Reporter's Notebook

Your Worst Travel Experience
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Readers recall the most dreadful time they had while traveling. If you have a particularly notable example of your own, please send it our way: hello@theatlantic.com.

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Hug-Mugged in Ecuador

A reader had a night in the capital city he’ll never forget:

Back in 2008, after completing college, I went on a backpacking trip through South America. Best time I ever had.

But it didn’t end well. I was in Quito, Ecuador, and I returned late to my youth hostel after getting lost. I’m a rather huge fellow, so I wasn’t much nervous about it. While standing outside the place waiting for the receptionist to wake up, two ladies approached me—and wrapped themselves around me.

They did so not because of my immense allure, but rather to pickpocket me. After I felt my phone leave my pocket, I caught a hold of one of the señoras demanding it back. She took out a can of pepper spray and gave me a long extended blast to my face.

So, I lost my phone. And my eyes were melting. I inhaled quite a bit of the spray, so my airway was burning. I was screaming.

It didn’t end there. While stumbling around screaming and crying, I tripped over something and broke my ankle. And to cap it all, I had an allergic reaction and spent some time in a not-so-lovely hospital. As a result, I missed my flight home. And upon coming back, I discovered that my insurance claim was denied. My family still thought I was the one at fault.

I still love Ecuador though. Been there twice since.

Have you ever been mugged on vacation? Drop us a note and we’ll post. Update from Chris, whose terrible travel experience ended up being the best thing ever:

A reader writes:

In 1998 I drove from Austin to southern Illinois in my ‘89 Dodge Ramcharger truck. I started running into freezing rain outside of Dallas, going over Ray Hubbard Reservoir, and decided to keep going. Rather than getting better, it got worse—all the way through Texarkana and beyond. The interstates turned into a skating rink and still I kept going. The drive usually takes 15 hours, but by the time I made it 15 hours, I was only in central Arkansas.

Traffic was going by at a crawl when a commercial truck passed everyone in the left lane at 35-40 mph, left the highway, and went nose-first—hard—into the median’s ravine. I stopped to check on the two guys in the truck, and one had hit his chest on the steering wheel and was not in good shape, shocky, and coughing blood.

Of course nobody had cell phones, and nobody else stopped to help but me. Via sign language, I was finally able to get someone to call the state police as they drove by. The temps were in the teens and the wind was blowing at 30 mph, so I got the two guys in my truck, blasted the heater, and kept the one guy talking so he wouldn’t go unconscious.

State troopers showed up, I had to fill out a statement, and I immediately went looking for a motel before they all filled up with other refugees from I-40. I stayed in a motel that wasn’t much more than a set of prefabs: a bed, a TV, a bathroom, a radio and some paneling. By that point, it was the best motel I had ever seen.

The next day, when I got going again, there was a big rig in the median about every five miles. Worst driving conditions I ever traveled in.

Have you ever confronted a terrible accident during your travels? Drop us a note and we’ll post?

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.

Murad Sezer / Reuters

Last week, I wrote about some of the reasons airlines can get away with bad customer service. One extreme example came earlier this month, when a passenger was seriously injured while being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight—but overall, the amount of control airlines have over their customers is the envy of other industries, the marketing expert Joseph Turow told me:

“Irrespective of any individual fare, they have this overarching notion of who their valued customers are, and what their lifetime value is,” he said. “And because of the structure of the system, they can take advantage of it to the point of being mean to people.”

Business travelers, who are less likely than leisure travelers to comparison-shop for airfare, reap the rewards of pricey, company-sponsored travel in the form of miles. They’re pampered, while passengers in the back, who are more likely to have simply searched for the best deal, are left without many frills.

A reader emailed over the weekend to share her own harrowing experience with a major airline in the ’90s, which quickly escalated from a routine complaint to an emergency landing and a round of questioning with the FBI:

I and my then-boyfriend were flying to Portland from NYC. His father, an executive with loads of mileage to spend, got my BF a business ticket and me a coach ticket for some reason. We were chatting at my BF’s seat, thinking it should be okay until the departure. A flight attendant approached us and as soon as he knew that I was a coach customer, he started to get very mean and raise his voice at me—even though we explained I was going back to my assigned spot before takeoff.

We decided my BF would come to my seat later to watch a film together after a meal. When I was going to enter the business section to pick him up, the same flight attendant stopped me, saying my BF was asleep and I couldn’t get in the business area since I didn’t have a business ticket. He even said I shouldn’t bother my BF and shut a curtain in my face.

So, I complained about this flight attendant’s rude attitude, but nobody was decent and I started to cry. My BF came and he also told them that the flight attendant was very mean to me.

All of a sudden, an announcement was made to be seated, so we went back to our seats. Later I would learn that the captain decided to make an emergency stop to kick us out. We were handcuffed.