A few months ago, I dipped my toes into the shark infested waters of writing about bad parents and their offspring in a travel context. I certainly don’t want to rehash that argument, but one of the many comments made about the piece stuck with me and I’ve been pondering it ever since. No, it wasn’t one of the few hateful remarks, but one that just seemed completely out of place. I’m paraphrasing, but the reader lamented the fact that I was complaining about a certain part of the travel experience and instead I should continue writing about all of the great aspects of travel.
What a strange thing to say. Certainly travel is great, I’m a self-confessed addict after all, but it’s not all puppies and unicorns or even the rare, but undeniably cute, unipup. Travel can be hard, messy and sometimes a huge pain in the butt.
Pollyanna gets a passport
Anyone who has traveled internationally will surely remember when they got their first passport. I was 17 and I still remember standing in the county clerk’s line with my mother, eager to get my hot little hands on the strange little booklet that would transform my life. Our first travel experiences are like having sex for the first time. We don’t know what we’re doing and we go about it in entirely the wrong way. Over time, we learn, make mistakes and become a little jaded, which is a good thing. Every traveler needs to have a healthy amount of skepticism and cautiousness, it makes for a safer travel experience.
I don’t believe that people should approach the travel experience with fear, but a certain level of doubt is perfect.
Eye of the tiger
It is important to be smart and safe when on a trip, but generally this only comes as a result of bad experiences. No one wants to get robbed, but if it happens you surely will alter your behavior to make sure it doesn‘t happen again. Think of it as the travel version of social Darwinism. Those who do not learn to adapt will repeat their mistakes and ultimately stop traveling altogether. Those, however, who are smart enough to learn the error of their ways will go on to enjoy the travel experience that much more.
When I was in high school, my class took a trip to New York City. It was not my first time in the Big Apple, but it was my first non-parental adventure in the city. I suffered from, and still do to a degree, a certain level of gullibility. I would like to think it’s my natural tendency to believe the best in people, but maybe I’m just a dope. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised to find a card game on the streets of New York that looked so easy, there was no way I could lose. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, Three Card Monte. In less than 5 minutes I had lost all of my money. At the time, I was distraught and vowed to never return to New York again. In retrospect though, I realized the huge mistake I made and learned from it. I’ve been to New York countless times since, and have managed to avoid street gambling. Bad experiences on the road are awful at the time, but they almost always help us grow as a traveler.
Travel is impressionist, not paint by numbers
There are thousands of guidebooks, travel nonfiction and web sites each offering tips and advice to help you plan your travel experience. Leafing through these tomes, one can’t help but notice similarities between them, they each highlight the same sites and many times the same activities. Travel isn’t black and white though, it’s a very hazy, personal activity. There is no single right or wrong way to travel, no experience is necessarily better than another. Unlike a logic problem, following all of the steps in the guides will not guarantee you the trip of a lifetime. Only you, the traveler (or dare I say tourist) can do that. Each travel experience is unique and is defined by what we do correctly, and what we do wrong. Unless it leads to death or extreme injury, mistakes many times define the trip, making it more memorable and letting us know that we are alive. If every trip went off without any problems, what a boring, antiseptic experience it would be. Rather than stress over ticking the boxes off of your travel list, instead open your eyes and allow yourself to venture out and, yes, sometimes make mistakes.
So, to answer the reader who was saddened at my dip in the shallow pool of sarcasm and criticism, I hope I have responded to your concern. Travel is an enlightening process, for ourselves as well as for those around us. Like every other aspect of life though, it is not perfect and that’s ok. If it weren’t for the blemishes, there would be no such thing as a great travel experience.