Why having a terrible travel experience makes you a better person

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 28 May 2014

Go on, have a terrible travel experience. It’ll make you more likeable. At the very least it makes your dreary, long-winded, soporific holiday monologue bearable.

The leather sleeping bag


There’s nothing quite so nauseating as listening to someone regale you with the details of their unadulterated vacation. I recently fell victim to such an ordeal. My neighbour flapped on about his honeymoon in Paris, replete with punctual flights, impeccable transfers, five-star cuisine and hotel service ‘wrung from royalty’. I had to force myself into a daze for self-preservation. As I drifted off, Captain Flappy Gums spluttered and shuddered, finally morphing into a sludgy creature of such grotesque opulence that he no longer looked human. The hallucination had just about taken the form of Jabba the Hutt operating a garbage disposal in reverse when it retched up one magical sentence: ‘On the last day, our taxi took a wrong turn and we missed our flight. It was terrible.’ Immediately, it snapped me out of my reverie. I wanted to know more.

It made me think of The Yage Letters by William S Burroughs, in which a beatnik drug-obsessed Burroughs travels through Panama, Columbia and Peru in search of the most mysterious and powerful of natural hallucinogens, the ultimate fix: a magical shrub called yage, or ayahuasca. He has the absolute worst time. He’s conned by medicine men, incarcerated by the law, rolled by a hustler and even manages to get lost in the jungle while stupendously high. It’s an almost unbelievable succession of life handing lemon after lemon to the poor bloke. But it’s a great story. Why? Because having a bad time is endearing. It reminds us that we are essentially like one another; we all suffer similar things and we all laugh at the same things. When it comes to travel, enduring adverse circumstances is also a rite of passage. Early travellers earned their right to be in a country because they didn’t circumvent the uncomfortable customs. There was simply no other way.

Nowadays it’s more difficult to have a bad time. The modern travel industry is literally geared to serving you up a better time. Gone are the long pilgrimages and scurvy-ridden cruises. All we have left is lost luggage, flat tyres, pickpockets … and economy class. Displeasures like these should not be dodged. For example, if you visit India to ‘find yourself’ in a revelation of turbans but don’t suffer the indecency of Delhi belly, then you’re cheating. Perhaps you avoided being robbed by an individual of questionable gender while on holiday in Thailand? I don’t want to hear it. You might as well not have gone. You went to Disney World and weren’t sat on by a rotund American after a hot-dog dispute? You just missed the best ride they have! Similarly, telling me you spent your honeymoon eating hors d’oeuvres in a silk gown while having your toes manicured at the Hotel Le Meurice does not make me ask, ‘What happened next?’ It just makes you sound like a douche. The point is, there are lemons out there. Let travel hand them to you, make it into lemonade and watch everyone sip on it contently as you captivate them with a dazzling account of your last holiday. That said, if, like Burroughs, life hands you lemons while you’re lost in a jungle on the hunt for your next big fix, maybe you should stop taking drugs. Because life doesn’t really have hands, now does it?

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