Holidays from hell

by Grace aka costofcollege

What was your holiday from hell?  Maybe you’ve not suffered from situations as horrible as those in the article linked below, but have you had any time time when your carefully planned trip did not turn out as smoothly as anticipated?  Illness, injury, missed flights, dismal accommodations, horrible weather, unruly or incompatible traveling companions, disappointing destinations, or something else?

Holidays from Hell: From frisky elephants to a loo filled with frogs, tourists reveal the hilarious moments their trips went VERY wrong

One of my recent travel disasters caused me to miss my kid’s college graduation ceremony.  The series of unfortunate events began with a widespread thunderstorm pattern that cancelled our flight and ended with me pulling up to campus the next day just after the last graduate had been handed their diploma.  In between were many snags, including a daylong wait at the originating airport, outrageously priced replacement tickets, misplaced luggage, unexpected highway construction on the way to campus, and a clueless cab driver who asked me for the best alternate route.

My sister once spent the night with her toddler at O’Hare International on Christmas Eve. What travel mishaps or disappointments have you had?  Can you laugh at them now in hindsight?

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120 thoughts on “Holidays from hell

  1. Man, I don’t have anything close to those! We did fly once into St. Pete as a hurricane approached and ended up evacuating with my grandmother (I still remember how it looked like God had just taken a black magic marker and drawn a line across the sky). But we only evacuated up the street to my great-grandparents’, so it wasn’t exactly a hardship.

  2. We had some minor problems, but I haven’t spent a night in an airport yet.

    The worst experience was being in Spain on Sept 11. I don’t even know if there were cell phones with international plans in ’01, but we had to rely on a Sprint calling card and Internet cafes to get in touch with people at home.

    We couldn’t leave Spain since there were no flights, so we just stayed until we could finally get a flight back to the US.

  3. I would have far preferred the cabbie ask for directions, or admitted he needed them when I asked. Instead, he picked up the phone and had someone give him directions in Amharic the whole drive in. Isaac still laughs and imitates me shouting “the lane with the little planes on it!” when he missed an exit at the last second (the marked lane split, and we stayed on the wrong half). We missed the flight.
    Otherwise, a canceled international flight a couple days before Christmas, lost luggage on the way to Tahiti, the usual.

  4. The only thing that comes to mind is the story from when I was a kid and we took the free trip to the Outer Banks in exchange for sitting through a timeshare presentation. Just like the South Park episode of the same theme, it was really true that they would not let my parents leave without buying. The police ended up coming. I don’t quite know all the details of how that happened, because my brother and I were at the resort pool while my parents were subjected to what was supposed to be the one- or two-hour presentation on the last day.

    It’s definitely a joke now. Hell, it was a joke 20 minutes later when we were all driving away.

  5. We went on a trip that involved a timeshare presentation and the surprise was that it really only involved a 2-hour presentation. We walked out of the presentation room looking over our shoulders fully expecting to be coerced back in to the room.

  6. Spent a longer than expected, but not long enough for a hotel room, in both Heathrow and Amsterdam’s airport. Spent an unexpected night in Chicago due to international flight delay and my connection to Austin cancelled, because at that time (prior airport) closed at midnight. A few times my luggage hasn’t made it with me, but luckily they were all on the way home.

    Most recent flight was almost missed on the way home. We were booked Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale to Austin. We had an hour to change planes in Ft. Lauderdale. However, we had to change terminals, which means you have to exit a building and go back through security. If they hadn’t opened another screening line, we would have missed the flight. As it was, we ran barefoot through the terminal and just got our gate boarding passes before they gave them to people flying standby. Boarded and then got to put our shoes on!

  7. You sound like when George hired the carpet cleaning people expecting to be invited to join their religious cult, and all they wanted to do was to clean the carpets.

  8. When DH and I went on the Botswana safari, we arrived at Logan for a morning BA flight to London, then to Johannesburg where we had a buffer day, then to Zambia. The cargo door had been damaged somehow the night before, so we were going to miss all our connections. I worked some magic by going via Iceland and got to London in time to catch a next day BA flight in time to just hook up with the final flight as scheduled. As we were sleeping over Libya, DH woke me up and said, we are turning back to London. A faulty warning light came up. So we had to take the same plane (extra flight added) the next day and hope that we could get onto the plane to Zambia a day late – luckily the group had its buffer night there. We arrived in Jo’burg at 6 am and of course no one was working until 9:00 am, and the flight was at 10:00. We made it and had the trip of a lifetime. I had purchased travel insurance, we were not going to be out money, but the opportunity would have passed us (at least DH) by.

    I have had vacations that really disappointed me, but the main reason was that when in financial straits or with work/school constraints, a non family event trip was a thrice in a decade thing. The next three summers were going to be with day camp at the elementary school down the street.

  9. bomb threat on our flight from London when I was a kid led to 36 hours in Shannon Ireland. They searched our luggage with dogs while we stood out on the tarmac next to our bags. No hotel and no sleep until we hit JFK

  10. Generally, I am the kind of person who arrives at the airport 3 hours early, and who checks in online as soon as it opens in case there is an issue. I think I do avoid some problems that way, but I know that I can’t do anything about weather or broken equipment delays – or bomb threats!

  11. Not a holiday, but I was on an extended audit in another state, and was flying home for the weekend to attend a wedding. I left all of my personal grooming products at the hotel because I had everything I needed at home. On the way back, there was an issue with the plane so we had to land in OKC and ended up having to spend the night. The airlines gave me a hotel voucher, and as I pulled up in the cab, the marquee sign said “welcome State Fair workers – 4 to a room”. There was no onsite restaurant, but they suggested I could walk a few blocks up the busy road with no sidewalks to a Chilis. When I went outside, the multiple clusters of carnies smoking and drinking case packs of beer in the parking lot stopped talking and stared. I just got something from the vending machine and stayed in my room. I was expected to go straight to the client when I hit in town the next day, but had nothing to fix my hair with and only the casual clothes I had traveled in, so had to go to my hotel there and get ready first. I was only around 24 and low man on the totem pole, and I can remember the whole experience really stressing me out.

  12. Funny – the time I spent 3 days in Gatwick Airport with DH (then boyfriend) didn’t even come to mind as a horrible experience. That’s when I figured out DH was the guy for me. =)

    Now, the pot smoking, vegan houseguest who overstayed their welcome – that was hellish. (I have zero problems with most vegans and pot smokers, but both of these were major issues during this house guest’s extended stay.)

  13. Many years ago, I had a fellowship in Montana, in the winter. DH (then D Fiance) and I drove from California, where winter was almost over, in a small, front wheel drive car. We entered Nevada with a winter storm following us, and slowly catching up with us. When we could go no further, we stopped in a small town and found a hotel. We asked where we could get some dinner? The hotel clerk said there was a restaurant a mile or so away. At this point, enough snow had fallen that we didn’t want to move the car, and we both had snow boots. We started to hike to the restaurant, passing some, somewhat shady bars along the way. We get within a few hundred feet of the restaurant and see its lights go out. Darn.

    We trudge back towards the hotel, past the shady bars, and go in one. We sit at the bar, listen to some old cowboys talk about feeding cattle using horses and sleds, have a drink and ask for food. The barkeep offered some pickled eggs (no thank you), but said that the bar next door had pizzas. We went next door. They didn’t have pizza. We went back to the hotel, which did promise a free breakfast in the morning.

    The next morning, we snag a doughnut from the hotel lobby and talk to some people who had been there a few days waiting for the storm to pass and the road to clear. They were headed west, we were headed east, and we continued on. Nevada roads have some unique attributes and signs. At some point on the freeway, trucks were supposed to change from the slow lane to the fast lane. This did not always work well and there were several jackknifed rigs along the freeway. In addition, we were cautioned not to pick up hitchhikers as there was a prison nearby. We saw that sign many times.

    We continued on, still hungry, but in eastern Nevada, towns are few and far between. And the road was icy, so if we weren’t well prepared to slow down in advance of a exit, well we just went past.

    Finally, we miss the last Nevada exit, which had casinos and buffets and lots of food options, but we manage to pull off on the Utah side of the line at a gas station. Finally food. We buy some sandwiches, and head out, because we are on a deadline. After we are back on the freeway, I look at the sandwich, which I have bitten into, and notice a green tinge. Darn, we are not that hungry, even though DF is not totally convinced.

    We make it to Salt Lake City, and, rather than immediately eat, decide to tour the Mormon Tabernacle…

    there is more if anyone is interested

  14. I don’t have any good stories. I was stuck at Midway for about 8 hours one time with a zillion other people. It was winter but the airport was hot and steamy and we were all sitting around on stained carpeting.

    My coworkers who were traveling in Ohio on 9/11 quickly evaluated the situation and ran to the rental car place and drove back to Colorado.

  15. @Milo — Come on, you have to have some stories from your work life that you can share. . . .

  16. Generally, when I am on vacation, it is hard to make me feel like it is a disaster. I just change the itinerary or buy rain or snowgear or something to fix the problem.
    One year DH and I decided to do some bike touring and camping in Nova Scotia. We went for 10 days, and it poured for 9 of them!!! We had planned to go to a big lobster festival which had all kinds of acivities and a carnival, but most of the outdoor stuff was rained out and it was freezing so there was hardly anyone at the big lobster food tent. We got lots of lobster though. And we had a good vacation regardless – ended up going to museums and indoor activites in Halifax and Antigonish. We saw a great bagpipe festival.
    On another visit to Greece, I ended up with a terrible chest cold and layrngitis. We flew there when I was at my worst. The second day was New Years Day, so we just decided to do what everyone else in Athens seemed to be doing, going to the top of that mountain in Athens (can;t think of its name), visiting the church there, and then hanging out in the cafe on the side with all the cats. It was sunny, and my voice finally started coming back, and I felt very relaxed and happy.
    At the end of that trip, we came back into Athens from the Pelaponese, right into a riot. We got teargassed and spent the night on our hotel roof watching another building burn down and people battling with the police in the square. The next day we were due to fly out but I wanted to buy this musical instrument I had seen first. So we picked our way through broken glass to the shop, where we were served Greek coffee in little cups while completing the transaction. And then to the airport – where we were greeted by a major flight delay because of, yup, you guessed it – a bomb threat!!!!

  17. “Generally, when I am on vacation, it is hard to make me feel like it is a disaster. I just change the itinerary or buy rain or snowgear or something to fix the problem.”

    Yeah, I am like this too, because I can be happy doing just about anything. The only issues are when the alternatives are too much for my introverted side (e.g., the week at the beach with 2 adults/3 kids and 3 bedrooms, when it literally rained the whole week), or when I have a specific thing that I am looking forward to and that is at risk (e.g., when I lost my passport the night before our big trip a few years ago, or when we had tix to the Edinburgh Tattoo and the sole highway around the Cairngorns was shut down due to an accident — but both of those worked out in the end, just made for some nervous times).

    I am more likely to have a bad experience because the others with me are unhappy. E.g., DH gets grumpy when there is too little going on; or DD’s massively bitchy vacation a few years ago. But those don’t really make for awesomely funny, epic travel stories.

  18. “Come on, you have to have some stories from your work life that you can share. . . .”

    I was trying to think of any funny travel stories, and the first thing that comes to mind is more of a couple of inside jokes that people like to tell only in person, with proper imitations, and among people who knew the various subjects.

    But it starts with this one department head we had onboard when I first got there. Nice enough guy, meant well, book smart-(ish), but simply could not function well processing and managing multiple sources of information. So I’m on watch with him in Control and we’re at periscope depth (we can see ships, they can’t see us, but they can certainly hit us because we’re just below the surface) and we’re like off Jacksonville or something. He’s got me working on some report on a laptop, so I’m only half paying attention to what’s going on, and he’s not letting me on the scope or telling me anything, anyway, so I don’t have much choice in the matter.

    Well, as it happens, there’s this outbound cruise ship that, for lack of a better term, is bearing right down on us and has no idea that we’re there. And this guy as OOD is getting all these reports from Sonar — increasing frequency, increasing Doppler, increasing noise, two propellers, five blades each, 60 RPM — and from Fire Control — constant bearing (this is a red flag, btw), and of course from Radio there’s the status of the current broadcast, how much is downloaded, blah blah blah, and the Dive is talking about how much water he’s moving around to balance out the trim, and it’s all just becoming too much for him. So he’s jumping back and forth on the scope like a mad man but also yelling at Fire Control because he doesn’t think their target solution is all that great, and he’s talking with Radio for God knows why about something that really can wait and he just can’t focus on the fact that there’s a fu(king thousand-foot cruise ship about to run us right over and he can see it clear as Dallas in the periscope and he just has to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING.

    So the captain is playing cards in the wardroom and often on the TV they’ll display certain screens in the background, and when you’re experienced, even if you don’t have all the details, you can look at a repeat of the sonar trace and see that the bearing is not changing and the little line is getting thicker/louder, that’s a problem. So he leaves the wardroom and comes up the stairs to Control and he’s a very kind, soft-spoken Asian man who walks up on the Conn and just quietly says “Let me take a look out the Scope, Weps.” He rotates it in the direction of the cruise ship and with perfect calm and composure announces “Captain has the Conn. Emergency Deep*.”

    And the Weps is just standing there, kind of shocked, and then saying “Yeah, yeah, I was probably just about to do that, captain”

    (*”Emergency Deep” is a general order for which a number of people have rehearsed and memorized actions to do immediately with the intent and understanding that we need to get down deep and now, and it’s a lot more efficient than trying to convey that with a series of 12 different orders about speed, depth, angle, trim. It means you fast flood trim tanks (bring on a sh1t-ton of water immediately), full dive on the control planes, increase speed to ahead full from the propulsion plant (without regard to cavitation), etc.) It possibly leaves a big mess of churned up water on the surface, which might be amusing to anyone on the cruise ship who would bother to look 100 yards or so ahead of them.

    So that’s the kind of guy this was. It didn’t get better, and by the time we deployed a year or so later, they were able to find him a nice desk job to transfer to just before we went on the first mission. By this time I’m fully qualified and can understand the serious threat he represented. He went across the ocean with us, and we were in Italy for about a week, and he had a flight home for good. So the day we’re supposed to leave, about four of us are driving him in our rental van looking for the airport, and we were close, but could not find the actual airport even after driving around the same few blocks several times. And we still had to get the rental van turned in and get back to the boat, and time is running short, and I’m driving and everyone’s yelling different ideas about which street to turn down, and no, not that one, that’s a one way, and I finally shout “Enough! That’s it!” And I pull over to the side of the road, turn around from the driver’s seat and say “Weps, this is the end of the line for you.”** “Out. Now. You’re close enough. You can get there.”

    And he did. He just opened the van door and stepped out and walked off and we never saw him again.

    **In multiple retellings of this story, people always laugh at “This is the end of the line for you” as the perfect double entendre in the moment.

  19. No horrific stories for me. Only stories where it could’ve been miserable but ended up being fun.

    – huge delay leaving Jamaica once (plane on tarmac for hours not taking off) so the flight attendants started handing out the little bottles of booze. My sibs and I declined as we were maybe 14 and under at the time, but my mom and dad, from the seats in front of us, hissed, “Take the bottles!” and we passed them through the seats to our parents. They finally got us all off the plane and into the airport and said the flight would be delayed another several hours. We took a taxi to a nearby beach and hung out there until the flight was finally ready to leave. I was just old enough to see the difference in how my parents handled it — “Free booze! Let’s get in another few hours at the beach!” and unfailingly politeness to the overly stressed airline staff vs how the other adults handled it — griping and finger pointing and threats and intra-family squabbles, etc.

    – when I was about 8, my mom and I took the train to London (Ontario) for a day and when we were in the station at the end of the day, waiting for the train home, I asked, “What would happen if we missed our train?” She said, “Let’s find out!” So we missed it and booked a hotel room. The place had a pool, so she bought us bathing suits and toothbrushes. We spent the evening swimming, then went home the next day

    – DH and I, pre marriage, went to Ixtapa for 10 days and missed all the warnings about the tropical depression. The resort was half empty when we arrived because all the smart, aware people had heard the weather report and cancelled. It rained half the days we were there, but with the rain came huge waves, and we had a blast playing in those all day. One by one, other guests would come out to join us, saying they were now not speaking to their partner/spouse because the weather had made them both grumpy and they were arguing. So, we ended up with a fun little group of people trying to make the best of bad weather, while all the partners/spouses who preferred to be angry about the weather stayed inside the hotel. It was that vacation that made us each want to marry the other — seeing how happily the other handled a change in the situation was the “that one’s a keeper” moment for each of us.

  20. Which brings to mind my not-even-remotely-close attempt to travel home last summer. We knew Condor Air was *horrible* about connecting flights from DH’s efforts to join up with us. We were flying out of a different airport we had never traveled from before, and the connection was the first leg, and so we were (I was) fretting massively about who to check in with, did we have the info we needed to check in with, etc. (note that Condor was happy to sell us the ticket through Lufthansa, and that Lufthansa was their sister company, but they couldn’t be bothered to give us our Lufthansa reservation number, or even any phone number that worked from Italy, so we had no clue how to even figure out if we had seats). Oh, and my dad and stepmom left the day before and ran into a 3-hr line just to check in and almost missed their flight. So, basically, our plan was “show up at the crack of dawn and hope.”

    So we follow The Google to the airport, and we can’t find the rental car return — it was one of those where Google is telling you to turn where there is no turn. We loop around like 3 times, at least, looking for signs, and finally see a little teeeeeensy sign that says something that looks like “car return” in Italian, miss the turn the first time, loop back around, make the turn. Drive to car return, and it’s closed. Now, before I had bought tix/rented the car, I had made sure to confirm it was open and we could return the car at 6 AM on a Sunday, because, hello, Italy. Nope, closed. Because, hello, Italy. So we figure there must be a key drop. Drive in, park, unload. Cannot find key drop. Just a bunch of shelters that look like beach cabanas with different car rentals on them. We finally take the rental folder, write the mileage on it, and I think DH found something like a mail slot in the Hertz cabana to drop it through.

    Then we wonder: is there even a shuttle? No indication at all. But there were two guys who we had seen unloading shortly before we pulled in, and they had walked that way, so we went that way too. After a few minutes, we spot the guys standing in front of an unmarked building about 100 yards away — and lo and behold, there’s a shuttle coming. We have no clue if these things are coming every 15 minutes or every hour, so we sprint (as best we can with 3 weeks’ worth of gear). Back way around the building is cut off by a fence, so we go around the front and end up basically clambering all of our luggage over the guard rail and across a short lawn to get to the bus. This is the part I wish we had a picture of, at least judging by the look on the driver’s face when we got there.

    And then, yeah, there’s no punch line. We got to the airport like 3 hrs in advance, stood in the designated line for about an hour wondering if we were in the right place, watching people in the next line (also Lufthansa) who arrived after us get processed through, asked, were told to stay where we were, watched another lane open up and process still more people, and finally our lane opened up, we got checked in, and had some breakfast and hot cocoa. And the kids got a huge kick out of Condor Business Class (DD couldn’t get over that they kept coming by offering us more bread, so she kept saying yes).

    This is why I have no good travel stories. It’s all fret-fret-fret, followed by, see, nothing to fret about.

  21. @Risley — We had a similar hurricane incident where were got stuck in St. Thomas on the way home because a flight canceled. Like you, it wasn’t exactly a horror story, because we got a hotel room and had another day on a Caribbean island, even if it was raining (I think this might even have been my first trip to the Caribbean, so *any* time on a Caribbean island, under any circumstance, was a huge treat). I don’t think my mom looks on that extra day quite so fondly, though. :-)

  22. “when I was about 8, my mom and I took the train to London (Ontario) for a day and when we were in the station at the end of the day, waiting for the train home, I asked, “What would happen if we missed our train?” She said, “Let’s find out!” So we missed it and booked a hotel room. The place had a pool, so she bought us bathing suits and toothbrushes. We spent the evening swimming, then went home the next day”

    That is awesome.

  23. About 20 years ago, me, DH and half a dozen friends were in Aspen skiing. The night before we bearing down on NYC. Our second leg home is cancelled and all of us end up spending 3 days in Houston with a friend’s Aunt and Uncle, who were great hosts and loved having the company. Each day we’d go to the airport and try to get a flight to NY. It was a mess. On the third day, I’m waiting on another line and chatting with the woman in front of me. Her husband was the pilot, she was flying standby, and she was hoping to get on the flight because she was going to NYC shopping for the day. She got on the flight. I did not get on the flight. I kind of went ballistic. I refused to step away from the counter until me and my friends got flights home that day. Security was called, it got messy, but we all were back in NYC that night.

    More recently, we went to the Keys for a short spring break vacation. We had dinner at a great restaurant that was featured on the Food Network. DH and I promptly got food poisoning. We were really sick for one day and very weak the next day. We had one day left and then we had to fly home. Fortunately, we were at a resort so the kids could keep themselves busy while we ran back and forth to the bathroom.

  24. Ooops . . . the night before we are watching TV news reports about a huge snow storm bearing down on NYC.

  25. The worst trip I ever took was a cruise to the Bahamas with my mother and two sisters. My one sister had won this free cruise for two and so we just split up the cost of the other two trips and decided to take this girls trip. It was when we just had my oldest and she might have been 18 months old. Anyway, my husband had oddly lost his hearing in one ear right before I left and we had gone to the ER and they told him he had a lot of fluid in his ear but to follow up with an ENT (appt. made for when I was going to be away).

    Also I was the one that drew the short straw and had to bunk up with my mother (who is a very nervous traveler). So my DH goes to the ENT who tells him there was no fluid in his ear and it could be anything from just one of those things to a tumor and he needs to get an MRI. I am in the middle of the ocean at this point and he’s sending me e-mails that he’s determined he has some ear tumor that mostly only old people get and I should probably fly home (he’s a bit of a hypochondriac). My mother is not sleeping well because she’s nervous about being on this cruise ship and so I’m not sleeping because she keeps waking me up to ask if certain noises are normal. One night as we’re leaving a port there is a little dinghy which was probably guiding us out and she is convinced that it is a terrorist that is trying to ram into our ship. I still remember her screaming “I think we’ve been hit!” The weather was terrible too and we did get to dock in Nassau but the private island stop had to be aborted due to high seas. That trip cured me from ever going on a cruise again. Dh was fine but his hearing never did come back all of the way.

  26. I think every family has the trip planner (who is usually also the fretter). I know I fret more when something will not be there – the cruise ship, the safari – for you to connect to if you are too late. As a much younger person, I always tried to pack in as much vacation as I could afford (both time and money) assuming I might never get back there. I think that added to the fretting as extra unplanned costs would not be immediately paid off.

    My partner has a frugal streak that shows up in travel. It is hard to get him to splurge for those experiences. For example, on our cruise, DD#2 and I did a dolphin encounter. Yes, it was pricey for the short amount of time you were in the water with dolphins, but how else would you ever get to do that? We enjoyed it, crossed of the bucket list, and likely won’t do it again (unless many years from now with grandkids). Sometimes this dampens it for the rest of us because he can’t enjoy it due to the price. As the DDs are older, it is more common for me to say, I’m booking XYZ for me and one or more DD, do you want to do this too? About half the time he declines.

  27. Kerri – it was awesome, and I’ll never forget it. I still vividly remember the bathing suit she bought me. I must send her an email today and tell her I still think about that trip.

    LfB – it all depends on your view, right? Your mom was trapped in a hotel room w/ kids, while the kids thought it was a great adventure. In Ixtapa, one guy we met was 1/2 of a couple from Chicago. They had no kids, and were used to very high-end living and vacationing, so the weather, the “sub par spa,” and the various other minor inconveniences really bothered them, and they argued the entire time. Meanwhile, pre-DH and I were ecstatic the entire time because no matter the weather, we knew we weren’t going to be asked by some little person for a glass of juice, or water, or to referee an argument about Sponge Bob, etc.

  28. “They had no kids, and were used to very high-end living and vacationing, so the weather, the “sub par spa,” and the various other minor inconveniences really bothered them, and they argued the entire time.”

    Honestly, I have learned that the best recipe for happiness is to have no expectations at all. I have noticed when I am just EarlyBird on SW, I am thrilled with an aisle seat; when I am A-List and A-16 or whatever, I am annoyed if I don’t get an exit or bulkhead. Your story reminds me of our trip to NY last year with my mom: we had a free 1-Br at the Residence Inn that I got with points, so even with both kids on the sofabed, we had a Door that Shut, and a fridge for juice, and we were freaking thrilled. Meanwhile, my mom, Ms. Platinum-everything, was in the “Autograph” hotel next door, in a bright, large, corner room that was objectively multiple times better than our room, and she was *pissed* she didn’t get upgraded to a suite. Made me think, you know, I don’t want to get so used to special treatment that I can’t enjoy stuff any more.

  29. I have another great story involving a mountain in China in winter, with kids, which involves lots of ice, a steep ascent, altitude sickness, mean monkeys, an insane minibus ride down a steep icy road with serious switchbacks and dropoffs (making altitude-induced nausea even worse) and giant golden elephants at the peak which couldn’t be seen in the fog. Oh, and we were stuck for 2 hours going back to Chengdu that evening because the highway was shut down to allow a dignitary to pass through (evidently this is common in China)
    And when we look at the photos from that mountain, we were all grins. The kids still love to tell the story.

  30. I’ve had some bad airport layovers with little kids. Once we missed a connecting flight in SFO by a few minutes and United said we would have to wait at the airport for 3 days to get the next flight. I spent 2 hours in line trying to rebook (made it half way to the counter) and was on one phone on hold with United, unable to speak to anyone (for 2 hours!). DH had the special back number and was able to find a solution for us (but it took hours). I was a 14 hour drive from where I wanted to be, but I couldn’t get my luggage or car seats out of the airport. This wasn’t even in the context of some great storm or other catastrophe. Just July 2 with UA in SFO, SNAFU.

    Also, a year or two later, had a coast-to-coast trip with three tiny ones. Au Pair got sent home a few weeks before, so she wasn’t along for the extra set of hands. DH changed his ticket to go to a work event. So instead of 3 adults: 3 kids, it was suddenly just me. We connected through Boston and missed our connection due to a storm. JetBlue was good about getting us on the next available flight (at 7a), but I ended up taking the kids to a hotel for a few hours of sleep, washing their clothes in the sink, and feeding them donuts for breakfast (because we were at a gate with only Dunkin donuts and no other food choices.) I think I was in some alternative universe for most of that flight – I don’t remember much. However, 5 hours of sleep, donuts for breakfast and damp clothes do not well behaved children make.

  31. Pseudonym, I also want to hear more.

    Most of my stories have no punch line, just ultimately happy endings.

    Once I went whitewater rafting when our raft overturned and dumped most of our possessions. Plus three of the four of us lost our eyeglasses. We swam to safety and were stranded on a sandbar in the middle of the river and I have never felt my knees shake so much before. I would have paid my life savings for a helicopter rescue at that point. We recovered our raft and floated on, because there really was no choice since that was the only way out of the canyon. The one person with good eyesight guided the rest of us. We had lost our tent so we slept in the open, creepy for me because of the animals and insects. We woke up in the middle of a herd of cattle that had wandered into our campsite overnight. Not a big problem, just a lot of cow pies to step around. In hindsight we may not have had the appropriate experience to take the raft trip on our own without a guide, but we were young and reckless.

  32. Probably my worst was when I was living in Ireland just after college, had taken a trip up to Sweden / Norway, and was on my way back to Dublin. Everything was fine until the boat-train got to the UK and UK customs had a huge line due to their obsessive need to closely question everyone coming in about their suspected plans to work in the UK, because obviously everyone is trying to sneak in to work in the UK. (In retrospect, Brexit shouldn’t have surprised me.) It took 2 HOURS and I missed my connection for the boat-train leg back to Dublin. So, I spent the night in the train station. I was, I’m sure, visibly nervous and unhappy about this and a bunch of young squatters felt sorry for me and took me under their wing, which was nice of them. It was a lively scene, chat, guitar playing, singing. There were various groups around the station, some sketchier than others. Then around midnight someone got stabbed. The police came, everyone who didn’t have a train ticket for the next day was kicked out (including my squatter friends), and after that things got a lot quieter and as I recall I did get some fretful sleep.

    I missed a plane in Tokyo due to having wildly underestimated how much longer a train-and-subway journey would take at rush hour, but fortunately for me they were able to put me right on a flight leaving an hour later, so really the only bad thing about it was the nightmarish sinking feeling as it gradually became clear to me that my rate of travel was too slow, or time was passing too fast, and one way or the other I was not not going to get there on time.

    A family trip to Fiji when my sibs and I were teens had highs and lows. Low was when I got presumably food poisoning (though no sign that anyone else did so I’m not sure it wasn’t toxic algae or something) from a fish curry and had a pale and shivering night, finally barfed and briefly passed out in the shack airport (we were heading to another island), improved after that. The second most notable feature of that hotel (food poising being the most notable) was the well-stocked pool, as my sister and I dubbed it: there was a boatload of Australian sailors staying at the hotel at the same time we were. They were really pleased when my sister and I showed up at the pool. The place we were staying on the other island involved a high point for my sibs and me, a low point for the staff of the place we were staying. They had kayaks you could rent and charge to the room, but you were supposed to stay within a dinky breakwater right off the beach and just paddle around a little. We naturally scoffed at this, paddled out around the breakwater, and headed up the coast. The staff apparently didn’t notice us doing this, and realized we were gone probably about when they were expecting us to be ready to turn in the kayak. Meanwhile we had found a stream and headed up it until it got too shallow to paddle — this is probably where my sister picked up the weeping sore on her leg that took three months to heal — and then finally turned around and headed back to the hotel. The poor staff was almost too relieved to see us to be upset about our egregious rule-breaking — you could see they’d been picturing how to explain to our parents that all their children had disappeared at sea — and we kind of guiltily realized at that point that we had put them in an awkward position.

    My sibs and I still remember that place for the kayak expedition and getting to gallop on the beach. My parents still remember it for how relaxing it was right up until the moment when they saw the bill for all those extras we’d been charging to the room.

  33. So, I was watching a travel expert on TV advise that if your flight is cancelled get on your phone right away and contact your carrier directly to find the best alternative. At the same time, get in the long line at the customer service counter to find if they can help.

    But what really is the best course of action when your flight is cancelled at the airport? I’m sure it depends on the circumstances.

  34. Hurricane hit on my sister’s wedding weekend. Weird thing was that trajectory had it hitting elsewhere and it meanwhile was grazing South Florida the entire time without ever having the warning announced. Rehearsal dinner cancelled, 1/3 of the wedding guests had flights cancelled and there was no power at the church. Super tense family times!

  35. We were in the middle of flying from the East coast to HNL when an earthquake struck and knocked out power at the airport about 10 years ago, so we ended up stuck in Portland for a couple of days. But my SIL and BIL live there, so it was a pleasant detour. Probably the worst part about it was the 4 hours stuck at the airport with little kids before the powers-that-be finally cancelled the flight.

  36. Whenever there’s a big storm of some kind I usually read stories of weddings that had to be cancelled, or in the latest snow storm around here, moved up one day. What a pain!

  37. Pseudonym, your story reads like a scene from a Jack Reacher novel! Of course, Reacher will go into one of those joints, order coffee and food and hitchhike the rest of the way if he does not run into bad guys! Loved it.

    Milo, loved your story.

    My travel horror stories are the usual flavor – flight delays and cancellations etc etc.

    Like some of the other posters, its is hard for me to be disappointed when I am on vacation. Luckily DH is similar.

  38. We always were coming back from our summer boat trip right before school started and had to make it home no matter the weather. One rough trip, I remember sitting on my mom’s lap while we watched the little boat we were towing – she had a large knife in her hand to cut the two rope in case the boat flipped. It was really rough and our dogs had eaten the coconut tarts from the bakery when they slid off the counter and then proceeded to puke all over the interior of the boat. My dad is a yeller and I explained to the boat captain we hired to teach us how to sail that my definition of a good trip is if we arrive alive and no one gets called a motherf#@#(4. It’s a low bar.

  39. Milo, that story is great. Someday at the Totebag cocktail party, we can watch “The Hunt For Red October” and you can regale us with what is accurate and what is not. :)

    When DH and I got engaged, we went to London with his parents and BIL and SIL. Everyone got sick on the trip except us – his dad had to go to the NHS hospital with the flu (the actual flu) and was sick in bed the entire time we were there. DH and I had a great time doing exactly what we wanted on that trip! Otherwise I have no snafus to report, only when we went to Disney and the magic bands didn’t work the whole time, but that is small potatoes compared to everyone else’s!

    HM, when I went to the UK by myself for choir camp in HS, I somehow got the wrong ticket on the train back to Heathrow and had to pay a 10 pound fine when I got there. That was my last bill, so I scrounged 57p of change from my wallet and got a muffin at McDonald’s in the airport (terrible). No credit cards of course, my parents wouldn’t have trusted me with one. ;)

  40. You know what I hate. Those train trips where the cars decouple at some point and you don’t realize that your car is going somewhere other than your planned destination. When the announcements and the signs are in another language it seems it would be easy to get caught traveling to the wrong destination. It’s never happened to me, just some close calls.

  41. Oh yes! Those trains with the splitting cars were really common in Italy back when I was in Naples. Each car actually has a little sign on the side that says where it is going, but I never totally trusted those. So I learned how to say “Is this the car that is going to wherever?” in Italian (and in dialect too) and would obesessively ask it of every passenger on the car.

  42. Train-splitting was definitely a concern on our recent Japan trip and I agree with MM, “Is this train going to X?” is an important bit of language to learn!

  43. But what really is the best course of action when your flight is cancelled at the airport? I’m sure it depends on the circumstances.

    Wait 45 min until the computer rebooks you onto the next available flight.

  44. “Wait 45 min until the computer rebooks you onto the next available flight.”

    Whaaat? That really happens? I had no idea. Of course the next available flight could be in a week or so. Is this what you do? Shouldn’t you try to find flights on other airlines in the meantime?

  45. Oh, god, I just remembered the business trip from hell. I was on a trip to Atlanta with a guy who had originally been my boss, but I had been promoted to be his peer. The executive director hated him and there was a reorg going down where he was going to be laid off (finally — he totally deserved it) and I was going to be made director of the now-combined departments.

    The word came down while we were still in Atlanta. That night, Jeff (not his real name), who was alcoholic and had access to too many drugs, drank about a fifth of Jack Daniels and took his muscle relaxants and went way off the deep end. First he kept phoning my room over and over and over, every minute or two, despite my telling him to fucking stop it and hanging up on him. Then he came down the hallway to my motel room and started pounding on the door. He was 13 years older than I, but I was truly physically scared of him. I stepped out onto the balcony (it was one of those cheap-ass motels where every room opens to the outside) and told him to get back to his room and pack. NOW. DO IT. Then I called a taxi. It was about 1:00 a.m at that point. He went back and packed, and I dragged him to the taxi and we got to the Atlanta airport by about 2:00 a.m.

    We found a spot with a bunch of chairs and a bunch of seemingly-homeless people and collapsed. The cleaning people had floor-polishers and used them right around the chairs for four straight hours until the airline check-ins opened. It was obviously to discourage people from being there overnight. At 6:00 I dragged him to the counter, checked us in, and we got home alive.

    I blocked his number on my home phone and made sure not to be alone with him for the few days til he was frog-marched out. I didn’t tell DH for fear DH would shoot him. I didn’t tell anyone at work, because what would be the point? I spent about a year being low-key, background frightened that he would come with a gun and shoot up the place (he was a Vietnam vet and an expert shot).

    Gosh, I don’t miss that place at all.

  46. Well, once we reached the Tabernacle, still without finding a source of food, we were met by a very attractive young woman from South Africa who led us on a tour. She was doing her mission in Salt Lake City. She took us through the building, and since we knew a fair bit about the LDS church and had friends in the country she was from, struck up a congenial conversation. Still no food. At the end of the tour, we come to an airy, bright room, and asked if we wanted to know any more about the LDS church. If she had fed us, we might have converted. But alas, we’re still Catholic, no food.

  47. Ooh, actually, I just remembered the one trip from hell, back in college. After a semester abroad, I took the time to travel with a former roommate. We had a falling out on a Greek island and I got sick with the flu (or something else equivalently bad — fever, shakes, weakness, the whole bit). So I called to change my tickets to come home early; the best I could do was a flight to Milan, overnight, and then flight out the next day. Got a train to Milan, had no place to stay, started walking in about 45-degree rain in my denim jacket until I found a B&B. Had them call my mom; they couldn’t reach her, said there was some machine (??? My folks didn’t have an answering machine). Tried multiple times, then they gave me the phone, I heard an answering machine and left a message that I was sick and arriving at Kennedy the following day (sort of really desperately hoping they’d drive home to pick me up). Don’t think I even ate, just fell into bed.

    The next AM, I checked out, only to discover the B&B hosts had charged me something like $100 for all of the long-distance phone calls. What was I going to do? I paid it out, even though it sucked down my rapidly-dwindling cash hoard; and then I was so sick that I even decided to splurge most of the rest of my cash on a cab to the airport. Drove to the airport I had flown into 4 months ago, tried to figure out the check-in system and find the kiosk for my flight; it’s not there. I finally find a person: I’m at the wrong airport. Didn’t even know Milan had two. So how do I get between them? Well, there’s a train, but the trains are on strike (which I didn’t even know given my earlier decision to cab). My only choice is a cab. I go to the cab line, and the guy quotes me like 120,000 lira (around $100); I have 114,000 left. I burst into tears and start blubbering; it’s already close to 2 hrs before flight time, and now I can’t even get there? He takes pity on me and agrees to drive me over. I make the flight, but had no cash to get anything to eat (luckily, they did have food on the plane back then).

    Then I arrive at Kennedy, make it through customs: no mom. I use my phone card (which now works again, now that I’m back in the states) and call home: my mom answers and is surprised as hell to hear my voice. Yes, they had bought an answering machine, specifically because she was afraid of missing a call from me when I was traveling alone in Europe; unfortunately, the connection had been so poor that the answering machine didn’t record my message. So I make my way to Amtrak and take the 3-hr trip home (much crying and self-pity involved).

    And, of course, she had planned all along to surprise me by coming to Kennedy to drive me home, if only the damn answering machine had worked.

  48. Worst vacation ever was our first Cub Scout camping trip. The location was remote 5 hours from LA and rustic with tent camping only. DH and I are not campers. We misgauged how long it would take to get to the camp and ended up arriving after dark. The family with the camp stove was also late getting in so we ended up having whatever snacks we brought up for dinner in the car. That night a freak storm blew in…which we were in no way prepared for. The temps got down to 30 and it was raining. DSs were 1, 4 and 7. DH and I kept checking DS who was 1 to make sure he was not freezing in his pack and play. Then around 3 am, DS who is 7 barfs in his sleeping bag. We stripped him down, threw the sleeping bag outside and then put him in our sleeping bag. We literally did not sleep all night. We left the next morning as did the rest of our den. DS is now close to Eagle as are 4 of the other boys from the den and we always talk about that camping trip fondly when we get together. Now the boys are always prepared :)

  49. Continuing on, still Catholic and hungry, we found a Burger King. Then, back on the road again. The states appeared to shrink and soon we were in Idaho, it was also a time when there were no daytime speed limits. We found another restaurant that served copious quantities of meat and potatoes, which we polished off with ease, and found another motel for the night. The next morning, in the lobby, there was whiteboard with the temperature posted. NEGATIVE 37 degrees. They didn’t specify Fahrenheit or Celsius, because at that point, it doesn’t matter. We finally ended the university town, after traveling through Yellowstone. There were elk and buffalo on the road.

    My advisor told me I failed the IQ test by coming at the time of year.

  50. I have nothing too exciting– certainly nothing Milo comparable!– but I attribute Junior’s healthy immune system to having eaten the gum off the floors of most Northern American airports and a few foreign ones as well.

    You all know that Junior and I like to cruise, and it’s easy for us. Roll out of bed and onto a ship.

    One four-day weekend, we got a decent deal on a 4-day cruise to Cozumel and somewhere. The second night as we were nearing Cozumel, an elderly passenger had to be medi-evaced out. The ship had to miss Cozumel. Junior was relatively young at the time and it was pretty neat to watch the helicopter evacuate the person. While the passengers (especially the ones I hang out with in the bars) were furious. I was impressed with the precision of the removal and marveled to Junior about how wonderful it was that the passenger was going to get help.

    On the way back, the Captain or somebody spotted a boat of some sort– a raft really– sinking in the Miami Straits. It was about midnight, and as required by law (Milo could explain) our ship had to help. What they did was absolutely amazing! One side of the ship had every single floodlight on, lighting up the entire midnight sky. About 6 of the ship’s life rafts were lowered and launched. Later, a batch of Coast Guard helicopters hovered above the raft with their spotlights illuminating the scene. Over the next 2-1/2 to 3 hours Junior and I stood with many people on the railing cheering each time one of the ship’s rescue boats returned and off loaded rescuees. It was an amazing thing to watch. The rescuees seemed grateful, (although I can’t know this) draped in ship blankets as they climbed aboard. (Later, I learned that they were would-be immigrants presumably seeking a better life in the U.S. Fifty-six of them, several of them children!.)

    Of course, when we learned we would be skipping our next, and last, scheduled port, there was almost a riot among furious passengers. I, on the other hand, was amazed by the precision and dedication of the ship’s crew, the Cost Guard and everybody else who unlike Junior and me just stood there and watched. But I and others like me were, apparently, a small minority of passengers.

    Not ordinarily totebaggy, I turned this into a teachable moment. About maritime law, civics, the reaction of the ship’s crew and the Coast Guard, ambivalence over knowing that those people who sacrificed so much to seek a better life in America would be turned back when we docked in Key West, the sheer shitiness of the passengers bitching because they didn’t get their to their crappy excursion in an equally crappy Caribbean port.

    Both nights, both rescues were life lessons, at least for me and hopefully for Junior. Far better than any port we didn’t get to.

    ** All was well, though, when we arrived the next morning in Key West (violating the Jones Act, I am sure). Junior got his first opportunity to sit before noon at the bar at Sloppy Joe’s. I was happy as a clam.

  51. Wait 45 min until the computer rebooks you onto the next available flight.

    This works if you have a Gold Medallion and are traveling Delta from Boston to Atlanta in mid August. Denver to Missoula around Memorial Day? You’re screwed. The next available flight could be days away.

  52. NEGATIVE 37 degrees. They didn’t specify Fahrenheit or Celsius, because at that point, it doesn’t matter.

    And at that point, they are almost equal.

  53. Fortunately I haven’t had any real disasters. The only big screwup I can think of actually ended well. DW and I went to England for our honeymoon. We stayed in London for a few days and then were staying at a resort in the Costwolds for a week. I screwed up the timing and we realized on the last day in London that our other reservation started the next night, so we had a night with no place to stay. So we decided to go see Wales and figured we’d find a place to stay there.

    We reached Swansea by late afternoon so we figured we’d stay there. It turned out there was some road rally going on and the entire area was booked up. So we kept driving. It was my first time driving on the left, and DW is the worst navigator in the world, so I had to try to figure out where we were going while still getting used to the wrong side of the road (no way would she drive). We finally stumbled into some little town with a hotel with vacancies. We checked in and they said they would let us know if there was availability for a table in the restaurant.

    I called down after a bit and they said there was room. We went down to eat in our jeans and sweatshirts, because who thinks you need to dress up for a hotel restaurant in a small town in Wales. It turns out it was a really formal dinner and we looked like the stereotypical Americans in jeans and sneakers. The food was unbelievable – the best meal we had the entire trip. They had a bread table – I’ve never seen this before or since. They would offer us some bread, then these two teenagers would drag a good sized wooden table over to us that had the bread on it, and they would cut us slices.

  54. SoCal, this isn’t up to the same standard as your camping story, but I will not soon forget the preschool camping trip when my older two were 3 and 1 and I was heavily pregnant with my youngest. The plan was that my husband and the 3 year old would share a 4 person tent, and my daughter and I would drive home (about an hour) to sleep after spending the day at the campsite. There was a potluck dinner, and then marshmallow roasting and s’mores, and I forget that the gate to the camp closed at sunset . . . . So, we all spent the night in the little tent, without sufficient sleeping bags or pads, and with my restless toddler daughter spending most of the night walking / crawling around the tent on top of us.

  55. “Made me think, you know, I don’t want to get so used to special treatment that I can’t enjoy stuff any more.”

    I think I’m way past that point. OTOH, I don’t want that to happen to my kids. E.g., I mentioned here that we took staycation over the past holiday season at the Ritz Carlton; I hope that didn’t spoil them so they won’t enjoy future stays at Motel 6.

  56. Since it’s now past 4pm TBT (totebag time), a brief hijack–

    DS will not be full pay! He just found out today that he won a NMSC scholarship, so it’s looking more like $287.5k, not $290k.

    Hey, that’s probably enough for us to visit him once.

  57. He just found out today that he won a NMSC scholarship, so it’s looking more like $287.5k, not $290k.

    Yay!!!

  58. Finn That is a significant recognition honor. Although in my acquaintance there was only 2 out of 3 correspondence between that and the University scholarship at the place fun goes to die, the odds do go up. Keep us posted.

  59. A few incidents when I visited the home country. My first trip back to visit – DH (then DB) and myself were stuck on the tarmac in a plane without electricity for 6 hours. There was a pilot strike underway and the passengers demanded that the doors be closed and the crew take off once they found out what was happening. I had a bad cough so it seemed I coughed and sweated all those hours.
    We missed our connection but somehow managed to get to Boston. DH was going to drive me to PA where my college was. We didn’t check the weather and got stuck in a snowstorm in Allentown for three days. Luckily we found a small inn and they were nice enough to serve the stranded people food. Then while clearing the snow off the car, DH locked his keys in. We were reduced by a surgeon who precisely went in and jimmied the lock (a feat of surgical precision). Both of us decided not to continue by road but return and book a flight out of Boston instead.
    The next was returning from home country with DS a baby of five months. He had diarrhea and there was a ton of diaper and clothes changes in the airport and on the flight. DH ended up walking in the aisle with him for hours. Took DD at fifteen months – she couldnt walk and didn’t sleep but jumped in my lap for hours. Everyone in the plane was asleep but the two of us. I brought my kids again when they were four and six and that was a better trip.

  60. Congrats, Finn.

    Our mattress has spoiled us, no doubt about that. Every time we see a hotel queen bed now, DW says “is this really a queen?” Of course, in NYC back in December, no it was more like we haf two of those three-quarter beds, so I slept with my 4 yo, DW slept with #2, and #3 on the air mattress. But other times, it is a queen, and suddenly that’s shockingly small. However, it often seems that they’re worn to a concave shape and and we’re being rolled into each other in the center through the night.

    This might limit our boat selection, being realistic.

    I liked your story, PTM. Much more inspiring than mine. And I enjoyed Pseudo’s, and others.

  61. Finn – Congrats to your son!

    I really enjoyed the stories from everyone today.

    Funny thing is, we travel a ton and I know we’ve had a few really bad trips, I just can’t remember! It must be selective memory.

  62. The timing is not quite right but it could have been PTMs cruise ship bearing down on Milo’s submarine.

  63. I have more than my fair share of vacation fine wrong. The worst was probably DH and I camping in Yellowstone. We had free airfare to SLC, rented a car and drove up to Jackson. While driving through Grand Teton to get to our campsite we hit a deer. Completely destroyed the deer and our rental. It took several hours for a tow truck driver from Jackson to get us and drive us back to Jackson. Then we had the tow truck drive around town as we tried to get a hotel room in sold out summer prime season. Finally found a room in a very scary motel. Next day we took a cab to Jackson airport where we begged for the only rental car left, and we were happy to get it, uncleaned and all.

    We got to our campsite a day late and settled in. A couple days later after a hike it rained and rained and rained somemore. We went and got pizza at a lodge and when we came back our campsite was flooded and our tent was in about a foot of standing water. We slept in the car. The next day we had a great hike and came back to another rainy flooded campsite. We slept the next two nights in car and then headed home.

    A couple months later the calls and letters from a collection agency began. The SLC rental car agency was trying to collect all kinds of bonus charges from the accident and they were purposely avoided contact from our insurance company in hopes to collect from us. The calls and letters continued for months.

    For a trip that began with free airfare it ended up costing us a heck of a lot more but boy was it fun…It was Yellowstone and Grand Teton after all…And great and funny memories.

  64. You’re screwed. The next available flight could be days away.

    Then find a nice hotel and saddle up to the bar. It is what it is. All the stressing and bitching and sleeping at the airport isn’t going to change anything.

  65. “We got to our campsite

    Ah! I think I see the problem.”

    Lol. We’re going camping for Spring Break in the pop-up trailer. It works well because, although I know some people are very good at selecting and arranging tent campsites where everything stays dry with their tarp folded just so, I’m not one of those people.

  66. Congratulations to your son, Finn! Every little bit helps.

    I used to camp and backpack quite a bit when I was younger, but I haven’t done it in years and certainly not with my kids. I feel a nostalgic tug now and then to go camping, but then I come to my senses and decide against it. However, camping, particularly backpacking, has provided me some magical experiences that would be hard to duplicate when staying in a comfy hotel room. I understand there may be exceptions, so there’s no need to point out how deluxe glamping can be “as good” yet more comfortable than a typical camping experience.

    Reading the stories on this thread has had the unfortunate effect of making me want to stay in my safe house forever and never take an adventurous trip. I must resist that urge!

  67. Ha! Last month when we were back in Yellowstone the kids were asking about a summertime trip. We all agreed that we’ll be either staying at a lodge or a cabin. No tent camping!

    In another trip DH and I both got food poisoning after eating at a very nice restaurant. We were in Canada on a skitrip. We were in such sad shape that we spent a day at the local hospital.

    I basically just assume that something will go wrong on a trip and so I don’t have overly high expectations.

  68. We were headed to a popular destination in the middle of the sunshine state. As we got off the plane and I turned my phone back on, I had a text message from work to call immediately. I had been working on a deal with a major customer and it unexpectedly fell apart. I spent a few hours that day and several over the next week on the phone both explaining details of the last few months and trying to put together some kind of Hail Mary plan. Many of these phone calls were from quiet corners of amusement parks. The night of our arrival, I enjoyed a few frozen drinks with dinner trying to get back in vacation mode.

    So, when we finally got to our room and began readying for bed, my DH realized we had left the head strap for his cpap machine hanging in the laundry room at home. This is nearly midnight, and he starts freaking out because this is the beginning of a week of high humidity and more physical activity than he is accustomed to (I should mention he was on dialysis, not your average middle-aged healthy dad) and he is now worried about not sleeping. We start calling around – yes, at midnight, recall said frozen drinks earlier in the evening, decision making not at its sharpest. I am trying to think of ways to macgyver it, and my eldest DS has the bright idea to call a sleep lab. They are super-friendly and willing to help us. We head out after midnight with detailed directions to a sleep lab on the upper floor of a mental hospital. In a dark and not-very-populated part of town. Disaster averted, they are able to supply this missing part, and we head back to the hotel. Back to vacation mode.

    Two days later, we are at a water park, where the same DS loses a lens from his glasses in the wave pool. Actually, he lost his glasses and younger DS found the glasses, but they were short one of the lenses. Younger DS makes finding a clear glass lens in a wave pool his mission. Over an hour later, he actually finds it. So, we make plans for the next day to find a place to repair his glasses. So, with only one car, the next day I take DH to dialysis (something like a 5:30am hook-up time), this is the first day ever for him at an at-of-town clinic, so stressful enough. Then, I go back to get the kids, find a place to fix the glasses, and retrieve DH from dialysis. Back to vacation.

    The next few days are relatively uneventful. Still going to dialysis clinic super early every other day and on horrendous conference calls with work, but that’s just part of life, whether on vacation or not. On the last full day of this vacation, we head back to a water park. We all get on a ski-lift that takes you up to the top of the park. Somehow a sharp piece of metal slices deeply into his calf, and he is gushing/dripping blood along the aerial ski-lift route. A lot of blood. What ensues? Shockingly unprepared park employees to administer basic first-aid, an ambulance ride to a nearby hospital, and me in a cold swimsuit sitting in an unfamiliar hospital ER. One other piece of info – my DH is on immuno-suppressive drugs to treat his lupus, so we have heightened concern about getting an infection from a piece of metal in a water park. Kids are texting me pictures of parts of the park being cordoned off and park workers scaling fake mountains to clean the blood splatter. I’m happy to report that the deep cut on his leg healed perfectly. Hospital personnel said the metal was extremely sharp, because it was a pretty clean cut.

    In hindsight, kind of an exhausting trip. But one we won’t forget!

  69. Sunshine, you’re tough.

    The camping/Yellowstone comments remind me that I just booked our Yellowstone nights (in truck camper) for this summer at campgrounds with showers and laundromats, ’cause you never know. On our last trip, the twins were still potty training and on our longest driving day, we had 13 potty stops and 4 accidents. I’m expecting Baby WCE to come in below that, since there’s only one of her. My DINK colleagues will ask about my 10 day camping vacation with four young children and refrain from saying out loud that they’re glad it’s me and not them.

  70. The worst experience I have ever had was getting food poisoning, probably from undercooked lamb, and the resulting diarrhea when I was once in Northern Morocco. Fortunately in that part of the country it seems like educated people (pharmacists) speak at least one of Spanish, French, or English so I was able to describe what was going on and get some medicine to help the situation.

    One bad experience turned good/memorable was when DW & I went to Italy in 1991. We were flying on miles, upgraded to business class, here-Chicago-Rome on United and I was top tier with them then. It took some doing but we got rebooked to fly Chicago-London-Rome and further upgraded to boot. Turned out we had a 5 hour layover at Heathrow, so we actually took the time to take the tube a few stops to a neighborhood called Osterley where we walked around and had a very nice lunch. Since we were flying intra-Europe our flight to Rome was to Ciampino and the approach took us right over the Vatican which was special for DW to see. All in all we got there a few hours later than planned but with a couple of fun/good things along the way.

    Finn – congrats. You never know what other doors the award will open.

  71. We love tent camping and always go camping with the kids every summer. Last summer, up in the Laurentians, we did a mix of tent camping and hotel stays which worked really nicely. We stayed at this one campground on a river near a small town in the Laurentians, pretty far north. It was packed with Quebecois families on vacation. We had a gorgeous spot, overlooking the river, and spent 2 evenings watching the river as the sun went down, with a big campfire, listening to big groups of people at various sites near us belting out songs in French. Not your typical out in the wilderness camping experience, that is for sure!

  72. Oh, and I forgot – that trip did have some disaster moments. We started the trip by doing the long bikepath tha goes from the Champlain Islands, across a narrow causeway that crosses Lake Champlain, into Burlington. It was very nice, very scenic, and we enjoyed craft beers in Burlington at a cafe on the lake. But on the trip back, my husband blew a tire. There is NO PLACE on that causeway to stop – you can;t get a car in to rescue anyone because you are out in the middle of a lake. And we had to make the last ferry – there is a tiny spot where the causeway does not connec, and a teeny bike ferry transports all the bikes across, but the last one went at 5. So poor husband had to ride the bike with no tire at least to the ferry. Of course the wheel was bent up, but we had camping reservations up in the French party campground the next evening, so we had to haul out, and hope we found a bike repair in the teeny tiny town near the campground. Which we did, and we even got the bike in before closing time.

  73. For some of us tent camping is not a problem, others want a cabin, pop up trailer or RV. For still others there better be a Ritz Carleton hidden away in the trees.

  74. We’ve done some tent camping and it was usually fun. Although one time a big storm came in. We tried to ride it out but they tent was practically blowing over so at about 9 p.m we just threw everything in the car and came home.

    We’ve gotten tired of the tent thing so last time we stayed in a cabin at a campground. It was the same experience but much more comfortable and without the hassle of dealing with a tent.

  75. Many years ago, my mom, elder brothers (EB1 and EB2), DH, DD and I went on to a cousin’s wedding out of state. We all lived (except for DH, DD and I) in separate towns, at least 75 miles different from each other. My mom convinced us that it would be fun to all fly together from a single airport. So, EB2, DH, DD, and I drove together to the town with the airport. It was over a 100 miles from where we live to the airport. At this point, DH has not clued in to the fact that every other inlaw said something to the effect “That sounds like a great time, you go, I’ll stay home.”

    We all fly out together to the wedding, have a lovely time at the wedding, and are ready to fly home. Well not exactly home, but the airport we flew out of. While we are waiting in the first airport to depart, EB1 feels compelled to remark, “This has been great. Nothing has gone wrong the entire weekend.” At this point, DB2 and I look out the airport windows and see the hood on the plane up and mechanics working on it. The flight is delayed, and EB2 and take turns walking DD (who is two years old) up and down the airport. We took her on the people mover a couple times, which she enjoyed.

    Eventually, we board the plane, sitting in the way back, because Mom had made sure we had seat together. DD sat with her uncles and they all amused each other. I did mention to EB2 that I was concerned we would miss our connecting flight. He says, “I talked to the flight attendant, and she says this is the plane that continues on, so we can’t miss the connection. And besides, the flight attendant has something to go to tonight, so the pilot is going to speed up the plane so we won’t even be too late. No reason to worry.”

    We land in the connecting airport, stay on the plane for a while after everyone else deplanes. Eventually the captain comes on the intercom and says the flight will be delayed and we might as well wait in the airport.

    We get off the airplane and the airport is packed. DD has been quite the good traveler, especially considering that about a week before the trip, she has decided that she can no longer bear the indignity of diapers and MUST be potty trained. She and I head off through the airport, in search of food and a bathroom.

    As we are walking, we pass another gate, where some has just missed getting on the plane, the doors have just shut, and he is upset. He tells the airport staff that they have to let him on, he has bags checked and they have no idea what is in them. This is before 9/11, but still not something one can see at a departure gate without repercussions.

  76. Y’all have fun camping. I’ll be hanging with Louise at the Ritz.

  77. We go on, find some pizza, and bathroom and head back. The person who made the intemperate comment at the departure gate is now talking to airport security, and it doesn’t seem like the conversation is going well. DD and I stay to watch the show. There is much discussion, and then the security people take him away in handcuffs.

    Meanwhile, back at our gate, the airline has announced that our plane isn’t going anywhere. They have come up with some alternatives. First alternative, take a plane 400 miles south, get on another plane and travel 600 north back to the airport we were supposed to get off at. Ummm. NO. Second choice, the airline would put all the passengers on a bus and drive them to original end point. The airline also announced that they would provide the passengers with pretzels and water. The passengers became a little unruly at this suggestion and boisterously suggested that beer would be necessary for the alternative to be acceptable. The poor airline person made a hasty retreat at this time.

    So, our party meets up, discusses the events we had been witnessing and tried to come up with a strategy. I suggested that we all rent a car and get home that way. Note, that I am traveling with my older brothers, so of course my idea could not even been heard. Fortunately, DH made the same suggestion and it was immediately recognized as a good idea.

  78. We all get in a crown vic and head homewards. After an hour and half, we reach the town where EB2 had left him car before joining up with us. DH and I are going onward to the original airport where we left our car. EB2 suggests that we leave DD with him, no reason for her to go on an endless drive when she could go to his house and play with cousins. We hand him the baby and the diaper bag, in which I can carefully placed the car keys so we wouldn’t lose them.

    We drive onward. EB1 is driving fairly fast because it will be late when we get to his house and then we have to turn around to retrieve our baby and finally head home. We get to his house, and try to move the luggage from the rental car to our car. Oh wait, it’s locked and the keys are a 100 miles away.

    We borrow Mom’s car. She will stay the night with EB1, We drive to EB2, get the baby, go home. Go to bed, go to work the next morning. After work, head up to EB1’s house, give Mom back her car, get my car, and finally go home.

    The group has never traveled together since.

  79. My one real vacation horror story occurred at Breckinridge, CO, base elevation 9600’.

    I was there with my ski club on a week long trip, and got a case of altitude sickness. I thought it was bad, but it was nowhere near another club member, who was medevaced to Denver and hospitalized there for a while.

    But I developed a bad headache the night we got there, on a Saturday, and it didn’t go away until that Friday, when we went to Vail, base elevation 8100’, for the day (our package came with 5 day lift passes, so for the sixth day a club member arranged for a bus and lift tickets for a day at Vail), even though I went through a bottle of Advil.

    Lesson learned, the next trip to CO to ski, we left on Friday night, spent the night in Denver to help with the altitude adjustment, then bused the next day to Aspen, base elevation 7900’. I also got a prescription for Diamox before every subsequent ski trip to CO.

    This is why I expressed some concern for Milo and his family when they were planning their CO ski trip.

  80. Y’all have fun camping. I’ll be hanging with Louise at the Ritz.

    Shove over and pass the local, small-batch gin and the tonic water. Oh, and the limes.

  81. Y’all have fun camping. I’ll be hanging with Louise at the Ritz.

    Shove over and pass the local, small-batch gin and the tonic water. Oh, and the limes.

    OK, but WCE’s friend is at the bar so there’s going to be a short quiz before anyone is allowed a drink. I hope you remember your organic chem.

  82. My only horror story (and it isn’t very bad) combines travel and college!! DS and I visited the east coast to look at a number of schools. Our flight to Pittsburgh was 6 hours late, so instead of arriving at midnight we got there about 6 in the morning. We slept for about an hour and then took our 10:00 tour, with me in a sleep-deprived catatonic state. Then I had to rent a car and drive 6 or 7 hours to Washington. I told DS that he had to stay awake to keep me from falling asleep on the drive! Luckily the rest of our traveling was on the Acela until the flight home.

  83. Finn – I got altitude sickness once. Terrible. Does the diamox work? I mostly now try to go to lower elevations and stay at the base or mid-mountain but ski from the top after one day of acclimating. Utah and Steamboat are fairly low. I think Breckenridge is one of the highest base altitudes of the major ski resorts.

    My worst vacation occurred when I was in middle school and with my friend and her family. Her grandmother was with us and died unexpectedly. It was terrible.

  84. “My worst vacation occurred when I was in middle school and with my friend and her family. Her grandmother was with us and died unexpectedly. It was terrible.”

    And I think we have a winner. Wow, how horrible! Rocky and I will save you a seat at the bar with us.

  85. As an adult, it is way more horrifying to think about than it was when it happened. I just kind of didn’t know what to do back then. And she was in the hospital when she died (she felt sick so they took her) so it isn’t like I was exposed to anything that terrible. But I am sure it was awful for the adults.

  86. Kate, I’ve not had altitude sickness on any trip in which I’ve taken Diamox. OTOH, I’ve not taken it on a trip in which I never descended below 9600’ for the first five days.

    Like you, I now consider elevation in choice of ski areas and target the lower areas. Were I to go to a high elevation ski area again, I’d probably try to stay at least a night somewhere midway in elevation, e.g., a night in Denver on the way to somewhere higher, in addition to taking Diamox. Altitude sickness is no fun.

  87. Finn, have you decided on a camera for your daughter? This might be helpful in making up your mind. http://www.techradar.com/news/photography-video-capture/cameras/what-camera-should-i-buy-our-step-by-step-guide-helps-you-choose-1300667

    Chatting with my parents this weekend, I realized that I have indeed had more travel mishaps that I remembered the other day, all the summer after college graduation–20 hrs on a train with no food, no drink but red wine from a jug the guys in the next compartment were bringing back, and when we got to a station where we had currency to spend, my friend forgot that I’d asked her to get water for me and instead brought me a ham sandwich! From there we continued on to the Dutch/German border, after which we hitchhiked to the German coast and waded across the North Sea at low tide to visit her parents on an island that became my favorite place on earth. We nearly didn’t make it, because my friend got the directions wrong, so the sand was getting soft beneath our feet as the tide started coming back in. When we got there after dark, we scared the living daylights out of her mom. Other adventures on that trip–misread a Greek train schedule & thought I could take a cargo train to the ferry (they let me ride in the mail car), Spanish train conductors tried to seduce me all night when I hadn’t reserved a couchette, found out 10 pm that I didn’t have a place to stay in Barcelona because my (other) friend had gotten ill & flown home without reserving a room for us, nearly got caught by East German border control taking books out of the country without paying the duty on them, got off the S-Bahn at the wrong station in East Berlin and saw my luggage sail away with the train. Plenty to look back on & laugh at! I’ve spent a few nights in airports, but the only one I remember clearly is in London en route home after divorce court, when I had an awful flu. And when the driver of a bus I was on ran a car off the road, the cops pulled us over and we spent a few hours hanging out at a Tanzanian prison while they spoke with him. The bathroom I used there is the worst I’ve ever seen, even worse than the one on the train to Djibouti, which had a piece of human exrement on a the back of the toilet, and apparently the same one when we took the train back three days later. When a flight from DFW was cancelled because of fog, I sat on the floor of a bus to Austin. Some of my favorite pictures of my son are him swimming in Tahiti during the three day wait for our luggage. The most beautiful mishap was when the Yoga Kids retreat we went on was a dud, so we took a tiny charter plane across the Sierra Madre to the beach. We sat up front with the pilot. The sun was just rising; it was wonderful.

  88. Finn – My Rocky Mountain skiing consists of college Spring Break trips to Utah, where we stayed most nights in Salt Lake City (except one trip where we stayed a couple of the nights in a cabin in the mountains), and last year’s trip to Colorado, where we spent each night in Salida.

    So maybe a good plan is to ski at 12,000, but sleep at 4,000 – 7,000.

  89. @SM — Sometimes I wonder how we survived those younger days. :-) I remember on my junior semester abroad, 4-5 of us decided to take the train to Oktoberfest (because Oktoberfest). But we didn’t have a place to stay, and apparently never thought that one might need to call ahead for reservations when 3M people are descending on a city to drink beer. But we met some college guys on the train who lived in Munich, and they offered to let us sleep on their floor. So we said sure! Because we were young and stupid! And Oktoberfest! Then we got there and walked from the train station to their apartment, where we dropped all of our stuff and took off on the 3-mile hike to the festivities. I was on my second or third stein when I realized: we had no key. No street address. No telephone number. No Google Maps. Heck, we didn’t even know their last names!

    This is when I learned that drunk navigation is apparently my superpower. And the guys turned out to be completely normal, nice college guys — they left the door unlocked for us, they actually did mean that we could sleep on their floor (alone), and all our stuff was exactly where we left it. So we got up in the morning, stumbled our way back to the train station, and went home in a giant hungover fog.

    But I look at that now and think, you know, there are *so* many ways that doesn’t end well.

  90. We learned a lot about altitude sickness when we went to CO for our summer vacation. We spent 3 nights in Denver, but we went to a concert at Red Rocks on our third night. It’s a significant hike from the parking to the seats. There is a significant difference in altitude from the parking lot to the theatre. We were with friends that live in CO, and we all noticed that DD was having trouble breathing when we got to seats. My friends suggested that it was altitude sickness so we found some paramedics.

    They stabilized her, but they said the only way that she would feel better is if we went back to Denver. They diagnosed her with altitude sickness.

    They took us back down the mountain in ambulance and then we went back to Denver.

    The doctors were never able to determine if the very vertical hike combined with the change in altitude triggered the sickness, but they said even 48 hours isn’t always enough to adjust for someone that lives at sea level and comes straight to the mountains. We traveled to Vail the next day, and the doctors suggested that we stop at numerous points to let her body adjust as we would be climbing over 4000 feet when we drove through some of the passes to get to the mountain.

    She was fine for the remainder of the trip. I went running in Denver and I was fine, but I found it difficult to breathe when I tried to run in Vail. I think I ran for ten minutes and I just didn’t feel right.

  91. Only some people are affected by altitude sickness. I don’t know what the predicting factors are.

    “Sometimes I wonder how we survived those younger days.”

    LfB — yes, and it’s very hard for me to handle my worrying as a parent, especially thinking of the ones who did not survive. Ugh, but what can you do. Actually, today’s upcoming post is somewhat related to this topic so it may be discussed later.

  92. Except for that one experience in China, I’ve never had real trouble with altitude sickness, and I have done my share of camping and hiking above timberline when I was a kid. When I went running in Boulder when visiting on a business trip, I remember feeling winded and not being able to go as far. The problem in China was a too-fast ascent from sea level to 10,000 feet. We all were shaky, headachey, and nauseous, but once we got halfway back down the mountain all of us recovered quickly.

  93. Young and not skeptical enough….
    I didn’t have a car in college so I had to walk out of my campus to the nearby KMart, grocery store, shopping, restaurants and hair salon. The area was hilly so though you could see all these places from campus, it was a long trudge up and down hills. Sometimes my friends would give me a ride but many times I walked. Guys would honk their horns sometimes. One day a middle aged guy with a pickup truck and dog in the back pulled up and offered me a ride. At first I didn’t take it. He said that he was going by the campus and would drop me there. He said he was just offering me a ride. I got in. He did take me straight to campus a few minutes drive. I thanked him and quickly exited.
    I shouldn’t have gotten in and after that I berated myself for being so stupid.

  94. The paramedics told us that there is no way to predict whether a visitor will experience altitude sickness. They said they’ve treated elite athletes and people that are obese. It’s not based on how healthy you are before you arrive, so that’s what makes it so tricky. That’s why they recommend that everyone spends at least 24 hours in a place such as Denver with a lower altitude. They said some of the worst cases are when people fly in and go straight to a mountain to hike or ski at the higher elevations.

  95. Yeah, the worst part about altitude sickness is that even if you’ve never had it before, you can develop it as you get older. I have started to have to watch myself carefully when we go to Taos; the town is fine, but the mountain is significantly higher, so lots of water, ibuprofen, and no liquor for the first few days, and sometimes I don’t ski the first day just to be sure. I’ve never had it so bad that I needed to be evacuated, but I did have a 3-4-day headache once when I jumped in quickly and discovered I was really too old/too much a flatlander to do that anymore. Sigh.

  96. Flying from Beijing to Lhasa and then starting in on sightseeing at 12000 feet (including a steep set of stairs to the Potala Palace) is a standard route, but extremely inadvisable. We thought we might have to airlift DH out. That and a less than easy time for him at Bryce Canyon (8000 ft) torpedoed our early plans to retire to Santa Fe. I am allergic to the key ingredient in Diamox, so I just have to tough it out.

    In relating travel mishaps, I always forget about how sick he was on that trip, and also how he was grabbed by a guide as he was about to fall to his death in New Zealand 10 years ago (my decision to choose the easier outing to prevent overexertion by him was met with, see you later dear), and even last month his evading my watchful eye to walk a 1 1/2 mi circular hike at sea level in reverse direction with some others who wished to skip the group pace and narration (he ended up being half carried the last 1/2 mi).

  97. And in other travel news, United has a public relations problem with social media reports of an incident in which its gate agents enforced a dress code rule for employee travel by turning away two teenaged girls wearing leggings and shirts. There was no explanation to other passengers, and a non employee family standing behind those girls in line immediately grabbed a dress for a 10 year old from the carryon luggage to prevent her being turned away (unnecessary according to United – there is no dress code other than indecency or odor for regular passengers). United is technically in the right here – its employee policy regulating (primarily female) clothing is clear and it has been defending itself vigorously – but as we were discussing a few days ago about customer service – perception is an important as getting something right.

  98. I have traveled on United companion passes. They make it very clear that you must wear appropriate dress. I could not wear jeans for example.

  99. The dress policy very much applies to men too. No shorts, no jeans. I have good friends who are United employees who use the passes all the time. Men are definitely affected

  100. I went running in Denver and I was fine, but I found it difficult to breathe when I tried to run in Vail. I think I ran for ten minutes and I just didn’t feel right.

    The plus side is that when I go from jogging in Denver to jogging in Santa Cruz, I can go for miles and can practically swim through all the lovely thick oxygen.

  101. “how he was grabbed by a guide as he was about to fall to his death…” Holy moly, Meme!

  102. United really did themselves no favors in the handling of the situation on twitter. It was a very tone deaf response and digging in to their position did not seem to help.

  103. “So maybe a good plan is to ski at 12,000, but sleep at 4,000 – 7,000.”

    Descending to a lower elevation to sleep is definitely a good idea.

    I would suggest skiing at lower elevation ski areas the first couple days, and not going any higher if any symptoms are exhibited.

    More generally, I suggest planning trips to high altitude should include measures to mitigate against altitude sickness, as well as contingency plans for its occurrence.

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