“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
If I had a dollar for every “helpful” armchair travel comment – that’s “helpful” in theatrically exaggerated air quotes – offered, I’d be, er, several dollars better off prior to our departure in February for a lap of the globe. No big deal, you say aloud: human nature. People simply offering their opinions. Yessss, but… It’s the nature of the “helpfulness” that has become oddly specific, ever fascinating, really rather amusing and thus the subject of this missive. Keep the advice coming folks.
I’m genuinely flattered that people are taking an interest in our travels and – as you might imagine – happy to share our plans with the curious. Every time I do this I feel a little more relaxed, as it sounds like a better and better idea. After all, it’s just a series of back-to-back holidays. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Ah. Hmmm. The answer is – apparently – heaps. Heaps and heaps. There are moments when it seems our plan for fun, horizon broadening, mind expanding travel are – according to the advisor de jour – akin to engaging on a quest for certain familial doom. [Cut to courtroom scene] “And I put it to you ladies and gentlemen of the jury that THIS MAN is guilty, m’lud, of taking his family on a reckless quest that could only ever end badly. He can’t say that no-one warned him… they’d read something sensational in the Daily Mail about someone’s leg getting severed buying an ice cream in Kota Kinabalu and told him all about it without hardly any massive exaggeration/error.” Luckily, the same “very helpful” armchair travel advisors are keen to pre-warn of booby-traps that await us at every turn. Bless them.
Now is the moment where I thank everyone for their two cents. (Stop heckling about how ungrateful he is at the back.) We have doubtless had some quite brilliant insights/tips from some seriously switched on travellers, ex-natives, residents, corporate road warriors and global gypsies who have not only got the T-shirt but in one case, written several books on it. Thankyou-thankyou-thankyou. (I like to think you know who you are.) Actively, we have sought advice from many sources. Passively we are constantly receiving input from the never-left-town adventurer.
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
John Le Carre
If one were to rely on TripAdvisor, the blogosphere, (heaven forfend) the media and good ol’ historical print then would anyone travel? It’s a jungle out there dammit. You’d have to be out of your mind to pop to the shops, let alone swap continents. Imagine all the hideous traps awaiting the traveller: from evil criminal minds to venomous creatures to tropical tempests. They are ALL out to get you. ALL. OF. THEM. Clearly I am writing this from the broom cupboard with the door barricaded from the inside: you can never be too safe. Praise be for wireless as I can now be terrified via my browser without actually going anywhere.
It’s of constant surprise how people respond to actual risk, perceive risky situations and deal with, er, what they perceive to be risk. How about an example? Let’s start in India (where I’ve spent months safely backpacking). Full of seasonal fayre we were watching the BBC TopGear team being oafish blokes (in the name of telly ratings) over when it became apparent that others in the room were regarding a visit to the Subcontient akin to a death-wish. [Cue horrified question] “You’re not going to travel by bus are you?” Feeling my brow furrow and hackles raise I chose to detach from the moment and “live” their point of view. (It wasn’t easy as my first thought in connection with bus travel is not certain death.) Sure, you can’t lie about statistics, right? I mean, the very thought?! Yes, yes, the roads are more dangerous in India. No, the average motor vehicle isn’t crammed with airbags… And yet, millions of journeys take place every day without incident across India. Many millions of people have an okay time without bothering the grim reaper.
Since you asked, no. No, the folk in question have never been to India. Before you scoff, try this on for size: they’d like to. That just about bakes my noodles. It’s a “dangerous place” they bay, inferring you must be mad. Then, in the next breath: “we should go.” Eh? They also consider unrestrained kids – mine – riding around in the back of a rickety old trailer tethered to a pensionable Volvo at speed down mud-slickened country lanes as a fun pursuit. As a rationalist, it knocks me sideways that the riskiness of the trailer ride is overlooked, whereas a trip on public transport in India strikes terror. If you are a theoretical statistician, feel free to let me know which is riskier. Though for the record, I really wanted to have a go in the trailer: it looked like a blast.
As we’re visiting India, we’ve been heavily advised. As above, numero uno was not to go on a bus. Full stop: no buses. Then don’t eat anything, natch. Prepare to be eaten alive indoors and out at night. We are – of course – girding loins at the prospect of using any loo. This is before/during/after being massively ripped off by everyone and spending twenty-seven years at passport control. Don’t go up to a Hill Station, don’t come down. I could go on.
As we move on to Singapore, we are advised that a drink in Raffles costs several million pounds, having saliva in your digestive system is punishable by death, the airport is bigger than Paris and it’s terminally hot. Can’t wait!
The fun really begins in Borneo. Apparently. This – it seems – is where opinions become exquisitely divided. Those who’ve been are enraptured and have given some great tips. Those who haven’t are either jealous or horrified. The horrified are great value to press on the topic as their view is of hacking through jungle beset by leaches, hunted by fellows with bones through their noses without a prayer of catching up on the Premiership scores whilst being gnawed at by a ravenous Komodo Dragon. (One that has popped over from Indonesia for lunch presumably.) I – for what it’s worth – am looking forward to my first leech bite: I will endure it with pride and stride forth with a leech shaped badge of honour. In reality I will most likely squeal like a girl and my daughter will roll her eyes like a grown up. (Actual travel tip from an expert: if you find a leech about your person, get it off. Don’t wait for it to finish its dinner.) As Malaysian Borneo is not entirely a tourist mecca, I am even more boyishly excited to go and view naysayers protestations as hilarious.
Australia? Curiously attracting little advice other than remembering to pack twice as much budget as you had intended. I can see my credit cards quivering from here. To my mind, the whole bitey-spiders-under-the-loo-seat warning was aching to come out, but no. Is it because Ant & Dec, Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee have made it all too familiar? I promise to savour the irony should I survive India & Borneo only to be eaten by a shark whilst I wax my surfboard on Bondi beach.
New Zealand? Little “helpful” advice offered aside from the corker: “What’s the point? It’s just like Scotland.” I shall send a postcard if I concur.
By the time we’re in Hawaii, the risk shoe is on the other foot. As a (laughable) surfer, everyone expects me to ride the giants of the North Shore. Are they MENTAL? I get terrified when the spin-drier gets hold of me on the Gower in a 4′ beach break. I expect little more than to pay homage to the real men who surf the Pacific from the safety of the beach car park. [Cut to video of baldy Welshman in Wayne’s World “We’re not worthy” mode.]
Last stop California. Home of Hollywood hype and no helpful advice at all. Don’t these people watch the movies? TV shows? It’s all laid bare in CSI so they don’t have to tell us I s’pose.
Then we fly home and flying – despite what’s easily proven otherwise – is the big comment generator. Not so much advice as doom mongering. So much so that I am wondering if being terrified should be my modus operandi. I really enjoy flying – hate aiports – and always have.
I look forward to proving Aldous Huxley right and already agree with Le Carre. I shall leave the last word to Mr Twain.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.”