When it all goes wrong on a Getaway assignment

Posted on 28 May 2012

Every month we put together a magazine filled with stories of exotic destinations, beautiful reserves and peaceful weekend breaks. They all seem very alluring, don’t they? Little do readers know about what happens behind the scenes.

People seem to think that being a travel journalist is a glamourous job. Fun – yes – but glamourous – no. We’ve all had things go wrong on assignment and you just have to make a plan, take photos and get the story somehow. The finished product in the magazine is an article with gorgeous photos that waxes lyrical about the awesomeness of the place, without a mention of all the blood, sweat and tears that went into the travel (and the writing of the piece for those of us who suffer from acute writer’s block).

Here’s a glimpse at some of our journos’ travel assignment disasters.



In nearly three years of working at Getaway, I’ve had a couple of mishaps on assignment (getting lost, trying to avoid having to pay bribes to border officials etc) but nothing major. I’ve driven from Joburg to Malawi in a Mini Cooper and had no issues (apart from lack of decent toasted sandwiches to buy on the road), and driven thousands of kilometres around Namibia with so much as a flat tyre, and driven on the wrong side of the road in Reunion without having an accident (I’m still traumatised by the hooting and swearing at me though).

My greatest Getaway assignment disaster is of the emotional kind.

I was on an intense 10-day trip around Namibia with my boyfriend (who was acting as a much-need co-driver, co-photographer and videographer) where we drove hundreds of kilometres each day, stopping briefly overnight, racing around getting pics and interviews and waking up before dawn each morning. We were in Swakopmund, our last stop before heading back home. It was raining so we couldn’t take photos of the town or do anything really, and we were sitting in a cafe drinking tea, eating carrot cake and deciding to break up.

Having decided that breaking up at this point on our trip was inevitable, we got drunk at the Swakopmund Brauhaus on Camelthorn beer (it’s great), woke up the next morning at 04.30 am and started the long drive back to Cape Town on Namibia’s most boring road – the straight, flat B1 – in a car with no radio or CD player. We didn’t speak to each other for most of the 2000-kilometre, two-day drive, barring a discussion on how many beers to buy at the Ai-Ais Camp’s shop, where we stopped overnight. Needless to say, seeing Table Mountain appear over the horizon and we headed into Cape Town on the N7 was a welcome sight.


Cameron Ewart-Smith, editor

I got tick bite fever once on a Kruger assignment. I ended up pitching my tent and crawling into it for two days straight shivering in my sleeping bag. Assignments can be pretty lonely things when you can’t lift your head from your mat. Worst of all was the first thing one of my mates said when I got back was ‘How was your holiday?’ … I almost hit him with my tripod.


Evan Haussmann, photojournalist

At one point I was travelling so much that I was falling behind with research for the upcoming trips. My daughter had just been born so I was also spreading myself very thin between her and work. It got so bad that I found myself in the airport book shop looking for a guide book on Mauritius so that I’d at least have a bit of info to refer to on the flight over and during the trip. I duly scoured the history and cultural do’s and don’ts, familiarised myself with the layout of the island and by the time the plane landed I felt very slightly better. Until the pilot said, ‘Welcome to Madagascar‘.


Tyson Jopson, online journalist

On driving back to Joburg from Bela Bela on the N1 after an assignment in Limpopo, I I realised that I had miscalculated (read: completely forgot about) the toll gates. I arrived at the first one, R10 too short. I was told to turn around and head back to the nearest ATM. Unfortunately, by then four cars had already lined up behind me and getting them all to reverse was proving impossible. Instead of causing a huge traffic jam I reached for my only other option: begging. I managed to scrounge R3 from three of the cars behind me  (the drivers of which were not amused) and R1 from the toll booth operator herself. With a bucket-load of cheek, I still asked the toll gate operator if I could get a receipt. Oh ya, and there was also the time that I had to steal a chair in the Kruger.


Sarah Isaacs, editorial assistant

I got the runs whilst staying in a Tanzanian village with a chronic water shortage. The closest well was 2 km away.

We didn’t renew a permit on re-entry into Mozambique and had to fork out R2500 to a bunch of corrupt, AK-wielding military guys (ten days’ accommodation budget).


Lisa Johnston, photojournalist

It was a stressful start, arriving in Maputo to discover the backpackers we were booked into had given our beds away. We bumped from guesthouse to hotel over the next couple of hours, but everything (within our budget) was full. It sucks being homeless in a strange city, especially after dark, but we eventually found a ‘luxury’ room for R360. From the outside our hotel was quite important looking, with bright, international flags and a formal lobby with pink walls. Inside, it was a different story. Not that it was bad, just a little special.

The porter gestured for Warrick and I to follow him, along with four other guests and led us to the lift. We waited for it to grind to ground floor and all seven of us (plus luggage) squashed into its narrow cavity, ignoring the ‘max four’ note sticky taped to the door. There was some nervous gabbing about the structural soundness of the cubicle and one man began extolling the virtues of old-fashioned engineering – just before the lift unexplainably slipped one and a half floors, stopping midway between the doorway and the wall of next level. ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, I hate these lifts’ wailed the man’s wife, to which the puzzled looking porter pressed the lift button and up we whizzed to the top floor. No problem.

Telling the others to wait, he led us to our luxury room, roughly half the size of an enclosed balcony of a small flat. We crammed inside and our porter began pointing out the room’s virtues. There was a bathroom, with toilet and shower, a bed, a cupboard and even a TV. Others were that it was a dirty cream and had fat, clanking drainage pipes tucked into the corner.

My boyfriend, Warrick, squeezed into the opposite corner and stood on his tippy toes to try and get it all into a picture. I think he managed to capture about half the bed and the pipes. It did have a great view, however, once you stood on the bed to force open the head-level, dirt-encrusted window.

We left early the next morning, none the worse for wear, but this time we took the stairs.


Dylan Kotze, photojournalist

I will say upfront that it was my fault. After a flight, train trip, and a long car journey (towing a caravan), I arrived at a campsite late at night – way after the reception had closed. For some unknown reason I had bought loads of braai meat (a given considering I was camping) and a melon. The problem was I forgot to buy wood, I had no cutlery and there wasn’t another soul to be seen. I had to make a plan before my stomach ate itself, so I grabbed the toolkit out of the rental car. Before I knew it I was hacking the melon with the screwdriver in proper caveman style. Looking back, I’m almost glad nobody was there to see it. The lesson: plan ahead and be prepared.


Fatima Jakoet, photojournalist

I haven’t had any “disasters” but these are little things that have happened over my years of going on Getaway assignments:

In Durban I was at a game lodge and as I was walking back to my room a little warthog was walking alongside the raised walkway. A few seconds later the rest of his family appeared and apparently the male was on heat. He was a bit aggressive and started grunting at me and walked next to the walkway till it became flat ground…then he started chasing me.  I ran as fast as I could (they’re deceptively fast!) till I eventually reached another deck I could jump onto and make it to my room safely.  I stayed in that night because I was too scared to walk to the TV room.

I was on the Wild Coast with a colleague (two females who have never changed a tyre…let alone a 4×4 tyre). We were driving through a very rural area with cows everywhere. We got a flat tyre (drove over a large, rusted nail). I think the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere and there were some weird-looking characters and cows bigger than our car walking around made us change that flat pretty fast for first-timers. Once we were on the road again we had to take the damaged tyre to a really dodgy spot where you wait while they fix it.  After that we chose to stick to the freeway and tarred roads.

On assignment in Malaysia, my trip was extended by almost five days because of bad weather and no flight availability. Normally I wouldn’t complain because it’s extra days in Malaysia! But the weather was so bad I stayed in my room all day watching really bad movies on TV, only leaving my room to get food. On the one day I attempted to go out to make the most of it I got soaked, then slipped and hurt my ankle and limped my way back to the hotel room where I stayed until I could fly back home.


What is your worst travel disaster story?


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