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With the number of photos I share, particularly in a year like 2015 when I spent much of my time on the road, it’s not surprising that some people think my life is full of rainbows and northern lights. While I saw plenty of both this year, I can also attest to the fact that life on the road is usually far from perfect. And, since some of those moments are far from Instagrammable, they don’t get shared.
Now, I don’t want to disappoint you, but these mishaps fortunately happened on a much lesser scale than previous years (like 2012, when I broke my leg chasing a bus in Sweden). Hopefully, though, they’ll entertain you and maybe even impart some advice on what not to do on your next trip…
In my post about how not to drive into a Norwegian fjord, I told the story of the most terrifying day of driving I have ever had. You may think I’m exaggerating when I say that, but I am absolutely serious. I’m surprised that I don’t have permanently white knuckles from how hard I gripped the steering wheel for seven hours straight.
So what made it so scary? Before we even got in the car, I looked out the window trying to gauge the weather. In winter, it’s often easiest to find the nearest streetlight and look into that; when I did that, I saw snow going horizontally.
A strong storm with gale-force winds had moved in overnight, and we had to be at the airport — 250km away — by 5pm so I could board my flight to Oslo (and onward to Helsinki). If I missed that flight, I would not make it to Helsinki and I would miss no less than 14 meetings that I had scheduled at the Matka travel fair the next day.
Having grown up in sub-tropical conditions, my first experience driving on snow had been 4 day prior when we landed in the Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway. Now, I had to inch along the road, slowing to a halt every few minutes as snow dumped off the mountains above me and turned the road into a complete whiteout. Most of this was done in the darkness of winter as the day was only two hours long.
But the worst part? Driving past a couple standing on the side of the road only to realise that they were there because their car was in the fjord. We tried to talk to them but couldn’t communicate as they didn’t seem to speak English; luckily, other people had already pulled over to help as well. Driving off left us with an incredibly foreboding feeling though. If the Norwegians were driving into the fjord, what chance did we have?!
As you’ve probably guessed, we survived. No one was injured and I caught my flight. My nerves, however, took a lot longer to recover.
My entire Lapland and Northern Norway trip this summer was planned almost to the minute. That’s not the way I usually like to travel, but I had so much that I needed to pack into the trip that there weren’t any other options. The schedule worked well for over a month before it spectacularly went up in flames.
My day of travel between Lyngenfjord and Andenes was supposed to be a long day, but a manageable one. I had to drive 250km, stopping at 4-5 photo locations along the way, before I caught the 7pm ferry across to the Vesterålen Islands. I budgeted 7 hours for driving and one hour for making it to the ferry. Even though we couldn’t buy tickets beforehand, I figured that would be plenty of time, given how easy it had been to get on all the ferries in the Lyngenfjord region.
Boy, was I wrong. When I arrived in Gryllefjord, on the island of Senja, at 6.15pm (only 15 minutes late), the line for the ferry filled up the small parking lot that had been allocated to it and then snaked halfway across the village.
When the ferry finally arrived, it took their staff thirty minutes to work their way across the parking lot selling tickets. Once everyone there had boarded the ferry, the sellers promptly declared that there was no more room and that the next ferry would be at 11am. This was despite the fact that their boat — smaller than most other ferries I’d seen in Norway — had taken less than half of the people waiting for it.
Most ferries in Norway cut off maybe 100-200km off your trip. When the ferry left for Andenes without me, it left me with 500km between me and the hotel that I had already paid for that night. Not only that, but I was supposed to be departing that hotel and driving another few hundred kilometres the following day. With the number of jobs I was doing, my schedule was stacked to the point that this somewhat minor transportation issue became a major headache.
I had a few options. Sleep in my car in line to guarantee myself a spot on the next ferry. Find a hotel (the nearest was 40km away) and come back around 8am hoping to get a spot on the ferry. Drive as far as I possibly could that night and avoid the ferry altogether.
I chose the third option and ended up inching my way into Harstad at 1.30am the next morning, when I couldn’t possibly drive any further. I hadn’t made it to my destination, which meant I had to shuffle my destinations and hotels for the next few days, losing a lot of pre-paid rooms in the process. It wasn’t the end of the world, but my budget — and my general exhaustion by that point in the trip — could have easily done without it!
I haven’t written or shared much about the last two weeks of my European trip. After a number of other plans fell through, I made grand plans to cross the continent by land, travelling from London to Helsinki in the 11 days I had before my flight departed for Australia.
After four months of travel, it probably was a bit over-optimistic to think that I’d be able to see Switzerland, Munich, Prague, Krakow, Vilnius, and Tallinn, putting up with double-digit bus and train rides in between. I was really keen on the idea, though, because I wanted to see something different. I wanted to see central and eastern Europe and finish off my trip with something entirely different to the northern European countries I’d been immersed in for so long.
Despite the 16-hour ride from London to Basel on a bus with no toilets, Switzerland was still a great place to start. I spent two days there, most of it walking through the mountains and soaking in that alpine atmosphere, which is every bit as good as it’s made out to be…and every bit as expensive too. Munich, too, was well worth the trip, particularly because I got to explore some Bavarian mountains with Laurel from Monkeys and Mountains.
Prague was where it all went wrong. I arrived with the beginnings of a mean head cold and picked up a stomach bug in my first day there. It poured with rain and the temperature barely got above 5º, so even if I’d been perfectly healthy, I might not have wanted to spend all day outside.
By the time I went to the train station to try to buy an onward ticket to Krakow (after failing to do so online) and found out that it was going to cost hundreds of dollars because it was being purchased within three days of travel, I gave up. Even if I continued on to the Baltics, I wouldn’t enjoy them. I was sick and I was travel-weary and I just wanted to have somewhere comfortable to sleep for a few days.
So instead of buying a ticket to Krakow, I bought a plane flight to Stockholm and crashed with a good friend there. We ate pancakes, we sat in our pyjamas and talked, and we enjoyed the autumn sunshine and golden leaves of the parks near her house. It was a much better way to end my trip.
I’m not exactly good at staying on my feet (hence the “adventure travel for the uncoordinated” tagline on this site). I’m more like a lumbering giraffe, constantly amazed by how gawky and uncontrolled my legs are underneath me. One of the best examples of that this year was my hike to Chalahn Falls in Lamington National Park (near Brisbane).
The 10.5km hike featured a host of obstacles trying to stop us from getting to our ultimate destination, which is known as being one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park. Trees, downed by a recent storm, blocked the path in at least six different places, leaving us to scramble around them if we wanted to continue. Streams were running high, and the tips of rocks that poked out of the water weren’t enough for me to balance on, so I ended up tromping through the knee-deep flow, drenching my boots inside and out in the process.
It was a relief once we finally got to Chalahn Falls. We took our time and had a picnic lunch before taking any photos at all. Once we finally did start setting up, my friend Michelle found a spot on the rocks on the opposite side of the stream, while I balanced on the last rocks before the stream began tumbling over a series of 2m drops down into the rainforest.
All I really know about what happened next is that Michelle looked away, and by the time she looked back in my direction, I was hanging upside down from the rocks. My head was inches above a sharp rock, and I’d been saved by my boot wedging itself into the rocks as I fell. If it hadn’t yanked me to a sudden halt, I most definitely would have landed headfirst on the rock below…in a place with no phone reception and more than a 2hr walk away from any help.
After somehow freeing myself, I assessed the damage. My ankle had been wrenched, but I had no issues walking on it. I had a few bloody cuts on one leg and a giant egg on my shin, but I was otherwise unharmed. I count myself incredibly lucky that I came out of it relatively unscathed, and I am even happier that I didn’t put Michelle in the position of having to try to drag me out of the rainforest (or even worse, to find a rescue team). Next time I might set up slightly further away from any big drops…just in case.
When this message showed up on my camera screen as I hiked up from a waterfall on the Isle of Skye, I wasn’t all that concerned.
“This memory card cannot be used. Card may be damaged. Insert another card.”
My camera had shown similar (but not identical) error messages on occasion, and after turning it off and back on again, it had sorted itself out with no harm done. Not this time.
This time, the memory card that held my precious photos of a day of blue skies on the Isle of Skye wasn’t just experiencing a temporary brain fart. It simply refused to be read. I tried it in my camera, in my memory card reader, in a fellow tour participant’s memory card reader — none of them could even see that a card was there.
If I hadn’t been working a photography job at the time, it would have hurt, but wouldn’t have been such a point of stress. I ended up spending hours chasing down memory card recovery specialists in Edinburgh, who declared it a lost cause, before sending it off for specialist recovery. It cost me $275 and they only managed to recover 50 photos (and they were all of the rainy day before).
Luckily, I was on the tour long enough that I had plenty of other photos, but I’m still gutted about the photos I lost. Lesson learned. Always backup photos between memory cards in-camera.
Over Easter, I planned a 4-day trip down to the South Coast of New South Wales to visit a number of photographic hotspots that I’d wanted to visit for years.
I arrived in the pouring rain to find I’d booked the biggest dump of a hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I had my own room but communal toilets; one of those toilets was covered in vomit and my room smelled like stale sick as well. Plus, what hotel room in 2015 has no power outlets?
While I was able to remedy that situation and move to a different hotel, I couldn’t remedy the fact that it poured with rain until the morning I left. It wasn’t the most successful photo trip I’ve ever been on.
Packing lightly is not my forte (despite the fact that I’m an avid reader of Her Packing List). I blame this both on the fact that I haul around more photography gear than the average traveller and the fact that I tend to visit pretty frigid climates.
My European trip included a trip to Lapland in summer, where it could have gotten up to 30º but instead hovered around 15º. On July 4th, it was 2º at North Cape and I was wearing a down jacket. That jacket — and all my waterproofs — came in very handy in Iceland in September as well.
As a result, I had what can only be described as a metric shit ton of luggage. I had so much that I had to leave one with family in the UK and come back every once in a while to change from summer to winter clothes. It was annoying enough that I found myself tending to book hotels based on how far I had to walk with my luggage rather than picking them based on quality.
Plus, I fell down some stairs in Zurich train station and ended up sandwiched between suitcases (with a backpack on my back and a bag of food in my hands). That was fun.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the atrocious weather that northern Europe had last summer. While the rest of the continent was baking under 35º temperatures, the Nordics and the UK were having their worst summer in what many people said was decades.
In the entire 4.5 months I was in Europe, I can count on two hands the days that got above 20º. Cool temperatures would have been fine if they hadn’t been accompanied by torrential rain (which foiled nearly all of my plans during my five days in the Lofoten Islands).
The weather did redeem itself by turning into an amazing autumn, when the weather was so good that I had at least 6/12 days in Scotland in full sunshine. Plus, the clouds stayed clear enough that I saw the northern lights 7/13 nights in Iceland, and of my 9 days in Ireland, it rained once (and I was taking a nap at the time).
So, tell me — were those mishaps more or less than you expected from me last year? And what were your worst travel experiences of the year?