Travel can conjure up all kinds of different sensations and emotions, including surprise, disorientation and even a little sense of the absurd. This year's Travel News of the Odd for 2013 has a bit of all of those and more, including some lost people (and a lost kangaroo), armchair travel run amok and a carry-on item that will blow your mind. Here are my selections for the weirdest travel stories of 2013; if you know of any other good ones, please share them in the comments.
In a year that marked the 80th anniversary of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in the U.S., you get the sense that maybe getting a good drink is almost too easy these days -- to the point that making it just a little harder has become a tourist attraction.
At the Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas, proprietors hide bottles of rum on the ocean floor each week, and challenge guests to don their goggles and snorkels and go dive for the booty.
I've heard of folks getting drunk under the table, but never under the sea.
In October, a terminal of the Melbourne Airport was shut down when a kangaroo leapt past security on the way to an airport pharmacy.
While it seems like travel news of the odd stateside, this is apparently routine stuff in Melbourne; a kangaroo led police on a chase through the parking lot back in January, as well as last October.
Police did not say whether the 'roo, which had been injured by a car before the incident, was able to get any medicine at the pharmacy before being captured.
As fees even for carry-on bags have started showing up, travelers are bristling at the idea of paying extra for something that often enough they have to store by using their own foot space. But for Briton Lee Charie, there is probably no fee he would not have paid to be able to stay as close as possible to something incredibly near and dear to him: a piece of his own skull.
Two weeks later, Charie took a plane home to the U.K. with the skull in a box as his carry-on. The piece of skull would be used to create a mold for a titanium plate to cover the large gap in his head.
Gives new meaning to the term "overhead bin."
We have all heard of the (dubious, in my opinion) notion of armchair travel, where by dint of reading and application of the imagination, you can "travel" without ever leaving your home. Blend this idea with the massive trend toward outsourcing entire parts of our lives, and it seems that what you end up with is a company that will host your favorite stuffed animal on vacation, and send you the photos from the trip to enjoy together when your stuffed animal returns home.
For $35 - $95 (plus shipping one way) depending on how widely you want your stuffed animal to travel, Unagi Travel, the "Japan Travel Agency for Stuffed Animals," will take your stuffed animal on tours of Tokyo, Kyoto or a hot spring -- or, if you really want a special surprise for your teddy bear, on a "mystery tour" where you don't know the destination until the trip begins.
While your pet is traveling, you will receive a postcard, and when it gets home, a CD-ROM with photos from its travels, as well as a gallery of photos on the Unagi Travel Facebook page.While it sounds ridiculous, it's not really a joke or outsourcing run amok; in fact, the service was designed in part for the benefit of kids who are too sick to travel. Some owners of the plush participants have been able to retrace their stuffed animals' steps when their health improved.
No information was provided on what happens if something bad were to happen to your teddy bear or stuffed hedgehog, such as falling off a balcony, or being punched by a kangaroo, or even merely losing a button eye or some stitching. Can teddy bears buy travel insurance?
The problems with the rollout of Apple Maps were widely covered in the media, and were very real; I even count myself among those whose relationships were challenged by massive errors in Apple Maps.
But at least I didn't end up driving onto an airport runway, as happened to at least two people trying to find their way around Fairbanks, Alaska, using Apple Maps.
As recently as September, when drivers mapped a route to the airport, the application directed them to the end of a runway, and even to cross the runway to drive directly to the terminal (see photo in the article linked above). At that point, at least a couple of drivers decided that, since they could see the terminal, the best way to get there must be to follow the app's directions and to keep driving, which put them right in the middle of the airport runway.
Even an Alaska state representative was nearly steered onto the runway. After taking him on an odd and circuitous route to the airport, the app finally directed State Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) to a neighboring small plane runway, which the app told him to drive down to get to the bigger main airport. Gara thought better of the advice, and made his way by dead reckoning from there.
Once the problem was discovered, the Alaska attorney general's office contacted Apple to fix it, but it was at least a week before any changes went into effect, so the airport was forced to put up a barricade.
CNN named the app one of the "top 10 fails of 2012," but clearly given the September episode in Fairbanks, the problem continues.
Finally, just this month, Tom Wagner was flying to visit relatives in California on a United Express flight from Lafayette, Louisiana, with a connection in Houston. Wagner nodded off at the beginning of the flight and woke up hours later in an empty, dark plane, with no idea of where he was.
It turned out he was in an airplane hangar in Houston, having had been left on the plane when all the other passengers and crewmembers disembarked. He dug out his cell phone and called his girfriend, who alerted authorities who then went and retrieved Wagner.
As odd as it sounds, this isn't the first time United Express has abandoned a passenger after a flight; the airline did pretty much the same thing to Ginger McGuire on an itinerary from Detroit to Philadelphia in 2010.
It's certainly problematic that crewmembers did not do a sweep of the plane for, you know, people, but these folks might want to temper the Ambien dose next time, yeesh.
As mentioned above, if you know of any other odd, strange or just funny travel stories from 2013, please share in the comments -- thanks!