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True Stories

updated February 21, 2017
Proving once and for all that travel is stranger, funnier, and more heartwarming than fiction

This issue's winner is Maureen Phelan, of Metairie, La. Her prize is a four-night trip to Las Vegas, courtesy of Funjet Vacations. On a trip to the medina in Fez, Morocco, I was coaxed by a merchant to try his homemade gallium eyeliner. He applied it to my eyes with a toothpick-thin goat horn. The eyeliner burned fiercely. When the tears were gone, the gallium powder sparkled for the rest of the day, so I bought a bottle to bring home. Months later in the U.S., I wore it to work one day. The doctor I worked for thought it was lovely.

"It's gallium," I said.

"No wonder it burns," said the doctor. "You put lead in your eyes!"

Xanax. No, lithium. Maybe both

After getting an early-morning start en route to a fishing trip in northern Minnesota, I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel of my car. Seeing a wayside ahead, I realized a 15-minute nap would rejuvenate me. I parked in front of a beautiful tree-lined area and immediately dozed off. Unfortunately, while in my half-asleep state, I dreamed I was still driving, and to my immediate horror, I realized my eyes were closed. I snapped open my eyes, only to see a large pine tree dead ahead. Gripping the steering wheel and slamming down my foot on the lifeless brake pedal, I let out a bloodcurdling scream that would put any woman to shame. A second later, I realized where I was and what had happened. I started laughing uncontrollably. This maniacal display didn't sit well with the couple parked next to me; they looked at each other, started their car, and made a hasty exit. --Chet Holmes, Brookfield, Wis.

He's just jealous of the guys over at Buckingham Palace

My husband and I were shopping in London's Knightsbridge district, and he was carrying some of our purchases. As we approached Harrods, we were somewhat intimidated by the building's Edwardian bulk. At the door stood a guard in full dress uniform. "May I bring the bag into your store?" asked my husband. "No sir," the guide replied solemnly. "She'll have to wait outside." --Susan Douglass, Muncie, Ind.

Memo to Condoleezza Rice: Try a little frisbee diplomacy

For the past 20 years my family has traveled the world with Frisbees in tow. They're light, easy to pack, and have provided many hours of fun with new-found friends. My son met these three great kids--Gregory, Alfred, and Henry--in Nassau, Bahamas. From Kiribati to the Caribbean, it's amazing how a simple toy can bring such joy to a child's life. --Sharon Augustine, New Ringgold, Pa.

Finders keepers (and drinkers)

My wife and I were enjoying dinner in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna known for its wine. When our glasses were empty, I noticed the couple at the next table had departed, leaving behind half a carafe of wine. I persuaded my wife to grab the carafe and fill our glasses. As soon as she placed the empty carafe back on our neighbors' table, the other couple returned to their seats. They had merely gone to the salad bar! We never knew whether they suspected our larceny, but we tried to appear innocent as they requested more wine from the waiter. --Clifton Bennett, Zillah, Wash.

And in 15 years she'll come back to you with trust issues

On a recent family vacation to Pensacola, Fla., my sister-in-law played a trick on our daughters. She purchased a bag of ornamental starfish and planted them around our towels and beach umbrella. While combing the beach, my daughter Noelle came across this starfish and said it was her find of the day. --Marc Babiar, Leavenworth, Wash.

Gross food story of the month

My husband and I were eating in a local restaurant in Cap Haitien, Haiti, when I ordered the consommé, expecting a clear broth. In Haitian cuisine, however, consommé means stew. No problem. At the time, food was scarce and they made do with what they had. There were bits of vegetables, cassava dumplings, and goat--the available meat at that moment. Goat is naturally bony, so I wasn't surprised to be sucking on a lot of bones. What I didn't expect to suck on was a row of teeth! --Cathy Buttazoni, Edmonton, Alberta

Scratch-and-sniff, anyone?

Bolivians love their hats, as anyone who's visited the Andean country can attest. Thus it required much discussion with an older gentleman in Sucre for me to finally obtain my treasure. "You can buy one in the market," he said, through a translator. "Mine is old and I'm afraid it doesn't smell good." I wanted a real Bolivian hat from a real Bolivian, I told him. He was honored, and we struck a deal. He then asked if I'd like to have my picture taken wearing his poncho, while he wore his hat one last time. Both the hat and photo are prized possessions. --Peter W. Morris, Boone, N.C.

It's a wallaby, not a kangaroo

While studying abroad in Australia, I went to a wildlife refuge to see koalas, emus, and wallabies, and took pictures all along. Upon my return to the U.S., I was shocked when I saw this photo. When I wrote the program director and sent her the photo, the native Aussie said that after taking groups to the refuge for over 15 years, she'd only seen two joeys in her entire life. --Jeannette Kreher, Roebling, N.J. 

Not a kangaroo, part two

I was enjoying the beautiful scenery on a recent bus tour in southwest Washington when in the middle of a meadow I saw a wild animal with its ears perked up. "Look, look!" I yelled excitedly. "A kangaroo!" The man behind me peered from his window. "Lady, we're not in Australia," he said. "And that's not a kangaroo, it's a deer taking a crap." --Virginia Andersen, Tumwater, Wash.

May this be the biggest hurdle you face in your new marriage

My husband and I chose one of the most romantic honeymoons on the planet: a safari in Kenya. But when we got to the game reserve, our room had two single beds, and my husband was considerably saddened. Our guide suggested it might have been caused by our having different names on our passports. Learn from our mistake: Make it clear that even though your names might be different, you and your newlywed would like a double bed. --Dana Cottrell, Spring Hill, Fla.

That's right, blame the maid

Although Amsterdam's lifestyle reputation never appealed to us, my husband and I found a great package deal and went anyway. We arrived in our room to find a marijuana joint on the pillow. At first we couldn't figure out what it was. Next we debated whether we'd be charged for it. My husband deduced it wasn't their version of a chocolate mint, but something that had fallen from the maid's pocket. We decided to flush it down the toilet. As it swirled around, clinging to the sides of the toilet bowl, we realized marijuana floats. My jet lag was replaced with an adrenaline rush as I spent the next hour flushing the toilet until the last flake was gone. Our adult children later informed us that "everyone knows marijuana floats." --Cheryl Herndon, Vero Beach, Fla.

And Wal-Mart now refuses to stock budget travel

We were in the Endless Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania, taking photos of the scenery. After developing the pictures, however, it was clear we got more than fall colors. A closer look revealed two of the livestock enraptured with each other. Nature in all its glory! --Joe & Ann Aquilio, Columbus, Ohio

It beats the minibar fridge

Traveling with pets is always a challenge. Although dogs are welcome in many hotels and airlines, some carriers won't allow a cat in the cabin due to allergy risks. Thanks to Northwest and LOT Polish Airlines--both are extremely pet-friendly--getting from Iowa to Stockholm was as stress-free as possible. But when we arrived in Stockholm, my cat, Mont, was worn out. He fell asleep immediately after we checked in at the pet-friendly Radisson SAS Arlandia Hotel. But the room-service attendant was not amused by the location he chose for a nap: inside the bar cabinet! --Misty Bliss, Umea, Sweden

Susan and roger were sitting in a tree...

Backpacking in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, I met a remarkable man named Roger who proved that, in the outdoors, resourcefulness is more important than money. He slept without a tent and carried a massive, decades-old army/navy backpack. Most hikers periodically hitchhike into town to resupply, but Roger relied on caches of food he'd buried weeks before. I kept my food safe from critters with a Kevlar bag, but Roger had discovered that his food would go unnoticed if he buried his simple plastic bag under the ashes of his campfire. And he kept bears at bay with a slingshot. At 83 years old, he was about to finish his second complete hike of the 146-mile John Muir Trail. --Susan Gately, Cambridge, Mass.

We're sensing a theme

While having dinner at a friend's house in Nairobi, Kenya, I had a run-in with a very friendly cow. As I toured the family property, I pretended to kiss it for a picture. The animal was even more obliging than I'd expected, and I ended up with a wet face! --Megan O'Connell, Middleton,Wis.

Next Prize: A trip to Rome!

If your response is the best we receive before April 18, you'll win a six-night trip for two to Rome from EuropeASAP. The prize includes round-trip flights on Alitalia from San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Boston, or Miami; six nights' hotel; breakfast daily; and all hotel taxes and service charges. Valid from July 1, 2005, to July 1, 2006, except for Dec. 10 to Jan. 12. Winner is responsible for airport transfers, parking, and insurance. Subject to availability; nontransferable, nonnegotiable. Winners must travel together. Other restrictions apply. For more information on EuropeASAP trips: 415/750-5449, europeasap.com. How to enter: truestories@BudgetTravelOnline.com; or True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10018. Sorry, we can't return photos.

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