YOU can win a fabulous hamper of Korjo Travel Products - to the value of A$250 if your story is published on the Korjo web-site. To enter, just email your best travel story here. If selected, we will notify you, publish your story and send you a hamper of assorted Korjo products!
Enjoy the winning Traveller's Tale (below) - and see a selection of past winners at the end of this story.
THANK GOD FOR INSURANCE
While I was living in New Zealand, my sister Peg and I had accrued enough points in our marketing job to qualify to go to the company's world conference held in Japan in 1985. My husband Sam agreed to come too. We set off with excited hearts to the airport and met up with our group, ten of us all together including the tour leader.
The first thing that went wrong happened before we started. Sam could not find his passport. I had given it to him and watched him put it in a pocket but he thought I had it in my purse. After frantic hunting did not produce it, I was sent back (at illegal speeds) to our house 20kms away to look for it there. When I opened the door the phone was ringing - the passport had been found in his pocket.
In those days New Zealanders had permission to enter Japan without a visa but Aussies did not. Sam was an Aussie and the leader had not checked that we were not all New Zealanders. The plane would not take him unless we booked a flight straight out of Japan in case he was not allowed to stay. We just managed to get the follow on ticket before the plane left and we were finally on our way.
After arrival at Kyoto in Japan, Sam was escorted straight to an interrogation room and I tagged along with him. The officer spoke only very broken English. He could not understand some of Sam's answers to questions and sometimes called an interpreter in to help him. That gentleman bowed and scraped his way into the room and bowed and scraped out again, so the whole interview took a lot of time - four hours. In the end the officer shook Sam's hand and said 'You may stay in Japan for 21 days'. He then escorted us out and called up a lackey to take us to collect our luggage.
The next thing to go wrong - my bag could not be found. That took another couple of hours to fill in papers and to generally muck around. We were advised to call at our hotel counter in the morning to retrieve it. Finally after six hours in the airport, we were put into a large shiny-black limousine and taken, like royalty, into Tokyo to our hotel. In several places on the way men in uniform and white gloves saluted us, which made Sam squirm but I waved. Our hotel looked good because we were exhausted.
Next morning I waited in a queue at the counter for over an hour only to be told that there was no sign of my bag. The tour leader then advised me to buy anything I needed on my visa card and the insurance would pay for it. I spent each morning of the whole tour, at hotel counters asking about my bag only to be told there was no news of it. I had only the clothes that I was wearing so needed everything. But to find anything like the clothes I needed was an impossibility. None of the shops to which we were taken sold ordinary clothing, and of the exotic things they did have, nothing was the right size or shape. I take a size 14 but everything was so tiny it was like doll's clothing. My sister shared her panties with me but she is a couple of sizes bigger than I am so her clothes did not look good on me. I spent every spare minute that we were not attending the conference trying to find something to wear, and especially something for the gala night.
Finally on the day of the gala I found a dress that nearly fitted. It had an elastic waistline which when removed, I thought would let the dress fit. The price was 10,000 yen, which when converted to NZ dollars was $94. I passed my credit card over and the transaction was duly completed. When I got back to the hotel I immediately set to work to alter the dress so it would be ready for the evening function. My sister picked up the visa receipt and said “This has 100,000 yen on it” When I checked sure enough it was 100,000. That meant that I had paid NZ$940 for it. We could not return the dress nor did we know what to do. The tour leader said that it did not matter, as the insurance would be paying the bill anyway.
We arrived home without my bag, so I phoned the airline and reported it. Within ten minutes the operator got back to me and said that they had found my bag at Heathrow Airport and would be returning it in a few days. I then put in my claim to the insurance company, who refused to pay out because my bag was not "lost". They ended up paying just $100 each to Sam and me for inconvenience!
A SELECTION OF PAST WINNERS OF THE TRAVELLER'S TALE HAMPER:
(ATTEMPTED) MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.
A DREAM FLIGHT
THE BIG NIGHT OUT
A SIMPLE FORM
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED AT LAX
TERRORISM AND THE LOST TREASURE
THE CASE OF THE MISSING CASES
(ATTEMPTED) MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
As I boarded the train in Salzburg, Austria for the overnight trip to Paris, I noticed the sign on the outside of the carriage - Orient Express. It immediately appealed to my sense of theatre and I couldn't help commenting to my American travelling companion, Melinda, that we had better be careful - there was a history of murder and mayhem on that train.
I had been travelling around Europe using a Eurail pass for the previous 5 months and was convinced that I was expert in taking advantage of an overnight trip - saving a night's accommodation costs by travelling, making the carriage look fuller than it was to keep maximum stretching room, hand-picking the potential travel companions for minimum noise and interference. It was sure to be another easy, restful night.
We found an empty carriage and spread some bags on empty seats, but were soon joined by a huge and rather fearsome looking swarthy man with bloodshot eyes. It was quickly obvious that he was pissed, however he was a happy drunk and he was soon singing what I guessed was a Slavic ditty in full voice. The next to join us was a hearing and speech impaired midget in approximately his late teens. We welcomed him to join us and it was clear that the loud singing would not upset him, nor would he contribute much to the decibel level.
Within 10 minutes or so, it was clear that the other two were not going to get along. Tired of his own song and feeling the impact of his evening's activities, the drunk turned out the light. The midget turned it back on. The drunk scowled and turned it off. The light came back on amid a flurry of gestures and gesticulations.
It took me a little while to realise that with his disabilities, the young guy was reliant on his sight to be aware of his surrounds, so I undertook the peace-keeper role and reluctantly convinced our large companion to leave the light on. The grateful young fellow then tried to engage Melinda and me in a long, difficult ''conversation''. Eventually we established that ''Marc'' was French/Albanian, that Melinda and I were American and Australian, and that we were not in a sexual relationship. (Although we were surprised by the question, the signing for that was easily understood). I even managed to get Marc to agree to turn off the light.
Five minutes later, the light was back on and a somewhat frightened and shaken Melinda was angrily accusing Marc of groping her. I tried to calm the situation. It occurred to me to sign to Marc that Melinda was pious and Christian and that touching her was not welcome. In the course of the '"conversation", we also established that Marc was Muslim and that I was Jewish and I hoped to explain that we should be in a world where we could all get along without problems.
Lights off again - this time for about 60 seconds when Marc was aggressively climbing over me to get to Melinda. As the darkness in our carriage disappeared again, so did our drunk. Whether he was off to quieter pastures or getting off at the next stop was unclear, but now there was only 3 of us and the tension was palpable. Marc drew pictures in the frost on the carriage glass that members of his family had died when Israeli war planes dropped bombs on their houses. I tried to explain that I was deeply sorry, but at the same time, as a Jewish Australian, I was not actually personally or directly involved. The battle lines were drawn, physically, sexually, religiously and politically.
I advised Melinda to come with me and we grabbed our bags and found another carriage. Marc followed. And so we played hide and seek up and down the train for the next few hours. At one point, I asked the only train conductor that I could find to stop Marc from harassing us, but he told me that Marc was often on the train and not to worry as he was a little crazy but not dangerous. We were not reassured.
Eventually I found a carriage with a British army officer. When Marc barged in a minute later and was clearly creating a disturbance he was escorted from the carriage by our savior. My relief was short lived, however, as a rap on the window attracted my attention - outside the carriage stood Marc, brandishing a leering grin and a shiny 12 inch hunting knife. As he drew it across his throat and pointed at me mouthing ''I kill you'', it became clear that I would not be sleeping the remaining hour of the trip - I needed to contrive an escape plan from my sleep-deprived mind.
We pulled into Paris at about 5.3.00am, but I still did not have a clue what we could do. I couldn't see Marc and my hopes were raised that he would not do anything in a public place, in the early morning light. But there he was, standing on the platform outside our carriage, waiting for us. Melinda and I put our backpacks on our backs and waited for the crowd to thin out. A quick peek out the window was enough to be certain that Marc was still there, trying to peer into our carriage. Crouching low, beneath window height, we scurried along the train carriage to get past him. Once into the next carriage, we stood and sprinted, bursting past and through the startled passengers for 15 or so carriages, until we reached the front end of the train. We hit the platform running, flashing our passes at the guard and stopped only once we reached the street and found a taxi.
Panting, we leapt into the back seat where it occurred to me that our plan had worked, but was now at an end. The taxi driver asked us where we were going and in a mixture of desperation and inspiration, I instructed him - ''To the Louvre''. While rolling his eyes, in his best condescending English the taxi driver told us that of course the Louvre was not open. Rising to the challenge, I explained that we knew what we were doing - we were meeting friends there.
And so there we were, two tourists in Paris at 6am, wandering around the empty streets outside of the Louvre, feeling a weird mixture of lost, scared and tired, yet with the adrenalin still charging around our veins after our experience on the Orient Express.
A DREAM FLIGHT
Once travelling on the Red Eye from Boston to London, I was awakened by the feeling of a hand running up and down my inner thigh. It must be a dream I thought, but then a distinct feeling of wetness in my trousers really roused me in a mixture of alarm & excitement. What a disappointment, not an erotic dream, not even wishful thinking, but a cabin attendant attempting to dry me off after spilling a glass of champagne in my lap. Still better champagne than scalding hot coffee !!!
THE BIG NIGHT OUT
We (3 Australian girls) had been travelling in Europe for a few weeks, and had arrived in Barcelona at Christmas time. We'd been there for about a week, planning to travel across the south of France to Italy where we intended to see in the New Year. Unfortunately we got stuck in Spain because of a French train strike.
One afternoon, we stopped by the office of a local travel agent who told us that there was a rumour that there was a train going through to Nice that night. We booked tickets, rushed back to our pension, checked out, paid for 7 nights accommodation and made it to the train station to discover that there was in fact a train leaving that evening. We boarded the train, and made it out of Spain, but the train stopped at about 1 am in some French village in the middle of nowhere, and we were all told to get off. After sitting on the freezing concrete floor for about 2 and a half hours, wondering if we were ever going to leave the station, another train arrived, and although it was already full, everyone from the station rushed to cram on, and stood or sat anywhere they could, including lying in the aisles. Throughout our sleepless and uncomfortable night, we cheered ourselves up with plans for a big New Year Eve - we'd been travelling on a budget, and were looking forward to big splurge of a good meal, lots to drink, etc. We finally arrived in Nice, found accommodation and even though we were all feeling a little spacey and disoriented from the big train expedition the night before, started to arrange the night's activities.
We asked the manager of our pension for a recommendation for a restaurant for a special celebration, and booked it. We spent the early evening getting ready for our big night out, washing hair, applying make up, getting dressed in clean clothes etc, and were surprised to notice on the way to the restaurant that although it was after 7 pm, the shops were still open, hairdressers were still working, etc.
My travelling companion (whose mother is French, and thus considered herself an expert on all matters to do with France) knowingly advised us that the French don't actually make a big deal of New Years Eve, it was New Years Day that was their celebration. We nodded in agreement, and were surprised to be the only patrons at the restaurant, which was decked out in streamers, balloons, the works. We looked at the menu, and asked the waitress in our basic French if we could order from a special menu that was standing on the table next to ours...It was only when she giggled and told us that it was "pour domain" (for tomorrow) that it slowly dawned on us that we were celebrating New Years Eve a day early! We had checked out of our Barcelona pension late, so paid for 7 nights accommodation even though we had only stayed 6, and our sleepless night had left us even more disoriented and confused - no wonder we had miscalculated the dates!
A SIMPLE FORM
I was involved in a long distance relationship (NY-New Zealand). I jumped at the opportunity to join my boyfriend when he asked me to live there with him. So, I immediately arranged the flight travel "the quickest way possible." Little did I know at the time I would be travelling from NY to LA to Tonga, Raratonga, Fiji, Tahiti and finally Auckland! I do not usually travel well over long distances and one can only imagine the condition I was in with all the "ups and downs".
While in Tonga (or was it Fiji!?), the plane had to refuel and everyone was escorted to a transit area (where we were instructed to stay and not wander around!) I was practically "legless" and of course people thought I must have had a "bit too much to drink" I tried to walk around, and must have strayed too far - when all the alarms and bells went off, I saw the police all running onto the tarmac area and I was thinking to myself, "Wow, someone is really in trouble!" That someone was me!! Thankfully, the pilot recognised me from his plane and verified who I was and that I would not cause any further trouble. Would I??
Upon arriving at Auckland airport, I filled out the customary declaration form. Mind you, I have travelled all over the world and am more than familiar with the forms. (So I thought!) While the customs people questioned me, I thought the questions were a bit strange, but well, you know not to question the customs people! They asked me questions like, "What country were you last thrown out of?" I replied, "The States of course!" I knew I had origined from there and in my "jet fog" could not distinguish that I was not thrown out! They then asked , "Where was I packing my piece!" I replied, "If it's not on me, I don't know! I had NO CLUE what they were asking! Out of the side of my head, I could see police officers had been called and (once again!) I thought that SOMEONE was DEFINITELY in trouble! Guess who?? After a couple of minutes, and taking one look at my innocent looking face, they realized I was just totally "jet lagged" and moved me on my way!
Did my difficulties to enter the country stop there? I then met the Minister of Agriculture. A nice man I may add and VERY patient with me! I was carrying a box of chocolate cookies (in the shape of red roses) that I had made my boyfriend. When I was asked what was in the box, I replied, "homemade chocolate chip cookies!" The Minister asked me again and a third time and I replied the same. He tried to explain to me that because of the flour, he would have to confiscate my cookies. I was THAT out of it by now and I asked him would he like to try one. I then got (what I thought) was a brain storm (in my fog)! I said to him, "O.K., what if I bring them to my boyfriend (who was waiting eagerly for my arrival!) and he eats them, then I would have nothing to declare and his problem was solved! It is a good thing people think I am funny! He laughed and waved me on! I ran through the doors, threw the box to my boyfriend and yelled, Let's get out of here and ran out the airport!
It was only later that I realised that when the customs officers were questioning me about my declaration form...The reason for their inquiries was that I put YES instead of NO to all the questions!..1) Have I ever been thrown out of a country...YES..2) Are you declaring and or carrying a concealed weapon or contraband...YES
Eight months later, on returning home for a visit, I must have come up against the same customs officer. He immediately called someone on the phone and I started to blush (as I thought something was wrong!) He called all of his buddies around and said quite loudly, "THIS IS THE ONE I TOLD YOU GUYS ABOUT!" UGH!
When planning my US trip, I hoped to witness a space shuttle launch. Not only had I decided to be on the base at the Kennedy Space Center, I was determined to be in the press site area. Deep down I knew this would happen, although, I had no idea how I was going to do it. Whilst travelling through the U.S., I would tell the odd person my plans for the launch. Most people would say, good luck, the launch never goes off on time, it's always delayed by bad weather, you'll be lucky to get in the press site etc I arrived in Melbourne, Florida 2 days before the launch.
The family I was staying with just happened to have a friend who worked for a media company and he was making enquiries for me to go along, although there had been some hitches due to communication. I went off to bed the night before the launch not knowing whether or not I was going to be at the launch in the morning. I woke at 5:30am hoping for the best, turned on the tv and saw the astronauts making their way to the shuttle. The launch was in 3 and a half hours and I still didn't know if I was going to be there. At 6am I got the news that my contact had finally been able to get through to NASA at 2:30am with my details and they had been approved. We set off and entered the base via a secure entrance around 7:30am. I received my press site pass and we then drove to the press site.
It blew my mind. I was 3 miles from the launch pad; the closest anyone is allowed to be during a launch. The LED clock was counting down, reporters and camera crews were everywhere. Some reporters I spoke with had been to dozens of launches but were excited for me. My excitement after all was obvious. The loud speaker was on and I found myself listening to the astronauts talking with Houston and mission control at the KSC. I was surprised how close I was to mission control, they are adjacent to the press site.
About 10 minutes before the launch, I was listening to the loud speakers, they were starting to worry about the weather, this launch only had a 2 minute window, shortest in history apparently. I kept hoping for the best. With 2 minutes left to launch time, everyone took their positions and waited. I had my camera at the ready and started happy snapping when the clock hit 0.00. The ground vibrated, the bleachers I was sitting on vibrated, everything vibrated. The noise was incredible, the atmosphere was electric, the emotion of it all was unbelievable. Here I was sitting in the press site area, a nobody from Australia, not even in the media, scoring a once in a lifetime opportunity to view a launch. STS-106 had launched without a problem. A dream had come true.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED AT LAX
I had been travelling for business in the USA, and flew from Florida to LA to get my connection back to Australia. I checked in with plenty of time, and cleared security before leaving my bag at the Qantas club lounge, and went to look for a friend who I knew was also flying home that night.
Unable to find my friend, I returned to the club lounge, and went to get something out of my hand luggage. I was stunned to find that it had been locked (I never lock it), and I was unable to open it. I immediately reported this to the Qantas lounge staff, and they asked me to make sure it was my bag. I was certain it was my bag, and that it was in exactly the locker I had left it in. With their help I broke into the bag, to discover that in fact it was not my bag - which caused minor panic - if the bag I had placed in the locker, although identical to mine was not in fact my bag, where was my bag? I began to feel like a character in a bad telemovie, the victim of a bag swap, and now missing my passport and ticket (yes, I broke the golden rule and left them in the bag, instead of taking them with me).
(Editors note: a Korjo money belt or pouch would have saved your documents).
At this stage airport security were alerted, and they went back to the security checkpoint to view the video of people having their bags screened. The video revealed all - a woman who went through before me carried an identical piece of hand luggage to mine. She set off the beeper when she went through the scanner, and was taken aside for further scanning. I walked right through, picked up (what I thought was) my bag, and kept going.
(Editors note: a colorful Korjo luggage strap or luggage tag would have been a good way to tell the difference!)
The bag in my possession contained (among other things) a C.V. of a person from the Philippines, so airport security staff raced to the departure gate of a flight departing for Manila, only to find that it had just departed.
I had half an hour before my plane was due to take off, and they were not going to let me on without a passport or ticket (fortunately I still had my boarding pass). I convinced Qantas officials that as I was an Australian citizen returning home, I should be allowed to re-enter the country, and they should notify immigration officials in Melbourne, and we could deal with it on arrival. The other person's bag was confiscated from me, so I finally boarded the plane carrying nothing but my boarding pass.
I got a formal reception in Melbourne, with immigration officials waiting for me, and then escorting me to an interview room where I spent more than half an hour desperately trying to prove my story and my identity. I suspect that if I had not had my drivers licence with me, I would still be in that interview room now!
Three days later I received a phone call from the Philippino woman, looking for her bag, and seeking to return mine. She has to deal with airport security at LAX to get her bag back, while I am still waiting for mine to return. I had been wondering who in the Philippines had become the lucky recipient of an Australian passport, but am now optimistic that it will be returned to me.
TERRORISM AND THE LOST TREASURE
On average 3 times a day, LAX International airport gets evacuated. My tale begins after some bright spark takes a World War 1 hand grenade replica, having been converted into a pen holder, in his hand luggage!! Having departed the airport quicker than expected, I jump the Hertz bus. The first thing I notice is that the Hertz corporate orange/yellow is very similar to Korjo's. Must have copied another great innovative Australian company!!
Into the hire car with all of my cases, and those of my associate, on board, or more specifically in the boot, we head to down town Beverley Hills. Beverley Hills is the place that one quickly forgets Hill Street Blues & 90104 in favour of Hollywood, famous beautiful & wealthy people, Gucci, Prada, Armani and more. My associate pleads with me to drop our cases off at the Hotel. After all we are hiding a hidden treasure in the boot comprising 2 IBM think pads, digital cameras, PDA devices, passports, credit cards, cash and more. Just one quick shopping centre, I insist. After all we are on a tight schedule and we are going directly past the Beverley centre. As a fashion retailer, I cannot resist. It's like a drug, I need to get into the shops, I need to see for myself, first hand, what is happening, just 1 hour, surely we can take that risk?
With the treasure securely hidden in the boot, satisfied that there is nothing visible in the car, except some worthless maps of LA, we enter the Beverley Centre from car park level two. One hour and 15 minutes later we return to find the treasure gone. The worst part of this terrorist attack, aside from the personal invasion, the inconvenience of lost credit cards, passports, computers, work etc, was the lost Korjo travel adaptors.
Picture this - computers replaced with a US plug - we buy US-International adaptors - we travel onto UK - we buy PDA's with UK plugs - we buy UK-International adaptors - we travel onto Florence - we eat too much pasta drink too much vino rosso and for a moment forget about our adaptor troubles - we don't even attempt to buy more adaptors - however these plugs are driving me CRAZYYYYY HELP - more vino rosso and I'm under control. A little sleep would help, however there is no time - I am a traveling business man with work to be done - finally onto Germany - wouldn't dare complain about the plugs there, Singapore and home. Who said travel was fun?
Now being a wiser traveler or perhaps a more weary one, I so advise all travellers to:
1. Avoid leaving their hidden treasurers
2. Maps are a dead give away for someone looking for a hidden treasure, and
3. Have a spare Korjo international travel adaptor ready for emergencies of this kind.
Signed Weary Traveller.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING CASES
My fiance and I were just starting out on our first major overseas trip and we had decided on Europe. Our first stop was London. We checked into our hotel and I stayed at the desk and asked the concierge a few questions about London while my fiance took the bags up to our room. She came back down as we had arranged to quickly go out for a bite to eat before it got too late at night.
Upon returning to the hotel we were very dismayed to find that all our bags were missing. Needless to say this was the nightmare beginning to our first major travel experience. We called the concierge who informed security and we answered many questions for what seemed like hours, but was more like 10 minutes. One fact that did not register at the time, but became crucial later on was that when my fiance had taken the bags to our room they were being cleaned.
We were very upset to be deprived of all our of our luggage on the very first day. It really felt like the end of the world. I became a little angry that our bags could be stolen from our supposedly secure room and felt really let down by the management in general and was sure to let all my feelings known (read many a swear word was uttered).
It did not take the astute hotel detective very long to figure it out though. Five minutes later he returned with our bags, all intact. It turns out my fiance had simply placed the bags in the wrong room. The door was open as it was being cleaned and she thought it was the right room. She entered, dropped the bags and closed the door behind her, never thinking to check the number on the door or her keycard.
We were so embarrassed we cut short our stay and slinked out as early as we could the next morning. I just wished we had signed in under false names. I don't think we did much for the reputation of Aussie travellers.