I travel therefore I get into messes

People do not tell the truth about our travels.

We really don’t.

It is certainly not my assertion that we lie outright or that we mislead others through the invention of events that didn’t occur. No… that’s not at all what I mean.

I am writing, rather, about the very human tendency to omit those encounters and experiences that annoyed us to no end and which, upon reflection (most often occurring over the blogger’s keyboard) are perceived as likely to detract from the loveliness of our travel tale.  I am referring, here, to the too-lumpy mattress, the missed connecting flight after 18 hours of travel, the “Superior” room about which the only superior aspect is the view of a Thai garbage dump, the shock and attendant sadness of being served a microwaved meal in a restaurant in Florence or the unprecedented squabbling that broke out between you and you partner when you became lost in Venice.  In the rain.

Stories of discomfort and woe are so infrequently shared that I sometimes wonder if travel, in this respect, is like childbirth. My mother says that the moment I was born, she forgot about the pain. (Hmmmm?)

Talking and writing about travel often involve the re-shaping of the truth. A re-construction. A revision, if you will. (Let’s try not to be too judgmental here; historians have been revising history since the beginning of time.) Many people have a desire to present a picture of our perfect family on a harmoniously perfect holiday in a perfectly picturesque destination.

Poppycock, I say.

To travel is to encounter annoying crap.  Banging your shins against obstacles, small and large, should be included in the very definition of travel.  I’m no Pollyanna and I’m certainly not endorsing polite passivity in the face of being seriously ripped off but if you are looking for an experience that does not challenge you and push you past your limits, I would suggest staying in your pajamas in your own apartment.  (I’m not being judgmental about that either for that’s precisely what I’ve done for the past week and it was glorious fun!)

So why do we tell only the best parts of our travel adventures?
1. To justify the expenditure of time and money to ourselves
2. To impress others with our flawless life and travels
3. The perception that editing out the rough bits makes for a better blog post. (If I write about the hard things, will my readers think I’m negative/spoiled/ungrateful and unsubscribe?)
4. If we wrote about all of our good and bad moments on the road then we would be writing, essentially, about our entire vacation. We’d have to tweet it – like we were at a conference. The blog post of our beach weekend would take 48 hours to read.
5. We believe that other people’s obstacles are boring; only our own are truly interesting.  (I would argue that this inaccurate perception could be rectified through good writing!)

I think it would be better for all of us if we wrote, from time to time, about a travel obstacle that we’ve encountered and how we responded in the face of that challenge. I think it would be better for all of us if travel bloggers kept it slightly more real and acknowledged this fundamental truth about traveling:

I travel therefore I get into messes.

Why do you think so many bloggers leave off the tough stuff?  What’s an obstacle that you’ve encountered while traveling.  How did you handle it?


  1. or the vicious sting ray attack I suffered at Puerto Vallarta on Christmas Eve which certainly wrecked my xmas and all subsequent travel plans…….happy New Year!!

  2. Personally, my favorite (fiction) travel book of all time is "are you experienced" about a guy who goes backpacking in India to get into some girl's pants. He hates EVERYTHING about India: the heat, the people, the food, the other backpackers, the gurus, the people following gurus, yoga, EVERYTHING. It's absolutely hilarious, and is the one book that cheered me up when I was having a horrible time on my first trip to Thailand.As to why people don't tell the truth…I think it's partly because, as you say, times blurs our memories. Also, I sometimes post negative things on Thailand on my blog, along with positive things, but I always get so much criticism from other expats when I do, I think there's something similar with travel. that people, especially people who see travel as big part of their identity, feel like if they say anything bad about their trip, people will think less of them as a "traveller" (like "oh, you can't handle it, you're not a real traveller" etc etc)Personally I hate travelling and when I'm travelling I mostly have an awful time … it's just that occasionally you experience that one sparkling moment of beauty or perfection or grace, and it redeems all the parts that sucked before, kind of like climbing your way up a painful mountain and getting your first glimpse of the breathtaking view at the summit, all of the world laid down below you…and all of the tribulations of the climb are forgotten.

  3. Once we missed our flight from Korea to Japan and had to buy another ticket and miss a day of work.Once we got sick (we think from food) while on a plane and then got re-routed to another city and were forced to spend the night. Thank goodness the airline bought us separate rooms because we spent all night on our respective bathroom floors.I've been stuck at airports tired and lonely and in tears every time I couldn't get on the next flight.I don't know why we don't share these details as easily as the fun, romantic parts of traveling. For me personally, I think I sometimes don't share those things because people from home already think I'm crazy for doing the things I do. So, I try to 'sell' them the idea that travel is great. But, I should be honest. It IS great, and it is sometimes frustrating and annoying.Here's to a great travel year in 2011! 🙂

  4. You have a really good point, Monna. I think I tend to leave out the bad parts on the blog because I want the beautiful photos to go with a beautiful description and I don't want to hate on a city. But in person, I love to tell the nasty and memorable parts when things went wrong. For me, the worst experiences are always traveling. Whether its on a bus, boat, or train. We tend to seek out the cheapest ways to get around, and always end up with quite the experience.

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