How I survived my nightmare yoga holiday... then claimed ALL of my money back
I needed a holiday, and every fibre in my body was telling me to go frolic with nature. Trees. Birds. Frogs. Puppies. Anything. I didn't have anyone to go with and nor did I have any clue where to go. So like any millennial, I went to my mum and asked what to do: "Go on a singles holiday", she said. Go alone? And a lone wolf I was. I typed into the web, 'yoga retreat for single people', as I love yoga and my single status (thanks for reminding me mum).
I found the perfect escape in a country I'd never been to, Montenegro. The pictures made it look like the lens had been dipped in honey – gorgeous oceans, stunning accommodation and most importantly, peaceful isolation. I was confident I'd come back with the swagger of Beyoncé, and the aura of a scented candle.
I’d done my research, checked all the reviews were legit and the site was trustworthy, booked it and paid (see our 60+ Overseas Travel Tips before you do the same). At the time I felt I could be making the best decision of my life, and well… it was definitely a decision.
My 2:45am alarm goes off and I tear myself away from my bed with the world's smallest cabin bag in hand – thanks Ryanair – for how to master its strict rules, see our 20 Ryanair Tips. I then had a National Express coach journey to Stansted Airport to look forward to.
There I was, standing at the coach stop, with a young lady and a woman nattering to each other about flights – that's not your usual small talk, so we must all be going the same way.
The coach appears and the driver clambers down to see us. "I don't have you down to be on this coach", he says. I explain how that's completely fine as my ticket is genuine, it's here on my phone and also the young girl has the same. "No, no. You don't understand. It's fully booked."
National Express later told me the seat allocation for my coach was 'misjudged' and additional standby customers were boarded prior to my stop, which meant my booked seat was unavailable. I didn't even know standby customers was a thing. The next one wasn't for three hours so the young girl (my new bus stop bestie) and I decided to share a cab.
We get an Uber and it seems the driver’s having even worse luck than I am. What's that mate? You were held at knifepoint on your last pickup? By a fellow Uber driver? He spent the whole journey telling us how he could have fought back and won but needed to be 'professional' being on the job and all. All I know is he definitely would've beaten the guy in a verbal fight. Still, 4-star rating.
We finally make it to Stansted. As I’d over-packed on toiletries, my new friend kindly helped me out at security by temporarily looking after my shampoo and sun cream, which I decanted into a 100ml Listerine mouthwash bottle from my last holiday (MoneySaving!). See MSE Rhiannon's tips on how to avoid the travel toiletries rip-off.
I wave goodbye to my best friend, knowing I'll never see her again, and pop on a flight to Podgorica, Montenegro.
At the arrivals, I see someone holding a sign for my retreat. I'm told to wait until the 'others' join us from Manchester. I grab a coffee, and two and a half hours later (yes really) the rest of my lucky campers arrive and off we go. The lack of air con and no seat belt makes it hard to enjoy the tranquil scenery. One hour later we get to our destination.
Now, I don't know if you've ever seen the documentary 'Fyre Festival' on Netflix, but it was at this point I started to feel like I was starring in a low budget remake. The only difference was that I'm not a rich influencer and there wasn't a cheese sandwich to be seen (it was vegan catering).
So, where do I start? Firstly, it wasn't 'nestled in the lush greenery of a mountainside village' but more jammed into a compact cement town. My room is on the ground floor for every Tom, Dick and Harry to see in. The best part? No curtains. I could literally stick my hand out the window and shake hands with the postman.
Okay, just breathe and be open to this I thought. Nama-stay for a night and see how you feel in the morning.
The dying kitten
The morning appeared but I sure didn't feel like joining it. I spent half of last night slapping myself silly from mosquitoes while we sat outside in a circle chanting to the sounds of whales and a man fixing his car engine.
Tired but hopeful, I decide to book an excursion – 35 euros to go to Kotor town and an 'eco-garden'. As we get in the minivan, I noticed builders on the property right near my room window. I find out on the way to the eco-garden that lo and behold the company were also building an eco-garden. What a surprise.
It took an hour and a half to get there, which included getting on a ferry. It was so high in the mountains that every 6.7 seconds I questioned whether I'd even make it there alive. The road was technically wide enough for one and a half vehicles but of course what goes up must come down, so dancing with death was the only option. This is where I found out that the company thrived on volunteers – made sense as the small Italian lady who was driving us was also our yoga teacher and chef this morning.
A scruffy man awkwardly greets us, welcoming us with a lovely fact that only eight people now live in this village as there was an earthquake that killed 150. I'm shook. So I hold on for dear life while making it towards the eco-garden.
We stop by his house for shade in the sweltering heat. As we arrive, he tells us he has something to show us and pops inside his home. He reappears with a tiny kitten – cute you might think – nope. "I found it in a bin", he says. "That kitten's dying" a retreater remarks – "What are you feeding it?". "The vet said to feed it meat", he replied.
Now this kitten was not even a month old, so solid foods are a no no. I don’t know what vet he went to, but considering there’s only eight people in the village, I can’t imagine it to be a qualified one. The traumatised British tourists stared blankly into the abyss, contemplating whether a dying kitten was on the itinerary.
Our nervous tour guide seemed dazed and confused. With the guilt of a thousand sins upon me, I wasn't even sure I wanted to see the eco-garden anymore, but I’d committed. Behold, here it is in all its glory:
At this point, my spirit level bubble was starting to tilt off the edge. This is awful.
With little left to see, we set off back down the path of panic, dodging death with every turn towards Kotor. Having spent three hours with the cat, our delayed departure meant we only had 40 minutes in Kotor.
Full moon yoga
Now, the reason for getting back in time was for the full moon yoga. The full moon period is apparently the most powerful period of the month for rejuvenating and cleansing ourselves from our past. Bring on the full moon.
Not only was the moon invited to join us that evening, but there was an extended invitation to the wind – and it was powerful. Our mats were blowing everywhere – the only way to keep those bad boys down was to open our legs out end-to-end to keep the darn thing glued to the floor.
We begin with a meditation. A hotel guest not participating in the retreat sits on his balcony watching us. There’s an elderly couple sitting out on the decking and some delightful Serbian soap opera blasting out a few feet from me. It seems everyone’s here. Cue the mosquitoes to gatecrash the party.
“Let us give thanks and praise to the full moon”. It was stuck behind the clouds. “In order to truly connect with ourselves, we will let our bodies go, by dancing freely to the moon song”. Our teacher shuffles over to her Bluetooth speaker and plays the most moon song you could possibly think of… Dancing in the Moonlight by Toploader. One of the retreaters stands up and leaves – she’s had enough. Everybody wasn’t dancing in the moonlight that night. I grab a blanket, spread my legs and embrace the fact that moving keeps the mozzies off me. A ‘fool’ moon indeed.
Next morning, I'm covered in horrible itchy bites from an allergic reaction to the mosquitos. We decide to take the adopted stray dog Schnau Schnau to the sea. He runs into the motorway. I step in, screaming at traffic to spare the life of another animal I can’t possibly bear to watch die. Realising the stupidity of my actions, he makes a lucky escape, throws up and then rolls around in his own sick. Another beautiful start to the day.
The builder's tea party
Back at the retreat, I arrive to find my door wide open with the owner putting up a curtain in my room. Her warm mannerism makes up for the cold platter of pickled cabbage and beans we’d been served at every meal. She’s wary I'm not enjoying my stay. As compensation, she offers me free acupuncture.
She takes me to her room and sticks a few pins in me. I lie on the bed and stare up at a sticker on her wall which reads, 'All you need is love', and wonder whether a few pins could be spared for my eyes.
Things are looking more positive and I’m now relaxed. Floating back to my room I see how effective those lovely curtains are:
Not so effective it seems. Too chilled to care, I go back to the evening yoga class a bit more open-minded. After the wind fiasco, the location is moved inside, with candles and a calm ambient Spotify playlist. Although there’s something very unsettling – a new noise I haven’t heard before.
It wouldn’t go away. What on earth could be that loud at half past nine at night? There was no way of hiding the fact that it was disturbing and very, very close. I see sweat pearls appear on the brow of our yoga instructor. She’s nervously looking around seeing if there’s some miracle sound-proofing just lying around. Everyone is clocking on. This is it. We’re all thinking the same thing.
First one ups and storms out of the class. Next goes the yoga instructor chasing her down the corridor. I followed third because I’m a renegade – I ran outside to find this monster of a machine digging in their empty garden plot:
I think the video speaks for itself.
The icing on the cake. Or rather, the churros at the beach. Did you know you could get food poisoning from a Spanish fried dough dessert? No, nor did I. I’d been eating beans and lentils all week that my mind forgot what real food tastes like. A lovely girl named Cassie was a late arrival to the pack and was already over the 85th type of bean we tried, so suggested we go for a nice cheeky snack.
Later on, I felt my tummy rumble while sitting in the jacuzzi, but I maintained my composure until I was behind closed doors. If hell had an open day, I had a VIP pass. I was convulsing, violently sick, my toilet was the holiday romance I was longing for. I’ve never had a greater connection with an inanimate object. The Bee Gees would have been jealous of this Saturday night fever. I’d become an empty shell of myself, a metaphor for the nightmare holiday I was having. I’d become the dying kitten.
My flight was in 24 hours. I manage to make enough of a recovery to go down to the shops to get a banana where I found Schnau Schnau had been attacked by another dog. Weak and frail, I lift the also weak and frail Schnau Schnau back to the retreat. I hibernate until dawn to get the hour and a half delayed plane back to London (thanks again Ryanair). I was finally home.
So how did I get my money back?
Well, the honest and simple answer is... I asked for it.
I emailed National Express about overselling the coach to which they issued a full refund on the return journey. Sadly the Uber couldn't be compensated (I didn't pay for it, though I offered to) but at least I got the journey home refunded too.
As for the retreat, after the builders fiasco I was approached by the owner of the business who wanted to discuss 'compensation' with me in private. I calmly explained the issues and how badly they'd affected my experience, and asked for a refund.
My belief is if you don't ask, you don't get – and fortunately for me, I got a full refund. In fact, as the refund was in euros, and because the currency exchange rate had gone up, I actually got an extra tenner back. So you could even say I got paid to go on this nightmare retreat.
Hopefully you'll never have as hellish a holiday as I did, but if you do have an awful trip, speak up. Of course, there's little that can be done about the weather, that's just bad luck, but you may be able to get compensation for poor accommodation. For full help, see our guides on Holiday Rights, and How to Complain.
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