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Daisann McLane’s World Worsts

Daisann McLane

Name Daisann McLane
Who? Writer, photographer, and (as yet undiscovered) calypso singer. Daisann writes the Real Travel column for National Geographic Traveler and just won the North American Travel Journalist’s Association’s first prize for best magazine travel column. Her book, Cheap Hotels (Taschen)  won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for best travel book of 2003, for what the New Yorker describes as “glimpes of urban excitement and exotic tranquility tinged with the inevitable sadness of transience.” She has worked as a staff writer for Rolling Stone and penned The Frugal Traveler column for The New York Times.
She now splits her time between Brooklyn, New York and Hong Kong — where she recently started a private food tour company to help travelers avoid the Titanic pitfalls of badly translated Chinese menus. Check out her Real Travel blog here.
Age 52
Countries Visited 56

Titanic Nominations
1. Worst Toilet Shanghai’s Fuyou Antiques market. A vendor pointed me to a corner by the stairwell. It had no cubicles, toilets or even water–you had to squat over a communal concrete sluice of shit that angled down to a hole in the concrete wall. Occasionally an attendant would come and slosh a bucket of water to keep all the stuff moving through. Later, traveling around China, I discovered that this was a common public toilet setup, dating from the pre-economic boom days. Now in China you’re more likely to find high-tech sensor-powered flush toilets. But there’s one thing you can always count on: hi or low tech, you won’t find any toilet paper in your mainland Chinese stall.
2. Worst Plane Ride Air Tonga, from Va’vaau to Tongatapu on a nine-seater twin prop. Some big chief’s funeral was going on, and I was waitlisted, standing on line behind what looked to be the entire Tongan rugby team. Their carry-on consisted of bundles of taro roots and whole roast pigs. The flight manager made each bereaved Tongan stand with his luggage on a old-fashioned metal scale, then wrote a figure down on a clipboard. He added everything up, scratched his head, added the column again, then looked up at me and shrugged as if to say: You want to try?
3. Most Annoying Tourist Attraction The Pyramids, hands down. I think I took a wrong turn at the McDonalds, and had to baksheesh my way through four rings of attendants before I even got close. It’s an ancient wonder, indeed: the world’s oldest and most authentic tourist trap.
4. Worst Hotel Bedspread Barnacle Bed and Breakfast, Big Pine Key, Florida. (see photo below) My book, Cheap Hotels, had a whole chapter devoted to the worst bedspreads I slept on during my six years as The New York Times‘ Frugal Traveler. This one was at least clean (while researching, I discovered that the average US hotel chain usually washes its spreads only once every 60 days!) but aesthetically, it was like coming home every night to a velvet cat painting.

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