One of my favorite parts of Budget Travel magazine is the letters from readers section. A lot of the travel stories are hilarious, on par with some antics you’d see on Three’s Company. But then there are also those that make you gasp in horror; a dream trip that went incredibly wrong. This could involve many things: getting lost, getting ripped off, having horrible weather, putting up with poor service, a roach-infested hotel room, food poisoning, etc.
For me, my most horrible travel days had to be while I was studying abroad in Toledo,Spain. I’m sure my experience was probably a lot like other students’: lodged at cheap hostels, got pick-pocketed in Italy(those little kids didn’t get anything though!), stayed out at discos until morning, visited a lot of cathedrals and museums, acquired a new favorite beer. It was a mixture of good days and bad days. The Good was that I was speaking the best Spanish of my life, had met a fun group of new friends, and didn’t have to study as hard as I did back home at my regular college. The Bad was the struggle with the culture (machismo, anyone?), homesickness, and these two days I am about to tell you about.
The first terrible day was only about a week into my study abroad experience. I had just moved in with my host family, a young couple with a three-year-old girl. Never mind that the toddler instantly hated me (I got the hint when she pushed me and yelled “¡Quita!” which basically means “Get the hell away from me” in Spanish). I had bigger fish to fry that particular night.
I was out dancing the night away with my new friends, and in Spain that means that you go out around midnight and go home around four or later. I had to catch a taxi to my host family’s home, which was just outside the city in an area called Cobiza. They lived in one of those subdivisions where everyone’s house looked the same: light brown stucco, wrought iron fences, wooden doors, sandy yards. I gave the taxi driver instructions and sure enough he brought me to a subdivision in Cobiza and we found the house number.
The minute he drove off I knew I was in trouble. This was not my subdivision. It was dark, I was alone, I had no idea where I was. All I could do was walk. So I started down the street, where I then realized that everyone in the neighborhood also owned large barking dogs. Then I noticed there was a pay phone. Yes, in the middle of this new subdivision, for whatever reason, there was a pay phone. Thankfully I had the number of my host family (and some change) otherwise who knows what would have happened. Imagine my embarrassment as I had to call them, wake them up, and try to explain in broken Spanish that I was in a subdivision that looked exactly like theirs, only it wasn’t. Thankfully they knew what I was talking about and came and got me. For the next few weeks they would explain the same directions to me over and over again whenever we got into the car. (Okay, I’ve got it now!)
The other horrible episode was my very last day in Spain. I had to catch an early ride to the bus station with my host family’s neighbor, where I would be taken to Madrid. It was insult enough that I could not get a ride to the airport from my own host family, but I then had to struggle with two suitcases and a carry-on down two flights of steps to the bus, hoping that no one would steal my stuff.
Once I got to Madrid, I got in a taxi to the airport. The ride was pleasant enough until I was told at curbside that my fare would be the equivalent of 90 bucks. I didn’t even have that much cash on me, but the worst part was that I knew I was being ripped off and I didn’t know what to do. I had to get cash from an airport ATM, and the only thing I could do was give the taxi driver attitude. I then made my way to the check-in line, only to be told that the flight was oversold and “Would I be willing to take a later flight?” That would be a definite no; I was getting the hell out of there, especially since my family was driving five hours to O’Hare to retrieve me.
Thankfully I was not bumped from my flight, but my horrible day did not end there. I got to my gate and plopped myself down, still flustered by the day’s events. A few minutes later, an apparently very tired (and itchy?) Spaniard decides to sit across from me. I then see him lie down across three seats, casually unzip his pants, and then just start…scratching. It was like Studio 54 without the antibiotics. I couldn’t believe it.
Unfortunately since this was 1994, I did not have the technology a la Twitter, Facebook, mobile devices, etc. to capture the ire of this day real-time. However I can assure you that when I hit American soil I kissed the ground faster than you can say “I missed you, Mountain Dew!”
So tell me, what’s YOUR travel horror story?