abandoned bus

Best of Tripfilms Twelve Travel Questions: Craziest True Travel Stories

Over the last two years, we’ve interviewed 50 of our talented filmmakers and filmmaker teams. Here is a collection of some of the best travel tips, crazy travel stories, and filmmaking philosophies from these expert travelers.

We asked 50 filmmakers: What is your craziest true travel story?

There are lots, actually. But three things come to mind right off the bat:

  • A few days into our first extended visit to Costa Rica we got caught in the middle of a massive bar fight in Quepos that developed into a near riot. Guys literally smashing beer bottles over other guys’ heads and such. Then worrying about getting knifed on the way home because we had to walk through a dark, terrible neighborhood. Good memory.
  • Getting caught in an awful sandstorm, followed by a power outage, in Uyuni, Bolivia. Missed our train as a result and wound up stranded there for four more days. That was fun.
  • And getting accosted by half a dozen policemen with assault rifles at the bus station in San Miguel de Tucaman, Argentina. Dusty was walking through the station with his laptop open (looking for a wi-fi signal) and they all thought he was up to no good. They surrounded us and a tense interrogation followed. We talked our way out of it, but not before learning a very valuable lesson: there’s no free wi-fi at the bus station in Tucaman. – Two for the Road

On the way to Fiji I was delayed 5 days because of a typhoon over the country. I managed to talk my way onto a flight that was heading back just to bring flight crews in to get more people out. I met one of the pilots in the hotel and managed to be one of 20 people on an entire 747 from LAX to Nadi. Another time while walking down a side street in London during the Olympics I came across Bill Gates just walking down the street with his wife–really weird and random, but said hi, shook his hand, talked some Olympics, took some photos, and went on my way. – James Alexander Adams

Morgan: We were filming drum-frame builders in the bush two hours north of Accra, Ghana. All were super friendly except the biggest guy who thought we were making lots of money with this video while only buying them lunch and beers. He got really, really angry, raised his machete over his head and threatened us. The two Accra drum sellers who brought us there talked him down but I thought we were going to die that day. Vân: We had just embarked on a two hour camel trek to a Berber camp in the Sahara desert on the Morocco/Algeria boarder. A lightning storm quickly blew in just as we set out. Sitting high on the camel’s back easily made us the tallest objects as we submitted the many mountainous sand dunes. As the sand whipped us from every direction, I though for sure I would get struck by lightning. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time. – Nomadic Frames

I caught malaria in Africa. It happens to plenty of people around the world (unfortunately more so to children in Sub-Sahara Africa), but it still seems crazy to me and to the people I tell that to. – The Expeditioner

The one time when we were going through a bit of a financial struggle in Australia. A shady man came to Jmayel and offered him $100 AUD to buy his urine. No questions were asked, a pot was provided and urine was delivered for cash. We never saw that man again. – Eight Miles from Home

When my boss was waiting to get picked up by a work colleague in Stockholm and was waiting outside the hotel. This lady pulled up and they greeted each other, loaded his cases and headed off. About 10 minutes into the journey they realised they were both not who they thought they were. The poor lady freaked. – Gary Bembridge

Soo many…  Before Nepal, I have never seen an elephant in the wild. Then while trekking through Chitwan National Park, a baby elephant came out of the jungle straight at me and then put his trunk in my hand as if to shake my hand. I was pretty frozen, touched on a spiritual level and scared at the same time. I was later told that touching an elephant’s trunk signified one of the highest blessings in their beliefs. Later that day, I saw wild rhinos nearby and nearly stepped on a crocodile bigger than my boat, near the river. – Etherium Sky Films

It was late at night, dark, and we got dropped off in the middle of nowhere (Jipijapa, to be exact). After several busses, we ended up walking the dark streets looking for the bus station we were promised in Jipijapa. Joke’s on us! There is no bus station. We were literally dumped in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. What are two foreigners supposed to do? We turned the corner and found ourselves in a bargain deal with an unmarked vehicle. He offered us a ride to Puerto Lopez, the next town we were headed to (about an hour away). After mixed emotions and feelings I decided may as well die in a car instead of the street.

Reluctantly and faithfully, we ended up in the car with a Ghostbuster logo on the back. I remember this because I thought it would be the last thing I saw. I was quite confident it would be the end of the Turleys. That perhaps this once, we wouldn’t make our destination safely. Here is why.

I sat there, wary and loaded with bags, and looked at Spencer and said, dare we trust this stranger? We literally felt like we had no other choice…. either die in this iffy town with NOWHERE to sleep (there were no hostels) or go with these strangers and trust they will do what they say they will do. I had a sinking gut feeling but we did it anyway.

The whole time I was smitten with absolute fear. Nobody in the car spoke to us. There were two men and a boy(outnumbered!). I sat in the back huddled to the rickety door with all its metal exposed, waiting to roll out and make my escape if it became absolutely necessary. I even thought in my head, well, at least my family will have some really cute footage of us to watch when we die (if they don’t take my camera). I was a bit upset with the whole situation, but Spence assured me it was going to be fine. Little did I know he too was plotting our escape the entire time in his head. He would demand me to run and hide in the bushes while he fought them off with a pocket knife… ummm… no way. I’d go down fighting!

The miles seemed endless, and time eternity. We winced in worry and tried to understand their rapid Spanish. I was pleading in prayer that we would be safe, that these men could be trusted, and that this was all just a blessing in disguise. I thought about how we trusted two random strangers in the middle of the night. How easy it would be for them to make us disappear! What fools we had been. Nobody would know where we went.

I prayed for a sign that we were indeed going where they said, because it was dark and the roads were EMPTY for miles. Minutes later I saw a sign that read “Puerto Lopez,” our destination. Then, as my muscles relaxed, the men started talking about vegetables and fruits and all the things they want to sell in their fruit stand that week. After words like aguacate, pepino, papa, y fresa repeated a million times I couldn’t imagine two farmers trying to butcher us.

The car slowed to a stop, and parked in a tiny little town with a single bulb hanging in front of a dark door. It was a hostel! We paid $5 for the gesture (and for not disappear-ing us), and hustled off. It was quite wonderful indeed, to be free. Like hitting the beach after nearly sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Turns out the next day we found the guy who drove us. What a nice jolly ol’ man, and he owns an Internet cafe. The very cafe from which I write this message. HA! Life is funny. While I don’t recommend hopping in unmarked vehicles with several strangers in the middle of the night in a strange town, I will admit we were being watched over. Never again, I tell Spencer. Never again. – Rural Movement

We don’t really have any crazy travel stories but there was one time in India when Cody was approached by five or six teenagers. They started asking for his autograph and taking photos with him. “You are our favorite actor and welcome to our country.” Cody just went along with it sighing autographs and taking photos. We still have no idea who they thought he was…..any ideas? – Mindful Wanderlust

An elderly Asian woman once showed me Polaroids of naked young men in the Hong Kong Airport. I’ve slept with wild dogs in the Australian Outback, swam with pigs in the Bahamas, had flesh eating disease in Honduras… There have been a few. – Mike Corey

In Laos my travel companions and I had a rental motorcycle stolen by a band of ladyboys. That alone would have made the cut, but days later one of those companions was cycling around the outskirts of Vientiane, found the bike, and proceeded to steal it back while an aggressive ladyboy chased him down the streets. I have no need to ever write fiction if my real life continues on in this manner. – Alex in Wanderland

I was in Lithuania and I wanted to visit one of the weirdest places on the planet—Stalinland. To get there, we had to go almost to the border with Belarus. I got to the nearest city to the park, but the only way to get there was with a taxi. The locals explained that the taxi drivers worked in a kind of organized mafia, and you couldn’t trust them. Luckily, I was traveling with very pretty and clever local friend, who managed to convince the taxi to take us to the park for free, almost like a private chauffeur! – Rubén Alonso

The time I was invited in an Indian wedding by a renowned Indian drummer in the middle of the Rajasthan desert and danced for a king. – Kristen Sarah

I got my laptop stolen out of my hotel room (in a 5-star hotel) in Marrakech, Morocco. I left the door cracked open for five minutes while I went down to the reception to ask a question. It turned out that another hotel guest stole it. When the hotel searched his room, they found it and turned it over to the police as evidence. The thief was arrested, but the laptop was technically evidence. I never got it back from the police, but two years after the incident I got an email from a man who said he had my laptop and wanted to sell it back to me. Talk about being hustled! FYI, I never bought it back and lost all my pictures and contacts. – David Hoffmann

Oh god, I will have save all of the juicy details for campfire and a flask of whiskey but suffice it  to say that it involves a lot of hallucinogenic mushrooms and automatic machine guns in central Laos. – Joshua Johnson

Oh boy I have a ton…I once had two Bot flies living in my arm for two months, Google ‘Bot Fly’ on Youtube and you’ll be extremely grossed out. Was robbed at machete point on a Guatemalan Volcano and lost all my camera gear, had a gun pulled on me in Honduras, oh yeah, and that one time I lived in the Venezuelan jungle for a month living off the land. – Ryan Van Duzer

We’ve gotten ourselves into all kinds of trouble, but the memories that stick out for me normally involve animals somehow… I’m not sure why. In South Africa I was sitting in the tracker seat, which is right in front of the land cruiser, filming a rather large square-lipped or white rhino cow and her calf, they began grazing closer and closer and we didn’t want to start the vehicle in case of frightening them. She ended up less than 2 meters away. You can see some of those shots in the end of this video. In Langkawi, Malaysia our producer Yusin somehow managed to convince the local aquarium to let me scuba dive in the big tank and hand-feed the fish. Hungry fish are not to be messed with, especially when you aren’t wearing gloves, and stingrays and moray eels swimming between your legs and nudging you for more food is rather unsettling, but something I won’t forget. – Travizeo

This is hardest question by far. Haha there are so many. The one that jumps to mind, however, is from when I studied abroad in Italy during the spring of 2012. The semester had just ended and I was spending a week on the Amalfi Coast with my best friend. We were eager to visit Capri, so after a long day spent figuring out the local transportation and conversing with Italians who all told us a different story, we arrived in Sorrento, ready to hop on a ferry to the famous Isola di Capri. We were about 10 minutes too late and had taken the last bus. With night quickly approaching, we had two options: accept defeat and rent accommodations or seize the day and make the most of our situation. We chose the latter. We enthusiastically rented two Vespa scooters and drove along the legendary Strada Statale 163 to Positano. I would argue that it is the most beautiful road in the world, albeit, rather dangerous. Upon arrival, we were met with a ferocious onslaught of wind and rain. We were forced to take cover in an abandoned Piaggio Ape (the tiny 3-wheeled Italian utility vehicles) alongside a cave and wait out the storm. We almost froze to death but we managed to wait out the storm. Afterwards, we were rewarded with the view of a lifetime. The moon came out from behind the clouds and shined brilliantly over Positano, reflecting in the calm waters of the Mediterranean. We then grabbed a couple panini and camped out on the beach for the remainder of the night. Great times. – John Piazza IV

For my mothers 60th birthday, my wife and I decided to get her to Las Vegas. It was the first time in her life that she stayed in a hotel. We went to the Aria, which had just recently opened at that time. Her room was fine but mine was dirty, so after we complained they moved and upgraded us. My mother asked me if she could take the vanity set from the bathroom with her and I not only encouraged her, I also gave her the set from my bathroom and a towel. When we got to the new rooms, they were dirty too and they moved us and upgraded us again—more shampoo and more towels for my mom. This happen another two times, for a total of four. We ended up in a corner penthouse with free hotel credit for eating at the hotel, free rooms, and my mom with lots of vanity sets, towels, and a bathrobe, too much fun and that was only the first day. – Eduardo Gato

So during that family cruise I mentioned before, we went shopping in Florence, Italy and this lady came up to me and started talking to me in Italian. I think she was asking me about the shirt she was trying on, not wanting to let on that I had no idea what she was saying, I kept saying “Mi piace!” and “Va bene.” She totally fell for it. :D – Gloria Powell

Last summer I ended up joining one of my friends on a spontaneous last minute trip to see a three-day music festival called Friendly Gathering. With almost no notice, I managed to get free admission into the festival in exchange for filming and received a VIP wristband that allowed me access into backstage/sectioned off areas. The entire music festival took place on an abandoned ski/snowboard resort so the view was incredible and camping out was perfect. It ended up raining so filming wasn’t the best, but dancing in the mud for three days and being surrounded by great music was something I’ll never forget. – Patrick J. McDaniel

I have a lot of crazy adventures that are all different in their own way. The most recent one I can think of is that time I got stuck at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe… http://www.travelyourself.ca/cailins-blog/traveling-solo-can-scary-adventure/ – Cailin O’Neil

I took a train to Belgrade without a passport. We, the European people, can travel through European Community countries only with ID. We don’t need a passport. In that moment I didn’t think that Serbia was not an European Community country. I realized this fact when I was inside the train and the train was starting to go.

I was afraid because if I couldn’t get into Serbia, I would have to leave the train at the border of Hungary and Serbia, in the right middle of nowhere, at 4 a.m. of a cold night. Nobody on the train knew if I could get into Serbia without a passport so I couldn’t sleep waiting for the border policemen. When the moment arrives, the policemen asked for the passport. I told them that I only had my ID, no passport. They looked at me with serious faces and they told me that I should wait a moment until they came back. In the moment that I was preparing my luggage to get off, the train started with me inside and the policemen didn’t come back. I have never been so happy to arrive to a city than when I arrived to Belgrade. – Josep Gutierrez

I was able to witness a 73 yr old man get his cleft lip repaired + seeing his wife’s reaction will live with me forever. After being rejected by his sons + grandchildren for 50+ yrs, he was welcomed back into the family. – Justin Weiler

Being chased in the streets of Bangalore by a wild horse. I saved myself by ducking into a narrow alley. The horse kept running. – Sarah Zareen

Brian: I travel a lot for work. One time I was in Asia and tried to get some work equipment into a country… legally. I could have easily lied and just snuck it in but I wanted to do it correctly. I had a brand new $100 USD bill that I was going to use to pay the import taxes. They wouldn’t accept it because it had a single crease down the middle. Besides the crease it was in mint condition and completely valid. Both money changers at the airport wouldn’t accept it. They wouldn’t even try because of the crease. Sigh, it’s money, it gets creased. They had never heard of the silver stripe embedded in the paper, watermark, or those money markers. I ended up having to go to the local black market to exchange for local currency. The funny thing, I got a much better exchange rate at the black market than the legal money changers. I eventually got the equipment into the country but it didn’t increase my faith in that country’s money system. – Wesley Adventures

Getting three days into a trip to the rural parts of Mongolia. Got to a lakeside village. My phone rings and it’s my friend telling me that if I’m not back in a day to get my visa to China, I won’t be able to stay. I took a 22-hour bus ride straight from there to U.B. and got to the embassy in time before they closed for a week, and then boarded a 16-hour train to the border to renew my visa. A 16-hour train ride back and I was good. Not to be locked up abroad for any visa troubles. – Andrew Kamphey

That time I was in a reality TV show on Outside TV and had to camp overnight on the snow in the Colorado backcountry the middle of winter and then climb up a mountain with 50 pounds of gear on my back while producing a short film in a matter of days…yeah, that happened! – Juliana Broste

Laughing at the time we hitchhiked franticly trying to catch the ferry leaving in minutes. You see we had to catch a plane the next morning! The kind soul who picked us up didn’t know any English but he didn’t need to. No, he knew exactly what was going on as we pointed to the dock just visible over the cliff. He weaved his way through traffic and around every tight corner only to come to a screeching halt just as the metal ramp scraped off the dock. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t consider jumping. Hours later. Another ferry. We finally rolled into the mainland near midnight only to find out a 48-hour transportation strike had been issued. No planes. No trains. No buses. We were able to leave the city only a few hours before the Syntagma Square riots broke out. – Jesse and Kimberly Moore

OK, everybody, you really have to hear me tell you the story to get the whole impact. But the synopsis is that me and some friends fell in love with Prague and especially its iconic bridge. I asked a stranger to kiss me and her whole family got really really upset, like causing a scene angry. You really have to hear me say it. – Bobby Christian

We were caught up in the May 1998 riots in Indonesia. After being holed up in our flat for a week whilst the city (Jakarta) burned, we were graciously given seats on an American government evacuation plane and dropped off in Singapore. With very little funds we had to live rough for a couple of days while we waited to get back home. Either that, or being inside a collapsed building during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated eastern Japan; but that’s a long story. – SPESUS

Hmmmmm…….not sure I have one. Other than the time I was approached by gypsies  in Florence. Three young people came up to me. One had a newspaper and held it up to me, another touched my hair and tried to tell me I was beautiful and the third was reaching in my pocket. They didn’t think I would feel it because of the others distracting me, but I did and I grabbed her hand and she had some of my money. She immediately let go of it and they ran off. – Gina DeGirolamo

It involves two Colombians, mango slices, a bottle of aguadiente and a small, back-alley salsa club in Medellin, Colombia… that’s all I can say in writing. – Gareth Leonard

I don’t know how crazy it is but it’s true. My sister and I traveled internationally for the first time when we were in our early twenties. We were headed for Spain and ready to paint the red or on our budget perhaps it was closer to a light shade of pink. We wanted to go to Ibiza but were staying in a remote part of Spain called Calp. Why were we staying in Calp you ask? (See budget comment above.)

I would like to remind you that this was pre- Tripfilms, TripAdvisor, pre- just about everything useful. We had heard about these fun party boats to the island of Ibiza but of course we didn’t have anything planned in advance. So we got all dressed up in our best twentysomething party boat to Ibiza outfits and wondered into the first place that said turístico boat rides to Ibiza we could find.

I was pretty fluent in Los Angeles restaurant Spanish at the time and figured I could crack the party boat code. So I sauntered in my stilettos up to the counter and asked the lady for dos entradas barco de fiesta to Ibiza (pronouncing it (eye-bee-za)). The lady shook her head No comprende. Now I knew she was mistaken because even with no TripAdvisor at my finger tips I knew Ibiza was the place to partaayyy! So I tried again: “Dos entradas barco de fiesta Ibiza” only this time I did a little dance move to really accentuate the PARTAAAY. Then she looked like she was finally starting to pick up what I was putting down and said Si Ibiza! Only she pronounced it the Castilian way (Ee-bee-tha) not my LA way (Eye-bee-za).

She handed us two tickets to Ee-bee-tha and we handed her a small fortune in pesetas (pre-euros). Keep in mind, this party boat ride was at least three hours long and we didn’t arrive at the island until 2 a.m.! No matter to the twentysomething Soltani Sisters who were ready to meet our future boyfriends on the best party boat to the hottest island in the galaxy.

We rushed to the boat as fast as we could only to find it filled with chickens, pigs, and a few sad looking fisherman. Then the ship set sail into the dark abyss in the middle of the night on a three-hour tour, yes, a three-hour tour. As my sister and I sunk down in our seats shivering in our halter tops and capri pants we huddled in a in a corner and reality started to sink in. With no boys, no booze and no party boat, we realized we were taken for a ride all right… – Monique Soltani

I was nearly late to meet the Dalai Lama. You’ll have to read about that one on my site. – Kien Lam

Well, Dave breaking two vertebrae in his back while cruising down the Peruvian Amazon this past November is pretty high on the list. He had to be airlifted out of the Amazon which turned into a 10-hour ordeal of pain and torture. He then spent a week in the hospital in Iquitos hopped up on serious painkillers while laying flat on his back. He was then finally flown back to Canada via Air Ambulance where he spent another 8 days in hospital and two months recovering. He’s still recuperating and undergoing physiotherapy, but he is going to make a full recovery. Yay! – The Planet D

It may not be the craziest, but the coolest thing I’ve had a chance to do in my travel career is visit the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany and see the Disney Fantasy, Celebrity Reflection and Norwegian Breakaway under construction at the time. The enormous scale of the facility is super impressive. – Jason Leppert

Back in 2012 we went to do some diving in Utila, a small island near Roatan of the coast of Honduras. It was my first night dive and I was keen to jump into the pitch black water as I was feeling seasick. Being the first down, I descended into the darkness with nothing but my flashlight landing on a perfect patch of white sand. It was like landing on the moon in zero gravity. Once we were all down the divemaster asked us to switch off our flashlights. Once our eyes acclimatized to darkness we started to drift forwards and with every flick of our hands and arms blue, bioluminescent plankton would glow all around us. It was like floating through a scene in Avatar! Floating through stars doesn’t nearly do the experience justice! – Adam Baker

Driving a motorcycle for hours through Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh highway before realizing our kickstand was down. So many locals kept pointing to our bike and yelling but we had no clue what they’re trying to say! That could’ve been bad news had a little girl not pointed at our bike (at least the 20th person) and we realized our error. – Because We Camp

Crazy and dumb—While in line at the airport to go to Ireland I discovered my passport had expired the week before! I ended up taking a flight 6 hours later with a new passport! Don’t ask me how. – Eszter Vajda

The most recent was in Winter Park, CO when I fell off a chairlift. I was so amped because during a ski lesson, I felt a huge improvement in my skiing. So, when it came to getting on the chairlift my mind was in celebration land. I let my ski tips dig into the ground instead of keeping the tips up. I ended up with a good laugh and a mouthful of snow after tumbling five feet to the ground. – Carri Wilbanks

The time when me and a girlfriend (both fluent in Spanish) almost went to jail in Cuba after getting pulled over at a check point without our passports to prove our American citizenship. Our accused crime—being Cuban while riding in a tourist taxi, which is illegal. – Travelista Teri

Not sure about a crazy travel story, but something I think it crazy amazing is how many generous and kind people you will meet when you travel. From Argentina to Sri Lanka, I’ve shared meals with people, and connected with so many incredible people through food. – Mark Wiens

I guess the craziest sounding was when I was almost kidnapped by the Al-Qaeda in Mauritania but visiting the Cocaine factory and my live performances on Colombian TV and Peruvian radio were also pretty crazy. – Mick Hobday

I think when I dressed like a woman and hung out with my other “drag queen” friends, got my body shaved, eyebrows “re-designed”, etc. or traveling to Thailand just to get married–that’s kind of crazy, right? – Gustavo Matias

I think that would be when I (Jenna) lost my wedding ring while scuba diving—don’t ask why I was even wearing it because I have no idea myself. We were diving along a wall that was over 150 ft deep, and we thought my ring was gone forever. Fortunately, around 5 minutes later, I found it sitting on a tiny piece of coral! We couldn’t believe we actually found it! – Wander The Map

When in Hanoi Vietnam, we went out for duck with our local friends. Since we were guests they insisted we try the first bite of each course served. During the “fried duck” course I took what looked like a wing. Everybody got real quiet. I (John) was nibbling away and not really getting anywhere. My friend Minh asked me what I thought and I replied “not much meat on these wings” to which he replied “that’s because you just ate the head.” – Lost & Found Travel

Living with a traveling circus for a week in Italy. It was an Italian family, 3 generations, who were so generous and hard-working. Eye-opening, really. – Armando Costantino

While on safari in Tanzania, our car broke down on a back road that not many safari cars drive through (our driver was trying to save time). We were sitting there, cooking under the heat, and two Masai guys saw us from a distance and ran down the road to help us. We were shoulder to shoulder, pouring water into the engine (I had no idea if that helped or hurt the car, I think we all had no clue what we were doing, ha!) trying to simultaneously navigate fixing a car plus translation issues, with nothing but hand gestures and noises. It was kind of surreal, and so cool. I would never have had a reason to meet and communicate so closely with these Masai men, much less try to work together and problem solve. We ended up getting rescued, and gave our new friends a ride on the way. – Nathalie Basha

Our first unchaperoned trip was an all-girl road trip to Virginia Beach for the 4th of July. There were eight of us in total. It’s so funny because we actually filmed it but we’ll NEVER publish that footage! We don’t have nearly enough time to share all the crazy stories. On the way down, we got into a fender bender. We stayed at a raggedy motel and the owner had the nerve to try to give us a curfew! We met a crazy group of guys that tried to kidnap us. The list goes on… – Global Lipstick