Warning—this post contains some adult content. Think references to drugs, sex, and other unsavory content. Please only read this if you’re over 18 and not my mom.
I’m a big believer in sharing the less glamorous side of travel. Those times when you’re lonely, dirty, lost or scared. The times when everything just sucks. Travel often involves so much improvising, so much adapting to last minute crises or changes of plans that there’s just no way for it all to work out every time.
I feel like this post has been a long time coming, and even though all of these stories were either terrible or just exceedingly weird, I cherish them all as hilarious low points and reminders of what happens when when I’m allowed to plan things.
So without further ado, and in order from least to most outrageous, here are the top four worst and weirdest places I’ve spent the night while traveling:
It’s not uncommon to spend a full night, or even a full weekend for that matter, inside of a nightclub in Berlin.
What was unique about this experience was that we actually slept there. This was part of a longer, multi-country sleep deprivation bender we embarked on in order to find acid for our big Sahara trip, and we found ourselves spending one last night in Berlin in a last-ditch effort to get our hands on the goods.
There were no affordable hostels left in town; we just locked our bags up under a bed in the lowest security hostel in town, and headed off to the club, already intensely sleep deprived from the night before.
With six hours to find our supplies, grab a nap, and make it out in time for our ten hour bus to Southern Germany and our flight to Fes, we got into the club and immediately curled up in a corner to sleep. It was brutally cold, and we huddled over cups of tea for warmth to stave off the frost creeping into our fingers as we drifted in and out of half-sleep, exhausted enough to rest through the pounding music.
It was an awesome club, but a thoroughly unpleasant sleeping experience that ended in us eventually just giving in, going with the flow, and rolling straight through the night and onto our bus.
We regretted it deeply, but it was nothing compared to…
3. That one couch surfing home
I’ve done a bit of couch surfing in my day. And it’s almost always awesome. I’ve stayed in environmental co ops, scored invites to world cup parties, and made amazing lasting friends. But one couch surfing experience in particular really stands out from the rest. Unlike the rest of these stories, it wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but it was definitely weird.
It was a guy in London, a cryptographer who also preferred to live life as a nudist. This was all fine enough, he told me about his lifestyle when he offered to host me and I accepted knowing what I was getting into. He was a really generous host, offering me a beer when I arrived and a the whole living room to myself for sleeping. But his generosity quickly surpassed the limits of anything I’d expected.
It started when I told him about a play I’d seen recently called Venus in Fur. Basically, it starred Natalie Dormer as a dominatrix—it was awesome. This started a very casual and academic conversation about kink and sexuality, which led to him revealing that he moonlights as a drink server at munches. He tells me that he has taught himself how to ejaculate on command into people’s drinks.
Anyway, he gives me some great friendly advice on how to kick off my career as a fetish model, and I gratefully accepted it.
I want to be clear at this point that while this situation was definitely weird, at no point was I ever actually feeling sexually threatened or even remotely uncomfortable. The energy of the room was strictly friendly and respectful of the boundaries that existed between us. So we can all feel free to laugh at this story without worrying for my safety or that of other couch surfers. This guy’s cool.
So from fetish modeling, we move on to talking about my thoughts on threesomes and the daily annoyances of being a bisexual woman, which becomes casually sharing sex stories and eventually leads to a conversation on porn. We watch a TED talk from Erika Lust, a Swedish feminist porn producer who make legitimately artful indie porn film, all of which he has downloaded. So of course we watch some. (I actually seriously recommend her work. It’s truly artistic and made with realness and feminism at the forefront of filming)
We end up spending the night watching porn and discussing its artistic merits, and eventually open a candid conversation about our sexualities. He reveals that he has a bit of a toy obsession. He then runs off into his room and returns with a box containing his hitachi collection.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the hitachi magic wand is an external vibrator, and a powerful one at that. It’s mainly known for being able to bring even who generally suffer from inorgasmia to their knees, but is apparently enjoyed by men as well. I’m legitimately awed by his collection. These are fancy, expensive toys that I’ve never had the finances to own.
He hands me one and a bag full of condoms. “You can have this one while you’re staying with here, if you want.” Sweet.
After a bit more porn watching, he stands up to excuse himself, grabbing his box of vibrators. “Honestly, I’ve watched a bit too much of this, so I think I’m going to head to my room. I’ll try to be quiet.”
“Don’t bother.” I quip back. “I have headphones.”
He glances at me and then at the vibrator laying on the couch next to me. “Just to let you know, you have total privacy. The door to this room even locks if you want it to.”
He switched off the lights.
2. An x-ray machine
My first trip outside the United States was to a conference in Seoul with my college Model UN team. It was entirely school funded and entirely student planned, and went about as well as you’d expect ten drunken college students trouncing through Asia with no oversight and on somebody else’s dime to go. A definite highlight was the night we spent in the airport in Shanghai during a layover between Taipei and Seoul.
Now I’ve spent the night in airports before. It’s never fun. But this airport lurking experience was actually so uniquely bad that it deserves a spot on this list.
It started when we almost got deported, and went downhill from there. Basically, our tickets from Taipei to Shanghai had been booked with a different airline than our tickets from Shanghai to Seoul. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except that we were going to have to check in for each flight separately. This meant that we showed up to customs in China with no visas and no proof of any plans to exit China. It didn’t go over well.
The customs called our ultra-budget-brand airline to confirm our reservation, and basically was told that the airline could not confirm our itinerary. Shit. We were ushered into the corner of shame—a sad bench outside the guard station—and made to wait while the agents argued over what to do with us. The most popular option seemed to be shipping us back to Taiwan.
Basically, what saved us was a shift change. The new security guards took one look at us, shook their heads, and stamped us into China with 24 hour transit visas, asking us to promise not to overstay our welcome. Mission accomplished.
So now we’re home free in the arrivals area of the airport and we discover that we’ve spent so much time almost being deported that our bags are no longer on the baggage claim. But nobody seems to know where they are. We spent another hour or so being sent back and forth from one end of the airport to another like a pack of aimless ducklings before we can finally get our bags.
Surely, we thought, this would be the end of our trials, but two pretty rough realities hit us at once. First, we were going to have to wait until morning to check in for our flight and get those precious boarding passes that would grant us access into the departures area, which had all of the restaurants and sleeping spaces. Second, it’s officially so late that everything in this airport is closed. There is no food. None of us have eaten since that morning, and the hanger is setting in hard.
What the airport did have was beer. We spent another hour or so stacking our suitcases into a cozy fort in the only carpeted area of the airport while sending scouts out to every beer shop we could find. We ended up purchasing every available can of beer in this airport.
We spent the rest of that night quietly drinking, stacking our cans into a beeramid to give our camp some semblance of a home, and trying to ignore the mystery smells permeating through our clothing while the Chinese TSA agents just watched from afar. Sad, cold, and tipsy, I curled up on the softest thing I could find—the conveyor belt for the luggage x-ray machine. It sucked.
1. A sad playground
When we rolled up to the tiny, underdeveloped airport at Memmingen after three straight days of sleep deprivation, a hard come down from MDMA, and a ten hour bus ride from Berlin, we were expecting to be able to pass out on the floor before our 6AM flight.
Imagine our surprise when a nice woman approached us to let us know that the airport would be closing at 11 PM and we would soon be evicted. Fuck.
I’ve never felt my heart drop so hard. When we heard the news, we sat for a moment, staring out at the icy rain outside. There were no hotels nearby, let alone cheap youth hostels. There wasn’t even a 24 hour McDonalds anywhere close to the airport. We were stranded.
Two other travelers, backpackers from Australia, found themselves in the same boat and the four of us trekked through the rain to a playground sandwiched between a police station and the airstrip.
We piled our bags into a primitive two-walled hut no bigger than three feet by three feet, stacked picnic benches around the outside to give us a bit more protection from the powerful winds, and hunkered down for the single worst night I’ve ever spent on the road.
We spent the night piling on every layer we owned, ducking behind hedges every time a cop came out for a smoke break to avoid being caught squatting, and taking turns blocking the wind with our backs, like sad penguins.
I seriously considered just getting myself arrested in order to score a few hours in a nice warm cell.
By morning, we were thoroughly frozen, smelled like death, and looked as if we’d spent the night in a haunted house. Needless to say, we spent the next few days shivering with illness.
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