There were many terrible moments in 2017. I don't need to do a rundown of all the ways that our government failed us as a nation. Instead, I will share some of my biggest travel struggles, mishaps, and misadventures. Some of these are funny and others infuriating. Enjoy!
The Housekeeping Staff Walking in on Me Naked
This was kind of my own fault; I had forgotten to put up the "do not disturb" sign on my door. I figured, incorrectly, that since the room was just serviced for my check-in, that it wasn't necessary. I was exhausted from the late night and an early morning train ride out to western Hungary, so I was enjoying a post-shower nap in the nude before venturing out into town. The housekeeping staff woman knocked on the door and without waiting for a response opened the door. She said something incomprehensible to me in Hungarian and I responded: "Nem, nem," (meaning "no" in Hungarian) and the only thing I knew how to say in Hungarian. She ignored my protests and smiled at me, started laughing when she saw I was frantically covering my naked form and commenced to replace the Fanta in the minifridge. Hungarians gotta have their Fanta.
Multiple Food Poisonings in Hungary
I do not have what I would call a sensitive stomach. I've weathered my share of digestive adjustments in foreign countries: near constant diarrhea in Vietnam and almost a week of constipation in Iceland, for example. But the two bouts of food poisoning I experienced in Hungary infuriated me. Why? The food wasn't good. In Vietnam, the multiple trips to the bathroom, or the side of the road in some cases, were worth the delicious onslaught of Vietnamese food. In Hungary, the culprits were a late night hot dog, an undercooked egg, and a shitty piece of lángos with goat cheese on top. Wandering around the city in beating sun dehydrated from food poisoning did not do anything to endear me to the city. At least I had access to a nice bathroom.
The Car Accident in Split
Getting into an accident in a rental car is never good. Getting into a car accident in a rental car in a foreign country with two assholes trying to scam you, even worse. The only other thing I'll say about it: the police in Croatia are super friendly.
Slipping on Black Ice in Seattle
I was right in front of my Airbnb on Capitol Hill. It was nearly ten, dark and cold on a January night in the Pacific Northwest. I didn't see the slick blackness on the sidewalk and my feet went out from under me. I stupidly braced myself fall with my right hand and my suitcase went skittering down the hill. Shaken, I picked myself up off the ground, my wrist throbbing in pain. I gritted my teeth, grabbed my suitcase, and continued in through the gate.
In the moonless darkness, I didn't see the door. In my pain-induced brain fog, I thought I needed to go through the second gate into the backyard. As soon as I closed the gate behind me, I knew I had made a mistake. I tried a door; it was padlocked. Okay, it must be between the two gates. Crap, the gate was locked and I was too short to reach over to unlock it. I tried standing on my suitcase but no go. I saw a rusty broken-down fridge and stood on that. I launched myself onto the fence and leaned over the side to unlock the gate. The door for my Airbnb was right there.
The Obnoxious Middle-Aged Men in Puerto Rico
Sometimes I just want to enjoy my dinner, my watery mojito, and my book, and then some middle-aged white jerk has to insert himself into my relaxation by telling me I should "just smile." I wrote about my reaction to this in "Why I'm a 'Bad' Feminist When I'm Traveling" but it still raises my hackles today. I would never think to talk that way to a stranger; I hate talking to strangers, period. But men, especially of a certain age, gotta keep inserting themselves into things they're not wanted in. Men, just a word of advice: when you start telling a woman to watch out for her safety this sends up a huge red flag.
My Flight from Budapest to Oslo
I couldn't even leave Budapest without it being awful. I got to the airport just fine, but then I had to pay 100 euro to check my bag because I would switch flights in Oslo. I wonder how much kickback that agent got. I had to go through the check-in line twice. I went through security without a hitch (not always a strong suit of mine), purchase a coffee and baguette from a surly food worker, and wait for my flight. As I'm waiting, two elderly women decide they have to flank me and one eventually finds her way onto my lap. WTF. This is another one of those moments that I'm so perturbed and uncomfortable that I'm stunned into silence. I really need to work on that.
Of course, our flight is delayed. I eventually make it to Oslo with twenty minutes to make my connecting flight. I run the course of the Oslo airport, thankfully a small airport and make it onto my flight. Then, Norwegian Air decides to delay the flight for an hour and a half because a connecting flight from Prague is late. Great for those people coming from Prague, not so great for the young woman sitting next to me who has another flight to catch and a job interview the next morning.
Getting Groped by Airport Security in Grand Rapids
This moment falls into the category of ways not to behave in an airport security line. No one likes airport security. In fact, it is one of those universally hated experiences. It is the holy trinity of things most people hate: waiting in line, invasion of personal space, and people with power in uniforms. Okay, maybe that last thing is more my own thing.
Now, normally airport security does not have a problem when I don't take my bag of toiletries out, so much so that I stopped bagging them separately from my make-up. This time, however, the TSA agent told everyone they needed to remove their toiletries from the plastic bags and put them in a separate bin. I asked, "Are you fucking kidding me?" One of those times I said something out loud that I meant to say in my head. The agent smiled and said, "No, ma'am, I'm not, like she knew this was dumb but had to enforce it anyway. Okay, I thought, she's just a woman doing her job and a probably shitty job at that.
So when I go through the metal detector body scanner thing I'm not in a great mood. They pull me aside and decide I need to be swabbed from head to toe with drug/bomb residue paper. A different female TSA agent informs me she has to pat me down between the legs and asks if I was alright with that. "Do I have a choice?" I responded snarkily. "We can do it behind a curtain if you like," she calmly responded. I think I responded with something along the lines of you're still going to do it, so just get on with it. She commenced to grab me hard between the legs.
Why is this not considered sexual assault? Why does the United States government require their agent to perform duties that would otherwise get them arrested or at least a punch in the face?
Then they confiscated my cloudberry jam. The bastards.
I'm a bit of hypochondriac. I'm not particularly concerned with catching a common cold nor do I avoid sick people. I just have an unhealthy fear of rare and fatal diseases. This got much worse after my father passed away in 2016.
We were loading up into the car to return to Zagreb; we were nearing the end of our time in Croatia. I had an unsettling sensation in the middle of the back that I couldn't quite place the origin of, but I tried not to put too much thought into it. It wasn't until we got to our Airbnb in Zagreb that I asked my friend Nan to look at my back, and what did she find? A tick burrowing into my flesh and sucking away at my delicious blood.
I tried hard not to freak out (I freaked out). We sterilized my eyebrow tweezers and my friends attempted to remove the little fucker from my back. He snapped in half. Because this creature was being unruly and my friends had to return the rental car and deal with the aftermath of our car accident in Split, my friend Maddy took me to a Croatian pharmacy to purchase hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial cream. Hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial cream have to be purchased from behind the counter at a legitimate pharmacy in Croatia. As much as I complain about some elements of American society, there are things I love and miss desperately when I'm traveling: places like CVS and Target where I know I can find almost anything.
We found a bathroom in the hotel where the rental car office was located. Maddy decontaminated my back and managed to remove the rest of the tick. I tried not to obsess over tick spread bacterial meningitis (I obsessed) and I had a panic attack bad enough I stopped feeling my legs. Eventually, I stopped googling and tried to enjoy my last evening in Croatia.
There you have it: my eight worst travel moments of 2017. Let's hope 2018 brings less groping, sexism, and ticks!