No Great Story Ever Starts With ‘I Stayed At Home!’

Gap Year Travel Stories Egypt

Sometimes when you are travelling the world things can go wrong, but what is life without a few misadventures? At the time getting attacked by a poisonous snake or getting lost in a jungle may not be so much fun, but a lot of the time those stories can make up our best travel tales!

I have been backpacking for over a decade now and I consider myself a pretty worldly and confident traveller. I have had some of the best times of my life when travelling the world and some amazing experiences too, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t made my fair share of stupid mistakes. I have come across more than my fair share of scams and problems, I’ve had tons of scrapes and near misses and I’ve even had more than a few buttock clenching near death experiences!

Yes, even despite our best laid plans, sometimes things do go wrong on our travels.

But it is because of these mistakes and mishaps that – in the best tradition of Uncle Albert – I have a wealth of stories from my travels with which to bore people senseless with. A few start with ‘when I was in…’ instead of the famous ‘during the war…’, but still. Some are funny, some are nice and awe inspiring, some are even a little shocking, but the best ones without doubt always start with that immortal and time honoured phrase, ‘oh shit.’

Because it is when things go REALLY wrong you get your best travel stories!

When I first started backpacking I was as wide eyed and inexperienced as anyone, and like most backpackers I have run the gauntlet of less than comfortable budget experiences. I have endured the long uncomfortable night buses and lower class sleeper trains, been shown hostel rooms that were little more than a concrete cell with a few mattresses and a hole in the floor for … well you can imagine, because I didn’t know back in the day to look around for a better place. I have been chased down the street by incessant touts because I looked like a typical target for them and lost the last vestiges of whatever patience I had left after having scam after scam after scam tried on me. Seriously, the touts can be really persistent sometimes and it can feel like everyone is out to get you, those bastards really can turn what should be an enjoyable experience into a really stressful one. I have even in hindsight probably been fleeced out of more money than I needed to spend at tourist markets and fallen foul of taxi mafia price fixing. All of these things happen to everyone at first. It’s all just part of the journey and the learning process.

Michael Huxley

Slightly more seriously, since that first backpacking trip I’ve been lost in the jungle in Belize, been caught in a Saharan sandstorm, stranded in the Egyptian desert when my vehicle broke down and nearly drowned when white water rafting in Northern Thailand. Twice. I’ve nearly been run over by a boat when diving, been caught up in part of the Arab Spring, barely escaped an earthquake in Indonesia, caught Dengue fever in India and a hundred and one other unlucky experiences, near misses and scrapes.

On occasion I’ve even not listened to my own advice and been in my fair share of sticky moments where things could have turned real ugly too. I’ve fought back in an attempted armed mugging in Colombia and on more than one occasion I have lost my composure and argued with taxi drivers who were incessantly trying to rip me off. One in particular moved beyond simple arguing.

Hey, who hasn’t?

And no, your first instinct when seeing a wild bear should definitely not be aww cute! Cuddle time!

bear-spotting-in-romania-michael-huxley

It is easy to look back and look at all these as negatives, it is easy fall into the trap of saying that gap years are too hard, that backpacking is dangerous or difficult or any other number of depressing and unconstructive labels.

The truth is, it isn’t like that at all. The good times ALWAYS outweigh the bad!

Yes when written down and viewed in this way it looks negative. They are the exact type of thing that everyone always says will happen on a gap year. But this isn’t true at all.

A few bad things happened to me, but so what? Most of the time it was my fault for not paying attention, and anything can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime. I nearly got hit by a speedboat when diving in Thailand but I could have just as easily been hit by a bus crossing the road at home and it is infinitely more likely that I will become a victim of crime at home given that there is a far higher crime rate there than in many of the countries I travel to. Okay, I grant you it is highly unlikely that I’ll get lost in a jungle in the middle of Liverpool but my point is these things did not happen to me because I was travelling. They happened just because shit happens!

It is important to note as well that these experiences are rare. They may seem like a lot but I have been travelling the world for well over a decade! These experiences are absolutely in the minority compared to the amazing times I have had.

The best thing about all this is that yes these experiences may technically be considered bad, but they aren’t! Even some of the worst ones are all part of the adventure.

Life would be boring without experiencing extreme situations, pushing yourself, testing your limits and triumphing. At the time I may not have been having the best time and some may have been stressful or horrible experiences, but I learned and grew from each and every one of them! For every bad thing that has happened I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience that has helped me become a much more confident, relaxed traveller.

And the best thing about some of these experiences is that they have become some of my best travel stories.

When you get home you will quickly learn that people really don’t care about your awesome gap year adventures. People don’t want to hear about the idyllic beach you fell in love with and stayed on for a month longer than you planned, or that gorgeous luxury guesthouse you found for just a few pounds, it doesn’t matter how much you love to make them jealous! They want to hear about the time you cocked up and slipped on a river crossing and soaked your entire gear, or when things went wrong like the time those damn monkeys nicked my sunglasses! Evil little sods that they are!

They want to hear stories like the time I nearly caused a riot on a train platform in Delhi when I caused an entire platform of angry Indian men to miss their train.

Okay I’ll tell you that one, but bear in mind this one was their fault! Not mine in the slightest! Honest.

Gap Year India Train

Have you ever seen some of the trains in India? They are the very definition of insanity! Packed to the gills with as many people as possible to the point a sardine – or an average airline passenger on an economy class seat – would feel that they had acres of space. Every seat is taken up at least once with people sitting on top of one another, everyone is then crammed in till you are nose to nose standing up, and then – once the physical limits of the inside are reached – even more people clamber onto the top or hang off the sides by holding onto anything they can.

Like I said, it is insane!

Well I had only just arrived in Delhi, and I was still feeling the sting from the baseball bat to the face that culture shock had given me. India is just like that at first. I didn’t know my way around, I’d been awake for the better part of two days, I was more than a little disorientated and really, really tired and hungry. Not a good combination at the best of times, but especially when trying to negotiate the Delhi public transport system.

But that was okay. I was confident enough to bluff it until I could get to where I was going and find a room.

After becoming very well acquainted on the train with a dozen complete strangers with no sense of personal space, keeping a very close eye out for pickpockets and being more than glad I’m a big 6”2 and nowhere near the height where I would have a dozen sweaty armpits in my face, I eventually noticed the signs for what I thought was my stop. Time to get off.

But there was a problem.

As the train began to slow down near the platform, everyone on the train began jostling to get off, and everyone on the platform began jogging alongside the train to get on. Keep in mind we are not talking about a few commuters on their way to work here. The term ‘crowd’ takes on a whole new meaning in Delhi. So with literally dozens of people around me pushing and shoving to get off and on the train, I was literally stuck. I couldn’t move.

Time was ticking away quickly and I began to think I was going to miss my damn stop, and with only the vaguest idea of my bearings the idea of the train taking me elsewhere was not appealing. So I did what any sane and rational man would do, I stopped thinking and acted on instinct.

In hindsight, the part of my brain running my instinct, is an idiot.

I stood in front of the crowd trying to push their way onto the train, grabbed hold of two men in front of me and used them to push the entire crowd back like some human snow plough. The remaining passengers behind me jumped off and the train began to move off again. Unfortunately not everyone who I had just shoved back made it by running and jumping onto the open doorways and I was faced with a large crowd of very angry, and very shouty, Indian men.

Oh shit.

India railway gap year

At this point it is really important to remember the Indian norm of gathering in massive crowds and staring incessantly. Where a crowd of angry Indian men gather and start shouting, an even bigger crowd of Indian men will gather very, very quickly to stare and watch, and perhaps even join in. Pretty soon I was surrounded and severely outnumbered.

Double shit.

Readying my fists in case there was an abrupt and complete failure to communicate, I attempted to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. A tactic that wasn’t going well due to the fact that I was completely surrounded by a lot of angry, gesturing men and couldn’t move in any direction.

Luckily for me the police turned up pretty quickly. Unluckily for me instead of calming the situation down they began joining in the shouting! I was at least grateful they were aiming their shouts at the crowd and not me, and soon enough everyone was just shouting and gesturing wildly at everyone else. I’m not even sure what they were arguing about was what I originally did to start it all! So after doing my bit for English – Indian public relations, I decided the best thing to do was just disappear and leave them all to their shouting.

And I did, straight to a private room and a cold shower!

Not my finest moment I grant you, but I made it through safely. One thing is for sure, it gave me a good story to tell. One that I never would have had unless I had a spectacularly bad error in judgement, and certainly not one I would have had if I hadn’t have decided to go to India!

That is because nothing good ever comes out of staying in your comfort zone, of staying in that rut you dig for yourself by sticking to the 9 to 5 routine. Nothing exciting will ever happen to you unless you face the world head on, follow your dreams and see what experiences the world has in store for you!

You see, I’m not telling you about all of these experiences to scare you or to confirm all the media driven scaremongering that tells everyone that they should stay at home. I’m telling you this to drive the point home that backpacking is one of the best things you will ever do, that the good points will always outweigh the bad, but even more than that, I’m telling you this so you know that even when things do go wrong on your travels, they can still be a positive experience, they can all add exponentially to your own unique adventure.

If I had stayed in my comfort zone and never travelled, I would have missed out on some of the most amazing, defining moments of my life. Some of the negative experiences included!

If I hadn’t experienced some of the riskier parts of my round the world adventures, if I hadn’t have been tested, weighed and measured on the journey through my life so far, I wouldn’t have been shaped and moulded into the man I am today.

And that is exactly what all this is about.

If I never travelled out of fear of something bad happening I never would have had some of the best experiences of my life or seen some of the worlds most amazing ancient, modern and natural world wonders. I certainly would have never met the cat that saved my life!

Oh, did I not tell you this one?

I was waiting in Cairo train station for the Abella night train to take me down to Luxor and Aswan, and I had a long wait ahead of me for the late departure. There was a small cafe with an outside seated area surrounded by a high wall, which I settled into for the long haul. With my pack at my side and surrounded by Egyptians and a the occasional backpacker passing through, I lost track of time as I wrote a few chapters of my novel.

All this time there was a ginger cat that would not leave me alone, it was just constantly hanging around me for some reason but never came near enough to allow me to stroke her. Now I should explain I am a huge animal lover and I tried to entice it down with a little chicken off my plate, but she would have none of it. She simply sat patiently, staring at me. She moved around from time to time, sitting on the high wall looking down at me, sitting on the chair next to me or on the floor glaring at my pack. Since she seemed content simply to be there, I was happy just to leave her be. Maybe she’d curl up and have a nap, at least she’d be safe there.

After a couple of hours and a few more drinks and snacks later, I decided to stretch my legs and go for a walk. The cat was still there, staring at me incessantly. I said my silent goodbye and lifted up my pack.

Only to find a small snake had somehow nestled itself under it.

Now I am no expert but from what I can gather in hindsight from the size, colour and general demeanour (as well as the sheer panic from everyone around me) this was an Egyptian saw scaled viper, one of the more dangerous species of snake in the country. Whichever breed it was it was obviously aggressive and I have never seen a bunch of Egyptians move so damn fast in my life as the tables around me scrambled away to safety with loud shouts of warning in Arabic for me to do the same!

Before the snake could strike me – and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it would have – the cat had jumped down in between me and the snake and somehow managed to keep it at bay with its paws. If it hadn’t have been for that cat I have no doubt that snake would have had time to bite me, and if it had, I would have been very lucky to survive!

Long story short, the snake was dealt with and the cat and I were both fine.

After that, the cat finally accepted a small stroke from me and then disappeared over the wall as people returned, chairs were picked up and the small cafe began to return to a semblance of normality.

I never saw that cat again, but I am convinced that she was watching over me! And the first opportunity I got after that I bought a small statue of Bast in remembrance of her, I still have it now, and I try every chance I get to pay back the karma by helping cats in need.

I have no idea how that snake got under my pack, but I do know it is rare to come across them in the Egyptian desert, never mind the built up suburbs of Cairo! It was just one of those rare, unfortunate, can never plan for incidents that can happen anywhere at any time.

So would I let that scare me into never going back to Egypt? Of course not. Would I let that stop me from travelling? Never!

Yes things will inevitably go wrong from time to time on your gap or snap year, yes you will face a little risk and maybe even a little danger, but with reasonable precautions and common sense there is absolutely no reason why you can’t face these challenges head on and come out of the other side safe and sound and with an amazing story to tell!

And that is the point. Yes sometimes things go wrong on the road, sometimes you do stupid things on the spur of the moment or come across situations which at the time you may think you can’t handle,  but you will make it through the other side. More importantly it is how you deal with those eventualities, how you learn and grow from them, how you let them shape you into a better, stronger, wiser person that counts.

World travel has absolutely been the best thing I have ever done, and the positives outweigh the negatives so much that the bad times seem almost negligible. Small potholes on a very long, very smooth highway.

So don’t let the fear of what may happen put you off travelling.

Don’t let the fact that there is always a chance that things will go wrong scare you into thinking that following your dreams of travelling the world are too dangerous. They aren’t! Embrace the risk! Prepare for it as best you can of course, you should absolutely use your common sense and reasonable safety precautions to minimize the potential risks as much as possible, but don’t be afraid of the fact that you will never reduce risk completely. Life is about overcoming those risks and facing them as an opportunity to grow as a person!

Every bad experience has a silver lining, it is when things go wrong on our travels that we learn more about ourselves, we learn who we are and what we are capable of. We can come through the other side more experienced, more worldly, more capable. We will never again have to ask ourselves what we would do if faced with certain situations because we will know. We will know by experience, and whatever life throws at us we will be able to say ‘No worries, I can handle it!’

One thing is certain, by travelling the world and taking your own risks, you will get a whole list of your own interesting stories to tell, and I will guarantee that none of them will start with ‘that time I stayed at home’.

What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? Have you had a few travel disasters of your own? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Related Articldes

Excuse Buster Series Part 1: Why People Make Excuses Not To Travel Independently.

How Not To Get Murdered, Killed Or Kidnapped On Your Gap Year.

No One Wishes They Travelled Less When They Die.

Turn Your Gap Year Dreams Into Reality.

Warning! Reading This Can Be Extremely Hazardous To Your Comfort Zone!

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Michael Huxley is a published author, freelance travel writer and founder of Bemused Backpacker. He is also a charge nurse by vocation with an interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine, but his real passion is travel. Since finding his wanderlust a decade ago in South East Asia, he has bounced from one end of the planet to another and has no intention of slowing down.

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26 comments on “No Great Story Ever Starts With ‘I Stayed At Home!’
  1. My Cup Of Travel says:

    Oh I love love love this post. You’re writing style is sublime and your adventures hilarious & just absolutely inspiring! Oh and thanks for pushing others out of the negativity into the positivity. Yep things go wrong, with me all the time, but after a while I laugh at it cause every little thing is gonna be all right (Bob Marley was right all along) 🙂

    • Wow thank you so much for the compliment! I really am glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I guess all those years frequenting the ubiquitous Bob Marley bars on SE Asian island beaches must have rubbed off on me! 😉

  2. hippieinheelsblog says:

    That’s awesome, but seriously pissing off a train platform of indian men is like up there in scariness with a shark attack. no thanks! you’re crazy lol!!! awesome post

  3. Ayla says:

    This is brilliant, I’m laughing so much – even if it is at your expense 😉 You clearly have some sort of bad vibe with train stations – maybe you should stay clear of them from now on! And that cat was definitely there to protect you – love how animals know things when you don’t even have a clue. So glad you wrote this! I’m hoping my train journey in India won’t be quite as eventual as yours though! 🙂

    • Oh believe me, train, plane, automobile or on foot I’ve got dozens more stories, I’ve had epic fails regardless of whether I was on land, air or sea! That is part of why I have enjoyed my backpacking adventures so much, and they have all helped shape me into the person I am today. I’m sure your own journey will be much less eventful, because on the other side of the coin I had countless other experiences – including train journeys – in India that were amazing. The ‘bad’ things really are in the absolute minority despite peoples tendencies to focus on and worry about them. Besides, as I say even the most spectacular cock ups can in hindsight be amazing experiences in themselves, it is how you deal with them and learn and grow from them that counts.

      You’re right too, that cat was definitely protecting me that day I have no doubt.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, I appreciate it, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  4. Love this post!! You had us in stitches and you write so wonderfully that it seriously made us feel like we were there staring into the faces of the Indian men right beside you!!
    Also totally agree with you, it’s stories like these that make the best travel tales. Happy travels!
    PS: Agree with Ayla – seems like you and train are not the best of combinations 🙂

    • Haha thank you so much. It’s always unbelievably amazing to recieve compliments like this. 🙂 Maybe now I need to write a post on some of my great train experiences, I don’t want to put anyone off them! 😉 Thank you for the comment.

  5. Kate L says:

    I loved this post! I’m sure everyone has things go wrong when backpacking and it may sound strange but It is so reassuring to hear, especially as you put such a positive spin on it. Would love to hear about the time you got lost in the jungle though!

  6. globalmouse says:

    This is a brilliant post…it makes me both long to be travelling right now….and really pleased I’m not facing down a station full of angry men!! Travelling is definitely all about the stories and adventures – and mis adventures turned into successes. I love your tales, thank you for sharing!

    • Haha, thank you so much! I’m happy you enjoyed it. You are so right, adventure wouldn’t be adventure without the occassional mis as a prefix! And I have plenty more tales to share … 😉 Thank you for the comment.

  7. Deia @ Nomad Wallet says:

    Hilarious stories! Now I’m not sure I want to take the train in India, being armpit-to-face height and all. Also, great PR for cats; they get a lot of bad rap and always get compared to the goody-goodies that are dogs. How about starting a story with “I stayed at home, but then I got bored and boarded a train in India…”? Could work, I think. 🙂

    • Thanks! I really don’t want to put anyone off train travel in India though! It really is a great experience. I completely agree about the bad rap for cats, but I love dogs just as much. Thank you for commenting.

  8. You definitely know how to step out of your comfort zone! I do however share your passion for cultural travel, so I understand exactly what you get out of all your travel experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly! Being a 50 year old women with two kids, I have found my travel niche in international home exchange. We get to live in the homes of locals and to live like temporary locals. When you settle down one day and have a family, you might want to give that a try too!

  9. Trains in India are an experience, each and every time you take one. Enjoyed reading your stories!

  10. Loved the snake and cat story – similar experience I had when I accidentally caught a poisonous sea snake while fishing in Greece, and scared a restaurant of locals by carrying it in, only to empty the taverna in about 3 seconds! The owner was NOT best pleased with me.

  11. karyn_janem says:

    That cat story is flippin awesome! Kitty knew just what she was doing!

    And as a pagan, I think it’s so cool that you bought a statue of Bast and honored her. 🙂

  12. Aditi Roy says:

    Amazing post.. Just loved every bit of it.. Hats off to your immense badluck at the station in India and that you escaped it. I am an Indian and from Delhi, so can imagine!!.. Love the cat story too…Retweeting it now.. Good luck!

    • Thanks Aditi, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yeah that station incident was a bit intense! Haha! There are plenty more stories where they came from too! ;D Thanks for the comment and the shares. 🙂

  13. That was a good read Mike! When you mentioned about a cat saving you I was like, ‘how?’ But well, that experience was indeed extreme and the cat sure did saved you! I’m very intruiged about how locals in Delhi could deal with all that to be honest, I ask the same question whenever I see the traffic in Manila over the news. Just how. It is so dangerous! But then again, I am no judge for this since I haven’t seen the better part of the world as much as you had 🙂

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a published author, qualified nurse and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent 15 years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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