Embarrassing Stories from my Travels

embarrassing travel stories

This weekend I played tourist in my hometown and took the Metro to the Olympic Stadium for First Fridays, a massive food truck gathering on the first Friday of each summer month. We arrived early, so we opted to hit the cafe inside the stadium before the doors opened. When I leaned back against the counter, I felt a searing pain on my right butt cheek. Wondering if I was simply conducting an alarming amount of static electricity, I shot forward and swatted behind me.

A huge yellow jacket fell to the floor, stunned. He or she must have been sitting on my ass for who knows how long. My heart raced, my leg felt numb, and my tongue started to swell. I’ve never reacted with anaphylaxis from a bee or wasp sting before, but I’ll be following up for a potential allergy because it was a very different body response.

And then I had to pleasure of telling friends that I was stung in the butt by a wasp.

Sharing Embarrassing Travel Stories

The reaction from said friends was, “Jodi WHY does this always happen to you?” Which is a really valid question given the wildlife mishaps during my travels.

First, the problem of all the birds that have crapped on my head during my years of travel (14 birds and 1 bat, to be specific). Then, the iguana that mauled my leg in Belize — more on this soon, I promise — when he thought I was a tree and tried to climb me to eat my shirt.

embarrassing travel stories: the iguana that mauled me

There is the spider that ate other spiders in my room in New Zealand, not to mention the possum that attacked me at three in the morning in the same country, launching himself at me like a grenade while I screeched, half-asleep.

But none of these mishaps qualify for embarrassing travel stories. I have others that do. And since the blog veered toward the solemn with my Vipassana piece and the post on mechanics of jet lag, let’s get back to taking things a little less seriously shall we?

You’re welcome.

Banging a Bus in Argentina

I visited Argentina for the first time the year before I started working as a lawyer in New York City. Up until that point, my Spanish vocabulary consisted of very basic words I learned and strung together while visiting Spain. It was in Barcelona, in between tapas and wine, that I learned some phrases that kept me afloat in more rural areas.

Where is the bathroom?

How are you?

I am from Canada.

My name is Jodi.

Where can I take the bus?

It was the latter sentence that got me into trouble in Argentina. Coming off a long bus ride, I couldn’t find my connecting bus. I approached two men wearing the Andesmar uniform, thinking they might know.

“Permiso donde puedo coger el bus?” I asked timidly. I thought what I was asking was, “where can I take the bus?”

I was met with raucous laughter.

Donde quieres, chica!” one of them said.

Confusion reigned until I remembered what my friends in Uruguay told me: coger was slang for “to fuck.”

So I basically asked where could fuck the bus, which led to the mirthful, mocking response of “wherever you’d like, lady.”

Face flushed with shame, I blurted out, “lo siento, estoy tanto embarazada!

The gentlemen doubled over with laughter once again. One looked me up and down slowly and drawled, “I think not” (“pienso que no”).

And that was how I learned that in Spanish, embarazada is the word for “pregnant,” not for embarrassed. In case you were wondering, embarrassed is avergonzado or desconcertado.

For those learning Spanish, there are several other words that resemble English words but aren’t. A few:

  • Librería is a book store, not a library. A library is a biblioteca.
  • Decepción means to be disappointed, not deceived. A deception is an engaño.
  • And one of my favourites: carpeta is a file folder — a carpet is the awesome alfombra. Carpet never sounded so satisfying.

As for Argentina, I was appalled to manage not one but two disastrous language mistakes. To assuage my shame, I wrote a group email back to friends and family at home.

“I did the impossible,” it read. “I not only asked to have sex with a bus, but insisted that I was pregnant while doing so.”

embarrassing spanish language mistakes
Argentine glaciers don’t judge.

Ants in my Pants at Angkor

The Great Butt Sting of 2016 reminded me of another ‘when nature attacks’ story from my time at Angkor Wat, a far more embarrassing turn of events. I was on a date with a very cute boy from Switzerland, who I had met in a different country. We stayed in touch in the interim and coordinated a trip to Angkor at the same time. His friends were working at an NGO in town. We spent our days climbing hidden treehouses and roaming the temples in awe, and the evenings eating and listening to stories from people who knew the city better than we did.

the worst date i ever had on my travels:: now with more fire ants
Angkor Wat at dusk

During one particularly lovely evening, he suggested that we sit and watch the sunset over Angkor Wat while listening to Michael Galasso’s track Angkor Wat Theme II from the In The Mood for Love soundtrack. This sounded like a great idea. As the sun began to set behind the ruins, we curled up on a stone bench and put on the song.

I even took a photo, since I loved the symmetry:

embarrassing travel stories: ants in my pants
Not pictured: me yelping and running around smacking my butt.

All seemed to be going well: stunning sunset, a gentleman I enjoyed sitting next to me, crumbling temples from a former kingdom. Except for one thing: I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sitting on a pile of fire ants. I found out pretty quickly.

Stinging pain, followed by more stinging pain. I leapt up with a shriek, and ran around in circles smacking my behind as that “great guy” laughed so hard that tears poured down his face. To make matters worse, there were several monks nearby, also waiting for a quiet sunset. I gave them a sincerely authentic burst of entertainment, and they had a field day laughing along with us.

fire ants cambodia

Flashing a Tribesman in Myanmar

I was in Myanmar in late 2009 for over seven weeks, extended my trip from the initial few. The country was still under military rule, and you were allowed to see what you were allowed to see, and no more. I was encouraged to visit by friends who worked for NGOs in Northern Thailand as well as friends who had visited previously. They urged me to explore and take care to stay at local guesthouses and eat on the street, giving money to the local economy instead of the junta. At the time, it was a controversial decision to visit. I wrote a long “before you go” piece to reflect my thought process.

My travels took me up to the Kachin State Fair in Myitkyina, then back down to Mandalay by boat during a solar eclipse. They took me to Bagan (one of the worst bus rides I’ve ever experienced!) and to Inle Lake, and then south of Yangon to Hpa-An and its crazy caves and limestone cliffs.

longyi myanmar
Longyis aplenty in this Inle Lake market photo.

It was in Inle Lake that I experienced an embarrassing travel faux pas. Throughout my time in Myanmar, I wore a traditional wraparound skirt called a longyi. It was easy to use, doubled as a towel after the shower, was comfortable, and wasn’t indecent in a very conservative country. To put on the longyi as a woman, you pull all of the fabric to one side, fold it back at the hip while holding it tight against your waist, and then tuck it into the opposite side. Women often sew in a thin band of black cotton at the top of the longyi, where it sits at the waist, “for the sweat”.

During one of many dawn boat trips around Inle Lake, I stepped out of the boat to attend one of the beautiful morning markets. While exiting the tiny boat, my longyi got caught on a protruding nail. In two seconds flat, the longyi untucked from my waist and lay in a pool of fabric at the bottom of the boat. Given that many Burmese women I met wore thick flannel bloomers under their longyis, my thong underwear was likely quite a surprise. And I highly doubt that the entire boat behind me full of Pao-O tribesman had seen a traveler’s pasty white butt before.

inle lake myanmar: the site of one of the more embarrassing things I did on my travels
Inle Lake, Myanmar

I went out and bought a safety pin immediately, but it didn’t stop the Inle boat drivers from giving me a smirk and a thumbs up when they passed me during the duration of my stay. News travels fast in a tiny town, especially when it involves a mistaken strip-down in front of a boat of elderly tribesman.


57 thoughts on “Embarrassing Stories from my Travels”

  1. Oh man “coger el autobús” takes me back to Spanish class when my teacher took great pains to explain the difference between “coger” and “tomar” when in South America. It apparently happened to him out there, too. Take heart that you were not alone in asking where to have sex with a bus. :)

  2. Not a travel story, but reminds me of the scene in the book Almost French, when Sarah offers her husband his pipe (she thinks) after lunch with a work colleague. In fact, she is asking if he’d like a blow job – much to the amusement of the work mate.

  3. Fortunately I found out about the verb “coger” from my Spanish teacher in my hometown before I travelled to South America, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve found myself in a similarly embarrassing situation!

  4. “Wherever you’d like, lady” – that’s hilarious!

    BTW, a lot of Spanish speakers get tripped up when learning Portuguese because the languages are very similar, but different. One of my favorites is:
    – In Spanish, “casar” is “marry” and “cazar” is “hunt.”
    – In Portuguese, “casar” (pronounced with a Z sound) is “marry” and “caçar” (pronounced with an S sound) is “hunt”
    …so it’s basically reversed.

    My best language screw-up fortunately only happened in Portuguese class. “Coco” is coconut, and “cocô” is poop. I WANTED to say “I like coconut water,” but you can guess what I said instead!

  5. I love this post! I am a study abroad student who enters my blog around embarrassing mishaps and lessons learned abroad (hehe… I love embarrassing myself and turning my mistakes into help for others). So it was fun to hear another blogger sharing the less glamorous side of travel ; )

    1. Thanks! I’ve definitely done so over the years (please look at the “misadventures in transportation” stories for starters!) and I agree it’s far better to be realistic about the good and the bad. Safe travels!

  6. Jodi these are so great. Love the flashing story – ha! So well-timed too because I just wrote about peeing my pants in Patagonia yesterday on my travel blog, Optimism Rampage. You win some; you lose some!

  7. I love your stories – the stories that you can laugh about later but at the time…ahh, not so much. Love all the craziness. In our travels to China…we knew 4 phrases…hello, good bye, thank you…and Wo Ai Ni…when in doubt, that’s the one we used most…I Love You. :)

  8. Haha – I love these stories!! In a sort of cruel, thank-god-it-didn’t-happen-to-me kind of way… Though language mistakes are very easy to make. In a restaurant in Valencia, my friend once accidentally asked the elderly woman if he could have ‘the small penis’ instead of ‘the small chicken’! Luckily, she thought it was hilarious and scurried over to share the joke with all of the rest of the staff.

    1. They are, it’s true! I’ve loved hearing other friends’ stories from their language mistakes. I have a post on the site about the time I mistakenly said “may I please fart” instead of “excuse me” for many months in Thailand. What a mess haha!

  9. First time reading your blog. Greatly amusing stories. Travel opens our mind and sometimes, we open ourselves up for some laughter at our own expense.

  10. Have to agree with the first comment–your bum sure does receive a lot of (unwanted) attention! I always have trouble thinking of travel mishaps of my own, even though there are plenty. A few stories that come to mind off the bat involved buses…thought not fucking them, thankfully ;)

  11. Hahaha! Currently in a quaint coffee shop in Kosovo bursting out in laughter, as if being black in this country didn’t draw me enough attention, lol. Really enjoyed this piece, Jodi, and love how you can paint pictures and scenarios so easily with your words. You’re so talented with your writing and I can only hope you “suffer” more mishaps on the road, so that you feel compelled to write another one of these ;)


  12. Hilarious stuff, Jodi.

    I once provided the shock of a lifetime to a Quechua woman in Peru as I peed against a rock at about 14,000 feet during a hiking trip. The sight of her and her immediate laughter spooked me (and the two alpacas with her) enough to where I peed on my pants while trying to spin away from her. I was like 100 yards from the trail!

  13. Anonymous Hieronymous Bosch

    Visiting Chile with my fiancé , her parents and brothers was a wonderful time but we had a couple wonderful language mistakes. As we were leaving a rather swanky New Year’s Eve party, I made sure to wish everyone I had met that evening a happy new year. Curteously, I did it in Spanish. So as we walked out the door at the very end, I was informed that “Feliz Ano” is a bit different than “Feliz Año”. The latter is happy new year, I was wishing everyone a “Happy anus”. Which I suppose wasn’t all bad…

    And my fiancé, during a conversation discussing with our hosts about our plans later in the vacation informed them she was looking forward to horseback riding. But instead of saying riding a “caballo”, she said said she was excited to ride a “caballero”. Which translates to “a gentleman”.

  14. Oh my gosh, Spanish phrase mix-ups are my favorite! hehehe. My family is Cuban and I found out years ago from my Mexican friend that “fajando” does not mean to fight in Mexican spanish, it means to make-out…so when I was explaining how I use to always ‘fight’ with my brother as a kid…awkward!

  15. Hahaha I loved this post. Glad to see fellow travelers not taking themselves too seriously and stepping into similar situations as I do…. There was a time I was sitting on a tropical beach in Tonga, only a few people around, and had opened up a parasol. I was sitting beneath and my friend was taking a photo. When I felt something falling onto my back. I jumped up, squeaking – and it didn’t come off!! I was then screaming and doing the most hilarious movements to shake the thing on my back off – a harmless little lizard. That “dance” must have looked priceless….
    Happy traveling, haha :)

  16. Oh my, those are some embarrassing stories.

    In Korea, instead of saying “I’m sorry,” to a young man as I bumped into him, apparently, according to some friends, I told him “I love you.” It explained the odd way he looked at me.

    While in India, I avoided embarrassment like the plague but my travel partner did not. As we sat at the Queen Victoria Memorial in India, she turned to me and said, “I feel a breeze… on my butt.”

    “Well there is a slight wind,” I said.

    She felt around with her fingers and said, “No… it’s a hole. A really big hole.”

    After she stood up, it became apparent the hole extended from one half of her butt to the other, just under it as though someone slashed the back of her pants open. I crashed into a fit of giggles as she had to walk from the Victoria Memorial to a horse ride holding up the errant fabric, then we booked it to the home we were staying in to change before we taught class.

  17. Hi Jodi….. I like the way you travel especially your decision to eat on the street when visiting Myanmar.
    For me a more rewarding adventure is when I eat and sleep in a place which far from touris central. There I usually can have the local taste which surely costs cheaper. Getting in a closer contact with local is also its adventage.

  18. Love this! I have soooooooooooooo many embarrassing moments as well traveling girl. I feel ya. I almost fell off the cliffs of Scotland, twice, by slipping on mud straight onto my ass. In front of my entire tour group. That was a good one.

  19. Found your blogg by coincedence ….. Just love it. Having a daugther travelling in Myanmar, makes me feel very Near and to know more about the sceneries you so beatiful descibes.. Thanks. Happy journey to you…

  20. I found your blog from a google search of “travel blogs”. I tutor a German lady in English and the only thing that she enjoys is traveling. She has been studying English and speaking it in formal work settings for many years so her English is very good! But she wants to learn more slang and every day phrases. When I meet with her, I bring printed out copies of your posts and we read them together. Then we talk about words or phrases that she is not familiar with.

    Thank you for providing this fun and helpful content! She loves it. And she is learning so much from it! I love how your blog has travel tips and food things, but also has personal experiences. Your stories are what help readers to learn more about yourself and really get drawn into your posts.
    Thanks for sharing!

  21. haha banging on the bus.

    I have been learning Russian and made a mistake to the girl I was seeing at the time, in front of her friends. I tried to tell my girlfriend that I was very happy that I had her with me while in Russia.

    Instead of saying “U Menya Yest tebya staboy” (I have you with me)
    I said “Ya Emil Tebya” “I had you” – (Meaning I used you for sex – or something else).

    They all laughed and I could not understand why until later.

    Ahhh the wars we could begin by a slight miscomunication haha

  22. Ouch ants in your pants sounds the worst but it has happened to me. just that it was bees in my butt. eeeek!!! I was chilling on a hammock by the beach and got up to 20 stings on my butt (I was wearing shorts – thank god not a bikini).

  23. Loved the Argentina story, they must have been peeing their pants. My Spanish is pretty decent but I would make those mistakes too…and that’s not the version of “coger” I learned in Spanish class.

    Not embarrassing but one of my strangest travel adventures happened last week in Lviv when we were woken up at 3 am by a large bat that had somehow gotten into the room. Heard something slapping against the walls, turned on the light and here was his huge bat doing circles around the room. Took about 10 minutes but by opening the right doors and windows finally got him outside…since then we’ve been sleeping with the window shut (at least in Lviv).

    We’re fellow Montrealers. And I’ve also been bitten by a wasp…driving through the Eastern Townships when I felt a sharp bite on my back. Almost veered off the highway. He must have flown in the window and fallen down the back of my shirt…

  24. The banging with the bus was hilarious! Hahahaha. And the 14 birds and 1 bat? I’m amazed you can remember the exact number. I can’t even remember how many birds crapped on my head. Love your post!

  25. Hi, it’s my first time on you site. It’s 9:30 am in Canada (ET) and I love starting the day with a good laugh. Hope to read more of your (mis)adventures. And yes, that iguana does look guilty. :)

  26. Well you made me laugh my ass off.

    My horror story. The first time I went to Europe was on a “school” trip. Basically pay $700 and you get to go to Europe for 10 days, a total awesome deal! Well a few days before the trip I get ill, but I power through it because, um I get to go to Europe.

    So we arrive in Madrid, we have dinner, all is well. The next day I’m feeling pretty shitty but wow, I’m in freaking Madrid, we need to see stuff! So we arrive at some sort of Royal Palace, and I start to feel my illness coming back. We are in a room with ornate oriental rugs, and I start vomiting… my dad (who was a chaperone… lucky guy) tries catching the vomit in his hat…. but that did no good. A guard sees what is happening and chases us out of the palace, where we had to wait until the other people finished the tour.

    I had to skip the trip to Toledo, and was in pretty shitty shape the next few days. The good news is I recovered, only to get caught in a wave in Italy and hurt myself on some rocks and bled everywhere.

    My big lesson from that trip is I really, really, hate bus tours… that and pay attention to my body and my surroundings.

  27. What funny stories! Did the Inle boat drivers really give you a thumbs up?! It is always nice when we laugh later about our embarrassing moments!

  28. wonderful embarrassing memories. You have traveled so many countries that it will take me a lot of time to read them all. I will feel myself there. I hope you have more “embarrassing” moments that make you laugh. :)

  29. When I lived in Colombia, I met an American guy who had just arrived. He had tried one of the little busetas to get to work for the first time. He got on the back door, and had to stand in the ganway as they are always packed. A minute into the journey, a Colombian woman tapped his back and gave him money. He had no idea why and couldn’t speak the language so he just put it in his pocket. All of a sudden the whole bus began shouting at him, making him feel so uncomfortable he had to get off the bus.

    He later found out that as the people at the back can’t give there money to the driver, they give it to the person in front, who then pass the tickets back. So without realising he stole the passengers bus fare!

  30. Oh my gosh, you have a great sense of humor to be willing to share these stories with the world! I can totally see myself doing a similar language blunder but oh my goodness, your story is hilarious!

  31. Loved the Argentina story, they must have been peeing their pants. My Spanish is pretty decent but I would make those mistakes too…and that’s not the version of “coger” I learned in Spanish class.

    Not embarrassing but one of my strangest travel adventures happened last week in Lviv when we were woken up at 3 am by a large bat that had somehow gotten into the room. Heard something slapping against the walls, turned on the light and here was his huge bat doing circles around the room. Took about 10 minutes but by opening the right doors and windows finally got him outside…since then we’ve been sleeping with the window shut (at least in Lviv).

    We’re fellow Montrealers. And I’ve also been bitten by a wasp…driving through the Eastern Townships when I felt a sharp bite on my back. Almost veered off the highway. He must have flown in the window and fallen down the back of my shirt…Nice Blog

  32. Travel can be quite a humbling experience and, in my opinion, is best enjoyed when the traveler removes expectations and rolls with the punches.

  33. This was a great article and definitely put a smile on my face. I can relate to the fire ants incident. I once had to do the ants in my pants dance while passerby’s laughed. It’s certainly not a moment I wish to repeat. Thanks for sharing these stories.

  34. That “possum” feeling in the mid night was scary as well as funny for me as I have felt the same but with a big rat!!! Nice post dear.

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