Don't lie about being allergic to fish, it's a good rule of thumb. Only I didn't always know this life lesson like I know it now — and indeed have known it since that fateful night in Belize back in 2009.
While swapping Belize puns in the setting sun on the island of Caye Caulker ("I can't Belize how beautiful this sunset is!" "My favourite Beatles song is Belize Belize Me, what's yours?" etc.), I made an alarming decision.
We were at the famed Jolly Roger's outdoor restaurant and I felt like chicken. I'd heard stories of Jolly Roger — an enormous man of superior barbecue skills - cooking the tastiest chicken in the world.
Only problem was, he alternated between chicken and fish depending on the night.
As wait staff, who looked like 10-year-old children, gave us complimentary rum in plastic cups and took our orders for the type of fish we wanted, the words fell from my mouth with such deceitful confidence I didn't know I had in me: "I'm sorry but I'm allergic to fish, is there any chance of having the chicken, even though chicken night's tomorrow?"
We were in a group of about 10 and as the plates were delivered to the table, I couldn't help but notice mine looked a little fishy. "No worries," I cunningly thought, "I'm not really allergic to fish."
So I started eating. I didn't know fish could be this good. Wow! Mid-meal, the big man himself made his way to the table. He was carrying a plate of chicken and looked decidedly un-jolly. "Was it you who wanted the chicken? I thought you were allergic to fish! Which one of the boys gave you the fish?" he demanded.
"I will fire them!"
Realising it wasn't myself in trouble as much as the 10-year-olds, I blurted out something about only being allergic to certain types of fish, that Jolly Roger's fish was spectacular and the boys were not to blame.
Tensions eased, the chicken was put next to my fish and, unlike my fellow diners, I had two meals for the price of one.
Sometimes when things go wrong when you're travelling they've really gone so, so right.
That chicken was like no chicken I've had before or since. Food so tasty you feel compelled to slap the table and interrupt conversations after every bite: "This chicken! It's un-Belizeable!"
Truth be told, I felt like an idiot for the lie. Not cool Roxborogh, not cool. But as far as the fun of when things go wrong while travelling, this is really the tip of the iceberg for me.
There was the time I was doing a tour with one of my best mates through southern India. About a dozen of us had to board an overcrowded public train, backpacks and all, with our guide reckoning the train would stop for about 90 seconds, no longer.
Well, the choo-choos began at about the 30-second mark. Four of the group managed to board, including my mate Rick, but I was blocked by a chap and his banana boxes at the entrance to the carriage.
He wasn't budging and we weren't getting on in a hurry. Then the train started moving. I was left standing on the platform while Rick and three others started heading off, without any knowledge of where they were going or which stop.
Which was when they jumped. Or at least two of them.
First was the young Canberra political policy whizz-kid Jess who made a solid landing. But the train was speeding up — where was Rick? He had to clamber over the banana-box guy, backpack on his back, carrying one extra bag, jandals on foot, moving train underneath. His jump was breathtaking, though the sprawled landing bruised a knee and ended a jandal's life.
The tales you end up telling the most are the ones where there was some kind of mishap.
Often it's the kindness of strangers that helps you through. Like the time I smashed my bicycle into a motorbike while aimlessly searching for schoolbooks to deliver in rural Laos. The girl I almost injured helped me find the schoolbooks.
While travelling with friends in Cambodia, we were enticed into visiting the postcard-perfect Koh Rong Island — except we were duped into visiting the wrong Koh Rong. Violently seasick on the way back to the mainland, I could only marvel at how Koh Rong had gone so wrong.
Oops! Learn from our mistakes
Deputy Travel Editor
The sun was dropping low over the vast expanse of the Salar de Uyuni — Bolivia's famous high-altitude salt plains — turning the crisp, white ground under our feet a rather fetching shade of pink. It was a picture-perfect moment ... if only my hands weren't full trying to help dig out a bogged-in 4WD jeep at the time.
Yes, our tour party was well and truly stuck, thanks to the day's changing temperature making parts of the salt plains as slushy as melting snow. Once the sun set, we would be facing minus-10 degree temperatures, our only shelter the aforementioned jeep, already full to bursting with our luggage and food supplies for the next week. The nearest help? Two hours away in any direction. Our emergency satellite phone? Unable to connect. My hopes for the future? Fading as fast as the daylight.
I mean we made it out — I'm here to tell the story — but at the time, it felt pretty dire. Lesson learned? Make sure there's a back-up plan for when things go horribly — but not irretrievably — wrong.
On a recent trip in Vietnam, our group had just arrived at Da Nang airport and I needed to get cash out of a machine before we headed to Nha Trang.
We didn't have much time, so I quickly got my two million dong (about $120) and ran to catch up with the rest of the group on the bus.
Six hours later, at dinner, I discovered my card was gone.
Here's a hot tip — the machines over there give you your cash before you get your card back.
Luckily, mine must have been sucked back into the machine, as all my money was still in my account.
But it was only the third day of the trip and I had to make do with only that two million dong for the next week — at least everything was cheap, but I was a bit bummed I could only buy one pair of fake Yeezy sneakers.
An Aussie couple later had $1000 skimmed out of their account after using a dodgy ATM, so by comparison I guess you could say I was lucky.
The corn cob looked good.
Over the course of a 10-day work trip to Indonesia, I'd been very careful about food hygiene. The trip had been busy — and often bizarre (we suspected one of our "guides" was actually a spy sent to keep the 15 journalists involved safe from danger). By the last day, I was pretty much ready to go home. But, gee, that corn being grilled on a barbecue outside the final market we visited in Bali sure did look good. All right then — what harm could one piece of barbecued corn do?
Quite a lot of harm, as it happens.
It was during transit in Sydney that the full effect kicked in. I spent half an hour dying in a disabled loo. I'll spare you the details — but it was definitely the corn.
There have been other gems: my face once swelled up like the Elephant Man because of a small infection in my nasal passages on a flight to Hong Kong. On arrival, I was dragged into a side room for examination by masked security officers on bird-flu duty.
My lessons: It pays to be covered.
Tell us your hard luck story
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To be in to win, send in your Hard Luck Story — whether it's lost luggage, a medical mishap, flight delay headaches, connection conundrums or a "really should have known better" calamity.
Tell us what went wrong and what you learnt. Keep your entries to less than 200 words and email them into us at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Hard Luck Stories" in the subject line, and look out for the best of the tales of woe coming soon in Travel.
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