Reading some of the popular travel literature, it is easy to think that travel is no fun without trials and tribulations. There are anthologies called Bad Trips and Vacations from Hell, which I neither endorse nor desire to read. Some writers go to great lengths to ensure there will be difficulties. I cynically (but perhaps accurately) wonder if they go off the beaten path not to encounter adventure but to create it. How could I ever visit southeast Asia without riding a chicken bus? Without acquiring intestinal worms or malaria?
Yes, perhaps if I had a vagabond’s year off work. But with the precious three weeks that lucky Americans are granted, chicken busses just don’t fly.
Heaven knows they cannot experience a country without getting on the wrong bus. I think I have only gotten on the wrong bus once in America, so why would I want to start trying that overseas.
Dare I say that the mark of a good traveler is knowing what one is getting into? Dare I say that the intelligent traveler has asked a reliable source which bus is the correct one? Dare I say that connecting with people instead of the internet may be a way to have a rewarding experience without resorting to travel mistakes?
Call me conservative, if you wish. In Laos, I met some nice strangers at a mixed bar. They offered to take us back to their home to watch illicit movies. My instincts (which so far have been pretty good, both at home and abroad) told me they were safe, that all was well. I don’t look like a wealthy foreigner. I didn’t have but a couple thousand kip to rob (and it would have been easier to rob me there.) But I didn’t want to take that chance. I didn’t see how watching illicit movies in a Communist country would be a prudent course of action, as my mother would say. I never learned what those illicit movies were about, so this ten-page story was shortened to ten sentences. But at least I get to write the story.
I don’t want to read about the man who climbed Mount Everest without mittens. Heck, I don’t want to read about climbing Mount Everest at all. It looks so cold. I do not want a frosty beard. I do not want my lips to fall off at 20,000 feet. I do not want scars.
There are some adventure books I would like to read. I loved reading about the bus trip from Washington DC to Antarctica by Andrew Evans for National Geographic Traveler. But I stopped reading before my butt started hurting in sympathy.
I could have more adventures by doing stupid things. There is a difference in throwing caution to the wind and throwing prudence to the wind. When I got off at the wrong train station, I waited for the next train instead of wandering down dark alleys. On purpose, I have never been to darkest Africa, darkest Asia, or even darkest Albany.
I have been offered drugs in Jamaica (no shock there), Hawai’i, and Prague, and I have turned them down on each occurrence. I like it when my trips have a happy ending. In none of these endings am I in jail.
I want to be taken on adventures when I read. I want to visit new places. I want new perspectives and exotic occurrences. I want to read about exotic cultures and foods. But when you do stupid things and your trip goes to crap, I don’t want to reward you for it. I want to take the trip away from you and give it to someone who will appreciate the experience.
That may mean I have fewer stories to share, but I’m alive to tell them.
(Full disclosure: I do have one bad trip story, but it’s more of an indictment of Amtrak than a travel disaster. Read it here.)
Read a great essay by John M. Edwards, “Bad Trips: The Art of Travail in Travel Writing” From Hackwriters.com.