretended to eat it but before she did put it back in the broth, tapped her watch again, and left us. I understood this to mean, put the ingredients in the broth, wait until they are cooked, and then eat it.
The first problem we had though is that we couldn’t actually identify the ingredients to know how long to cook them for. The second problem was that the Szechuan peppers were HOT!! I don’t mean hot as in spicy, more so as in a mouth numbing way. Every mouthful was like torture. Not only could I not taste anything, but I could feel my lips swelling as the rest of my mouth caught fire. It was funny to begin with but it soon progressed to pain.
Eventually we gave up and decided that we would munch on the crisps we had back in the hotel room instead. This didn’t go down well though. The waitress soon cottoned on that we were no longer eating and came over to ask if we were OK (I think that is what she said at least). Not wanting to be honest and say we were massive wimps and were absolutely hating the meal, I instead gave her a thumbs up and then patted my belly to suggest I was full.
Oh dear! As soon as I did this she looked horrified and rushed off returning moments later with another waitress. They asked if I was OK (at least that was my interpretation) so I smiled broadly to let them know I was, and this time did a round belly impression. I was trying to say “I’m full”.
Now they both looked horrified. One remained with me whilst the other rushed off again, this time returned with an older lady. They replicated my round belly signal which at that point I realised they had interpreted as me being pregnant. So I shook my head, did the round belly signal whilst say “No pregnant” and crossing my hands over my belly. More shocked looks!
The older lady went off again and returned with herbs at which point I realised they now thought I was ill and were going to medicate me. After a lot of persuasion, we managed to convince them that I was OK. Whether they ever realised I was full or not will remain a mystery but it will forever remain as one of my most cherished travel memories.
Don’t touch the semen – Chernobyl
Of all the places we have visited, Chernobyl has to be one of the most fascinating sites we have been to. We went in the depth of winter when there was still snow on the ground and no other tourists in sight. Chernobyl Tour picked us up early from our hotel in Kiev and as we made our way to the Nuclear Exclusion Zone that now surrounds the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, our guide started telling us about the history of Chernobyl, the disaster and the aftermath. She also told us what to expect of the day, what we could and couldn’t touch and how to ensure we remained safe.
She did however say something that sounded very odd. “Whatever you do, don’t touch semen”. I frowned and looked over at Doug who was looking incredulously back at me. Had we heard her right? The guide, unaware of our funny looks continued talking before once again repeating: “Please, if you see semen, do not touch. Very dangerous!”
At this point we started to giggle. She had definitely said semen! My mind was running at 100 miles an hour? Why on earth was there semen? And how much of it was there for us to actually stumble across it? I mean, had there been some kind of orgy and now there was semen plastered all over one of the walls? And why was it dangerous? Was it radioactive semen?
The chatter grew louder as we all discussed the likelihood of encountering semen. One of our friends asked our guide “How likely are we to see semen?”
“Well, it isn’t guaranteed but tourists do like semen and because it is winter you are more likely to see semen.”
Someone else asked “But why is semen dangerous?”
“He bites!” – she replied. Turns out semen is actually Simon the fox, a regular looking out for scraps of food!
Escape Room – Krakow
Doug and I love escape rooms. We have done a fair few in the UK and always managed to get out just in time! A couple of years ago we headed to Krakow, specifically to visit Auschwitz, and whilst looking for things to do in Krakow found that Lost Souls Alley was rated as the number 1 thing to do on Tripadvisor at the time.
The website describes Lost Souls Alley as “Explore the dark face of the city. Take the challenge and let yourself feel the fear, which has never been so real. Visit rooms haunted by lost souls” … “Poland’s first interactive museum devoted to the basic insitinct of fear”… “Haunted attraction with elements of an escape room game.”
Maybe we should have read the fine print?
Yes, it was like an escape room. You needed to move from one room to the next by finding the hidden key, however what I didn’t expect was the question we got upon arriving for our allotted time.
“You have three pain options. Which one would you like to chose?” – the man at reception asked mater of factly.
“Excuse me?! What do you mean pain options?” – is what I thought to myself just as he started to explain what each of the options were.
Green Version – The characters may touch you but won’t cause you any physical harm unless it’s by accident. Just be aware that the staff are working in darkness so this isn’t always possible. There is a risk that you may acquire some sores, bruises and small wounds caused by running away, or in rare cases, by the crew’s actions. It is possible you may be caught and separated from the group. You may also be confined to small dark spaces.
Yellow Version – The characters may touch you and may use devices that cause temporary discomfort and pain. You may also be immobilised and separated from the group. This version is for people who want to make the experience more real by adding pain, very close physical contact with staff as well as physical and psychological abuse. It is certain that you will acquire sores, bruises and small wounds. Your clothing may end up wet or torn. There’s also a chance that you could end up with more serious injuries.
Red Version – The characters will intrusively touch the visitors, will constantly use some form of device that will cause discomfort and pain. This version is dedicated to people that have a masochistic attitude. Pain stimuli will be very frequent and staff will be very close, aggressive and use unceasing physical abuse in an attempt to break the participant. As well as the above injuries there is a high risk that you may end up with serious injuries too. It is possible that you may get tortured. We don’t accept any complaints.
What the hell did you sign me up for?!
At this point I looked at Doug and asked “What on earth have you signed me up for?” Where is the “no pain guaranteed” option (by the way, this has now been added). Needless to say we opted for the green version which was both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures. Doug got tasered and I got locked in a coffin. I also showed my true colours when the murderer was running towards us with a taser in hand. I shoved everyone else out the way (each for themselves and all that) and run away.
Would I chose anything more extreme than that? Not a chance. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Pão de Queijo – Brazil
Before going to Brazil I had no idea what to expect from a culinary perspective. However, I did very quickly fall in love with their Pão de Queijo, which is essentially cheesy bread. We ordered it with every meal, even if at times it did get a smirk from the waiter.
I always try and speak the language, even if I do it badly. Being fluent in Spanish though I found it quite easy in Brazil. On the most part I could understand what they were saying, and I tried my best to reply in Portuguese even if sometimes I slipped into Spanish. Pão de Queijo however I could say, and over the 21 days we were in Brazil I said it A LOT.
One of the biggest difference between Spanish and Portuguese are the nasal sounds that exist in the Portuguese language. Those I couldn’t do, but despite not being able to make the nasal sound over the a in Pão, people certainly understood what I was saying. Which is actually rather lucky since what I was asking for was very different to cheesy bread.
Seems that the way I was pronouncing pão had a very different meaning. In fact it means penis. So for 21 days I went round Brazil asking for cheesy penis!
I’d love to hear your stories
There are so many more stories to share, but I will leave those for another day. I hope you have enjoyed these. If you have any funny or interesting stories from your travels please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them!