Well, you definitely can’t take the good without the bad.
Every year I write about my worst travel moments to show you that you’re not immune from bad times on your travels. Travel will not solve all your problems. I’ve gone through quite a few issues on my travels:
In 2012, I got my credit cards hacked while in Portugal and Spain.
In 2013, I developed giant hives in Busan, South Korea, and it was nine months before they stopped popping up on a daily basis.
In 2014, I got head lice in New Orleans. Because clearly I am a small child.
In 2015, I got locked in a vestibule with a cockroach in Avola, Sicily, and had to call my Airbnb host to set me and my mom free.
In 2016, I fell backwards and slammed my head on the bedpost in Passau, Germany, giving me my first concussion ever and necessitating a hospital visit in Munich.
And in 2017, a piece of my rental car fell off in Key Largo and I was stuck driving it all the way to Key West.
As always, I’m thankful that nothing seriously bad happened on my travels in 2018. I didn’t get seriously ill or injured. I didn’t get arrested, I didn’t get assaulted, I didn’t even lose my luggage. Things could have gone much differently, and I’m grateful for that.
But there were some YIKES moments on the road. Here they are.
Running Through New Orleans Barefoot in the Rain
Did you know New Orleans is the rainiest major city in America? It gets double the rain of Seattle and triple the rain of London! And I got to experience one of those rainstorms for myself.
I had spent the afternoon exploring the shops of the Garden District when it started to rain — hard. I went into a coffeeshop and decided to wait it out, but the rain got even worse, and an hour later it showed no signs of stopping.
I decided to summon a Lyft to take me back to my hotel. I ran out, jumped in the car, and figured it would be a 10-minute ride back.
It turns out it wasn’t that simple. The streets of the Warehouse District were flooded so badly, the driver couldn’t even go down the streets. He then tried to take alternate routes and either missed the turnoff or was unable to drive that way.
It had been more than half an hour of turning around and around again. I was fed up and told the driver to just pull over. The water was ankle-deep and I wasn’t about to ruin my black leather flats. I tossed them into my bag and stepped out into the ankle-deep water.
Yeah, it was gross.
I picked up the pace, sloshing down the street. I was about three blocks from my hotel, still walking through the ankle-deep water. Thankfully I didn’t see garbage or anything worse floating down the street. Eventually I was able to get onto a sidewalk and avoid the water, but I was still barefoot.
Oh, one other thing — I had forgotten my umbrella that day. And I was wearing a mostly white dress with no bra. (You’re welcome, gentlemen of New Orleans.) I have never looked more like a sewer rat.
Losing my Vision in Antarctica
At first it seemed weird when I couldn’t focus on the Netflix episodes I had downloaded to my phone. Then I had a hard time focusing when I took photos with my camera. Soon both of my eyes were wonky, each of them with varying degrees of blurriness.
I’m going blind! I thought. This can’t be happening in the middle of nowhere!
I went to see the ship’s doctor and she had a far more relaxed point of view. “It’s the patch,” she told me, referring to the scopolamine seasickness patch I wore behind my ear. “It’s a rare side effect, but it does happen in some people. Take it off and you’ll be fine within 48 hours.”
She was right. It took a little more than a day, but soon I was back to normal.
But in the process, it was absolutely awful. I took terrible pictures because I couldn’t tell what was in focus. And when the blurriness was at its worst, I decided to sit out one kayaking excursion…and it turned out to be LITERALLY THE ONE AND ONLY DAY that we had sunshine! (Also the only day that someone fell out of a kayak, and I’m kind of sorry I missed that, too!)
For the trip back across the Drake, I went with Dramamine instead of the patch. Luckily we had a fairly smooth crossing and I was in good condition.
If you decide to go with a scopolamine patch for seasickness, know that blurred vision is a possible side effect. Like the doctor said, it’s rare but it can happen. Keep this in mind and be sure to bring something benign like Dramamine in case it happens to you.
Getting my Debit Card Stolen While in Japan
“What are those charges?” I thought to myself as I looked at my bank screen. “$100 at Wawa? In New Jersey? Multiple transactions? What the hell is that?”
And I realized that my debit card had been stolen digitally. YET AGAIN. It’s unbearably annoying, mostly because I need to update all my accounts whenever I get a new card.
This was extra annoying because it happened on my first day in Japan. Terrible timing. Having been around this rodeo a few times before, I decided to take out a large amount of yen so I’d be covered for the rest of my trip, then called my bank to cancel the card. They later refunded me the fraudulent transactions.
Here’s another tip for you: travel with multiple debit cards. If one of them stops working, you’ll have access to cash. This is especially important somewhere like Japan, where many vendors are cash-only.
The worst part of this is that it sullied Wawa’s name for me. Wawa is an amazing convenience store chain in the Philadelphia area. You can buy cannoli chips and ricotta cream from the deli there. Why did you have to steal from me at Wawa, scammer?
A Scary and Terrible Uber Ride in the Hamptons
I went to the Hamptons for the weekend with four girlfriends. We had a male friend who happened to be visiting at the same time and renting a house with a bunch of people whom I’ll call the House People. Earlier that day the House People had kindly invited us to join their day bed at Gurney’s, one of the hot daytime party spots. Later that night, since it had started raining, they invited us over to their house for food and drinks.
I didn’t drink much that night — I had a watermelon Montauk beer (I was in my watermelon romper!) and did a shot with the group. I felt kind of weird about the evening — I don’t like showing up and eating people’s food ordinarily, especially since they had pulled strings to get us access to the expensive beach earlier.
There were maybe 25 of us at the house or so. Everyone was drinking, some people quite heavily. It was a lot of fun — a great, low-key night hanging out with nice people.
Around midnight, we decided to head out to a bar and ordered several Ubers to get us all there.
That’s when the trouble started.
Our vehicle could hold seven passengers: a back row of three, a second row of three, and someone in the passenger’s seat. I got into the back row with two of my girlfriends; the other four in the car were House People who we had met that day, three guys and one girl.
The House People tried to cram more than seven people in the car. “Just don’t turn around,” one of them said as the driver protested, saying he couldn’t take more than seven, that it was against the law. The House People kept trying to sneak people in, then eventually relented when the driver threatened to kick everyone out.
We began driving down the road, the driver seemed a bit confused about where we were going — and the House People began insulting the driver.
“You don’t know where you’re fucking going!” one guy yelled. The others began piling on, calling him an idiot, insulting him and his driving. My girlfriends and I exchanged looks of horror in the backseat.
“Guys,” I piped up from the back. “Let’s just get to our destination.” My girlfriends joined me.
“You’re in the service industry,” slurred the girl. “Your job is to serve US.” The other two guys continued to yell at the driver.
The guy in the front seat turned the radio to a staticky station then turned the volume all the way up.
“Turn that static off, PLEASE,” I yelled. He left it on for another 30 seconds, then turned it down.
I should add that we were in a rural area, deep in the woods, with almost no phone signal on our phones. I was scared. I didn’t want to be alone with these drunk and angry people, and I didn’t want to be left by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, either.
Finally, the bar was in sight. We burst out of the car and found our other girlfriends and our friend who was staying at the house. “Your friends are assholes,” I said before the three of us recounted the ride in detail. Our friend told us that he wasn’t friends with those people anyway; they were more like friends of friends.
At any rate, the three of us didn’t want to stay — any chance of us having a good night was over. I grabbed an Uber and we headed back to our hotel.
I have seen a lot of vile behavior in my life, but that was different. It was the fact that we had been having such a good time with all of those people at the house, and as soon as someone from a lower social class entered the picture, they turned into monsters. (I should add that the driver was South Asian and so were two of the four House People in the car, so I think this was much more a class thing than outright racism. But you never know — some people can be self-hating.)
It was without a doubt the ugliest moment of my year.
Finding My First Gray Hairs in Vienna
Free hair braiding at the Vienna Beach Volleyball Open? If they offered this service more often, I would go to a hell of a lot more sporting events!
My stylist began separating my hair and styling it into French braids that turned into buns at the top.
“Wait,” said Cailin. “You have some gray hair there.”
“It’s not gray,” I replied. “It’s blonde. I have a lot of random blonde hairs on my head.”
“No, that’s definitely gray,” she said, pulling the hair to the front of my face.
It was GRAY AS FUCK.
“NOOOOOOOO!” I shrieked. “I thought I had more time! I thought I had years before I had to worry about this!!”
Cailin pulled them both out. Samantha Jones’s voice rang in my head: “If you pluck it, six will come to its funeral!” At least it’s pretty far in the back…
A Traffic Mishap for the Ages
I can’t go into too much detail here because it’s another person’s story as well as mine, but I had a massive rental car mishap in the spring. It got resolved, but it took so long to get resolved that I ended up leaving hours later than scheduled.
And I ended up in Friday afternoon rush hour traffic waiting to enter the Holland Tunnel.
I never knew how that area turns into a madhouse. Every block has several workers holding the cars back so they don’t end up blocking the intersections. But that’s only for the intersections closest to the tunnel — before that, people just BLOCK EVERYTHING IN THEIR PATHS.
Do you know how long it took me to go a few blocks in Tribeca? NINETY MINUTES. And that wasn’t even the entire wait.
Easily the worst traffic of my life.
I do have to say that there were some pluses, though. Now that I’ve experienced driving in Manhattan, I try to be a much more considerate pedestrian. And I am even more at peace with my goal to live without owning a car for the rest of my life. I’m happy to rent one when I need one, but owning one? No thanks.
The Worst Ending to the US Open
I was so excited when Emirates invited me to enjoy the the US Open from their private box — and I got to go for the final women’s showdown! What an incredible opportunity! I brought my sister, we had some of the best seats in the house, Vanessa Williams sat next to me for five minutes, Pierce Brosnan was hanging out in the suite, and I was so excited to finally see Serena Williams play in real life.
And the match started off well. It was intense and exciting. They were fairly evenly matched, though Naomi Osaka was playing slightly better…but then things exploded. The referee accused Serena of getting coached and she was docked a game — and it was done.
Just like that, it was over.
And the entire stadium was PISSED.
I’ve never seen an entire stadium of people universally angry at an athletic event. I want to be clear that nobody was booing Naomi — she HAD played better. But this was not the win that she deserved. She deserved to win unambiguously, without an asterisk. And Serena, despite being the greatest athlete of all time, is subject to the worse double standards. That same ref knew Roger Federer was getting coached and he didn’t do a thing.
The US Open was such a great experience, but I was so upset that it ended that way.
Losing Uncle Tony
The next moment on this list is one that touched us all: the sudden passing of Anthony Bourdain. I’m going to share what I wrote on Facebook:
What an absolute devastating loss.
I call him Uncle Tony. Every time I do, a few of you ask, “Is he really your uncle?” Nah. But that just goes to show you how I view him: equal parts sage and loving, infinitely knowledgeable and eager to tell you things your parents wouldn’t.
Anthony Bourdain changed how all of us travel. Since I began my travel blogging career in 2010, there has been an enormous change in the influence of food on travel. Culinary travel used to be about dining in the best restaurants with the most famous chefs; in the past decade, street food cooked by regular people has become the essence of traveling for food. Bourdain did not invent that concept — but he popularized it to the mainstream.
And perhaps the most important thing he did was teach us how to interact with people on our travels. He didn’t have a shred of condescension in his body. Whether he was rollicking it up in a Russian sauna, surrounded by vodka and cured meats, or a sitting on the ground in a home in Laos with victims of America’s secret bombing campaign, he was there to eat and listen to their stories as an equal, not as someone looking down on them.
Bourdain was also one of the most influential figures on my own career. His many rants about Emeril and other chefs have caused me to be more cautious, to be in a position where I only work on products that I’m fiercely proud of — not products that I have no choice but to promote because there are too many people financially depending on the Adventurous Kate Machine. He’s also inspired me to visit places that don’t get enough coverage, like Hokkaido and Lebanon and Ukraine, rather than being the umpteenth person writing about Whatever Destination Has The Most Money This Year.
Since the deaths of Bourdain and Kate Spade this week, I’ve seen a very common phrase on social media: “Just goes to show that all the money and success in the world can’t buy happiness.” Okay, I am going to stop you RIGHT THERE. We don’t say, “Just goes to show that all the money and success in the world can’t buy a body free of cancer cells.”
Suicide isn’t about happiness or sadness. Depression is a disease that warps your brain chemistry and changes your thoughts. People who take their own lives genuinely believe that the world and their loved ones would be better off with them gone.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, there are so many people who can help you. These thoughts are not normal. Please reach out to a loved one, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at +1 800-273-8255. You can chat online 24/7 at suicidepreventionhotline.org. If you’d rather text, people in the States can text HOME to 741741 to the Crisis Text Line 24/7. You can get a list of international providers here: https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
RIP, Uncle Tony, and thank you for bringing us joy.
The Worst Pizza of All Time in Lebanon
Finally, I should end this with something that would make Uncle Tony laugh — or more likely, roll his eyes. One night I got back to my hotel in Beirut completely exhausted and couldn’t muster up the energy to go out to dinner.
“Fuck it,” I thought. “I want some room service pizza. I had a Lebanese meal for lunch; I’m not a bad traveler.” And the picture of pizza on the menu looked pretty good.
So the pizza arrived…and it was that monstrosity you see above.
WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! Is there really one half of a cherry tomato on each slice? Where is the sauce? And why in God’s name would anyone top each slice with a giant glob of room temperature mozzarella plunked into the middle? IT DOES NOT LOOK REMOTELY LIKE THE PICTURE!
Yes, I ate it anyway.
No, it was not good.
What were your worst travel moments of the year?