OPINION — John Steinbeck once said, “People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” Which makes me wonder how he managed to write some of my favorite books, like Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, and A Tale of Two Cities. But then, no one is eloquent all the time. John F. Kennedy once said, “I am a jelly donut.” Fortunately he said it in German. Unfortunately he said it to Germans.
Almost everyone likes to travel, but no one likes the inconvenience of traveling. Americans and Brits kind of see it as their right to go to other countries, visit famous venues, learn about the local cultures, and complain about the food and service. We want to travel the world, but we want it to be just like home, and when it’s not we like to whine about it. That way we can tell ourselves our lifestyle is superior to everyone else’s. Which it is.
But when you travel to foreign countries it’s a good idea to find out ahead of time what to expect. If someone had told me, before I went to Israel, I would have to choke down falafels every day, I might have planned ahead and taken along something else to eat that was a little more palatable, like a deck of cards, or a dead weasel.
We knew we were going to be eating Israeli food on that trip, so the falafels weren’t really a surprise. The surprise was how bad they tasted. Some folks expect to find authentic American food wherever they go, and then are astonished when they can’t. A website called constative.com put together a list of complaints from travelers who were underwhelmed with their foreign experiences, and food was at the top of the list of gripes.
One traveler wrote, “On our trip to India our son was terribly disappointed and our trip was ruined when he couldn’t get just a hamburger anywhere that we went. Someone should have informed us of what to expect before we went as we never would have gone in the first place.”
I have no idea whose responsibility it is to spoon-feed this person, but they definitely dropped the ball, there. Maybe on the next trip they’ll leave the sniveling, whiny brat at home with a freezerful of burgers. They’ll all be happier.
A visitor to Australia complained his soup was ‘too thick and strong.’ Soup is not the same everywhere, of course, but that wasn’t this guy’s problem. He was actually slurping the gravy. So there’s that.
Another food critic wrote to her travel agent, “We went to a Mexican restaurant in Rome and the waiter was Italian. You assured us Italy was the best place for an authentic food experience.” Don’t you hate it when you go to a foreign country and find the wrong foreigners there?
But most foreign countries contain foreigners. A traveler to Spain wrote, “There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us there would be so many foreigners.” Maybe Spain should advertise the fact it’s inhabited by Spanish folks, to cut down on such confusion.
But foreign food and foreign people aren’t the only problems on trips. Some folks seem to harbor unrealistic expectations for the environment they’ll be visiting. When this is the case, the issue is usually that the travelers want to spend time outdoors, but don’t have the most basic concept of what the outdoors contain. Such as bugs. Lots of bugs.
One person pointed this out. “There are bugs and stuff, and they will bite you on your face. 1/5 stars.” Pro tip: if you don’t want bugs to bite your face, leave it at home the next time you go outside. That’s what I do.
Another complained, “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitos.” It’s always irritating when the brochure doesn’t offer a detailed list of every species of plant, animal, and insect you might encounter on a trip.
This is especially a problem on beach outings, evidently. One beach-goer wrote, “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow, but it was white.” The gall. Another said, “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.” I know the feeling. It’s a pain when you go to a beach and there’s sand everywhere.
But sand isn’t the only beach problem. One Brit complained that, “They should warn you that the sun is brighter in Mexico than it is in England. I would have worn sun cream if I knew.” Maybe a map showing the location of the equator would have helped. Maybe not.
One of the biggest problems on any outdoor adventure, though, can be answering the call of nature. An intrepid traveler wrote, “We went on a canoe trip but were very disappointed that no one told us there would not be a bathroom on board. It was very inconvenient.” Just a hunch, here, but I’m thinking pretty much everything in life is inconvenient for this person.
I guess Steinbeck knew what he was talking about when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The trips of wrath are sour, indeed . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who never travels without leaving home. Write to him at [email protected]