The Reality of Travel: A Disaster in Bulgaria

When traveling for a long time like I am, issues are bound to happen. Even if you’re only traveling for a week, problems can occur. Everything isn’t going to run as smoothly as you might hope. That’s just the reality of travel. You can do your best to research and plan so that you’re prepared, but at the end of the day, things happen that you just can’t predict. I know this because I’ve had to learn this lesson a few times— one of them being the time we accidentally scaled a mountain in Bulgaria…

While in Varna, Bulgaria, Dewey and I decided to take a day trip to see a fortress in the mountains of a small town called Provadia.

When we arrived at the tiny train station, Dewey pulled out his Google Maps for walking directions to the fortress, which we could see from where we were because it sits on a cliff plateau overlooking the town. Everything was fine until the directions told us to take a left turn. When we looked to our left, there was nothing but a steep forested hill. There was a slight break in the trees that I guess looked like it could have been a path, and it was heading towards the fortress, so we figured that’s the way we were supposed to go. Who are we to go against Google Maps’ directions!?

We began to hike up this so-called path. As the hike went on, I became more and more doubtful, but Dewey remained optimistic… and so we trudged on.


We reached a point where the “path” looked like it used to be a river but had dried up and left only rocks. It was getting steeper, too, like almost a 90 degree incline. This is where you’d probably think we’d recognize that this was DEFINITELY not the way to the well-visited fortress and turn around. NOPE. We kept going. And for two reasons: I think we both thought that we had come so far already (we had been hiking for about an hour) we didn’t want to give up. Also, we were hopeful that even if this wasn’t the way, we might run into the correct route if we went just a bit further. Wishful thinking?


Climbing on all fours, we gripped on to grass patches as shards of rock shattered and fell out from under our boots. We were both drenched in sweat, with cuts on our hands and scratches on my legs from thorns poking at me through my leggings. We were literally scaling a mountain. At this point, what we were doing was not only stupid, it was dangerous.

Out of breath and patience, we finally reached the top and my heart sank. We were nowhere near the fortress. Instead, we were standing at the base of the massive cliff plateau, and there were no signs of any marked path around us. We were feeling exhausted and defeated. We’d come all this way, climbing a mountain for nearly two hours only to reach a dead end. Not to mention, the way up had been so steep that I didn’t think it was possible to go back without getting seriously injured.

The totally wrong route we took up the mountain

But, with no other choice, we descended back down. Immediately, my feet slipped out from under me and I fell onto my back. Hard. Luckily, this was the only time either of us fell.

A total of four hours later and with sticks in our hair, an aching back, dirt on our pants and wounded pride, we arrived back at the spot where we had originally made that dreadful decision to turn left.

And sure enough, if we had walked just 50 feet further, to our left, there was a marked entrance and a concrete walkway to the fortress.


When traveling, you have to make the most of whatever situation you’re in. You can’t dwell on the mishaps or you’ll ruin the rest of your vacation. Especially when traveling long term, bumps in the road are inevitable.

Even though we were both feeling frustrated, tired, and beating ourselves up about our mistake, we decided not to let the disastrous four-hour detour get in the way of our plans to see the fortress. We could have turned around and gone home right then, but I’m so happy we didn’t.

We strolled through the ruins of the old gate along the rickety wood bridge and explored the remains of a medieval church. We ate our well-deserved sandwiches while taking in stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the town below. We were the only people there, and it was so peaceful. The sun was setting, which made my photos even more beautiful.

Nothing is ever as perfect as that Instagram photo makes it seem. Social media is misleading. While my Instagram might be a collage of beautiful places intended to inspire people to travel the world, it’s important to remember the reality behind the photos. Traveling isn’t always dazzling views and luxurious places— it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and tiring, too. I might be smiling in this photo with Dewey at the top of the fortress:

… But what you can’t see is my sore back from falling, and the fact that I was sweating uncontrollably an hour before, unsure if we were going to have to call the Bulgarian police to come rescue us. (As if we had cell service anyway…)

This is just one of many not-so-desirable instances Dewey and I have run into on this trip. I’ve been attacked by spiders while sleeping in my bed and had to switch Airbnbs (literally my WORST NIGHTMARE come true). In Moldova, our host canceled our reservation the day we were arriving and we had to quickly find somewhere else to sleep. We even spent an entire day commuting and $100 trying to hike to glacial lakes in Bulgaria only to find out that the mountain was too snowy and the route was closed, so we had to go all the way back home.

Posing after our failed attempt at hiking to the glacial lakes— Our cab driver felt bad for us & let us snag a few pics on the way down the mountain.

Through all of these issues, I’ve learned that what matters is how you deal with the problem. It doesn’t do anyone any good to be negative. Sometimes you just have to have an “it is what it is” attitude and move past it. Overall, the good that has come from this trip of a lifetime has definitely outweighed the bad, and I don’t regret a single moment of it (okay, I could have done without the spiders…).

Whether you’re traveling for a week or a year, expect problems to occur, and try to have a good attitude when they do. Something might happen with your accommodation, you miss your train, you lose your favorite pair of sunglasses (or gloves in my case, RIP somewhere in Switzerland). But don’t let it ruin your entire vacation. Deal with it and move on so that you can make the most of the rest of your time.

Dewey and I look back at the fortress story now and laugh. I’ve never taken the saying “you live and you learn” quite as seriously as I do now!