Podcast #108 — Worst Travel Experiences Ever

Please, make it stop!

Please, make it stop!

We look back on a brutal travel winter with stories about how driving instead of flying probably wasn’t the best idea, and a completely awful United flight that ended up with a drive — but not by choice. I also talk about my recent trip to Beijing, China and my plans for a round-the-world-in-8-days itinerary to India and Manila.  All this and more  at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.


Here are the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #108:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommon studios outside of Chicago where, just as I’ve gotten my body reset onto Central Daylight Time after a week-&-a-half in Beijing, I’m getting geared up to flip am for pm again, heading over to India and the Philippines at the end of the month. This one will be quicker though — 2 days in transit, 3 days in India, another day in transit, a day in Manila, and then traveling home. So, I’m guessing that my body clock won’t completely make the 12-hour flip. I dunno, maybe I’ll only make it as far as the Hawaiian-Aleutian Time Zone before I head back home.
  • We were in Beijing at the beginning of the month. My son is in Beijing for a semester abroad, so my wife, daughter and I headed over during my daughter’s Spring Break. 14-hour direct flight over from O’Hare and a quick 11.5-hour flight back thanks to some favorable winds. It’s a 13-hour time difference, we left around 8 Thurs night and touched down around 11 Fri night. We picked up the day we lost on the way back though. We left Beijing at 10am and touched down at 9:30am — the same day.  Got home, looked at my watch, and saw that I’d been up for 18 hours and it wasn’t even noon yet. It made for a very long day.
  • ObaMao messenger bag bought at Silk Market

    ObaMao messenger bag bought at Silk Market

    If you follow me on Twitter —@mpeacock — you saw a few things — a Vine video of my street food lunch, a microbrewery I found deep in the hutongs, and my prize purchase, a messenger bag with a picture of “ObaMao” — Barack Obama in a Red Guards’ cap and uniform. I heard these were swept off the streets during Michele Obama’s trip in March, but they were back out in full force when we were shopping. Check out the show notes for a pic of my bag.

  • The China trip broke what has been a pretty regular commute to New Orleans. I’ve made 10 trips down this year. A bit monotonous, but I keep reminding myself that there are worse places to spend time — especially when we were sitting outside last week at some little seafood joint working our way through a 6-pack of Abita Amber and 7-8 lbs of boiled crawfish. Beats working in places where Buffalo Wild Wings qualifies as haute cuisine. And it’s in the same time zone as Chicago. Though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Like when I’m staying in one of the Canal St hotels, and folks come rolling in from the French Quarter at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning. Maybe they’ve ended up in the Hawaiian-Aleutian Time Zone too.
  • Bridge Music — Making Circles by the Seldon Plan

Following Up

  • Received some great listener comments since the last episode. After so many episodes of asking people to “Send a text or audio file”, I received an audio comment from long-time TravelCommons listener Lori Humm. Lori sent this to me back in February, using some windshield time during her drive between Baton Rouge and Jackson, MS to tell us about how she tried to ju-jitsu winter flight delays by driving…
  • If you remember back, February was a tough weather month in what has been a very tough winter — at least for those of us who live east of the Rocky Mountains in North America. I can imagine a lot of travelers had to make that decision. I did a bit later in Feb while on a trip to Lexington, KY. I was doing a day trip — flying down-and-back — from Chicago. It was a rare warm day, a nice break from the Polar Vortex. However, we all know there’s no free lunch. And on this day, with the mild temperatures came some howling winds. While I was in my afternoon meeting, I felt my phone vibrating in my jacket pocket. It kept going off — message after message. I looked at the clock — 2 hours before my flight home. I didn’t want to be rude and pull my phone out, but looking out the window at the trees flailing, I guessed it wasn’t United being overenthusiastic about wishing me a good flight. When I finished the meeting, I saw that I was right. United had cancelled my flight — the last flight out of Lexington — and rebooked me on the first flight out the next morning. I didn’t have clothes or toiletries for an overnight stay, but I did have a rental car. I popped open Google Maps — 6 hrs from the parking lot I was standing in to my house. That felt right on the edge. I looked at the weather forecast — they were predicting high winds into tomorrow. Could they get the plane in for that early morning flight? Screw it, I decided to drive. The drive started out nice through Kentucky and into southern Ohio. I was pretty. I even found a Dairy Queen on a gas stop. Things started to deteriorate as I headed north, though. Rain was bucketing down in Indy; like someone was on the roof pouring a bucket of water onto my windshield. The wipers couldn’t keep up. People were  pulling off under overpasses. I kept going. North of Indy on I-65, the huge winds were spinning up tornados. My wife would call me “Are you OK? Looking over at the southbound side, I saw a huge wreck — probably some wind gust blew a semi into someone else. Traffic was stopped — I counted a 7-mile back up. There but for the grace of God go I. Uhh, not so fast. 30 minutes later, traffic in front of me stops. I pull up Google Maps and Waze. I don’t see anything on Google, but Waze shows a line of red. Somebody tipped over on this side of the median. While looking at Waze trying to figure out what was happening, a box popped up recommending a reroute. What the hell, I followed it. It took me off on the next exit, ran me down a few 2-line roads, and after 10 minutes put me back on a clear I-65 on the other side of the wreck. Critical piece of travel technology. I eventually got home around 12:30/1am, a bit ragged but happy to be home. The next morning, I couldn’t help myself. I had to look at that early morning flight. Was it delayed? Did I make the right decision? Pulling up the United app, it did indeed go off — on-time, landing at ORD 5 minutes early
  • Steve Frick, another long-time listener, left a comment on the website adding to a couple of conversations we’ve been having over the past couple of episodes —
    • As far as travel apps I still like TripIt just for the fact that it organizes and places everything in my Google calendar. I have also been using Google Now when I arrive it lets me know what’s going on locally. I’ve been an UrbanSpoon contributor for years and have just this past week starting adding reviews to Yelp, we’ll see how it goes.
    • As far “What’s Important When I Stay At A Hotel” we just recently had this discussion around the office. Breakfast is very important, I spent two mornings this week eating powdered eggs at a Fairfield Inn, not a great way to start my day. A decent workout area is something I also look for, I get really aggravated with treadmill belts that slip and causes me to wrench my back. I also use the FitDeck app for working out in my room; Runkeeper is another great app for tracking. Finally, I want the desk to have a clear view of the TV, yes nerdy, but it’s important.
  • I’m also a big Google Now fan. I replicate my company Outlook calendar to my Google calendar. I like how it’ll recognize that I’m flying out of, say, MSY, and then through Google Maps look at traffic on the best routing and suggest when I should leave. OK, a little creepy, but still handy.
  • Jeffrey Brown left a message on the TravelCommons’ FaceBook page —
    • Hi Mark. I’m a longtime listener and this is my first message to you. I know you do everything possible to avoid carrying a TSA baggie. So I looked at my own, and I’m really catering only 3 things that I must have on my trips – toothpaste, deodorant, and shaving cream.
  • Jeff, There are some easy ways to avoid liquids. At the start of the liquid ban, I switched from toothpaste to toothpowder. You can typically find it in the patchouli/crunchy granola aisles of Whole Foods.  I don’t use shaving cream. Instead, I carry a shaving brush and lather up using the bar of soap that’s usually provided in the bathroom. I typically use a solid stick deodorant. When the liquid ban first started, some TSA screeners were very strict about any sort of semi-solid like a stick deodorant. I recounted one such encounter in an earlier episode. Nowadays, they seem to have loosened up. I never get any hassle about my stick. And with PreCheck, the whole baggie thing goes away because you don’t have to pull anything out of your bag when you go through the PreCheck lanes.
  • I mentioned a bit earlier that if you follow me on Twitter, you saw some pictures from my trip to China. But since the Great Firewall blocks Twitter access — as well as a number of other more critical sites (at least to me) like Dropbox and Evernote, I investigated VPN services before I left. VPNs — Virtual Private Networks — tunnel through the Great Firewall by wrapping your Internet traffic in encryption and then popping out onto the public Internet from servers outside of China — like in Hong Kong or LA. There are a bunch of them out there. I used ExpressVPN. It was $12 for a month. And not only did it allow me to Tweet, when I popped out via a US server, to the Internet, it looked like I was in the US, which allowed me to watch NCAA March Madness games that CBS was streaming. Hitting the CBS site without the VPN gave me a “Video not available in your region” error. Flip on the VPN and I was waking up early or staying up late way too many days. Some of the other tech I noticed in China:
    • Walking around and riding the subways, I noticed a lot of people using the Samsung Galaxy Notes — the big 6-inch “phablet” — kind of a tweener phone/tablet. A lot more than I’ve seen in the US. Which, perhaps, explains the rumors of a phablet-sized iPhone.
    • There’s a lot of available WiFi in bars and restaurants. Most of it was password-protected — like how you should be configured at home —  and then the password is posted on the wall somewhere. The only portal style protections — what you see more of in the US — were in big chain hotels and in Starbucks.
    • And one of my best purchases was a 3-in-one USB phone charge dongle. It has a 30-pin iPod/iPhone 4 connector; an iPhone 5 Lightning connector; and a mini-USB for pretty much everything else. No more fishing around for the right cable. And it’ll charge 2 or 3 devices at once. I love it. I also love how much faster electronics charge overseas when plugged straight into the 220v socket without a voltage converter. Now back home, I’m trying to figure out how I can piggyback a powerstrip off my clothes dryer outlet.
  • And if you have any travel observations, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along.  The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Oh Yeah by Eliyahu Sills

My Worst Travel Experiences

  • So let me just spool out this story. Back in February, on one of my weekly trips down to New Orleans, I caught the last United flight out Sunday night because of a Monday morning meeting. As typical, it was a United Express flight — a regional jet. And because the pilot was late arriving, it was about 30 minutes late leaving which is becoming as close to on-time as you’re going to get from United Express.
  • I’m catnapping a bit. I’m kinda of aware of some commotion in the back of the plane. I hear the flight attendant ask if there’s a doctor on-board. A bit later, around midnight, the captain keys his mic and says we have a medical emergency and will be landing in Jackson, MS. Great. My first thought — couldn’t we have hung on for 30 more minutes and made it to New Orleans? Quickly followed by — Don’t want anyone to die just so I’m not inconvenienced. Just make it quick, OK?
  • The plane lands. The airport is closed so it takes them a bit to rustle up (a) some stairs; (b) security guards to make sure no other passenger escapes into the secure area of the airport. About 30 minutes later, the paramedics come on and escort the sick passenger off the plane. She can walk but looked like she was have breathing problems at altitude. The pilot comes on again, apologizes for the inconvenience, says that he’s working with his ops center to figure out how much fuel they need to take on for the flight to New Orleans.
  • I nap a little more. The pilot is speaking again. It’s 1:30am. Uh, we’ve figured out how much fuel we need but because we don’t normally fly to this airport, we don’t have a relationship with the fuel provider, so we’re trying to figure out how to pay.
  • 2am — still figuring out how to pay. 3am — we’ve found hotels for you tonight and will fly you to New Orleans tomorrow morning. Now just trying to find buses to get you to the hotel. We trundle out of the plane, through the deserted terminal and into baggage claim to collect our luggage. And wait for the bus. 4am — no bus yet, but they’ve decided to bus us down to New Orleans — a 3-hr ride. 4:30am — Bus finally arrives. It’s a nice motor coach. I figure out how to recline my seat a bit so I can nap a bit. 6am — I wake up feeling the bus decelerate. I look at my watch. Huh? We’re not there yet. The driver keys his mic. It’s time for his break. After just 90 minutes of driving?. 8am — I’m finally at New Orleans airport.
  • Well, that was fun. And as I told that story to friends, family, and colleagues over the next few days, I said “This was one of my worst travel experiences.” “One of the worst?” was the common reply. “What could be worse?” I couldn’t think of any right then, but I wasn’t sure there wasn’t.
  • And as I thought more about it, short of surviving a plane crash or being on that Carnival “poop cruise” stranded in the Caribbean, can there really be a worst travel experience? This trip was probably the worst in-transit experience, though there was that flight from Cleveland to O’Hare that I’ve talked about on a previous episode, where a drunk guy fought with the flight attendant to open the rear door while we were at 20,000 ft, and then sat down behind me, talking to me, and all the time I was waiting for him to puke over my shoulder. While a shorter experience, it was a bit more worrisome at the time.
  • Probably as frustrating was a Detroit to San Francisco trip I took a number of years ago. The outbound flight was delayed and delayed. I kept looking at my watch. This was the morning flight out so I could make an afternoon meeting. I was flying right back to Detroit that evening so I could make some other commitments. Finally, the flight was so delayed, I wouldn’t be able to make the meeting. I stood up to get off the plane. Nope, we can’t let you off; we’re about to push back. We pushed back. And now waited on the tarmac. And I steamed. We landed in SFO just before boarding was called for my return flight. I got off the plane, walked down two gates, and boarded my flight home.
  • Or the trip to Brussels where the backpack with our passports was stolen from the train luggage rack right above me. Another bad trip I talked about on an earlier episode. That one also left me hugely frustrated, cursing my own stupidity the next two days we spent in Brussels waiting for replacement passports.
  • Which one was the worst? I’m not really sure. But since none of them has left me physically or emotionally scarred (at least not that I can tell), I’m not sure I have to figure it out. Nor do I think I want do, because then I’d have the answer to my mother’s saying, “If this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you…”

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #108
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • Bridge music from Magnatune
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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