Miss Traveling? How to Not Be a Douchebag When You Talk About It
A few tips for the reminiscent during quarantine (and after)
1.) What is the most boring place you’ve ever been? What is the most unremarkable place? The most familiar?
Without assigning judgment to places that someone else might love, just think of a place you don’t personally find particularly thrilling.
Before you tell your sooper-dooper exciting travel story, ask yourself if that same story would seem just as interesting if it took place in your own hometown. Or in a place you consider boring. Or too familiar.
If the story loses its luster the closer to home it gets perhaps the most interesting part of the story is just that you were excited to be somewhere new. If that’s the case, that’s fine too. But realize that that is the point of your story. And that’s okay. But be honest. Just tell your truth. “I’d never left my country before and it was so exciting to be immersed in another culture and hear languages that were new to me.”
Travel stories aren’t interesting just because they happened somewhere you don’t live. And traveling doesn’t automatically make us interesting. Humor does. Sincerity. Adventure. Surprise.
People love authenticity.
One of my well-traveled friends isn’t exactly honest. He is prone to two things: exaggeration and antagonism. He seemed to derive much of his identity from being the vagabond friend galavanting around the world and regaling his domestic friends with his wild tales — presuming that they found their own lives so oppressively boring that they were grateful to live through the vicarious thrill of his many-splendored stories. They weren’t. I saw lots of eye-rolling.
The more I listened to his stories the more I realized they were all an admixture formed from the same base element: I got super drunk in a foreign country. And some wild shit happened. That’s it. Nothing you couldn’t do at your hometown dive with a much smaller carbon footprint. But he fancied himself a swashbuckler. The country was always different, the people were always new but the constant was that he got on a plane, went somewhere, met some people, got drunk and good times were had.
I have never heard him tell a single story from his hometown. I have never seen him write online about anything interesting that happened or is happening where he actually lives.
2.) All the great travel writers say start at home. Great travel stories are about the stories, not the travel alone.
If you can’t find compelling characters and unexpected stories in your own town what makes you think going somewhere foreign-to-you will do more than just surprise or inspire you?
We oughta stop snubbing ourselves and the places that shaped us. With an open mind you’d be surprised how many of your friends, family, acquaintances, neighbors and coworkers have stories that would surprise you, humble you, inspire you or entertain you.
But if you keep that kind of ear open you will start to recognize great stories everywhere. You won’t have to chase them with plane tickets or exaggerate them stateside.
3.) Do you pause after you say the location? This one time, when I was in ________ … This can be a useful self-check to help you connect with your true motive in sharing the story. If you pause for effect after you name-drop a location you think is exotic perhaps you’re not so much talking about traveling as you are trying to impress people.
When I was in elementary school we had some kind of penpal program that connected us with other kids in our own school.
But the point was likely to help us practice syntax, communication, and penmanship.
I was paired with a girl a grade behind me named Brianna. I don’t remember how often I wrote her but I do remember the week I learned the phrase “out of town”. My family and I were taking a weekend jaunt to somewhere familiar but “out of town” sounded so exciting and glamorous I wanted to share it with anyone who might think I was, in turn, exciting and glamorous. So I wrote to my penpal, snail mail, to let her know she probably wouldn’t be hearing from me because I was going to be … out of town. Be impressed. Be very impressed.
Never mind that I almost certainly got back before she even received the letter. The real point of my titillating third-grade communiqué was to show off.
4.) Do I listen to other people’s travel stories with the same enthusiasm that I enjoy from my listeners? Do I let them have the floor or do I use each of their stories to transition back to one of my own adventures?
If you’re not as fascinated by other people’s travel stories as much as you are by your own perhaps you’re more interested in yourself than in traveling.
Your friends’ adventures should fill you with curiosity and excitement — joy that they were able to explore and experience the adventures they chose for themselves and an eagerness to hear about the nooks and crannies of their exploration. What was the Bone Church really like? Were the Ruin Pubs as eerily cool as they sound?
This is certainly not to say that you can’t compare notes and share experiences. But step back and look at yourself objectively to see if you’re sharing experiences or hijacking someone else’s.
5.) If someone changes the subject or it naturally drifts to another topic don’t throw out the lifeline and try to haul it back on the raft. Let it go.
Years ago on a road trip back from Loon Lake with friends, we were all admiring the tranquility of the water, and the postcard-perfect lushness all around it. It reminded me of a serene island in the middle of Lake Baringo in Kenya.
I didn’t know lakes had tides. But on Kokwa Island you can fall asleep to the sound of the rain falling on the lake while the waves lap the rocks and the shore. It is across the way from Teddy Bear Island, so named because it looks exactly like a teddy bear lying on its side, napping in the middle of the lake.
I wanted to share this story with my fellow nature-lovers and kind of awkwardly non-sequitur-ed it into the conversation.
And then out of the clear blue nowhere a bald eagle swooped low closer to the water and was unbelievably flying alongside the car, some 50 feet parallel to us. My friend gasped and pointed it out. We couldn’t believe it. I stopped talking while we watched. For lack of a less hackneyed word, it was majestic. He flew next to us for at least a minute. Just another camper heading back after the weekend. It was surreal.
But that majestic sky beast interrupted my story. And I wanted to bring it back. So I rolled that metaphorical boulder into the middle of the metaphorical road and finished my story about the lake waves of Kokwa Island and no one was terribly interested.
I know in my heart of hearts that I was trying to share something beautiful I had the joy of experiencing in the natural world. I also knew it might just sound like pointless bragging. But I tried anyway.
No matter how deferentially you framework your gratitude for the freedom and ability to travel, sometimes it can still just come across as clunky bragging.
6.) Don’t tell people, “you have to go to _____.”
a. Unless you know someone well enough to know what their travel preferences and travel goals are, try just asking people what’s on their bucket list or what their favorite travel memories are.
b. Whether you are intimately aware of someone’s personal finances or not, remember that money is a very personal topic. Traveling costs money. So instead of telling people where you think they simply have to go/would love to go, ask them where they would love to return to. I’m always curious if people love a place enough to return to, or, with time and money constraints, if they’d rather explore the next potential new favorite. It’s always insightful to watch people weigh those pros and cons.
Quarantine is hard on the soul and memories are as good for your spirit as they are for your imagination. So when the conversation turns to travel, as it has a lot during lockdown, just remember to take everyone else's spirit and imagination into consideration too.