Bad Trips: Wonderful Essays about Awful Travel Experiences

Vacations are sacred, especially in America, where we work longer hours than our counterparts in Europe and still aren’t legally entitled to a single paid day off. But what we often forget — that is, until we’re getting stung by a jellyfish or stranded at an airport — is that they’re also rarely the ideal escapes we build them up to be. In an essay about Disney World for last weekend’s New York Times magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan reminds us. Since others’ holidays of misery make us feel better about our own failure to plan a summer vacation, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite tales of awful travel experiences, by authors including David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, David Foster Wallace, and more.

John Jeremiah Sullivan on Disney World

Blood, ungodly heat, and a whole lot of marijuana turn up in Sullivan’s cleverly titled “You Blow My Mind. Hey Mickey!” The essay follows the author, his wife, their daughter, and another family on a roadtrip to Disney World. Complicated by bad weather, the other father’s pack-of-joints-a-day weed habit, and Sullivan’s ambivalence about the “Happiest Place on Earth,” the trip becomes a way of talking about the mega-theme park’s unsettling history. Did you know, for instance, that “Disney World is a giant mound, one of the greatest ever constructed in North America”? The park tourists know is actually about 15 feet off the ground, built on top of an intricate system of tunnels built to conceal off-duty characters and other not-so-magical sites. Then there’s the dark, weird origins of Epcot. Sullivan’s essay isn’t a straight-up condemnation of Disney, but it will definitely make you think twice before making plans to get back on that tram.

Sullivan photo by Harry Taylor