From our July/August issue: Readers share anecdotes that once again prove that travel is stranger, funnier, and more heartwarming than fiction. Plus, this month's prize-winning story about an encounter with a congressman who went "clothing optional."
August's prize is an eight-night road trip across Tasmania, Australia, including airfare, courtesy of Tourism Tasmania and Goway Travel.
How to enter
E-mail us at TrueStories@BudgetTravel.com or mail us at True Stories, Budget Travel, 530 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10018. For a complete rundown of the contest guidelines, please see BudgetTravel.com/truestories.
The winner of April's contest is Lyn Simonton of Cody, Wyo. Her prize is a seven-night trip to Greenland, courtesy of Air Greenland.
After a long winter, my husband, my best friend, and I warmed up in Key West, Fla. Our B&B, a beautiful old mansion, hosted nightly cocktails by the pool. The first evening, we were shocked to be the only people wearing clothes. (I had never even heard the term "clothing optional" before.) We did our best to make friendly conversation with the other guests. But we were even more shocked when, the night we returned home to Wyoming, we switched on C-Span and saw the gentleman whom we'd nicknamed Naked Bill addressing Congress. He was a U.S. congressman!
May's winner is Cindi Noyes (pictured third from left) of Millbury, Mass. Her prize: a five-night trip to Panama from Tara Tours.
My grandfather was from Italy, so when I saw a town with my maiden name, Tricarico, while researching a trip, I e-mailed the town's website asking for help locating lost relatives. A woman offered assistance, so I gave her my grandfather's name. She replied with a list of five family members still living in Italy, including some in Prato, near Florence. A few days later, I got a call from the daughter of my father's second cousin. When my husband and I got to our hotel near Prato, the family met us and took us over to their home. My father's cousin brought out a stack of old photographs. As soon as I looked at the first one, I started to cry: It was of my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, and me on Christmas, 34 years earlier, with my grandmother's writing (in Italian) on the back. We'll return to Italy soon to spend more time with our new family.
So that's where Yahoo Serious has been hiding
My family, my best friend Katie, and I wanted to see flowing lava on a visit to Hawaii's Big Island. But when we got to Volcanoes National Park, we learned that we'd have to hike several miles. Instead, we drove around Kilauea caldera, hoping to snap a photo of a "real" volcano to show Katie's 10-year-old son back home. Braving the gusts of wind and rain, Katie ran over to the caldera's edge. The volcano didn't do much, but we did get an eruption of another kind. Kim Stickler, Reno, Nev.
World's cutest zombies
Our group was under strict orders not to come within 15 feet of any wildlife while at a penguin rookery in Antarctica. I was looking at the birds through a telescope when a little Adélie penguin came up out of the water and started waddling his way toward me. I lay down on the ground and took out my camera. Before I knew it, five more birds were scampering in my direction. "Scott, you're all right!" the expedition leader called out. "Everyone else, step back!" A moment later, I found myself surrounded by six penguins, flapping their little wings to keep balance. I just clicked away. Scott D. Churchill, Irving, Tex.
Speaking of Swift: He would have found this amusing
I was totally enchanted with Ireland while hitchhiking around the country for two months. All the wonderful things I'd heard about it were true. As I bent to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, however, I was struck by how stained and odorous it was. Not being able to resist the gift of gab, I kissed it anyway. Later, back at the youth hostel, I picked up a book of short stories someone had left behind. One of the stories describes the local tradition of peeing on the stone after the tourists have left for the day. The application of soap to my lips was swift. Jeff Drake, Galveston, Tex.
Or maybe he has a brain the size of a macadamia nut
The chickens of Oviedo, Fla., have been roaming freely around the downtown area for years. Returning from breakfast one morning, I spotted this guy hanging out at a Popeyes fried-chicken restaurant. He had nestled into the dirt just under the drive-through menu. He was either very brave or a very fast runner. Liz Cummins, Terrytown, La.
Now you know why God invented Photoshop
While on a trip in Aruba, I was excited to start taking pictures of all the flowers, birds, and iguanas with my new digital camera. I was amazed at how the colorful iguanas were everywhere and would come right up to people. So when I saw this rather colorful, large iguana on a pole, I inched as close as I could without getting too scared and snapped away. Later, as I was bragging to my husband about the photo shoot, I was surprised to see the iguana hadn't moved an inch. My husband began laughing hysterically. The iguana was fake! I was even more embarrassed when I printed the photograph and saw that the screw in its foot was clearly visible. Cindy Sturtevant, Woodstock, Ga.
And yours is Blushing Bride
I thought I had dreamed up pretty good outfits for my now-fiancé and me to wear to the costume party on our senior singles cruise. (I called his the Reluctant Fiancé.) While the ship's photographer was taking this photo, however, I learned it was a masquerade party, not a costume party. The people throwing the party offered us both masks, but we quickly went back to our rooms to change, giving fits of giggles to the folks we passed on the way. Darla Coyle, Salem, S.C.
Mrs. Moneybags, I presume?
When I complained about the exchange rate at my hotel in Djibouti, the concierge confided that the best rate is on the street, where women sit with bags of cash waiting for customers. I figured he was messing with me. The next day, en route to Lake Assal, I told the guide I needed to exchange some dollars. "No problem," he said. He drove a couple blocks and stopped by two women on the side of the road, one of whom had a large sack. He signaled, and they came to the window. Not only did I get the best rate yet, but it came with drive-through service. Berti Pozo, Key Biscayne, Fla.
It was all a distraction, and your gang is chilling in Amalfi with Clooney and Pitt
In Petrópolis, Brazil, my friends and I went to the Museu Imperial to see the crown jewels. We had to put booties over our shoes so as not to scuff the floors. We scooted along until we reached the crown. Wanting a better look, my friend Anita kept getting closer and closer. Then her feet slipped out from under her, and her head banged into the glass. The alarms blared, and a giant cage descended over us. Men with automatic weapons filled the room. I don't speak Portuguese, so I tried to explain by reenacting Anita's fall, but that angered the men more. After a tense half hour, we were escorted off the premises and told never to come back. Kemuel DeMoville, Honolulu, Hawaii
There were others?
In Baja California, I saw a lot of whales—but I really wanted to stroke one. Our guide suggested singing to the animals, so in my best soprano, I sang, "You are my baby whale, my only baby whale, you make me happy when skies are gray." A mother and her baby loved it! I even got the award for Best Whale Singer. Diane Shneer, Palos Verdes Estates, Calif.
Well, isn't she cheeky!
An older gentleman and I were sitting on a bench in Oslo, waiting for a bus, when an elegant, elderly woman approached. She walked with a limp. After the man and I stood up, the woman said something in beautiful, lilting Norwegian. Neither of us understood the language, though. She promptly switched to perfect English and said, "My bum's not so wide that the three of us can't fit on this bench." Dean Aulick, Silver Spring, Md.
Perhaps you can parlay them into a 100 Grand bar
We got a luxurious suite when my boyfriend's band performed at Atlantis in the Bahamas. The welcome basket was filled with wine, fruit, and even five $100 casino chips. Later, at the casino, I asked a change girl for some $5 tokens in exchange for the chips. She gave me a funny look and directed me to the main cage. I placed my chips on the counter, asked for change, and got another funny look. The cashier called for her supervisor. I was starting to get annoyed. "Madam," the supervisor replied, "these chips are chocolate." Joanne Pompeo, Escondido, Calif.
And something blue...
I was at a small beach in Positano, Italy, when a couple showed up, accompanied by a two-man camera crew. The man was slim, trim, and wearing a soccer jersey, so I thought he might be on the national team. When filming began, the couple lay on the sand and tried out several compromising positions, gradually removing their clothing. They worked their way into the water, kissing frantically. I asked the photographer if he was shooting a TV show or a movie. "Oh no," he replied. "They are engaged, and this will be shown at their wedding next month." Janet Kroupa, Santee, Calif.
Proving that smoke clouds can have a silver lining, too
We were settling in on the beach at our resort in Mozambique when we heard a crackling sound. The resort was in flames! We ran back, rescued our belongings, and joined guests and employees on the side of the road and watched the fire spread. There were no other available rooms in the area, and it was a two-hour drive to the next town. A young South African who'd been watching cricket in the hotel bar offered to let us sleep "in a tent in my yard." The "yard" ended up being a fish camp with tents and trailers. Over plenty of grilled meat and beer, our new friend told us all about life in southern Africa. It was the highlight of our entire trip. Molly Darragh, Oakland, Calif.
The top one is a stickler for the union's no-smiling-without-compensation rule
My husband and I wanted to have lunch at our favorite Italian place, Venezia, on our final day in New Orleans. By that point, however, our daughters were tired and whiny—at least until the party next to us sat down. It was a group of clowns who had just finished a gig. They posed for pictures and pulled candy and balls from behind my kids' ears. I didn't hear a peep out of the girls for the rest of the meal. Sheri Hammond, Bella Vista, Ark.