Let me start by touching wood and saying that I hope I never have to update this list!
When you travel as much as we do things are bound to occasionally go wrong. And they do! I think that having 5 kids with us probably increases the odds a fair bit too!
So here it is. Our 7 most scary travel experiences:
1. Broken wrist in Bali
What began as a great day touring Ubud and surrounds, very suddenly turned into what I can only describe as a nightmare. After visiting waterfalls, temples, a coffee plantation and a volcano, our very last stop for the day was the rice terraces. Now, if you’ve been there, or even just seen pictures, you probably know that there is a pretty big drop between each level. Well, our eldest daughter Anna discovered that the hard way! I wasn’t right there when it happened. I had taken our youngest daughter Lucy to find a toilet and as we were returning, I heard Anna screaming and crying. She’s a pretty tough girl so I knew something serious had happened for her to be making that much noise. I was holding a sleeping baby who I just sort of thrust upon a nearby onlooker, left Lucy with another stranger, and ran to Anna. She was lying on the ground screaming. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in three seconds. A snake bite? A bullet? I actually thought she might be dying! Peter was with her and told me she had fallen. Her forehead and cheek were grazed and bleeding and she was clutching at her wrist. When we established that she was ok to get up and walk, we carefully headed back to the car. Our driver dropped Anna and Peter at a nearby medical centre and then took the rest of the kids and I back to our hotel. It was horrible, I didn’t hear anything for hours and then when I did I felt sick! They had moved her via ambulance to a hospital and wanted to operate on her wrist under general anaesthetic! There is a more detailed blog post on the full story coming, but in short, after many, many calls back and forth to our travel insurance company and doctors in Australia, and a visit to another hospital in Kuta, we flew back to Australia (cutting our time in Bali short). By this time the break was 2 days old and still untreated. We took her straight to a hospital that we are familiar with in Melbourne, where they assessed and re-x-rayed her wrist and established that she in fact did not need an operation, just a plaster cast. I will be forever grateful that we went with our instincts and refused the unnecessary surgery!
2. Kidnapped in Paris
Ok, so this wasn’t so much our scary experience as it was mine, as I was the only one aware of what was going on (or what wasn’t going on……). It was our first overseas trip with kids. We arrived in Paris tired and a little disoriented. Without really thinking it through, or realising what we were doing, we got into a strangers car. And things got weird……. sort of. I had been silly enough to watch the movie ‘Taken’ (in which two girls are kidnapped by human traffickers in Paris) right before our trip. I genuinely believed we were being kidnapped! I was absolutely terrified. The similarities ( I created in my head) to the movie, paired with the gun I found, really didn’t help! You can read the full story here, but let’s just say, we in fact, were not kidnapped, and ended up having a fantastic trip…….
3. Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland
We had bought a car for £500 in England and headed to Europe for an epic road trip. The car, while cheap and basic, did seem reliable and in good condition. The only real fault with it was that the air-conditioner didn’t work. Ironically, most of Europe was experiencing a heatwave at this time, with the daily temperature in the high 30’s. On this particular day we had been driving for hours, albeit through some spectacular Swiss landscape, when we suddenly came to a traffic jam. We sat stationary for around half an hour, occasionally moving forward a car length or two. We speculated what may have happened up ahead. A car accident? Road works? As we slowly made our way around a bend, Peter started getting concerned that the car may be beginning to overheat. And on the odd occasion that Peter gets concerned about something, I get really concerned! But before we got a chance to really think or talk about this possible issue we found ourselves picking up the pace a little and heading toward a tunnel. We had driven through many tunnels that day, some quite long, but nothing compared to this one…… It wasn’t until we were driving into the tunnel that we saw the sign – 17km!!!! (we had no GPS or internet during this time and were basically just following road signs, so had no idea what was ahead of us…..) Driving through a very long tunnel may not seem that scary to most people, but to get the idea of just how much I was freaking out, here’s an exert from the blog post I wrote shortly after: (or click here to read the full post)
I tried to keep calm for Anna’s sake. She was the only kid awake and she’s a little stress-head like her Mum. As she watched me in the side mirror, I smiled, breathing heavily, my heart racing so fast I wondered if she might be able to see my chest going in and out at an abnormal pace. Peter, who is usually oh-so-calm in any situation, was getting pretty rattled too. I could tell this, not only by how focused he was and how tightly he was clenching the steering wheel, but also by the fact that he couldn’t stop saying things like “This isn’t right”, “They shouldn’t be allowed to have this tunnel, it’s crazy!”, “There should be an emergency stopping lane” “What if a car breaks down or if there’s an accident?”, “Diesel fumes can kill you if you’re stuck in a tunnel”……..this did not help me or Anna at all! The fact that we had been sitting in the sun for so long in a car that, while reliable so far (touch wood), is not the newest, ‘healthiest’ of cars, had him stressing somewhat as to whether it would make it through……. We just kept telling ourselves that thousands upon thousands of cars go through it each day and everything would be fine……..
When we saw that first glimpse of sunlight at the end of the tunnel, the relief was overwhelming. Thinking back, I can honestly liken it to the relief I felt when I finally gave birth after hours of intense contractions! And at least with child birth I’d had nine months to prepare myself. We didn’t even know this tunnel existed until we were seconds away from entering it! That 17km drive was seriously one of the scariest experiences of my life. And yet thousands of people do it every day. Crazy!
And I’m happy to report the car held up for the entire two months that we had it (you can read our post on buying and selling a car in the UK here – much cheaper than car rental)!
4. Falling down stairs in Paris
It was 2015 and the last day of our week long stay in a fantastic 3 bedroom Airbnb apartment in Paris. The apartment was spread out over four levels with a narrow, winding staircase joining them. There were doors at the top of each staircase and we had been diligent all week to keep them shut and make sure the kids were very cautious when using the stairs. The little ones were to always hold an adults hand and no one was ever to run! On this particular day we were in a mad rush. We were due to catch the ferry back to England that evening, but after a mix up with our booking, were informed we had just a few hours to get from Paris to Calais in time to board the ferry and we hadn’t even begun to pack or clean. Without thinking I handed Anna (aged 9 at the time) a washing basket and asked her to quickly go down to the laundry and empty the washing machine. Moments later I heard several thuds followed by screams. I instantly felt nauseous. I ran down the stairs to find her lying on the bottom step. She had slipped and fallen on her back two thirds of the way down. She was screaming and crying and saying “my back” “I can’t move” “I can’t breathe”. I think I froze for a second as thoughts just flooded my head. Do I call an ambulance? Do I run to another apartment for help? What if no one speaks English? What if she’s broken her spine? Fortunately Peter arrived moments after I did and began to assess her. I couldn’t think straight, I was genuinely panicking. And I felt so, so unbelievably guilty. Luckily Peter has done quite a bit of first-aid training in the past and is always the calm one in a crisis. After checking her out thoroughly he eventually stood her up. She had big red marks on her back from the impact on the edge of the stairs. As he established that she could breath ok (she was just winded), and after a little while could walk ok, albeit in some pain, both Anna and myself began to calm down. As we were due to be in the UK that evening, and she seemed to not be in too much pain, we decided to continue with what was planned and get her looked at once we docked. She had some painkillers and stayed rested and throughout the afternoon the pain lessened and we realised that she was going to be fine, just sore for a while. We did get her looked at in the UK and I am so happy to say that besides some bruises, she was fine.
5. Sinking boat in Tasmania
The first trip Peter and I ever took together, well before kids, was to Tasmania. I was 18 and Peter was 19. We had booked to go on a lunch cruise along the Derwent River. It was a fairly small boat and there would have probably only been about 15 other people on it with us. It was a cold and windy day but most of the boat was enclosed with big windows to look out of so we weren’t concerned about the weather at all. It started off fine. It was quite choppy and the boat was rocking a fair bit but we actually found it fun. We stood outside laughing as our hair blew all over our faces and we got splashed by the waves crashing in to the boat. About half an hour in to the cruise we came back inside for lunch and that’s when things started turning bad. As the waves got bigger and bigger, the boat started rocking more and more and our plates and drinks began sliding across the table. We could hear things smashing in the kitchen and there were several people outside being sick overboard. As we looked out of the window, a big red board floated past. The boat was red and I joked that it was a piece of the boat (it turned out that it was)! Moments later the captain’s voice came over the loud speaker assuring everyone that everything was ok and under control. But, I guess in all of his panic, he forgot to turn the microphone off when he was finished and we all got to hear him proceed to make an emergency call to shore. “We’re in trouble” “need urgent assistance” are not things you really want to hear coming from the captain of a boat you are currently on! It was around this time too, that we saw smoke coming from somewhere on the outside of the boat. Everyone (who wasn’t throwing up overboard) remained seated, with concerned and confused looks on their faces. Thinking back now, I’m surprised no-one began to panic! We didn’t hear anything else from the captain and the crew all seemed to be busy elsewhere (or hiding). It wasn’t until we heard and felt the engine turning off that we got up to see what was happening. There it was, a police boat, about one third of the size of the boat we were on, hooking up to our boat. It took me a while to realise that this little boat was about to attempt to tow us to shore. And that’s exactly what it did! We made the news that night and never did take them up on their offer to return for a complimentary cruise!
6. Sick and separated in Scotland
It was about 10 days into our Europe/UK road trip. We had stayed in London for a few days and then headed south where we bought a car and camping gear and began to camp our way across England to Scotland. During our first few days camping Elyssa (our second eldest), who was 6 at the time, fell unwell. She had a terrible cough, burning throat and fevers. When we arrived in Scotland she was in a really bad way. She had begun vomiting and was very weak. She needed urgent medical treatment! We went straight to the A&E department of the nearest hospital (all 7 of us!). She was seen straight away and given a bed and fluids. While we waited for test results the other kids got more and more restless to the point where they just had to leave. So, Peter left myself and baby Ben (5 months old) with Elyssa and took off with the other kids in search of some accommodation (it was raining and none of us were in the mood for camping). During this time Peter’s phone wasn’t working and we were transferred to a children’s hospital via taxi as they wouldn’t allow us in an ambulance with a baby. It was really scary. In a foreign place, with a really sick kid and a baby, not knowing where my husband or other children were or how to get hold of them. After many, many hours Peter found us, but it had been decided at that time that Elyssa was to be admitted for the night. I couldn’t stay with her because I needed to be with the baby who wasn’t allowed to stay, so the only option was for Peter to stay with Elyssa overnight . The thing was, I couldn’t drive our car. It was a manual and as much as I hate to admit it, don’t know how to drive one. So, we had to leave our poor little girl on her own while Peter drove myself and the kids to our hotel, 40 minutes away (near the original hospital we were in). After he returned to Elyssa, I didn’t hear from Peter again that night. It was one of the longest nights of my life, but fortunately by the next day she was improving and discharged with medicine. We were all super happy to be reunited and to continue on our adventure together but also thankful for the medical care we received. Not only was Elyssa looked after so well, but surprisingly it didn’t cost us a cent thanks to the wonderful NHS!
7. Out of fuel on the M4
Our first time in the UK, in 2010, Peter, myself, our two eldest daughters (then aged 3 and 1) and my Mum. We hired a car and spent 5 days touring the English countryside before returning to London. We had a fantastic, incident free, time, until the last hour of the road trip. It was around 5pm and we were on the M4, about half an hour out of London, in pretty heavy traffic. All of a sudden Peter says “uh-oh”! Peter doesn’t say “uh-oh”! Something was wrong! Before I even asked what was going on, the car was sort of chugging, and Peter was pulling into the emergency lane. I thought we had broken down but no, we had run out of petrol! Great! What now? We were sitting there, cars zooming so close past us, miles from any exits and just our luck, none of our phones were charged (although I don’t know if we would have had any clue who to call even if they were). I was furious with Peter and terrified a car was going to side swipe us or worse (again, maybe I need to stop watching movies…..). I waited in the car with Mum and the girls while Peter walked along the emergency lane to an emergency phone a fair way down the road. Not really the safest thing to do on a freeway but we didn’t really have any choice. Watching my husband walking away from us, so close to heavy, fast moving traffic, my heart was pounding. Fairly soon after he returned to our car a highway patrol car arrived. They organised a tow truck to take the car and Peter to a petrol station, and a taxi to take the rest of us and our luggage to London. During that time we had no way of being in touch with each other, so when Peter finally arrived at the hotel, a long time after we had, I was so happy to see him I completely forgot how cross I was that he’d run out of fuel!
And that’s a wrap! Fortunately nothing too harrowing (yes, I’m still touching wood), but still all experiences we could definitely have done without. I think with each of these experiences though, we learned and grew and ultimately got stronger and more travel savvy!