#FAIL: 7 Classic Dumb Tourist Moves

In our two months of travel across Japan and Southeast Asia, there were more than a few times when we were sadly underprepared, naive…or just plain dumb. Here, a few times we were reminded we were tourists:

Almost sleeping on the street.

On our trip from Tokyo to Nikko temple we planned to play it by ear, either staying at a hotel or taking the four-hour train back to Tokyo that night. By about 4 p.m., we decided to visit nearby Lake Chuzenji and the Kegan waterfalls and stay the night. When we arrived, we realized we didn’t have any cash. We figured, no problem–we could easily find a hotel and spend the night.

Lake Chuzeni with fisherman

Off of the main road in town.

Wrong. We wandered around this beautiful but tiny town for a couple of hours; hotels were closed or full for the night or wouldn’t accept credit cards. The sun was setting, and it was COLD outside. We were wearing little more than a thin jacket and jeans. We had no money to pay for a bus ride back to the train station, a 30-minute drive on a narrow winding mountain road…and the only ATM in town was closed for the night.

Just as the sun set, we found a motel with a room that took credit cards. They also advanced us cash via our credit card so we could take a bus home the next day. Japanese people ARE SO NICE. And we learned we needed to at least have a place to stay before we arrived in a new town.

Getting scammed in Thailand.

Yep, we got scammed in Bangkok—to the tune of several hundred dollars. By pretty much literally every. Scam. In. The Book. If we had only read the book…

See no hear no say no evil monkeys

These hear/see/say no evil monkeys knew we were getting scammed.

Nearly getting stranded in Myanmar.

This was a call too close for comfort. Myanmar is an unusual country, having been cut off from international trade for nearly 50 years. So this time we actually read the book–but nowhere did it say anything about having issues using credit or debit cards in the country. We got lucky: Olivier had called our bank before we left…and when he mentioned Myanmar, the agent said that HSBC doesn’t do business there, and we wouldn’t be able to use our cards anywhere in the country.

Before getting on our flight to Myanmar, we estimated how much we’d need without having an excess of cash on us. Then we took out U.S. dollars (crisp USD—ALWAYS brand new—is the only thing they’ll accept, in addition to their local currency).

caca in Myanmar

In deep caca in Myanmar.

What we didn’t count on was that we wouldn’t be able to pay for our hotels and our flights with our cards (Myanmar only allows local carriers to fly nationally, and we had a couple of national flights). We had a huge panic until we realized that our hotels were already paid in full through our booking website—and we found a third party website online based out of Singapore that allowed us to buy flights at a slight premium but use our credit cards. So while we spent pretty much all the money we did have, we didn’t have to make our way out of Myanmar on foot…

Following a stranger down a small alley.

Again in Myanmar, a sweet old 82-year-old man who called himself Papa served us beers at a restaurant in a tiny town outside of Mandalay. Then he sat down next to Olivier. For the next two hours we chatted, in half-coherent English sentences, about Myanmar and the French kids Papa had hosted at his home. Clearly, Papa was not a server. Later, he accompanied us on a walk across the local bridge—where he knew every other person by name. We were enamored.

Then things got weird. When we reached our taxi back to the airport, Papa started speaking in Burmese to our driver. Drew a map with a stick in the sand. Hopped in the front passenger seat.

Myanmar man drawing in sand

Papa drawing a map.

We were weary—but this little old man seemed so kind, we figured he just needed a ride home. We started driving a different route than the one we knew we needed to take. We asked where we were going. Our driver couldn’t speak English. The old man pretended not to understand, explaining we’d arrive in 10 minutes. Yelp.

Arriving at a street deep in the village, the old man hopped out and walked a few steps down a narrow alley toward what he told us was his house. And insisted that we join him for tea, so he could show us photos of his French exchange students.

We didn’t follow him, you’re thinking…right? Wrong. We went down that narrow alley.

alley in Myanmar

Going down the alley.

Found ourselves in a tiny dirt-floored house, where the bed was in the kitchen with his daughter, son, granddaughter and cat. We sat down, wondering what the hell we were doing…and Papa pulled out an envelope full of pictures and postcards and proceeded to show us his exchange students.

Looking at pics in Myanmar

Maybe we were being paranoid. Or maybe it was a dumbass move and we were just really lucky. You decide.

Thinking we were going to get offed in a taxi.

The above story gets better. Just as we thought we had averted decapitation at the old man’s place, we were riding back in the comfort of the taxi when the driver pulled over on the side of the road. In the middle of nowhere. Another car pulled up behind him. Two men got out, approached the side of our car. Our driver got out. Told us to get out: We were going to switch taxis. We refused: Why, we asked, did we need to switch taxis?? Because this taxi was going home for the day, our driver told us.

This is how we’re going to die, we thought.

But I saw that the second car did, indeed, have all the “official” markings of taxis. So I figured the only thing we could do was to follow orders. Refusing to get into the second taxi was not going to reduce our odds of getting whacked that day.

Though we couldn’t make a call or get online, Olivier and I had GPS, so we could keep track of where we were. For the rest of the 40-minute drive, both of us were glued to our cellphones, monitoring that we were, indeed, on the way to the airport.

And then…we arrived at the airport.

Again, maybe we’re just paranoid. But no one can convince me in our shoes they wouldn’t have been scared sh*tless too.

Thinking we were going to die in a plane crash.

Twice we had to take a Myanmar airline because the government doesn’t allow outside carriers to operate domestically. Just as we always do when we’re deciding on a flight, we checked the airlines’ safety records. And found this. Apparently, the airlines in Myanmar are like the street food: Not up to the safety standards we’re used to in the U.S. and Europe. The crash record of these airlines is nine times higher than the global average. And they have just 12 airlines operating, each with a fleet of around four to five planes.

Air KBZ logo

“Flying beyond expectations.” Translation: Our planes are actually in the air! That’s already WAY beyond everyone’s expectations.

We had a choice: We could either take a bus for 13 hours overnight and not sleep a wink. On bumpy roads that also had a reputation for not being super safe (according to our guidebook). Or we could book one of the scary airlines.

We opted for the flight. We figured that most of those crashes weren’t fatal (usually skidding off of the runway during landing)—and even with their substandard safety record, flying was still much safer than traveling by ground.

Then we got on the plane—one of those twin-engine regional airliners, with their switchblade propellers out in the open, noisily beating against the air. Let me tell you: You do NOT want to sit in the seat next to those propellers once they get going (we switched).

Propeller on a Myanmar plane

After a VERY turbulent flight (you really feel every bump in those smaller planes) we landed—twice—without incident. By our second flight, I didn’t even bother taking my anxiety med…but hell I wished I had, because I just about passed out.

Maybe next time we don’t need to make plans where we have to fly in Myanmar?

Getting threatened by angry monkeys.

So this happened in Bali:

angry monkey in Ubud Bali

I swear, I didn’t do anything! Didn’t see it happening, until we looked at the photo…maybe he thought the map in my hand was a banana???

OK, you may be thinking, nothing happened to these people. Why the drama? We do overreact. But when you’re in a country where you don’t know anyone, can’t speak the language, and the government sometimes has a habit of shooting its own civilians…you might get a bit paranoid too! But I guess that’s why we travel. Right?


  1. Your story reminds me of my roommate and I jumping into a cab in China during a rain storm only to soon realize it wasn’t a real cab and then spending the next 30 minutes praying we weren’t being sold into sex slavery. We happily paid about 10x standard fare when we got back to our ship safely.

    I’m glad you also escaped more or less without harm!

    • Yes glad you guys made it back too! These situations are always terrifying at the time and you imagine the worst possible scenarios…and then when everything is OK they make the best stories too :)

      Thanks for reading Nicole!!

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