Tidings of Discomfort and Joy

My heart still skips a beat when I look at the images I took in South Dakota, not just of the Black Hills, where we lived for a month, but of the Badlands, too.

Then there’s travel’s underside. I keep a “Ruined My Trip” folder containing readers’ worst travel experiences. A look at it shows that it doesn’t take much to turn the trip of a lifetime into the ordeal of a lifetime.

Kara Person comes to mind. She contacted me a few months ago after taking a cruise with her seven-month-old.

“When the crib arrived in my room, it didn’t have a crib sheet on the mattress,” says Person, a project manager from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. “Instead it had an old, folded-up wool blanket.”

Despite repeated assurances that the cruise line would supply one, her baby remained sheetless for the duration of the voyage.

“I was unable to sleep properly because I worried about him possibly suffocating from the blanket,” she says. “I felt it was not a safe sleep environment.”

Amanda Chiu’s trip to Greece went south before she arrived in Athens. First, the airline delayed her flight for two hours without explanation, which made her miss a connecting flight to Athens.

“Then I got attacked by bedbugs on that same delayed flight,” Chiu says. “I was in immense pain; my leg was full of blisters. I had an allergic reaction, which then caused a secondary infection. I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t walk and I had to go to the emergency room.”

Chiu, a student from West Hempstead, New York, spent the balance of her vacation suffering from the side effects of medication.

I have taken my fair share of trips that went sideways, too. This year, they included dealing with an eccentric Airbnb host who demanded that we feed her cat and then told us that by renting her house in Colorado Springs, we had left her homeless. That experience made me a little more cautious about the sharing economy. Then, another host, in St. Louis, this time on VRBO, blindsided me when she withdrew an offer to rent to me this summer. She said she’d found a better offer. That made me even more cautious about the sharing economy.

If nothing else, a review of readers’ best and worst trips of the year demonstrates that little things can make an outsize difference. Sometimes a lousy trip comes down to a missing sheet or a tiny insect. Good travel experiences — crystallized in brief moments caught in a freak rainstorm in the Rockies, sampling beer in an Italian restaurant or glimpsing the silhouette of Mount Rushmore after sunset — are even harder to pin down.

It’s also the reason I write this column. The things that separate a good trip from a bad one may be small, even trivial, but they can mean everything to you. And to me.

A friend of mine was going to see a favourite band of his at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and I had always wanted to go to a concert there, so I tagged along,” says Zagursky, who works for the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

As the indie band Dispatch took the stage, it started to rain, which made the experience even more unforgettable. At that time of year, it’s unusual to experience a downpour at that time of day, she says. Everyone in the amphitheatre was soaked, but the band played on.

“This trip reminded me that there’s so much in America that I have still yet to see — I don’t necessarily need to travel to far-off destinations for long periods of time to have adventures,” she told me.

Amanda Block’s trip to her favourite destination of 2018 took even less time. It was just a four-hour drive from the interior decorator’s home in Platte, South Dakota, to the Black Hills, where she went camping this summer. Her family of five stayed in a campground with a view of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

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