The Year Of Living Vicariously

August 13, 1999

Someday I’m going to travel to exotic and faraway places.

In the meantime, though, I get by reading travel literature. I’m a travel-story addict. And I’ve learned a lot not only about the world but also about the fine art of travel writing, an art that delicately balances fact and fiction, although the delicacy of the balance depends on how much the writer is being paid. Here are a few of the most important rules of travel writing:

  1. No matter where you go, always go on a whim. This will really irritate people who, even if they were to buy their tickets a decade in advance, still could not afford that dream trip to Bora Bora. But never mention that "whim" is travel writer code for "company expense account." A travel writer’s whims are not only paid for by someone else, they’re also tax-deductible.

  2. If you’re in an especially exotic place ("exotic" is defined as "no four-star hotels") mention over and over again that you speak the local language, be it Ibo, Tamil, Sinhalese, or Tonga. Make it very clear that anyone not able to speak either the local language or French will never have the exciting and fulfilling experience you’re writing about.

  3. If it rained the whole time and you were stuck in your hotel room with a tropical disease, make the airport sound like the most incredible place in the country. Then spend your last night in the hotel bar talking to people who have just arrived and base your article on what they plan to do.

  4. If you’re a guy and staying on a tropical island or peninsula, make sure you spend at least one night drinking with a tourist from another country. For example, if you’re from the United States and you’re in New Guinea, find a Canadian and buy him drinks on a whim. Be sure to mention that he was crude, barbaric, and rude to the locals, and that you quietly disapproved of his behavior.

  5. I have no advice for women travel writers. Or married travel writers. According to travel magazine stories, only single men travel.

  6. When writing a "travel on a budget" piece, don’t mention that you only visited the hostel or tent where you claim to have slept. Do, however, mention the lack of toilets, the holes in the roof (if there’s a roof), and the foot-long rats. This will discourage anyone who really thinks they can see Brazil on fifty cents a day.

  7. When writing about travel anywhere in Western Europe, Greece, or Australia, don’t mention historical landmarks, museums, or local points of interest. The focus of your story should be nightclubs. Be sure to mention what a fabulous dancer you are.

  8. The exception to the above rule is Amsterdam. People travelling to Amsterdam might be pleasantly surprised to find there’s a Van Gogh museum they can visit in between smoking dope at a cafe and cruising for hookers in the Red Light District.

  9. The only reason to visit Africa is to do something idiotic like crossing the Sahara on a dune buggy. According to travel writers, there is really nothing interesting in Africa. This is because nightclubs are not very common there.

  10. The life of the travel writer is one of perpetual, albeit mandatory, vacations. So even if your "vacation" is in some stinking backwater hellhole, remember that your trip is being at least partly financed by a travel agency that makes its money by selling package deals to people who want to visit this hellhole. Make the best of it because, if you screw up badly enough, the next hellhole may be your permanent destination.

Button slogans

  • Well, this day was a total waste of make-up.

  • Make yourself at home! Clean my kitchen

  • Who are these kids and why are they calling me Mom?

  • Don’t bother me, I’m living happily ever after.

  • Do I look like a freakin’ people person?

  • This isn’t an office–it’s Hell with fluorescent lighting.

  • I started out with nothing & still have most of it left.

  • I pretend to work. They pretend to pay me.

  • I’ve found Jesus. He was behind the sofa the whole time. (No doubt scared to death.)

  • If I throw a stick, will you leave?

  • You! Off my planet!

  • Therapy is expensive. Popping bubble wrap is cheap! You choose.

  • Bottomless pit of needs and wants

  • If I want to hear the pitter patter of little feet, I’ll put shoes on my cat.

  • Does your train of thought have a caboose?

  • Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.

  • And just how may I screw you over today?

  • And your crybaby whiny-assed opinion would be . . .?

  • A PBS mind in an MTV world.

  • Allow me to introduce my selves.

  • Whisper my favorite words: "I’ll buy it for you."

  • Better living through denial.

  • Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.

  • Suburbia: where they tear out the trees & then name streets after them.

  • Adult child of alien invaders.

  • Do they ever shut up on your planet?

  • I’m just working here ’til a good fast-food job opens up.

  • I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.

  • A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.

  • Mall whore: I can suck the numbers right off your credit cards

  • Don’t worry. I forgot your name, too!

  • Adults are just kids who owe money.

  • I work 40 hours a week to be this poor.

  • You say I’m a bitch like it’s a bad thing.

  • Macho law forbids me from admitting I’m wrong.

  • Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?

  • Chaos, panic, & disorder–my job here is done.

  • A woman’s favorite position is CEO.

  • Everyone thinks I’m psychotic, except for my friends deep inside the earth.

  • Is it time for your medication or mine?

  • Does this condom make me look fat?

  • Earth is full. Go home.

  • I plead contemporary insanity.

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