When I heard about the topic on the cover of this issue of the magazine—incredible, life-changing trips—I couldn’t help but flash back to my own recent vacations.

There was the ill-timed discovery in the crowded lobby of a lovely resort that Huggies are not, in fact, as leak-proof as one might hope. And who could forget (hard though we might try) the ski trip during which one of our kids broke the strap on his helmet and another’s ski sailed off the moving chairlift before we could enjoy a single run down the slopes? By the time we’d straightened out all the equipment problems, we were ready for lunch.

Surely I’m not the only one whose dreams of a “vacation” have been downgraded to the mere hope of wine served in an actual glass, rather than sloshed into a sippy cup. I can’t be alone in my fervent wish to just carve out enough time to sit on a lawn chair and get caught up on an old stack of People magazines. (What? Brad and Jen split up?)

So I put out a call to friends, asking them to reveal their worst vacations ever. And you know what? Our traffic-clogged, 14-hour drive home from Maine two summers ago is looking pretty darn good right now.

The day trip from hell award goes to Dave and Kate, who invited another couple to join them on a secluded beach they’d once visited and found to be a “pure and serene oasis.” This time, though, the trail leading to the beach was infested with thick swarms of mosquitoes, it was freezing cold and the tides had washed dozens of dead and decaying fish onto the shore. As rain began to fall, they all huddled under an umbrella, steeling themselves to run the gauntlet of mosquitoes back to their car. Then the wind tore the umbrella out of the sand and sent it flying into a bog, never to be seen again. The crowning touch? It was the other couple’s wedding anniversary.

Then there’s Jeanne, who woke her two young kids at 5 a.m., hustled her family into the minivan, drove from Bethesda to Baltimore/Washington International Airport, parked in the long-term lot and caught the shuttle bus to the terminal. They stood in a security line so thick and long, she says, “it looked like one of those monster snakes from a cheap Godzilla movie”— at which point she began to harbor homicidal thoughts about the people in front of her (thereby defeating the purpose of the line). Finally they made it through to the check-in counter, only to be told to look at the tickets more closely: Their flight was departing at 9 p.m., not 9 a.m.

Another couple took their 10-month-old son on a dream trip to New Zealand, only to have the baby contract a virus, get bitten by an emu (!) and, for the grand finale, projectile vomit in a fancy restaurant. “Madame,” a waiter said helpfully, tapping my friend on the arm, “I’m afraid to tell you your baby’s just been very sick, and it’s all over your back.”

Even returning from a vacation can be ulcer-inducing. Friends who went to Telluride, Colo., arrived back in the midst of last winter’s Snow-mageddon. They returned to Dulles, were reunited with just two of their five bags (this was at 3 a.m., by the way) and then had to dig out their car by hand in the long-term airport parking lot. As soon as they turned off the main road and onto their street, they realized it wasn’t plowed. The husband got out and dug with his hands until he cleared a path to their driveway. At which point he was awarded the Silver Star for valor. Not.

It all makes that week at your in-laws’ house look kind of appealing, doesn’t it?

Sarah Pekkanen’s first novel, The Opposite of Me (Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc.), was released in March. She can be reached at sarah.pekkanen@bethesdamagazine.com.