Celebrating the worst

Reviewing Doug Lansky’s book, The Titanic Award Celebrating the Worst of Travel (Perigee Trade), Joe Lansky says (NYT 17 May 2010) that “If you’re like most seasoned business travelers, you appreciate the joys of travel, but what you really want to talk about when you trade stories with fellow travelers is the misery.

Doug Lansky, a travel writer who has been a correspondent for National Public Radio, agrees. “I’ve been going around the world full time for nine years and met with loads of experienced travelers, and I’ve never once gotten into swapping bar stories with someone who talks about how white the beach was, or about, ‘Oh, boy, was that hotel bed cushy,’ ” he said.

“Every time you start telling travel stories over a beer, it’s always about the stuff that went wrong,” Mr. Lansky added. “O.K., sometimes there will be that one-upmanship on who got the best deal on an Ecuadorian sweater. But more often than not, it’s about the adventures when things go wrong, and the lighthearted rants we have. These are great nuggets of the travel narrative.”

Lansky’s book is dedicated “to all the travelers who overcame annoyances and obstacles to make it to their destinations, and then willingly decided to set out traveling again.” While researching the book Lansky to ask about their worst trips. “My object was to honor and celebrate the bad things in travel,” Mr. Lansky said. “The point being, if you suffered through it, you should at least get a good bar story out of it.”

This in an open invitation to tell of my own worst/most dramatic travel experiences.

  • Getting from London for my first (and only) visit to Paris when my Air France flight was cancelled by a strike. I made it eventually-after 20 hours-via Brussels courtesy of Sabena.
  • Fourteen hours delay in Bangkok en route to Europe, when the ‘plane broke dow-with no sleep for nearly three days.
  • No sleep from Paris to Sydney, because of a baby that cried almost ceaselessly for 20 hours.
  • The hijacking on 4 December 1977 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 653 from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. The Boeing 737 aircraft descended to a few thousand feet before leveling off and apparently continuing on autopilot. It eventually plunged into a swamp, with all on board killed. Investigations later found that both pilots had been shot. I would have been on that flight but for a last minute decision to go by road and rail, so that I could see the sights on the way.
  • Christmas on Yass Junction station in the summer heat when a derailment further up the line delayed my train by 12 hours.
  • It was quite exciting driving over steep and rocky mountain roads across the Crocker Range in Borneo in the middle of a tropical storm at night—but not really dangerous as the going was so rough that it was impossible to go more than 10 mph.
  • Flying through a tropical storm at night, also in Sabah, was also fairly interesting.