Last week I was sitting at a table in our resort room in Mui Ne, Vietnam, relaxing in my t-shirt and shorts as the sun crept down the horizon. The doors to the expansive terrace were open, and from my seat I could see palm trees, the roofs of the seaside village’s many hotels and guesthouses, and just beyond that, the wind-whipped sea. The setting was idyllic and I sipped from a glass of 333 Beer with a fresh lime squeezed and floating inside. My wife lay on the bed next to me, attempting to master the latest game on her smart phone (something about ordering servants to grow corn and water your magic mushrooms), and the ocean air blew through the white walled space, making everything smell salty, clean, and good. At that particular moment, I was a content man.
What was most amazing, however, was the scene unfolding on the laptop screen in front of me (I’ve turned my smart phone off for this particular trip, but am still not immune to the allure of sexy technology when on the road in the tropics). I was chatting on a certain social media site with several friends of mine: Two were in Korea, one was in Miami, I was in Vietnam, and the other was floating on a riverboat, somewhere in that great muddy delta that makes up much of the nation of Bangladesh. That’s right: BanglaFUCKINGdesh.
Even so, rather than use the amazing power of this technology to improve the world and our lives as a result, we instead seized the opportunity to insult each other and make dick jokes. Hooray for the modern age.
My friend who was chatting from his berth on a Bengali riverboat was my old travel companion (before I got married and had to fire him)—the guy who I had come to Vietnam with the first time some eight years before. Back then we chose Vietnam because it seemed pretty cool, off-the-path and hard, compared to overvisited Thailand, at least. But things had changed. He described his time in Bangladesh up that point, using words like “insane”, “full-on”, and “mental”. His companions and he were going up river, straight into the heart of darkness in a country that sees almost zero tourism. I am told that the country is so bereft of visitors that it’s impossible to even buy a post card. I read on with a bit of traveler’s envy as I tasted the real adventure that he was embarking on. And here I was, in a beautiful room, cold drink in hand, feeling very pampered, soft, and ordinary. Vietnam, once so exotic, now seemed old hat. I may as well been on Waikiki beach in Oahu, sipping a Blue Hawaiian and watching the hula show.
Now this trip is my honeymoon, and I would never have traded places to be sweating on a mosquito-infested riverboat with severe dysentery being a very likely fate somewhere along the trip. I was with my gorgeous wife and happy to be where I was, but I felt my pulse quicken as I read my friend’s reports and felt my traveler’s dick shrivel a bit.
Travel is often compared to a drug, and though doing so risks sounding clichéd, the analogy is a strong one. Traveling, like mind or mood altering substances, is often exhilarating, gives you a rush, and can be absolutely addictive. And like drugs, the more you do, the bigger dose you require to hit that special receptor in the brain—the place that felt so good the first time.
Your first big travel experience is kind of a gateway trip, and often you feel like you have to outdo yourself in subsequent adventures. Maybe you bust your cherry by touring Europe. After that you try Thailand, and then decide to get crazier with Indonesia. Then it’s India, and Nepal, and then you go harder—into the ‘Stans of Central Asia—until that’s not enough, so you head to Africa, hitchhiking your way from Cairo to the Cape. What may seem like an alien world to some back home is now just routine, and you chase out the less-visited, the more dangerous, the more extreme. That is why my friend is in Bangladesh right now, and I get it completely.
As for me? I’m on my honeymoon and loving it, though I hope to think that we’ve chosen a bit more adventurous route than some. After all, we are currently in Cambodia, and even in relatively genteel Siem Reap, if we stray from the path at any time we could step on a landmine and be blown apart. Thrilling, isn’t it?
Barring that, I think we’ll hit Syria next trip, but only if the civil war is still on.