Things are getting SPOOKY at PRA this October with the Travel HORROR Story series! If you’ve traveled, you’ve encountered hiccups — lost luggage, canceled flights, crummy food, the list is endless. Since PRA staff are some of the most well-traveled folks around, we have gathered a collection of truly terrifying travel stories for your reading pleasure. A new post in the series will be posted each week during the month of October!
In our fourth installment, we’re hearing about some of our staff members’ spookiest international experiences!
Lenore: I was traveling as a chaperone with a few dozen high school students (that in and of itself has the potential to be a Travel Horror Story… but they were good kids and we were in France in the springtime after all! It felt like were driving through a Monet painting much of the time, and I can still taste the pain au chocolat…). We had our share of mishaps along the way: moldy smelling B&B rooms one night, missing students at the rendezvous point another night — the usual stuff.
The real problem started when we were checking in at the Paris Orly Airport among the throngs of tourists also returning to the States after spring break. Long lines. Crowds of teenagers. Suddenly a bomb threat grounded all flights, for several hours. After that was sorted out, we finally boarded our plane and arrived at JFK in the wee hours, but of course, we had missed our connecting flight to Albany. With no further flights that night we made the best of it, camping out surrounded by all of our luggage, in a quiet terminal on the floor of the airport, in hopes of boarding the first flight to ALB in the morning.
It wasn’t to be. Somehow, the airline didn’t honor our tickets, and refused to take responsibility for our transportation. We ended up pooling our depleted funds and chartering a couple of vans to drive our very weary group to Albany, where we reunited with family and slept much of the remaining weekend.
Holley: In the fall of 2009, I was studying abroad in Accra, Ghana in West Africa. My friends Maggie, Whitney, and I decided that for our weeklong break, we would travel to Niger to see the last herd of wild giraffes in West Africa. Two days before we were scheduled to go, I came down with a very bad case of typhoid fever. We debated putting off the trip, but after a visit to the hospital and some very strong medication, we decided that we should go ahead and see the giraffes. On our trip, we got stuck in the Sahara Desert twice due to two broken down buses, slept in cockroach-infested hotel rooms, hitch-hiked with Norwegian missionaries, narrowly escaped being kidnapped, got robbed more than a few times (once by a group of 7-year-olds), and learned to appreciate the luxuries of personal space like we never had before (a common phrase on that trip was “Je suis une grande fille!” – “I am a big girl” to try to argue for more space). We also rode motorcycles, scouted for hippopotamuses, and saw the wild giraffes. I guess things even out after all.
Two of the funnier highlights: At the border checkpoint between Niger and Burkina Faso, our passports were taken for “processing” and we were brought in for questioning – the questions mainly revolved around why three tall white girls from America were in Niger, what Americans thought about Africans, and if we had personally congratulated Barack Obama on his Nobel Peace prize. When we were given back our passports, we were called up individually to get them: me as Hillary Clinton, Maggie as Margaret Thatcher, and Whitney as Whitney Houston.
The second highlight: I had my camera (with all of my pictures, and most of our group shots) stolen right before we boarded the bus to Ghana. Once I realized what had happened, I completely broke down – crying hysterically and begging the gathered crowd for my memory card back. It wasn’t my finest moment to say the least, but I eventually settled down on the bus. At the border checkpoint in Ghana, the bus driver told the guard what had happened to me. The guard looked at me and said, “Don’t cry, I will marry you and buy you a new camera!” Then he brought the three of us in for questioning, where we were asked if we had husbands (a pretty common question of foreigners in Ghana). We replied that we did, and were promptly told that the border guards would deny our husbands entry into the country so we could marry them instead. We were released back to the bus, where we spent the next 21 hours watching a mix of Nollywood dramas and Sylvester Stallone dramas.
Michelle: My husband I were making our first trip to France. Since his grandfather worked on the railroad, he loves trains so we looked for ways to incorporate trains into our trip. The train ride from Albany to Manhattan was fine. Unfortunately, this was long before there was an Air Train from Penn Station to JFK, and you had to take a shuttle bus from a street corner in Manhattan to JFK. The romance of the train portion of the trip began to wane as we tried to maneuver a lot of luggage from Penn Station to the designated street corner and then on to shuttle bus.
Once in France, trains continued to be a problem on this trip, as we ventured onto the famous TGV (another thing my husband loves). Unbeknownst to us, the high-speed train had assigned seats and we bought seats in a smoking car. The TGV is known for its punctuality and timeliness. As luck would have it, it was uncharacteristically delayed, and we spent the 3-hour ride trying to find some breathable space on the train. The true nightmare part of the trip came at the end — after our journey home we once again had to take the train home.
We were exhausted and it was late. As we tried once again to maneuver our large amounts of luggage through Penn Station, the escalator to the train was broken. There we were, trying to get down the steps of the escalator to the train with multiple large bags and a Sunday NY Times. Mid-way down, our luggage started to tip over, the Sunday NY Times went everywhere, and the people behind us began climbing — yes CLIMBING — over us and our luggage on the escalator — it was awful and is one of those moments I will never forget. We did make it to the train in time, but since then we always take the plane out of Albany!