You may think reading my solo female travel blog that I’ve got my shit together where travel is concerned. After all, I am a solo female traveler dishing out advice about how to travel. Sadly that’s not always the case. In fact, I think what makes me such a good blogger and hander outer of advice about what not to do it just how much I mess up.
Like seriously, I’m hopeless sometimes! But through my failings and epic F*** ups, it puts me in a pretty good position to be able to help you avoid making the same mistakes as me.
So in the spirit of embracing my flaws here are 15 times I epically failed as a solo female traveler.
That time I sprained my ankle in Guatemala…
If you have ever been to Guatemala, Antigua in particular, then I’m sure you can appreciate just how easy it is to sprain your ankle there with all of the cobblestone roads and gigantic holes in the pavements. Seriously, just walking to the shop can feel like you are competing in an episode of Ninja Warrior!
The real fail here though was why and how I sprained my ankle…
At the time I was doing a Worldpacker thing with OX Expeditions. Basically I was helping out in exchange for bed and breakfast and of course a chance to hike Acatenango. Now this is not an easy hike, and I do not do well at not being good at things, so I decided I needed to do a bit of training to get my fitness up a bit.
So, I put on my running shoes and take a walk across town with the plan of walking to the foot of the steps that go up to the big cross overlooking the city. From there I would run up and down the steps at least twice. My plan was to do this every day for a week.
I didn’t make it. I managed to twist my ankle WALKING ACROSS THE ROAD. And it wasn’t just a little sprain, it was bad! I ended up sitting on my ass for 3 weeks eating tacos waiting for it to heal. So when I finally did do the hike I’d done nothing at all to prepare apart from carb-loading haha.
Who needs a bank card anyway?
Having your bank card stolen is a total nightmare when traveling. But I didn’t get mine stolen, oh no, I just left it in the ATM machine like the total mess of a human I am. But in my defense, I was utterly exhausted after hiking Acatenango and probably shouldn’t have been adulting at all until I’d slept for at least 10 hours.
Anyway, I left my one and only bank card in the ATM in Guatemala. A country with no postal system (they went on strike a few years ago and no one knows if they will ever come back). The one saving grace was that I only had 3 weeks left before I was traveling back to the UK so I could order a new replacement card. But I still had 3 weeks of travel left and with no way of accessing my money.
Although Western Union is available in Guatemala, they do not make it easy! My parents had to send me the cash and the bank wanted phone numbers of people in Guatemala who knew me and they actually called them up to check I was who I said I was.
It was a very stressful time that taught me many lessons like: don’t try and adult after hiking volcanos and always have more than one bank card stupid… I now have 8.
How not to visit Tikal
I wrote a whole post on my Tikal fail you can read here. But to summarise… I had no money, thanks to the lost bank card. I was dying of the heat after living in Antigua where it’s super fresh for months. And I was pretty burned out from spending a stupid amount of hours on busses that week traveling across Guatemala.
When my friend and I saw the cost of the tour to Tikal we decided it was too much money and that we could do it alone and save money by sleeping on a hammock in the jungle for the night. BIG MISTAKE.
Hungry (nowhere was open for food), dirty (a school group used all of the hot water so they locked the bathrooms), and after the worst nights sleep I have ever had (jungles get cold at night and have lots of noisy animals… who knew!?) the last thing I wanted to do was spend hours walking around Tikal.
All I wanted was a shower, caffeine, and AC.
I think because this happened when I was on the last leg of my Guatemala adventure it made me even more fed up and I couldn’t wait to leave Guatemala and head to Mexico… I was ready to get the hell out of the Jungle!
Hello big scary Mexican man covered in Tattoos, please can you help me find my hostel?
I couldn’t wait to get to Mexico after the Tikal disaster. But sadly things didn’t go as smoothly as one would hope… The journey started off ok. I traveled through Belize to cross the Mexican border at Chetumal. In Chetumal, we needed to change buses, and bus stops to take an ADO bus to Tulum. But as I met 4 guys from the UK we decided to all chip in and take a taxi to Tulum to save time and fuss. So far so good!
I was first to be dropped off and I gave the driver the address of my accommodation in Tulum. When we got on the road where it should have been though I couldn’t see it anywhere. My phone didn’t work in Mexico so I couldn’t call and it was pretty late by this time, around 11:30 pm. Not wanting to hold up the others I told them to just leave me and I’d find the hostel. The guys were not happy about this but the driver checked and told me the street was ‘tranquillo’.
So I waved them off and began walking up and down the very dark street trying to locate this hostel and seriously regretting not making the guys stay with me until I was safely inside. Despite being terrified and hardly speaking any Spanish I decided I needed to be brave and so I walked up to the biggest scariest dude hanging out of the street and asked him for help.
After an hour spent facing a lot of fears and asking a lot of people for help, I finally found the hostel without being kidnapped. Although this was a big fail on my part, it did teach me a few things about not judging people on how they look.
That time I accidentally hitchhiked in Mexico
Just 2 days later I find myself in another stupid situation regarding transport.
As I still had no easy access to money I was being super thrifty. I wanted to go and check out Coba ruins and managed to find a colectivo to get be there. But I forgot to ask where I needed to wait to get back. Without the colectivo, there are 2 options to get back to Tulum from Coba, by ADO bus (which I had missed) or an expensive taxi (which I couldn’t afford).
So there I am in the scorching Mexican sun stood on the side of the road contemplating the piss poor life decisions that had brought me here to Mexico where I stood on the side of a road wondering how in the hell I’m ever going to get back to Tulum while simultaneously wishing I knew more Spanish so I could at least try and ask for help.
Then just at that moment, a big SUV pulls up and a lady winded down her window and says “Tulum?” I reply “Si, por favor” and hop in! Now before you get judgy, it was a family of 4, I was sat in the back with their 2 small children so at no point did I feel even the slightest bit at risk. They didn’t speak to me the whole hour-long ride back and simply dropped me off back in Tulum.
Thank you kind Mexican family for saving my dumb ass!
That time I thought I was going to die in Guatemala
This is another subject I wrote a whole blog post about, you can read it here. But in short, I got stung 3 times in my sleep by a scorpion and though I was going to die.
I didn’t have any anti-histamines or other drugs on me, no insurance, and no access to any kind of medical assistance. It was terrifying, but I got through it and never will I ever travel again without drugs and long term travel insurance.
The time I almost missed my flight in Mexico
This was probably one of the dumbest things I’ve done on a travel day… maybe.
I had an early flight back to Guatemala from Mexico where I’d been doing my yoga teacher training. I woke up late, hadn’t packed or organized transportation. Why? Because I was too drunk the night before.
So after frantically packing my bag, I ran out to try and find a taxi…nope! No taxis in this little village. So I had to go to plan B… a public bus during rush hour. Good job Claire! I arrived at the airport with 1 minute to spare for check-in and no word of a lie I walked right through security and straight on to the plane.
Who am I kidding, this was a travel win! I killed it wasting no time at all and I saved money by taking the bus haha.
Let’s do all the unsafe things all at once in Bogota as soon as you land
This is probably the dumbest thing I’ve done when traveling with regard to safety. I’d been living in Latin America for around a year when I moved to Bogota. My Spanish still wasn’t great, but I knew enough to get by. I also really didn’t want to go to Bogota, I didn’t want to leave Guatemala. So I hadn’t done much planning because I was too sad about leaving.
So I arrive at the airport in Bogota at around 6 pm, it’s still light outside. I was expecting to be able to buy a sim at the airport and then work out how to get to where I needed to get to. But there were no sims for sale and no wifi. BUGGER. So I figure I’ll just take a taxi.
I walk outside and a man approaches me and askes me if I want an Uber… now, most people at this point would have said no chance. I asked how much and hopped into a car with a strange man I didn’t know claiming to be an uber driver. F*** sake Summers you dumb dumb.
Anyway luckily for me he wasn’t trying to rob or kidnap me. But he didn’t drop me off at my Airbnb. He dropped me off at the wrong place.
So it’s now dark, I have no phone, no clue where I am, and I’m staying in what turns out to be one of the more dangerous areas of Bogota… oh goodie. Anyway, after walking around for an hour asking for directions and getting a lot of blank faces, I end up wandering up on to the main road and 2 policemen on a motorcycle stop me and ask me if I’m ok.
By this point, I’m just about ready to cry and I try my best to explain that I’m looking for my Airbnb and have no phone to call. Anyway, they point and tell me to walk through this park full of shady looking teenagers. The look on my face must have said it all and they assured me it was fine and that they would meet me on the other side. Which they did and bless them they found the Airbnb for me and made sure I was safely inside.
So many lessons learned.
If it’s not nailed down, someone in Bogota is going to take it
I was warned about getting robbed in Colombia. But it’s easy to let your guard down and these guys move FAST! As a tall blonde woman in Colombia, I stand out, which makes me a walking target. I was warned about never putting my phone on a table. Never having anything in my pockets, and never leaving my bag somewhere someone can take it.
But of course, I did all of those things!
On my second day in Bogota, I went to a cafe and sat in the window. My bag was on the floor next to me and I was reading something on my phone. I had nothing in my bag, not even my money. So a guy walks in stands next to me, puts his bag down, then picked it back up and leaves. It didn’t feel right as it was an odd thing to do.
So I look down and my bag has gone and his bag is there in its place. I don’t even give it a second thought, I’m out the door chasing him down screaming that he stole my bag… although this was a terrible idea and I do not recommend it, I did get my bag back! This also taught me to never to put anything on the floor!
I did also get my phone taken out of my pocket (it was in there for less than 2 minutes) while on public transport. I was so mad with myself as I know not to ever do this. But it happened and it reminded me never to let my guard down even for a minute. It’s 100% the most exhausting thing about being a solo female traveler in Colombia. Anyway, learn from me and read this if you are traveling to Bogota.
Missed flight in Bogota
Oh, Bogota, you were a disaster, or rather I was a disaster. So much so that I couldn’t even get out of you without completely screwing up! I booked a flight to Medellin and I was counting down the days until I’d get on that plane and escape the Bogota smog.
Unfortunately, though I managed to completely mix up the dates and when I went to check-in for my flight I realized it had left the day before. OOPS! So I ended up on a long bus ride cross country with a packet of Oreos to feed me for 3 meals.
Good job Claire you are the worst solo female traveler. Congratulations.
The bus from hell to Medellin
I have been pleasantly surprised on my latest trip to Colombia at just how much the bus service has improved. It was not always this way. I was trying to head back to Medellin from Santa Marta after a little Christmas trip. So I turn up for the night bus to be told it is fully booked… F***
Fine, I’ll just sleep in the bus station and take the first bus in the morning. NOPE. The bus station is closing at 10 pm. F***.
Right ok, I’ll book a dorm.
Nope everywhere is fully booked, or I’d need to sell a kidney to afford it. F***.
Finally, I found a dorm in Taganga a place close to Santa Marta and another solo female traveler in the same position as me. We head to the hostel and the next day I catch the first bus to Medellin. It should have taken about 15 hours and gotten me in at 10 pm. I was teaching English online from 4 am the next day so I thought that would give me enough time to get some sleep before work. NOPE.
The bus got in at 2:30 am, by the time I got home I had 20 minutes to make some strong coffee before my class. I vowed never to step on another cross country Colombian bus again.
That time I was accidentally illegal in Colombia
As you can see from reading this far, I was a bit of a dumb dumb in Colombia. But I got worse. I managed to overstay my tourist visa. I didn’t think this would be such a big deal, especially as I had tried to renew online but it hadn’t worked. So I headed to the immigration office in Medellin armed with evidence of my attempt to renew.
They didn’t care. I had overstayed and I must pay and fine and leave. I had to have my mug shots done and fingerprints were taken. It wasn’t a nice experience and I vowed to be more careful in the future.
Lesson learned never overstay your visa, Claire.
Sorry, Mum, I might not make Thanks Giving
Only I didn’t learn my lesson, did I.
Fast forward a year and I’m living in Mexico and traveling home to visit my mum for Thank Giving. I get to the airport in Cancun and there is an issue with my ESTA. I didn’t realize that the ESTA was attached to my passport, so when I renewed my Passport my Esta became null and I needed to get a new one. F***.
So I frantically apply for a new one, “we are unable to approve your ESTA application automatically. Approval may take 72 hours” F***
I call my Mum, she called immigration. There are many harsh words spoken about my irresponsibility and need to adult better…
The approval comes through. YES!
Got to check in again. “I’m sorry Miss Summers but you have overstayed your visa by 3 days”
Off you go to immigration to pay a fine and get yourself, legal again young lady…
Luckily for me, I gave them a sob story and as it was only 3 days they let me off.
That time I ran out of money in Cuba
What is the one thing everyone traveling in Cuba needs to do? Take enough money to last for the whole trip right? Everyone knows this. I knew this. But I still ran out of money! In my (slight) defense though I took budget advice from someone traveling Cuba in a group which is a lot cheaper than traveling solo.
Luckily I still have a UK bank account and card so I was able to withdraw money from an ATM.
Get me the hell out of Europe
This is my most recent failure. I decided after 3 years it was time to go back to the UK to visit. The visit was triggered by a question I was asked on a recent trip from Mexico to the USA. “So when are you going back to YOUR country Miss Summers”
So I booked a flight, thinking it would help me get less heat from immigration. I was wrong. It was all going well until I tried to board my final flight from Portugal to New York. The connecting flight was delayed had to run to make the connection. I was asked by security for my exit flight. So I showed them my exit flight from the USA to Mexico to which I was informed, this wasn’t good enough.
That’s right folks TAP airlines decided I needed to go further away than Mexico. I would like to point out this is the airline, and not US Immigration making this decision. The way TAP handled everything was extremely unprofessional and I will NEVER use them again. I had to miss my flight and spend a night sleeping in the airport. Which was actually made a lot better by the amount of beer I drank and that I got to hang out with a cool guy who helped to pass the time.