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Book Review: The Titanic Awards: Celebrating the Worst of Travel by Doug Lansky

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Doug Lansky dedicates The Titanic Awards “To all the travelers who overcame annoyances and obstacles to make it to their destinations and then willingly decided to set out traveling again.” If you’re an occasional traveler and suffer through an ant infested hotel room, a flight with repeated delays, nasty food, or nasty locals you might think, “Why let one bad experience sour you on travel?” When you read some of the experiences outlined in The Titanic Awards, you may wonder if any of these travelers ever left home again.

The Titanic Awards details — celebrates — the very worst in travel. Winners of Titanic Awards are 1) chosen by survey (Readers’ Choice Award); 2) named in travel industry studies (Official Study Award); or 3) based on specific incidents garnered from media reports (Editor’s Choice Award). Each award is identified by category. There are also reminiscences from travel writers about some of their very worst — and sometimes scariest — travel experiences.

There are five parts (think “divisions”) of Titanic Awards; the first is air travel. How bad is air travel? It merits 74 pages of awards. If you travel domestically, or to western European capitals, you envision flight delays, lost luggage, stale pretzels, unfair fees, and rowdy passengers. But if you think globally, you find those things are mild compared to traveling with chickens and livestock in the aisles or having half a wing ripped off by another plane.  Wonder what airport, of the 50 biggest, has the worst security? Bad news, it’s in the United States — LAX. Other awards in this division go to the most inexperienced pilot, worst napping (by pilots), and rudest flight attendants. There are awards for airports, facilities, policies, food, breast-aversion, and personnel. And what airport has the worst shopping in the world? Ooops. It’s LAX. Again.

“Surface Transport — Overland and Sea Travel”  is 34 pages crammed with such tidbits as: Italy is the country with the worst drivers, the worst traffic jams are in Shanghai, and India wins for both worst highways and “country with the worst back roads.” Okay, so much for driving; what country has the worst trains? India. Want to rethink that visit to the Taj Mahal?

“Hospitality” identifies the “Worst North American Hotel Chain” (Super 8, chosen by reader survey), the “Country with the Worst Toilets” (China), and the “Least Appealing Hotel Name” (Hotel Ufuk, Istanbul, Turkey). It includes a nauseatingly hilarious three pages of “Personal Worst” remembrances of toilets. Surprisingly, only 20 pages were devoted to hospitality, although most seasoned travelers could fill more than that with their own accommodations mishaps and nightmares.

Is it surprising that the country with the most over-rated cuisine (France) is also the country with the rudest waiters? “Food and Drink” features 16 pages of scary gastronomics, and awards “Worst Restaurant Name” to Phat Phuc Noodle Bar in London (U.K.).  I’m not so sure that’s worse than the restaurant that earned third place, Stomach Clinic Railways Restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, whose sign proclaims “Welcome to Stomach Clinic Railways Restaurant. We provide all that is worth the money you pay us.” Just another way of saying “you get what you pay for,” I guess.

“Destinations and Tourism” fills 52 pages with facts about different types of tourists (the British are the cheapest), “Harshest Punishment for Lewd Drunken Behavior by a Tourist” (don’t ask), travel directions, city names, and all the other terrors that await the traveler who has arrived at his or her destination. This is followed by two appendices, “Major Airlines” and “Top 100 Cities.”

While the information in The Titanic Awards may be useful, its best use is giving us some very funny things to consider. I doubt that those who experienced them at the time found them hilarious, but the reader will.

Bottom Line: Would I buy The Titanic Awards? Yes. It’s the perfect book to bring along on your own travels to help pass the time during flight delays.

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