Homesickness is a malady with only one known cure. Going home. But sometimes the circumstances are against you. When that happens, people can resort to some pretty bizarre schemes to get themselves back where they long to be.
At age 19, an unhappy Brian Robson was working in Melbourne, Australia but sorely pining for his native Wales. He was so eager to get home, in fact, he had himself loaded into a crate so his friends could use Air Mail to get him home to Cardiff.
Back in 1964, Robson had signed on for an assisted immigration program. His expenses were paid by the Australian government and in return, he was committed to a two-year gig with Victorian Railways.
Robson regretted the deal almost immediately, but if he didn’t live up to the contract, he’d be obligated to pay back close to £800 in travel fees spent getting him there.
Not having that kind of money, Robson and two of his work buddies, Paul and John, hatched a “top secret” plan of simply mailing him home.
Paul typed up the appropriate freight paperwork and the trio secured a 3’x 3’ x 2’ wooden crate and made sure it had air holes in it so Robson could breathe.
He curled up inside the box with only a bottle of water, an empty bottle (“for obvious reasons”), a pillow, hammer, flashlight, and a small bag, and thought he was settling in for a 36-hour journey to the UK—but the trio didn’t consider what would happen if the crate were put on the wrong flight.
After nailing the lid closed, his sidekicks marked the box “FRAGILE” and “THIS SIDE UP”— but, as many of our best-laid plans, the box would soon take a major detour.
Robson soon found himself being handled with anything but care. The three-day trip turned into a marathon five-day odyssey, 24 excruciating hours of which, he spent upside down.
As the grueling ordeal wore on, Robson considered calling it quits, but in the end, decided to soldier on. “I played with the idea for a few seconds and convinced myself, Look, you’ve done all this. You cannot embarrass yourself now. You’re going ahead with it and that’s it,” Robson told the host CBC’s As It Happens.
When the mostly-numb Robson finally landed, he thought he was in London, but actually had been routed to Los Angeles, where he shined the beam of his flashlight through the hole, alerting a worker.
Although severely dehydrated and pretty banged up, when he was released from the confines of his crate, Robson was delighted to have survived the journey.
Airport workers wondered what to do in the bizarre situation and called in many U.S. officials, but after hearing Robson’s tale of homesick blues, the teen was quickly sent home—only this time, as a first-class passenger courtesy of Pan American Airline.
“The Americans, the FBI, the CIA, and everything else, they were brilliant. I mean, I fell in love with America, because I’ve never been treated so well,” told Off. “Everybody there really looked after me. And they just thought, Oh, it’s this silly kid getting himself into trouble.”
Once home, Robson’s epic story did receive its share of press, but he refused to reveal the names of his accomplices because he didn’t want to get them in trouble. Now, however, with the debut of a book chronicling his adventures—cleverly called The Crate Escape, now on Kindle and hitting shelves soon—Robson believes that statute of limitations has likely expired on anything criminal, and he’d love to get back together with his old mates to swap tales.
The trouble is, he can’t remember his buddies’ last names, or where they come from in Ireland. He had written to his Irish mates, who were the same age as Robson, but never heard back.
Hopeful for a reunion, he told the BBC, “If I met them again, I’d just like to say that I’m sorry I got them into this and that I missed them when I came back—and I’d like to buy them a drink.”
While shipping yourself home in a crate is certainly not a recommended mode of travel, the same year that Robson stowed away as cargo, an Australian who was stranded in London pulled off the stunt in reverse.
Following an unsuccessful Olympic tryout, Reg Spiers had his wallet stolen, so enlisted the help of a friend to mail him home. In a slightly larger box than Robson’s, with interior straps to keep him secure, he suffered only one brutal layover in Mumbai, before arriving in Perth 36 hours later.