Strange Tales of World Travel
What's the strangest thing you've seen or experienced?
Over the years, as international lawyer Scott Gaille traveled to more than 100 countries, he started asking this deceptively simple question — and getting answers that shocked him.
A member of the Omani royal entourage shared the story of a sultan who demanded his servants control the turbulence on his private jet, so he could listen to a live string quartet without disruption. In Australia, a local guide told the tale of a visiting artist who took creative photos of roadkill. And a Mauritian diplomat talked about the feeling of euphoria he enjoyed after eating the flesh of a venomous bird in the middle of the Saharan Desert.
This April, Travelers’ Tales published Scott and his frequent traveling partner Gina’s book, "Strange Tales of World Travel," which shares these and other outrageous stories from across the globe.
Here, we share four of the most shocking and hilarious stories of all — starting with one about a Middle Eastern exec who went to extraordinary lengths to secure, yes, his CEO's underwear.
"The Emperor Has No Underwear" - United Arab Emirates
Hans Christian Andersen's tale TheEmperor’sNewClotheshas delightedchildrenforalmosttwocenturies.Thetale’sEmperor istrickedintobelievingthathehasbeensoldthefinestsuitinthe world—madeoffabricinvisibletothosewhoareunworthy.All oftheEmperor’sministerssaynothingandallowhimtoparade around in his new outfit. Then a child blurts out, “But heisn’t wearing anything atall!”
Businessleaders,too,cansuccumbtoimperialambitions. ThisisdoublytrueintheMiddleEast,whereCEOscavortwith realkingsandsultans.CEOsmakemillionsofdollarsayear. MiddleEasternsheikhsmakemillionsofdollarsaday.Still,the CEOstrytokeepup,andthatleadstostrangebehavior.The youngvicepresidentofanoilcompanyoftentraveledaspartof hisCEO’sentourage.Hewastherewhenhisemperorranoutof underwear.
Map illustrations designed by Anna Elkins
Story by Gina and Scott Gaille
The Vice President’s Story
“Iwassittingatthebackofatriangularconferenceroom.My CEOwasholdingcourtattheapexoftheroom,wherethepanes ofglassmettoformaperfectpoint.Behindhimwastheendless blueofthePersianGulf,brokenonlybydozensofoiltankers chuggingtoandfromtheStraitofHormuz.To hisrightwas theCEOofanothercompany.Bothmenhadjustarrivedfrom Americaintheirownprivateplanes.
'I’m still waiting on my wife,’ complained the second CEO. ‘She didn’t fly in with you?’ asked the first.
‘No.SincetheTycoscandal,she’sbeenflyingcommercial, mostly using air miles.’
After their meeting adjourned, my CEO pulled me aside andasked,‘Whatareairlinemiles?’Iexplainedtohimhowairlineshaveloyaltyprogramspursuanttowhichmembersreceive pointsbasedonhowfartheyflyeachyear.These‘airmiles’can thenberedeemedforfreetickets.‘Fascinatingsystem,’hesaid.‘I haven’tflowncommerciallysincethe1970s.Therewerenoair miles backthen.’
Justassuburbandadsmightcomparetheautomaticsliding doorsontheirminivans,sodoCEOsbragabouttheirplanes. ThesebabiesarenotjustlittleLearjets,butratherBoeingBusiness Jets, or BBJs—customized 737s, 767s, or 777s.They are outfittedwithqueensizebeds,hotshowers,andextrafueltanks toextendtheirrangetothefarthestcornersoftheworld.
YetIwasnotallowedonmyCEO’sBBJ.Evenwhenwetraveledtogether,hewouldboardhisBBJ,andIwouldberelegated tooneofthecompany’ssmallerGulfstreamjets.Thetwoplanes wouldtakeofftogether,oneafteranother,andthenflythesame route. It was all such awaste.
Thatnight,theSheikhhostedeveryonefordinnerathis palace.Attheevent’sconclusion,heinvitedtheCEOstojoin himonafalconhuntingtripinPakistan.Ithoughtnothingofit untilmyboss’ssecretaryknockedonmyhotelroomdoor.
‘So,ourEmperorhasnounderwear.Why’sthataproblem?’ Iasked,handingherasheetshowingpricesforthehotel’sone-hour laundryservice.
‘Thatwon’tdo,’shesaid.‘He’sworriedaboutgerms.The bosswouldneverallowhisunderweartobecleanedbyapublic facility.’
‘AreweworkingforHowardHughes?’Iasked.‘Whydon’t yougodowntothetwohundred-storemallandbuysomenew underwear?’
‘Ialreadytriedthat.Noonehashisbrand.Nothere.Not even inDubai.’
‘Like my ties?’ I asked. ‘I didn’t even know they made underwear.’
‘It’s the only brand he’ll wear. Hermes boxer shorts.’
‘Idon’tsupposeyoucouldpersuadehimtocyclethrough the ones hebrought.’
‘Not going to happen,’ she replied. ‘The closest location that carries his underwear is the Hermes store in Paris.’
‘Perfect. Just have them FedExed down.’
‘There’s not time. The only way is to flythereourselves tonight,buythemwhenthestoreopens,andthenflyrightback.’ ‘Have fun with that,’ I said. ‘That’s three thousandmiles each direction—twelve hours flying round trip.’
InsteadofattendingtherestofthemeetingsinAbuDhabi, myWhartonMBAwasputtoitshighestandbestuseofmakinganunderwearrun.ItwastheonlytimeIeversetfootonmy boss’sBBJ,butImadethemostofit.Inappedonhisplushbed, tookashowerinhisflyingbathroom,watchedmoviesonthebig screenTV,atehiscaviar,anddrankhis19th-centurycognac.My tripwasasuccess,andtheImperialCEOwasabletocontinue onhishuntingtripwithasuitcasefullofbrand-newHermes boxer shorts.”
"Pug in Peril" - Saudi Arabia
The Islamic faithful feel very strongly about pigs. Books celebrating the porcine, such as Animal Farm and Charlotte’sWeb, have been banned in certain nations due to their depictions ofpigs. Englishdictionariesevensometimeshavetheword“pig”blacked out with amarker.
SaudiArabiaisparticularlysensitive.Asthehostnationof theHolyMosqueofMecca,SaudiArabiabansporkandpigs altogether.Theirverypresencewithinthenationisconsidered adesecration.Forthisreason,someSaudicitizensmaynoteven know what a pig lookslike.
Anacquaintancewasintheprocessofmovingfromthe UnitedArabEmiratestoSaudiArabiawhenhewasstoppedat theborderforaroutinesearchofhisvehicle.Accompanyinghim washisdog.Althoughlegal,dogsalsoareuncommoninSaudi Arabiabecausetheyareviewedasimpureoruncleananimals.
Story by Gina and Scott Gaille
The Pug Owner’s Story
“TheSaudiborderpolicearenotoriouslystrictenforcersofthe nation’sreligiouslaws,soIwascarefultoensurenothinginmy vehiclewouldrunafouloftheirrules.TheonlythingIwasworriedaboutwasmydog,acutelittlepug.Ihadallofhisveterinarianrecordsandhealthcertificationswithmeandwasreadyto present them ifasked.
‘What’sthat?’heasked,pointingtomypugsittingbeside me on the front passengerseat.
‘It’s my pug,’ I casually replied.
Thiselicitedalookofcompletedisgust.Theofficerbacked away from the vehicle, putting his white-gloved hand overhis mouth.
Theguardblewhiswhistle,andthreemoreguards—these withmachinegunsattheirsides—surroundedmycar.Theywere talkingrapidlyinArabic,andIcouldn’tmakeouttheirconcern.
‘Get out!’ shouted one of them.
‘Leave the pig!’ barked the guard.
Unfortunately,Ihadnotthoughtabouthowapugmight resembleapig.Ithasacurlytail,notunlikeapig’stail,anda stubbyroundnose—well,rathersimilartoapig’ssnout.Andto someonelessaccustomedtotheEnglishlanguage,onemighthear the word pug aspig.
‘It’snotaP-I-G,it’saP-U-G,whichisakindofdog.You know, woof woof.’
Thatledtoablankstare.Ididn’tthinkIhadgottenthrough tohim.Bynow,thecommotionhadattractedotherSaudis,who wereleavingtheirvehiclestoseewhatwasthematter.Theygatheredaroundtolookatthepug,eachrecoilinginhorror.Mypoor pugwaspantinganddroolinginthe115-degreeheat.
TheguardschatteredawayinArabicandthenonesaid,‘We killthepig.Takeitoverthere.’Theguardpointedtothedesert alongside theroad.
‘It’s not a pig!’ I shouted. ‘It’s a dog.’
Theyoungestguardwasputtingonlatexgloves,apparently inpreparationformypug’sexecution.JustwhenIthoughtallwas lost,mypugwasrescuedbyagoodSamaritan.AnolderSaudi manintervened,explainingtotheguardthatmyanimalwas,in fact,aspeciesofdog—notapig.Theytalkedforsometime,but areprievewaseventuallywon.Wewereallowedtogoonourway, andmypugwasnolongera pig."
"The Human Pet" - Qatar
Qatar is the world’s richest nation—percapita.Itsquarter millioncitizensareruledbytheHouseofThani,thecurrent Emirbeingtheeighthinatwohundred-yearroyallineage.The Thanis preside over twenty-five billion barrels of oil and gas. Westerners seeking to raise capital for their businesses routinely traveltoQatar’scapital,Doha,insearchofThanipatronage.One suchbusinessman’sstayinQatarlastedmuchlongerthanhehad expected.AprinceenjoyedtheAmericansomuchthatheinvited him to live at hispalace.
Story by Gina and Scott Gaille
The Pet’s Story
“Eachmorning,thePrincewouldjoinmeforbreakfastbeside hisOlympic-sizedswimmingpool.ServantsbroughtmewhateverIordered.ThenthePrincewouldtakeholdofmyarmand starthisday.Mostmorningswebeganwithonlineshopping.
Aroundmidday,thedeliverytrucksstartedtoarrive,depositingthebountyofthePrince’spurchasesalonghiscirculardriveway.WesatinhisRollsRoyceconvertible,watchingasservants usedcrowbarstoprycrateaftercrateopen.Eachitemwasshown tothePrincebeforebeingtakenaway.
ThePrinceboughtsomuch,sofast,thatheactuallyforgotwhathehadordered.ItwaslikewatchingakidatChristmas,openingpresents,oneafteranother.Hisattentionspanalso resembledthatofachild.Helookedateachtreasureforonlya minutebeforemovingontothenextone.
LunchinthePrince’sgranddiningroominvariablyfollowed theopenings.Everywallwascoveredwithinlaidmarble.Artisans fromIndia,whoweretaughtintheartsoftheTajMahal,had beenimportedtocreatethismasterpieceanew.
Afterlunch,thePrincewanderedaroundthepalace.Ifollowedathisside.Theseafternoonsservednopurposeotherthan thepassingoftime.ThePrincewentfromroomtoroom,rummagingthroughhiscollectionsofartandartifacts.Eachroom had a theme—for example, 19th-century Impressionist paintings—butthecontentsseemedhaphazard,evenchaotic.Instead ofbeinghung,paintingsleanedagainstthewallsingiantstacks, dozensofcanvasesdeep.Toviewthem,servantswouldshuffle theframes,bringingeachtothePrinceuntilhesentitback. ThereweremanyMonetsandRenoirs,butthePrincedidn’teven seemtorecognize,muchlessappreciate,theartists.Theywere just pretty things that heowned.
The price of all things seemed inconsequential to the Prince.Thiswasbecausehehadanendlessfountainofmoney thatreplenisheditselfashespent.Whetherathingcost$100or $100million,itmadenodifferencetohiswealth.Hewasona perpetual shopping spree. The absence of relativesacrifice—that therestofusexperience—hadleftthePrinceunabletoappreci-ate the value ofanything.
WhenthePrincegottiredoflookingathispossessions, hewouldtakemeforaswiminhischilledpool.Onreallyhot days,theservantswouldbringlargeblocksoficeanddropthem oneafteranotherintoitswaterstofurthercoolthem.Itriedto usethepoolasaplacetodiscussmybusinessinvestmentwith thePrince,buthealwaysfoundawaytodelayanddeferany commitment.
Eachdayledintoanother,untilIhadbeenatthepalace fortwomonthsstraight.Repetitiondoesmaketimefly.Wehad returnedagaintotheroomofImpressionistpaintings.Thegiddy Princehadhisservantsshufflingthem,justashehaddonebefore. ItwasthenthatIrealizedIwasthePrince’sPet—justlikeadog, following his owneraround.
Thenextday,mymonotonywasbrokenwhenanorderof antiqueshotgunsarrived.I’manavidbirdhuntersoIwasparticularlyenjoyingthem.WhileIwasexaminingmyfavoriteover-under,thePrincementionedthathisestatewashometoflocksof doves.Hesuggestedthatwegobirdhuntingtogetherandputthe purchase touse.
Thateveningweweredroppedoffattwoseparatelocations,outofsightfromeachother.Servantsclamberedthrough nearbybushes,flushingthedovesandcausingthemtoflyover. Iwashavingagreattime,blastingaway.Inadditiontoshooting manydoves,Ialsobaggedseverallargerpigeons.Theonlyodd thingaboutthepigeonswasthattheywerealltaggedwithgold braceletscontainingArabicwritingaroundtheirlegs.
Whenwearrivedbackinthepalace’scourtyard,wefound agreatcommotion.Thecourtyardwaspackedwithvehicles,and dozensofmenwerelookingskywardwithbinoculars.ThePrince wentovertotalktoanoldergentleman,whowasholdinghis headwithbothhandsandlookingdistraught.Uponseeingme arrive,thePrincehurriedmeawayfromthescene.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
ThePrincedescribedhowtheEmir’sprizedracingpigeons hadgonemissing.Theywereparticipatinginacompetitionand disappearedastheywereflyingacrosstheproperty.
I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
‘Dumpoutyourbirds,’demandedthePrince.Isheepishly didso,spillingapileofcarcassesontothegrass.Theevidence wasindisputable.ThePrincepickedouttenpigeons,eachwitha gleaminggoldband,andnumbered(inArabic)onetoten.
"Feeding Frenzy" - Galápagos Islands
When we think of the Galápagos Islands, giant tortoises and the comic antics of blue-footed boobies come to mind. Yet the real foundation of the islands’ diverse ecosystem is the ocean. In its waters, three currents converge—from the south comes the coldHumboldtCurrent;fromthenorth,thewarmPanamaCurrent; and from the west, the deep Cromwell Current. Together, they cycle nutrients to the ocean’s surface. All of this results in giant schools of fish, which feed birds and otherpredators.
Each day, our Galápagos excursions were a mix of both worlds: land and sea. Half the day was spent walking among the birds, sea lions, tortoises, and iguanas. The rest was in theocean. Wehadtwoguideswithus,JoseandMaria.WenoticedthatJose refused to get into the water. Hearing Maria chastise him for “still being afraid,” we asked Jose what hadhappened.
Story by Gina and Scott Gaille
The Ex-Snorkeler’s Story
“We were snorkeling in the channel between Santa Cruz and Baltra, close to the airport when I saw boobies and other birds striking the water in the middle of the pass. I was with one of my guests, and I suggested we paddle over to watch the feeding birds.As we approached, we learned what was attracting the birds.
It was a bait ball—a concentrated swarm of fish packed into a spherical formation. The fish do this as a defensive mechanism when under attack. There were thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of fish in the school.
Theballwasjustbelowthesurface,withadiameterapproaching20meters.Wewereobservingitfromtheside.Thebirdswouldhit the water at high speed, leaving trails of bubblesbehindthem astheyrocketedinsearchofacatch.Thentheschoolshiftedin ourdirection,andwefoundourselvesrightontopofthebaitball.
On every side of us, birds were crashing into the water. It was crazy. I was floating on the surface with my face in the water, thoroughly enjoying the show. As I gazed down on the silver mass, a hole opened in its center. It was no longer a ball but a donut, and I could see straight into the deep blue below.
Then I saw something else coming through the hole toward me. It was the head of an enormous shark, its jaws wide open, heading straight up—nearly vertical in its ascent.
Everything slowed down then. It was as if time froze. I remembered a boy I had bullied in grade school. I thought about my mother. She had wanted me to come to dinner the night before, but I blew her off, opting instead to go drinking with friends in Puerto Ayora.
The last thing I saw was the shark’s jaws tearing through an unlucky tuna. Then its nose struck me squarely in the chest, stealing my breath. Everything went white at that point. I don’t remember what happened next."
"But I do," said his colleague, Maria. "I was in a nearby dinghy, watching the birds feeding. I was unaware of any danger until I saw Jose lifted completely out of the water. His whole body was balanced across the snout of a giant tiger shark.
"I turned on the engine and sped to them. In accordance with protocol, I rescued the guest first. He had not even seen the shark. Jose was not far away, floating on the surface. He was still moving but appeared to be in shock. He did not even raise his head as the boat approached. I had to pull on his wetsuit cable to get his attention."
"Maria helped me into the boat," said Jose, "and I was shivering, shaking. I couldn’t get warm."
"He hasn’t been in the ocean since," said Maria.