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5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories

“Vacation.” It’s a word that brings to mind an endless stream of positive images. Sitting on the beach with a drink in hand; gazing up at the Eiffel tower; getting lost in the labyrinth of streets in Marrakech. Travel is something so many of us yearn for. But what happens when something goes wrong? … Terribly wrong.

Whether it’s a mistaken turn, or just incredibly unfortunate timing, things can go from fun to frightening faster than you can say ‘get me the hell outta here’.

These travellers have experienced your worst fear, firsthand. Luckily, they’ve survived to share their scary travel tales. And you know what? They make a hell of a good story! In the name of adventure and thrill seeking, hats off to these brave souls!

1. Crossing a crocodile-infested channel in Kenya.

5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories

Janet Newenham – The Journalist On The Run

“After much stress over money with Thomas our ‘guide’, miles of walking in the desert heat without food nor water, and losing all our cameras as they were flung overboard into the swelling waters… after all this emotion and stress, what did we do when the trip was suddenly cancelled? We laughed. Because nothing else could possible go wrong at this stage. We were in hell. We could have cried but instead we laughed, it could never get worse than this…or so we thought!!

Suddenly we are ‘obliged’ to pay Thomas for a trip that was cancelled and he runs off with all our money leaving us penniless! What do we do? We laugh again. It will be ok, we can survive this. We set off across the shores of Lake Turkana, angry, thirsty, hungry and a little faint from the heat. All is good though, we will be ok, we always are.

As we waded waist deep in water backpacks raised above our head, attempting to cross the channel – all the local children start screaming at us. ‘Crocodile, crocodile!‘ -Fuck. I swear my heart has never pumped so fast in my life. I stood, my feet glued to the river bed, my eyes darting in every direction, thoughts rushing through my head. We need to get back quick. We have one hour to walk 7km in order to get last bus from Kalikol to Lodwar. So fuck the crocodiles we are crossing this channel! We wade, one foot after the other, heart pounding, across the crocodile infested river – knowing if we can make it through this we can make it through anything. I can remember thinking if I would prefer to lose an arm or a leg and decided upon an arm…a frightening thought to say the least.

4km later, totally lost and literally dying of thirst at this stage (but happy to be out of the water) when suddenly a 4 wheel drive jeep comes driving by. Oh my god what a feeling! “We’re saved. I knew we would make it!”, I said to the girls! The jeep slows down and the front seat passenger winds down her window, looks us up and down then shouts, “Bye Mzungos!(white people) See you in Lowdar” and off they speed! If only you could have seen the look on my face as I collapsed into the sand, anger and delirium taking over as motivation to keep going faded away.

But what choice did we have but to laugh it off, and keep on going. We eventually made it to Kalikol and I have never been so grateful to be handed an ice cold bottle of coke and a plate of hot chips. So what if we were sitting on top of shit, in some guys hen-house surrounded by goats an other animals?!

We were alive, we were homeward bound and all we could do was laugh at the absolutely disastrous weekend we had just had.”

2. A near-death Safari in Botswana.

5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories

Anthony King

“Five good friends and I had motored from Johannesburg to Maun, in Botswana, where we arranged a flight to the island of Xaba Xaba. We planned to spend five days tracking game, birdwatching, and enjoying the unique environment.

After an early breakfast on our third morning, we were captivated by the sight of a herd of lechwe peacefully grazing at the water’s edge on the adjacent island, a mere stone’s throw across the reed lined channel.

A sudden commotion sent panic through the herd and buck bounded away in all directions. Our guides motioned for us to remain still. We were engulfed by a silence that had fallen along the channel. Not a bird called; no insect sang. We waited and watched. Shortly, we heard a rustling in the grass, a long low growl, and further silence.

The guides indicated there’d been a kill on the adjoining island, and, if we crossed in our dugouts we’d be able to disembark on the lower shoreline and track up wind for a sighting.

Everyone agreed to this and, full of anticipation, we punted silently across the channel. We walked until we reached a raised stretch of terrain. We saw nothing. We crept forward peering evermore anxiously into the thick bush ahead. I saw two rounded brindle coloured ears prick towards us, not a hundred yards away.

‘Watch out,’ I whispered, hoarsely.

A lioness exploded from the long grass like a yellow flash of lightening, a low, lithe, compact, muscular, Body of pent up fury. Guides and men, for an instant we stood frozen before her – a still life tableau fixed forever in my mind’s eye – Then we all shouted hysterically at the oncoming beast, vainly hoping to deflect the path of her charge. The men in front of me, with absolutely nowhere to move, stood their ground, crouched, anticipating a snarling and tearing moment of impact.

From behind and slightly left, I registered the guide’s gun still slung on his shoulder, in the carrying position, and the two normally sedentary lawyers in our party, begin a frantic scramble up a convenient tree, moving with an alacrity I would not have believed possible. I jumped amongst the yellow flowers of an aptly named sweet thorn bush, believing it might afford some sort of protection.

The charging lioness was literally upon us, close enough to smell an atrocious combination of musk and feline halitosis. Then, just as suddenly as she’d charged, she spun on her axis, showered us with a cloud of dust and debris and returned from whence she came. She’d ended her mock attack not a yard away. Brusquely she returned to her kill, mouthed the remains of the carcass and disappeared with it.

The eight of us remained motionless, rooted to the spot, speechless, human statues in a foreign landscape, alive but unable to acknowledge it.

A gentle chuckle from one guide broke the spell, and soon the two others joined in. Chuckles became gentle laughter, and that swelled into body shaking guffaws. The tension broke irrevocably.”

3. Visit to Zambia’s Victoria Falls gone horrible awry.

5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories

Erin Langworthy

“I had never done a bungee jump, but two years ago I decided to give it a go while travelling in Zambia. I was 22 and wanted a big adventure after university, so I’d left Australia for Africa.

I felt nervous, but never thought anything could go wrong. I was the 105th person to jump that day. I stood on the platform, looked at my ankles, which had been strapped together, and worried aloud that my feet would slip out. Someone said that would be the last thing that happened.

The view was astonishing, but just before I jumped I thought, “What am I doing throwing myself off a perfectly good bridge?” But I was caught up in the moment, and simply spread my arms and fell forwards. Everything sped by in a blue-green blur. The rush was amazing.

After a few seconds, I felt a jolt across my chest. It seemed as if I slowed down for a second, then sped up. I could hear the wind rushing past my ears. Instinctively, I brought up my arms, locking my hands together. Then I felt myself hit the water – that’s when I realised something had gone wrong.

The sound of bubbles was so loud. I felt as if I had been slapped all over. My hands had stopped me hitting the water headfirst and blacking out. My lungs were on fire and I was struggling to breathe.

I later found out I’d fallen for four seconds after the rope snapped: a distance of up to 40m. If I had been over land, I’d have been dead. Luckily, it had rained the day before, so the river was turbulent and full. That morning, I had seen crocodiles in the water, but I couldn’t think about that. Eventually I managed to wedge my arm between two slimy rocks near the side of the river. All I thought about was clinging on.

I’m a positive person, so I’ve never been angry about what happened. Around 50,000 people jump from that spot every year, so it was pure chance that the rope snapped on me – just wear and tear. They’ve now introduced measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

4. A Russian run in with the dead.

5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories

Susan Lyons

“It was our third day in Moscow and we were touring the metro. My husband, Pat, myself and our 14 year old twins, Connor and Meghan, were spending our 2009 Spring break far from Florida where most of their friends were. Instead, we were bundled up against the cold in Russia.

That night we were taking the overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. At 10:45 pm we left our hotel with our backpacks and roller bags. Leningradske train station was two metro stops away. Hotel staff had written, in Cyrillic, the name of the train station on a small square of paper. I felt confident, thinking that someone could at least read my paper and point us in the right direction.

The escalators in Moscow’s metro are extremely long, steep and fast. After a few stops, we got off for the transfer to the second metro line which was accessed on a different level. Pat and Connor, and their luggage, shared a metal grated step on the Escalator. Meghan and I followed four steps later. A middle aged man, overweight and bent with fatigue, rode up about six steps ahead of us. The station was eerie in its quiet elegance, the lights dim. Nearing the top of the ride I heard a loud, sharp noise. Through my husband’s legs I saw the pale face of the man, eyes open, vacant. He was lying upside down, feet stuck at the top of the escalator, his head banging on each step as the escalator continued upwards. I stared in shock as his eyes rose and fell, his head making a sickening “thump” sound as the metal grated stairs continued to rise and fall under his head.

“Pick up your bag and jump,” my husband yelled to Connor as their escalator step approached the man’s prone body. The steps carried Meghan and I closer to the man’s large frame. With few steps left, I grabbed my bag, ran up, and jumped over the body. I put my bag down and turned to see Meghan, her round, pale face filled with horror.

“Hand me your bag as you jump,” I yelled. Disbelief clouded her blue eyes, but she had little choice. She did as I said, barely missing the man’s body.

Our pleas of ‘Help’ were ignored by the few people going down the opposite escalator. One man even came up our escalator, jumped the body, and quickly continued on. I couldn’t leave the man even though we had a train to catch. After some prodding, Pat grabbed the man’s hands, pulling him onto the slate floor. As his body twisted off the escalator his knee bent at an unnatural angle, catching under the moving rubber handrail of the escalator. The rubber caught and twisted his leg with a sickening, grinding sound. The force of his leg eventually jammed the mechanism and the escalator stopped. A large pool of blood grew on the slate floor under his head.

The man slowly began waking up, his eyes rolling in his head. He tried to get up, lifting his head and dropping it hard onto the stone, again and again. The blood spread slowly now, growing thicker and darker. Two young men ultimately helped him and we ran off to catch our train, traumatized and sad.

We made our train. We didn’t sleep much even though we had a private sleeper car.”

5. Being chased by dogs while hiking in Ecuador.  

5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories
Source: Tambako the Jaguar

Jessie Festa

“It was a steep ascent, but the view of Banos, Ecuador, from the top of Bellavista was worth it. It had taken me much quicker than I’d assumed it would — less than an hour — so I decided to continue on and follow the signs reading “Runtun”.

As I was trekking solo, it was up to me to navigate myself, which felt somewhat disconcerting. It’s no that I didn’t have hiking experience — I’m an avid trekker; however, the narrow trails were thick with mud and so dense it made day feel like night. Something felt off to me. I knew I was following the trail markers correctly, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was heading toward a place I would want to go, especially while traveling solo.

As I continued on, trudging through ankle-deep muck and climbing over giant rocks and thick branches, I came to a village. While it comforted me to know there were people around in case I needed help, this relaxed feeling was quickly erased as I heard the angry barking of a dog.

I saw the snarling animal racing up the trail, as my mind dove into its subconscious and pulled out the only relevant source I had on file: “The Simpsons.” I remembered an episode where Lisa, acting as Sacajawea, is approached by a cougar. To scare it off, she extends her arms to try to make herself look at big as possible. Sure, it was a ridiculous cartoon, but it was all I had.

Quickly, I grabbed the largest rock I could and held it over my head in an attempt to appear larger than my 5’2” self really was. At least if my cartoon-inspired tactic didn’t work I’d have a weapon of some sort. The dog — which was clearly strong enough to kill me — stopped about four feet away from me, barking like mad and glaring its teeth. While it wasn’t moving closer, it also didn’t seem to be leaving. Finally, just when I thought this staring contest would go on all night, the dog backed away slowly then ran away.

While at that moment I wanted to head back to my hostel immediately, the dog had ran in that direction and I didn’t want to cross paths with him again, so I continued on. It didn’t take long for another even larger dog to find me, chasing me and barking menacingly, no doubt telling me to get the hell out of his village. Luckily, I was near to some homes at this point, and still holding the rock.

“Ayudame! Ayudame!” I screamed, shouting for help in Spanish. “Por favor, ayudame!”

Suddenly, a young boy not older than 10 appeared. He looked confused as he looked on at this foreign girl almost in tears holding a rock over her head and a dog the size of a small horse ready to pounce on her.

“Ayudame!!” I begged.

He turned to the dog, shouted something in Spanish, and the dog ran off.

What was I doing here? There were absolutely no hikers on this trail — which I wasn’t even sure was a legitimate trail — and in a matter of 20 minutes I’d almost been attacked by two different very large dogs. It was time to get a cab.

After some wrong turns I finally found a paved road away from the village. I toyed with the idea of hitchhiking — especially when it started to rain and there were no taxis in sight — but with the luck I was having that day I figured robbery and kidnapping were probable. Finally, soaked to the bone, I came to a hotel and was able to have them call a taxi for me. At that moment, I would have paid $1,000 just to be in my hostel with the door locked, away from dogs, scary trails and strangers. A hostel bed never looked as good as it did that day.

Looking back on the situation, the biggest error I made was not trusting my gut. I had a weird feeling about the trail, but continued on anyway. Not only that, but I went hiking alone on some desolate path with nobody on it, despite the fact I didn’t know the area well and hadn’t told anyone where I was going. Especially when traveling solo, it’s important to take necessary precautions. While I’m not saying to never hike alone — sometimes it can be very therapeutic — try to choose trails where other people will be in case you need help. And at the very least ask your accommodation for safety information and let someone know your plans.

It can also be a good idea to carry a safety whistle, big rock and first aid kit, as you never know what you might encounter.”

Alright, so some of these were pretty creepy. But, that shouldn’t stop you from travelling! Truth is, life can be scary no matter where you are. These stories just so happened to, well, happen. In the meantime… you can all go back to picturing exotic getaways with nothing but beaches and cocktails. Happy travels!

Have any freaky on-the-road stories of your own? Share in the comments section below; we’re dying to hear about them!

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5 Terrifyingly True Travel Stories


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