Tell Us: What's Your Worst Travel Experience?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A bunch of Atlantic readers in this discussion group are exchanging their travel horror stories. (If you’d like to sharing your own, please send us a note: A short anecdote from the group:

I caught bronchitis when I was in Germany for a business trip. Spent the plane ride home sitting next to a strange drunk man who kept talking at me. Intolerable Cruelty starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones was the in-flight movie. I wanted to die.

Another reader shares that sentiment:

I was stuck in the snowbound Omaha airport with a three year old, a chihuahua, and a small carryon bag, for TWO DAYS. That was the ninth circle of hell. I wanted to die.

This next reader nearly did, for real:

Peace Corps: On a bus in Guatemala. A group of three teens in MS-13 [a notorious gang] decide to rob our bus. Being the only American on the bus and having just gone to the bank, I took all the money I had hidden in my bra and put it in my pocket ready to be robbed. People would get shot if they tried to run, so I prepared to give everything and pulled my passport out of its hiding spot in my bag so I made sure they knew they were getting it.

Then some dude decided to John Wayne and open fire on these robbers, which resulted in a firefight on a very crowded bus. I had actually been the next passenger to be robbed, so the perp standing next to me was actively shooting. I dove under the seat and stayed there until literally everyone else had gotten off the bus.

Bonus trip: I got a lightly armored security escort back to the embassy.

This reader’s experience is much more relatable:

I travel for work, so I have A LOT of these stories. I have two that beat out all of the other minor upsets though:

1) I started a flight with a guy interrupting me while I was reading just so he could tell me that he “might grab my knee” because he’s “afraid of flying.” I replied, “the fuck you will.” Then he proceeded to vape for the entire flight. When I pointed out that it’s a federal crime to do that, he said he had really bad cravings. AND THEN, as he was deplaning, he hit his lady-friend square on her read end ... it was the cherry on top of a disturbing trip.

2) THE WORST was when I was flying from Chicago to Manchester last October. The man sitting next to me spread all over my seat, took off his shoes, AND unbuttoned his pants. And when I asked to get out to use the restroom, he suggested that I just “climb over my lap, baby.”

Another reader, Nick, also had a creepy encounter:

On a six-hour train ride in China, a man stared at me the entire fucking time. Like literally he didn’t move his eyes off me. I don’t know if that was worse than the time I was really sick on a transatlantic flight, but it was definitely the weirdest.

This next reader thinks back to Memorial Day weekend in the late ‘90s:

I’m living on Long Island and using what precious little vacation and holiday time I have to visit my LDR girlfriend in Rochester. I have my friend drop me off at JFK in the late afternoon with maybe an hour to spare before boarding (plenty of time, as this is pre-TSA).

As I’m waiting, the delays start piling up on the info screen because of some freak storm over half of the country, though the local weather is fine. My flight gets delayed, of course. Over the next few hours, the delay gets pushed further and further back. Finally, it gets cancelled.

But by then it’s way too late to call any of my friends to pick me up. So I can either spend the night in pre-renovated JFK, or take a two-hour train ride home so I can sleep in my own bed for a few hours before trying again in the morning. Both options suck, but I figure some sleep is better than none and head out to the train.

Now we come to the actual bad part. I have to take a rail shuttle from the airport to the station, then take two different subway rides into Penn Station, where I can catch a LIRR train to take me home. The first ride is uneventful. On the second one, however, I’m joined by a couple of young women a few seats in front of me, a younger man who goes to the back, and another younger man who does not take a seat but quickly sets to trying to impress the two women. Also worth noting is that I’m the only person on board who isn’t black.

The young hotshot starts sort-of-rapping about how tough and badass he is. The women seem unimpressed as far as I can tell, but really this whole time I’ve just been trying very hard to focus on the Robert Anton Wilson book I’m reading. Hotshot changes tactics and tries to impress them by provoking me into a fight. He gets in my face and taunts me for being in the wrong place or something, but I just shake my head and keep my eyes on my book.

The train slows and starts to pull up to the next platform. He disappears behind me, and a few seconds later something hard hits me in the back of my head.

At this point I’m exhausted, frustrated, and already very angry about the flight situation. I was running on fumes and adrenaline. So when I got hit, something in me just snapped. I remember folding the book and putting it down. Thoughts about my physical abilities versus his and the possibility that he may have a weapon immediately popped up. The angry animal part of my brain was in charge, though, so I disregarded them just as quickly. I stood up and turned around to face whatever this guy thought he was going to do to me.

The doors are open and he is gone. At my feet is the small, depleted corn cob from a discarded KFC meal box. I wipe some bits of kernel from the back of my head and neck. The women and guy from the back all rush over to me to make sure I’m okay. After we’re all sure I’m fine, the guy says, “It’s too bad he ran off. I was going to hold him so you could kick his ass.”