Trying Times in Transit: Your Remaining Stories

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

For the past week we’ve been compiling your worst travel experiences, from a creepy bus driver on the Romanian border to vengeful shellfish to a business trip gone bust to a descent into one of the most perilous airports to a near-death experience on the icy interstate to gang shooting on a Guatemalan bus to a hugging that turned mugging.

Here’s a final roundup of reader stories. Gerry had a short but psychologically endless voyage at the Happiest Place on Earth:

I have DEEP psychic scars from being stuck for an hour on the Disneyland “Small World” ride when it broke down … but the music did not.

Thank god this next reader, Nick, wasn’t stranded on that ride:

For three months back in 2007, a companion and I traveled dirt-cheap all around India. My Midwestern GI tract performed admirably well, save for one surreal moment on an overnight, long-haul, toilet-less sleeper bus that found me hanging my rear out the window performing my first “flying toilet.” Only problem was, the bag was too small for the task at hand, leaving me to assault the roadside (and, it turned out, the side of the bus) at god knows how many kilometers per hour.

To my everlasting horror, I realized at the next rest stop that the occupant below me was fast asleep next to his open window.

A flying toilet would have been much more difficult for this reader:

I started feeling sick six hours before my flight was scheduled to leave Nairobi, but I convinced myself it was nothing serious. A half hour or so into the flight, I was hit with the worst-imaginable stomach cramps. A cramp would hit, and I’d curl up in a ball for a few seconds of relief. Then another cramp would hit, and I’d stretch as much as I could for a few seconds of relief, etc., etc.

The steward saw I was in distress (I was lying on the floor by then) and announced in business class that there was a sick person in coach who needed more room and asked for a volunteer to trade seats. Miracle! A kind person swapped his/her large, comfortable, expensive seat for my tiny one. I don’t know how I would have survived the 12-hour flight to London if I hadn’t been able to stretch out. I was too out of it to ask who the person was, but I am eternally grateful for his/her compassion.

I had an 18-hour layover in London, where the bedrest revived me enough to make it to Chicago and finally home to Portland, where I was diagnosed with typhoid fever.  

Courtney had a helluva time meeting new family:

In 2007 I was studying in Europe for graduate school. I had about a month off around Christmas to do whatever I please. My mom is from Germany originally and I, at 26, had never met my grandpa, aunts, and uncles. So when I randomly called my grandpa asking if I could visit for Christmas, I got more than an enthusiastic yes.

As I was leaving Amsterdam to head to Munich, a snowstorm invaded and I missed my connecting flight in Copenhagen. But I was quickly booked on the next flight out to Munich, although my luggage didn’t make it.

About an hour before landing the pilot made an announcement that the wheels were frozen in the aircraft and we were unable to land. We were descending and you could visibly feel the wheels try to force themselves out. The pilot, however, insisted we would make the landing in the second attempt.

WOMP!—that's the sound the landing gear made as it sadly failed at trying to come out the second time. Whoosh!—the plane takes off again midair while I notice the mother to my right reading the emergency evacuation to her children.

Then the pilot informs us it’s just too cold and we’re going to have to land in Stuttgart. We do. But then the whole plane has to board a bus and trek to Munich for four hours. I can’t call my grandpa—who, remind you, I am meeting for the first time—so I borrow a random phone to let him know what’s going on.

In the end, I make it to Munich at 5am to a more-than-happy-to-meet-me grandpa. Talk about making a great first impression! But my luggage didn’t for another three days.

Not as awkward as this first visit to meet German relatives:

Here’s one last reader, Nicole, who ends on an uplifting note:

I left town on a whim. No planning, no expectations—and most importantly, as always—no traveling companion. Just me, my thoughts, my desires, and my money.

On Thursday afternoon during my lunch hour, I booked a room downtown in Montreal, just off Saint Catherine. On Friday after work, I headed north out of Vermont. Immediately upon my arrival, I noticed a wild party in the center square, Place Émilie-Gamelin. House music, flashing lights, half-dressed men in leather—Holy stroke of luck! Fierté Montréal! Gay Pride weekend! Just need to drop off my bags! A block to the hotel, and …

The front desk attendant spoke only French. We flung incomprehensible words at each other until we landed on one we both understood: “Reservation?”

“Yes! Yes, I have a reservation!” I replied.

“Nom de famille?” she asked.

I showed her my credit card to display my name. She looked at me and shook her head. “Un moment,” she said as she picked up the telephone.

She spoke a few sentences in French to the person on the other line, and then handed me the phone. “Hello?”

“Nicola?” said the masculine voice on the other line.


“Sorry. We did not think you were coming. We cancel your reservation.”

“What? Cancelled? WHY?”

“Check-in is 3.”

“So it’s MANDATORY check in at 3.”

“Sorry, cancelled. If you would like to rebook, it’s $390.”

“$390? My original reservation was for $265.”

“Yes, but now this is late booking. Price increased.”

I was decidedly irritated. But honestly, what could I do? I was in another country, it was Pride weekend, and I had no internet or cell phone. “Fine. $390.”

“And you need to pay cash.”

“Cash? I don’t HAVE cash. I only have a credit card on me. I barely just arrived in the country.”

“You can use the cash machine to take money,” he said. “If you want to use credit card, there is an additional 10%, so it will be $429.”

“Ok, no. Cash it is. I just need to find an ATM.”

I walked a block away, found an ATM, withdrew $500, and returned to the hotel.


“$395? You just told me $390.”

“$5 charge for the room key.”

“I am alone, I don’t need an extra room key.”

“Each key is $5.”

“So the room comes with ZERO room keys? How would I get into the room I paid for without the key?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “Sorry. No English.”

Frustrated, I paid the $395, took the key and headed to my room.

I put my bags down. The room was, not unsurprisingly, unkempt.

Ok. Scam or not, I have no recourse for action. I have two choices here, and justice AIN’T one of them: So I can either let this ruin my trip, OR I can shake it off and just roll with it.

“I choose the latter,” I thought.

Many people would have argued persistently. Maybe they’d have won the room at the lower charge. Maybe not. Maybe they’d have told the front desk to get lost and tried to find another hotel. Maybe they’d have ended up spending even more money. Maybe they’d have just driven right back home. But the frustration and anger would settle on them and envelope them.

And in that moment, I realized how lucky I actually am to be a person who CAN choose to shake things off. I CAN choose to be happy. And even in unjustified defeat, ultimately the ability to choose happiness is the greater reward in life.