You haven’t quite reached your destination – Part 1

You haven’t quite reached your destination – Part 1

Finding your accommodation can be a trickier experience than you might think. Even after planning, checking maps, saving screenshots to your phone and writing down directions. I’ve had more problems than I probably should have. That’s mainly because I have no sense of direction and have been lost in most cities I’ve visited.

Following the accommodation’s directions isn’t always a safe bet either. Many times they’re incomplete with key information missing or telling you to get off bus 52 at whatever street, which isn’t helpful. I just arrived in town and have no idea where that street is!

There’s plenty of ways to get where you need to go. Taxi (more expensive), walking (tiring), bus (confusing), metro (easier, as long as you’re on the right line) or hotel/hostel pick-up (the simplest option but it usually costs extra). In the end I always manage to arrive safely. Just a little tired, confused and sweaty after walking for 5 blocks in the wrong direction then circling the building 3 times before I actually spotted it.

I’ve had a lot of experience with getting lost on the way to my accommodation. Sometimes I end up with a funny story, other times I’m just annoyed (usually at my own stupidity), but there’s generally a story to tell. It’s happened in enough countries that now I’m actually pleased when I arrive somewhere with little to no issues on the way, rather than just expecting that to happen like a normal person. For example…

Oceania

Hobart (Australia) to Christchurch (New Zealand), via Melbourne

This journey started simply enough. I dropped my rental car at Hobart airport and flew to Melbourne ready to take my connecting flight to New Zealand. I just had the simple matter of seven hours to kill and I spent the next few hours trying to distract myself before going to check in. When I arrived at the counter I was asked if I had an onward flight out of New Zealand. I didn’t have anything booked but I had to be in Bangkok two months later for my final flight home, so I figured this would be okay. Apparently not.

Virgin Australia plane in the sky
The day had started so well, but with one flight done things started to get progressively worse

I quickly got on the airport WiFi, guessed how long I wanted to stay in New Zealand and booked a flight. Okay, sorted. I waited a few minutes and received an email. “We are investigating possible fraudulent usage of your card. We will confirm your booking once this has been done. It will be completed within four hours.”

My flight was scheduled to leave in two and a half hours, so I was beginning to get a little twitchy at this point. I spent the next 30 minutes constantly checking my phone for an email when I heard a ‘ping’ – low battery! With an hour and a half before my flight I went to the airline’s customer service desk and explained my situation. They did a quick check and confirmed the ticket had been processed. Luckily it was the same company I was flying to Christchurch with, so I only needed minimal blagging to check in and I was away.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the end of the fun just yet. I set the alarms off passing through the security gates because apparently I wasn’t looking up. As soon as I was on the other side I finally received my email to confirm my onward flight out of New Zealand. My phone was still about to die so I urgently searched for a charging point in case I needed to show the flight confirmation email to immigration officials when I arrived. The only place I found was in the men’s toilets, so I spent the next 20 minutes standing by the hand dryer receiving many strange looks. With enough charge on my phone I rushed to the gate only to see it was delayed. Of course it was. I charged my phone a little longer and eventually boarded the plane over 30 minutes later than originally scheduled.

Rows of seats onboard an airplane
The familiarity and discomfort of another plane journey

As I was settling into the flight I was told I had meal options, which is amazing when you’re not expecting it. Who doesn’t love getting fed? Unfortunately the meals were only for special people and I wasn’t one of them. At this point I was thinking the journey couldn’t get any worse. I was wrong.

I was fearing the worst as I passed through New Zealand customs having faced a twenty questions style interrogation on my first visit. However, I got through without any issues, which was surprising given the amount of food I’d brought over in my bag. Then I was victimised by a beagle with an attitude. He wouldn’t leave my stuff alone and I had to empty my entire bag. Thanks puppy!

I finally got to the shuttle bus stop and the driver of the bus in front told me to go to second bus before he promptly left. I waited another 20 minutes and eventually got to bed at 2am with a heck of a journey behind me.

South-East Asia

I had my worst ever travel experience over Christmas trying to get from Krabi to Kho Samui. I also had a little panic when I arrived in Koh Phi Phi and realised I hadn’t seen my passport since I arrived in the country four days earlier. Luckily I found it at the bottom of my bag after emptying everything out in the middle of the reception area.

Chiang Mai

I probably shouldn’t travel during holiday seasons. One week after my Christmas ordeal I had another problem arise in Chiang Mai. I’d left Koh Pha Ngan that morning to fly north. The majority of the journey was easy enough and the problem didn’t arise until I reached the city centre. I was going to be in Chiang Mai for New Year’s Eve and my taxi driver at the airport informed me there was an event on in the centre, so some of the streets were closed. He said he’d take me as far as he could but I’d have to walk the rest of the way. I wasn’t too worried about that as I had the directions and downloaded a map beforehand.

Happy New Year message in Chiang Mai
The only time I’ve spent Christmas and New Year away from home turned out to be a memorable one

After leaving the taxi I walked down the main street. There were stalls with food, crafts and other items all the way down with lots of people. However, as I was looking for the street I needed there was no sign of it. I wandered up and down for about 20-30 minutes looking for the street, growing more and more frustrated. I asked several locals if they knew where it was. The first person had no idea and neither did any of the next three. In the end I had no choice but to call the hostel.

I described where I was and they gave me directions from there. Less than five minutes later I arrived, ready to drop my bag and relax. However, there was one more problem. The hostel had overbooked so they’d cancelled my reservation. Apparently they’d sent me an email but since I hadn’t had any mobile data since I left Koh Pha Ngan I hadn’t seen it. Instead I was going to be staying at their second site a few streets away. I couldn’t believe this was happening and was starting to get a little annoyed. Luckily at the new hostel I met a great group of people and had a fantastic New year. What started as another frustrating experience actually turned into an amazing few days.

Africa

I’ve had some memorable travel experiences in Africa, like when I was stuck in the back of a minibus for over a day travelling on a group excursion to the Sahara Desert. However, a lot of them happened with two girls that I’d met in Namibia. I travelled with Celine and Louise for almost two weeks as we crossed three countries and saw some incredible things. We encountered several problems too, most of which were based around the little VW Polo Celine had rented. Dodging potholes bigger than the car on the way to Maun. Slamming on the breaks to avoid the local wildlife as we raced in the dark to cross the border.

Elephant Sands, Botswana

It’s always nice to make a good first impression and the way you arrive somewhere is part of that. Louise had heard of a campsite around a natural watering hole with tons of elephants. The site was near Nata in Botswana and we were all excited to see it. The journey from our previous stop in Kasane passed without problems, until we reached the site.

From the main highway, the final 1.5km into Elephant Sands is covered in thick sand and despite the Polo’s best efforts we were always fighting to make it through. Eventually we pushed too much and the car became wedged in the sand. We tried digging our way out but it was no use. In the end we had to seek the help of two locals with a 4×4 (a much better idea in this part of Africa) who towed us to safety. However, our frustrations at getting suck were soon overcome as we saw the massive herd of elephants. Despite being hot, sweaty and covered in sand we were all overjoyed at being this close to over 30 of the magnificent animals in their natural environment.

Elephant strolling in the distance with broken down car in front
Louise takes a break from trying to free the Polo to admire the local wildlife casually passing by
Oudtshoorn, South Africa

There’s not much that beats driving along with amazing scenery all around you. That is unless you happen to be driving down a rocky mountain road in a two-wheel drive VW Polo. Towards the end of my time driving around southern Africa with Celine we were heading back to Cape Town where our journey together would end. We had two days to get from Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, with an overnight in Oudtshoorn on the way. We had two options to get there; take the longer highway or go cross country and take the scenic route. We obviously chose the second option.

We barely saw another car for the next three hours as we drove over dusty tracks. The vast open expanses disappearing towards the horizon in all directions. As I checked ahead on the map I could see two incredible looking winding roads. The first of which, Teekloof Pass, I was lucky enough to be behind the wheel for my first taste of a real driving road. I’d have enjoyed it more if Celine had been a bit less tense sat beside me. The car was in her name and she was worried about damages so close to its return in Cape Town. The road twisted and turned with hairpin after hairpin as we made our way (carefully!) down the mountain.

Later it was Celine’s turn as we reached the even more spectacular Swartberg Pass. We had a couple of hours before it got dark to reach Oudtshoorn. As we entered the pass we thought we’d be there in no time. How wrong we were.

View from the top of Swartberg Pass, South Africa
The views were incredibly spectacular. The drive down from here was less fun

The road up was another combination of twisting turns and tight bends until we arrived at the top for an incredible view over the top of the surrounding mountains, looking down at the road that began somewhere far below. However, going down the other side proved a task slightly beyond the capabilities of the little Polo. The road was rocky, bumpy and tight with sheer drops over the edge. Any cars looking to pass by or overtake had nowhere to go and with the increasingly painful noises coming from the VW we were going slower and slower. Dust was everywhere and we grimaced after each bump and scrape. But there was little we could do except push on, with the light fast beginning to fade. If this road was tricky in the daylight, we could only imagine what might happen in the dark.

With the sun beginning to set we crawled off the rough track and back onto smooth tarmac once more. As we breathed a joint sigh of relief we could enjoy the short stretch to our overnight destination. Maybe we should have taken the longer highway, but then we’d have missed all those incredible views.

For some of my problems arriving in Europe and South America read on here.

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