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Jessa CrispinBack to OpinionJessa Crispin

Graham Greene: Patron saint of bad travel

Bad travel is the worst. It’s not just that you’re far away from home, away from the people you love and your comforting routines and surroundings. It’s the expectation. There was your own anticipation, the planning, the excitement, that has now led to this. And there are the expectations of the people back home. They are going to want funny anecdotes, and pictures of your smiling face on a beach somewhere, damn it. Maybe you were mugged, got sick, had a total language breakdown, lost your money, had your heart broken, whatever. So what are you going to tell them? “Well, there was that day when I spent eight hours in the bathtub crying”?

Graham Greene is the patron saint of bad travel. He understands. His travel books, “Journeys Without Maps” and “The Lawless Roads,” are filled with Mr. Greene having a really bad time. There is the time he tried to ride through the Mexican jungle on a donkey without any water. Or the time he had to sleep with the lights on because the scurrying of giant insects when the light was switched off was too terrifying. Or the times he just throws a fit after being sick to death of snakes or bad water or uncomfortable beds or rude travel companions. He’s a professional! And he understands that sometimes you just can’t pull it together, suck it up, smile through it. Sometimes you have to yell or cry, or at the very least drink pink gins until you forget about it. Even he doesn’t just brave his way through it. From “The Lawless Roads”:

You couldn’t live in a country in a state of preparedness for the worst — you drank the water and you went down to bathe in the little
stream barefooted across the grass in spite of snakes. Happy the people who can learn the lesson; I could follow it for a couple of days and then it went, and caution returned — the expecting the worst of human nature as well as of snakes, the dreary hopeless failure of love.

But he also understands why we go again anyway, even when we feel we barely made it back from that last trip alive. You don’t always have to come back with, “Oh everything was wonderful” to have had an experience worth having. After all, “Seediness has a very deep appeal.” And his travel books are chock full of information on how to survive the bad times, from what books to read when things go wonky (Elizabeth Bowen is a favorite of his), to the advice, when things seem horrible, to try to stick it out overnight, because “it is curious how the most dismal place after 24 hours begins to seem like home.”

All berating yourself for not having a good enough time is going to do is drive you back into the bathtub. Best to pray to Graham Greene for a little guidance, and gather the courage needed to walk out your front door again.


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  • CKCH

    Wow. It’s like I am him and he is me. I am addicted to traveling, yet every time I do it, it almost kills me. And when I come back, I can’t wait to head out to my potential death once more!

  • Virginia

    I am laughing as I read the article – in a scary local hotel in rural Malawi I had the experience with leaving the lights on to discourage the crawling bugs from making an appearance. My grass roots travels are a mix of delights and dilemmas (that turn into wonderful stories that make my friends laugh and consider me brave and funny). Thanks for the great start to my day and a book to add to my wish list!
    In Sunny Santa Fe

  • Natalie Freitas

    I have learned, never expect anything specific. Always be open for endless possibilities and you can never really be disappointed. Expect absolutely anything! Shit happens, its all an experience! Just try not to die!

  • Sharon Stewart

    Read anything by GG – the penultimate Catholic – and you’re strapped into your seat on the rollercoaster and your soul will be bared and you will be held accountable, so adventure at your own risk because you will own the experience. His literature should be on the required reading lists of high school students; dig deep.

  • laughing pony gina

    What a hoot I love G.G stories, so humorous, so wonderful, yes on my wish list too.

  • allenwrench

    Travel is good for you. It is hard work many a times and requires much brain work to get to destinations.

    Changing our surroundings is especially good for old people and keeping their brain in shape. If you have the money, travel while the crude oil is still free flowing. All those jets run on kerosene which is a derivative of crude.

    Here is a highly recommended movie on tough travel. Also check out some of Alby Mangles films.

    “Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt”–”You can run away as far as you like but you’ll never get away from yourself.” ~ Horace