Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

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.

Show 6 Newer Notes

'Oysters Are Still the Only Food I Won’t Eat'

A reader tries to recall his worst travel experience:

Let’s see, the 153AM out of Grand Central can be pretty lively, as can the first train in the morning on Sunday. Taking an overnight train in Vietnam was overrated, as it was dirty, uncomfortable, and sized for Vietnamese people. I’ve had my share of cancellations and so on, including get stuck in Denver overnight a few times, but that’s nothing unusual.

My worst experience though, was flying from LA to Chicago when everyone on the plane got food poisoning, which incapacitated the pilots. It forced a fighter pilot turned taxi driver to conquer his fear of flying and save everyone on the plane.

Surely he can’t be serious.

This reader gets real:

It’s about two weeks after 9/11 and I had been saving up for a year to travel through SE Asia to visit a friend who was working for a NGO in [Burma’s capital of] Yangon. Despite the security concerns over terrorism, I had already cleared off time at work, I was broke, and there was NO WAY I was canceling this trip. As expected, there are no “formal” travel restrictions in place, but the airports/border control are making damn sure that it’s really, really hard to travel.

Essentially, it’s just a complete cluster and I’m already regretting my decision to save a little cash by flying out of Vancouver, BC instead of Seattle. Not only do I have trouble at the [Canadian border crossing in Blaine, Washington,] because the crappy Sanford & Son bus that picked us up from the sketchy part of downtown was over four hours late, but the (usually affable) Canadian agents are not happy with the quality of passengers on our bus.

Many, many hours later (and a forfeited hotel room I secured for the previous evening), I made my way to the airport because it was too late to try to get a few hours of sleep. Surprisingly, I’m on a great flight to Hong Kong with no issues!

A reader’s memory of a hellish trip to Istanbul still sounds fresh:

In the early ‘90s, my young husband and I thrived on traveling as frugally as possible. We were traveling from Scandinavia and our goal was to make it to Istanbul. On a train from Poland to Romania, we were warned by a fellow tourist not to change money on the black market, because the undercover police “may arrest you.”

Armed with that information, we arrived at the train station on a Sunday, eager to purchase our tickets to Istanbul and leave Romania as quickly as possible. The “Official Money Station" was manned when we approached to change our currency. “No money,” he shrugged and waved us away. With no Romanian currency, we had no money for food, lodging, or train tickets.

A friendly young Romanian man approached offering to help us change money on the black market. He promised he was not a police officer.

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: hello@theatlantic.com.) 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: