Travels With My _________

I have done a fair amount of traveling, and most of that traveling has been done with other people.  For a variety of reasons, I simply do not find it very enjoyable to travel by myself.  I live an hour away from the Oregon coast or so, but I can count the times I have been to the coast on one hand [1].  In all of those cases, my trip to the beach was due to other people–whether Civil War reenactors at Fort Stevens, staying over a long weekend with some very close friends, or traveling with my mum when she was in town.  In general, that is how my travels go.  Although there are many beautiful things to see, I have little curiosity to see them alone.  As a solitary being, my interests are fairly mundane–reading, writing, listening to music, and eating, for the most part.  It is only in the presence of other people and in the company of other people that my life takes on interest to the wider world as a whole, and it is the company of others that allows for a great deal of what makes life worthwhile and interesting to me as well.

Some time ago I read Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt and found it to be one of his most delightful works, not least because the protagonist of the novel is someone I can readily identify with, a middle aged confirmed bachelor whose life is turned upside down by traveling with his aunt/mother.  As a person whose life is fairly staid as a general rule, I have found that travels have turned my own life upside down and perhaps that of others too.  I have also found that the quality of one’s travels depends in large respect on who you travel with.  The same journey can be very different depending on who you are around.  For example, when I lived in Thailand I normally took very nice buses between Chaing Mai and Mae Sai, where I read and watched movies and enjoyed a fine air-conditioned environment and company that was similar to myself.  One time, though, I traveled in the cheaper regular bus that most of our students traveled in, and became familiar with stops at every village and a diverse group of ordinary Northern Thai who brought their poultry on the bus.  The roads traveled were the same, but the experience was dramatically different.

It is quite striking the extent to which context effects our travels.  A trip over the Andes by bus is normally an enjoyable experience, but it is vastly less enjoyable when one is deeply sick with the flu, huddled in blankets, and is about to miss one’s flight from Santiago because the drive takes longer than expected due to a slow border crossing between Argentina and Chile.  A trip along the highways of rural Ghana is made more pleasant when one is able to keep two bored sisters from fighting with each other by teaching them how to communicate happily with hand puppets while one reads Naipaul.  Even normally unpleasant experiences like wandering or getting lost in places one is unfamiliar with can be enjoyable if one finds good restaurants to eat at or one finds the source of one’s “rebottled” water in a hotel coming from a rusty well.  There are many things that tourists are not meant to see and being someone who is interested in getting outside the beaten track can lead one to see at least some of the gulf that exists between a place as it is seen by cosseted tourists and that seen by its inhabitants.

Even so, recognizing this gulf can be dangerous.  If one takes an interest in the life of ordinary people in a given country, it is not too difficult to see how their lives are made more difficult by corruption and bad government.  As many travelers have found out to their cost, their own safety and enjoyment of travel can be dramatically lessened once they have seen the suffering state of the people one is seeing, and once one takes an interest in encouraging the betterment of that life.  Countries in general appreciate the money that comes from tourists, but in general they do not appreciate criticism or the encouragement of social change from those tourists.  No matter how much a country could use some dramatic political and social changes, the rulers and elites of that country are not going to appreciate those who push for such changes, and if foreigners are likely to be treated better than locals, it can be a hazardous and risky endeavor to point out the flaws and mistakes of one’s host country.  There seems to be on the part of countries an expectations that tourists will like what they see, spend plenty of money, and spare the criticism.  That makes traveling with people who are similarly adventurous and observant all the more important.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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