The seven deadly sins of travel
Travel broadens the mind - and possibly indulges some of our worst traits, as these writers reveal.
I met a traveller in an antique land, who said: "I'm only on Facebook to show off to those bastards at home." It seemed like an ugly statement at first but, well, aren't we all?
I'm proud to tell you that this happened in Guayaquil, Ecuador, just before I flew to the Galapagos (prouder), a few months after being in Antarctica (proudest) in the middle of an 18-month round the world trip (umm, what's beyond proudest?).
Backpacking is essentially an international arms race in pride. You feel smug compared to the people you've left schlepping in the office, and when you meet other travellers, too often it degenerates into a boasting exchange. Where have you been? What did you do? Where are you going ...? And most importantly: how does it compare to what I've done?
Personally, if I met a boastful backpacker, I always had some aces up my sleeve with which to shoot them down. "Oh you went to Siem Reap? What hostel did you stay in?" They'd ask. "Hostel? Oh no, I stayed in Raffles," I'd say with faux modesty, "I was writing a thing, you see ..." Of course I'd edit out the part about how after the free nights dried up I had to move to a $3-a-night hostel.
Even after several years as a travel writer, the cruise to Antarctica (also on a series of commissions) was a stern test of my credentials. I may travel for work, but the majority of the people on board were 30 years older than me - and generally very wealthy. They'd been around.
However, I was part of a tiny group which, when we made landfall, was able to pose for a photo with a sign that simply said: "Seven." We lucky few had been to every continent on Earth. I was 27 years old. Pride overload.
Just as I took my place at the front and made wide my grin, we had to pause - there was one more for the group. A Canadian ... a mere boy of 23. I was crushed.
And further so when I later found out that after Antarctica he planned to cycle all the way back to Toronto from Antarctic jump-off point Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. I didn't envy his journey, but it hurt my pride. And as I found myself wishing him darted by a lost tribe in the Amazon, or kidnapped by a cartel, or, just as he thought he was home, gunned down by a redneck Wisconsinite, I realised that being a prideful traveller is precisely the worst way to be. I vowed to leave it to my mum to be proud of my travels.
So three years on I find myself more relaxed about it all. Though once in a while, when I find someone who feels the need to boast of where they've been I still can't help the urge to throw my passport on the table and cry: "Look upon my stamps, ye mighty, and despair!" - Jamie Lafferty
THREE TIPS FOR THE PROUD TRAVELLER
1. Go to extremes: the highest, lowest, most remote places. The more unusual the less chance others will have been.
2. Check weather forecasts at home; unleash your best beach shots on Facebook when it's most grim.
3. Say things like "Well I've been to XX counties but more if you count Antarctica/Easter Island/Greenland, which isn't technically a country ..."
"What shall you do all your vacation?" Louisa May Alcott's beloved character Amy asks her sister in Little Women. "I shall lie abed and do nothing," replies Meg.
Yes, Meg, I'm with you.
Doing nothing is the perfect way to spend a holiday - particularly if it involves a hammock, a beach and a cocktail, whipped up in an exotic locale.
How could sloth possibly be a sin, in the context of travel?
Surely a vacation, by its very definition, invites laziness - clearing the mind of clutter, catching up on sleep, avoiding any form of effort ... zzzz ... sorry, lost my train of thought there ...
Of course, as with any sin, it's the extremes that defile our travel experiences. An apathetic tourist - one who refuses to move from the confines of their resort, for instance - may be missing out on the cultural offerings of their destination. Or not.
I mean, who needs another shell necklace, a wooden carving or a display of indigenous dance?
Why waste time at a local market or a religious site when you can be idle by a pool (preferably one with a swim-up bar)?
A tan, after all, is a far more covetable souvenir than any mere trinket.
A sluggard is also likely to avoid any form of physical activity during their vacation. There's a mountain to climb?
Bah, it's not going anywhere, it will be there next time. Hiking, parasailing, scuba diving, kayaking - is it really worth the effort, just for bragging rights on Facebook?
Maybe. If you're staying in a mediocre hotel, which has few amenities to encourage lingering, a walk through a rainforest may seem appealing. But as with most vices, those guilty of indulging in sloth tend to be either the extremely wealthy, or those with absolutely nothing.
Imagine the most indulgent of five-star resorts, with a bath filled with rose petals and the services of a butler. Who could blame anyone for choosing to stay in their room, ordering room service and watching movies, champagne on ice? This is an experience in itself, and certainly memorable.
At the other end of the scale is the simple bungalow by the beach, where soft breezes and the sound of crashing waves lull you into a stupor.
Forget the good book you've brought to read: Can't. Open. Eyes. Perhaps later, in a moment of redemption, you'll stagger from the hammock to the water. Then stagger to the bar. Before staggering back to hammock. True bliss.
And if that's a sin, then let us rot in hell for all eternity. - Julie Miller
THREE TIPS FOR THE SLOTHFUL TRAVELLER
1. If you want to sleep in during your holiday, that's fine - you probably need it. But try to rise by noon; brunch, after all, is the best meal of the day, and should take you through till cocktail hour.
2. Rather than stay in bed all day, move to a daybed by the pool, or a hammock - they provide much better photo opportunities to impress your friends.
3. A local-style massage (Thai, Balinese etc) is a good excuse to catch up on sleep in the guise of a "cultural experience".
Gluttony is your friend. It opens doors, fills plates, invites people in to share new experiences. One must go forth boldly to meet it, stomach proudly in front, suitcase behind.
Why travel if you're not greedy? Stay home if you're comfortable with your lot and want no more. The glutton will always keep moving; because serious greed is not so much about eating every macaron in the box in front of the telly, but a deep, gnawing hunger for something new.
The glutton plans trips accordingly. Paris for the croissants, Montreal for the poutine of chips, gravy and cheese. Tokyo for ramen, and San Sebastian for the tapas.
To Florence for the gelato, and Naples for the pizza.
To Vienna for the pastries, and Madrid for the hot chocolate.
Following this plan, it's quite extraordinary how many cultural sights one can inadvertently take in along the way.
Gluttony presides over the hotel breakfast buffet, the cheese market stall, and every patisserie, boulangerie and fromagerie in Paris, roaring with laughter at any attempt to be moderate.
It's even on the plane, squeezed into the seat next to you, looking greedily at the microwaved tinfoil sachets of food on your tray.
At home, you wouldn't look twice at grey beans in mystery gravy.
"But you're on holidays!" it whispers in your ear.
"You deserve it!" It's right, though perhaps not about the grey beans.
Listen to your inner glutton and you will have many magical moments that wouldn't otherwise exist.
You can drink a beer or eat a taco almost anywhere on the planet - but to drink a Guinness in Dublin or eat a taco in a Mexican market is a rite of passage, a homecoming of sorts, an act of worship; not gluttony.
Besides, are you ever going to make it back to Rome in this lifetime?
If that's a no, then have the pasta, not the salad; order the red wine, not the orange juice; and pig out on gelato afterwards.
The sin of gluttony is closely related to that fear of missing out that drives the true obsessive.
Not just of missing out on the last cronut (half croissant, half doughnut) from creator Dominique Ansel's bakery in New York, but of having lived life without tasting a cronut at all.
We say: go for it.
All too soon, you'll be back at your desk, yoked to the plough, watching your weight, saving your money.
Don't leave gluttony locked up at home; it's the best travelling companion you can have. - Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack
THREE TIPS FOR THE GLUTTONOUS TRAVELLER
1. Be a glutton for quality, not quantity. Eating too much of one thing is merely repetition.
2. Stockpile, stash and hoard foodstuffs upon your person and luggage at all times. You never know when you might find yourself at least a kilometre away from the nearest lunch.
3. Be elegant. Don't pile your plate high at a smorgasbord or hotel breakfast buffet, but create a multi-course degustation dinner by working your way through a series of small plates.
We know travel is a desirable commodity because it's the thing we pledge to do when we retire, win Lotto or become Miss World.
It's desirable because it's expensive and because we can't afford the time to do it.
Enter envy, the green-eyed monster that Thomas Aquinas described as "sorrow for another's good", a sin so deadly that it strikes us down even while we're supposed to be at our happiest - when we're on holiday.
So! You're being flown to the other side of the world using technology that was unimagined three generations ago. But someone has a better seat.
You're in a grand hotel in an exotic city. But someone has a better room.
You find a gorgeous hand-crafted souvenir and you bargain the impoverished seller down to a buck. But, up the road, someone gets the same souvenir for 50 cents.
Sadly, the sin of envy exposes human beings for what we are: crap.
But in our defence, the travel industry has harnessed the extraordinary dynamics of covetousness and we are powerless to resist. They've been doing it since the beginning, when the P&O liners sailed from London to India, and if you could afford "Port Out Starboard Home", your cabin was spared the worst of the sun.
Half the boat stayed cool, while the stinky, sweaty other half sailed in a state of constant peevishness, vowing that next time they too would travel POSH.
Personally speaking, my travel envy becomes a tangible thing when I meet guests at my hotel, resort or lodge who joyously declare, "Oh, you should have been here last week!"
Last week the beach weather was perfect instead of evoking scenes out of The Piano. Last week the Victoria's Secret models were in residence and held an after-shoot pool party. Last week this exact same peaceful herd of gazelle (grazing for hours - and hours - and hours - under a scorching African sun) was visited by a pride of famished lions.
But the sin of envy is at its most lethal in that moment of travel when your holiday is over and you're leaving a sunny place of dreams and magic - the moment when you make your way along the sandy path under the palms to the waiting launch ... and here comes the newest arrivals.
"You'll love it here!" you call out cheerfully. ("You bastards.") - Max Anderson
THREE TIPS FOR THE ENVIOUS TRAVELLER
1. Pay more money than anyone else. It is the root of your particular evil.
2. Wear brown contact lenses. It'll hide the green.
3. Remember, however bad your seat may be, however eclipsed the view is from your room, however reluctant the local lions are to smash into that dullsville herd of grazing gazelle - someone is always envious of you. And that's the poor sap still stuck in the office.
Phileas Fogg makes an incredible wager in the Reform Club of London: That he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days. And he does so, Jules Verne would have us believe, by crossing the Mediterranean on steamer, India on elephant, and part of America on a wind-powered sled, all without breaking so much as a sweat. Well, I don't buy it.
The travel part is fine - stranger things have happened - but Fogg's equanimity in the face of missed connections and drunken porters is highly suspect. "He was so exact that he was never in a hurry, was always ready, and was economical alike of his steps and his motions." That describes no traveller I've ever met.
The truth is, wrath is a constant spectre on the road, haunting one's every footstep. The man in the seat next to you has pointy elbows. A hike in the Andes is beset by torrential rain. The entire cruise ship gets food poisoning from lobster thermidor.
Any one of a million things can go wrong - does go wrong - derailing exquisitely laid plans.
Then the traveller must confront that darker part of themselves that likes to scream and cry, or write strongly worded letters.
The internet has only exacerbated things, too: Now wrath has an ever-attentive audience, egging anger on from the peanut gallery of TripAdvisor.
Indeed, I have found that nothing pushes my buttons like a disaster while travelling. Or even just a mild inconvenience, because outside the familiar setting of home I lose all sense of proportion.
Once, in Canada, I snapped at a concierge who had interrupted a nap to ask me to leave the hotel.
It was on fire. Another time, in Costa Rica, I was defeated by the last steep hill - after a 65-kilometre bike ride - and I reacted by throwing my helmet across the road. This is appalling behaviour and I have no excuse except to say: I was travelling. Surely you understand.
Some things in travel seem designed to encourage wrath: The India visa application process (tiresome), Kenyan punctuality (nonexistent), or It's a Small World at Disneyland (horror).
Jose Martinez was recently awarded thousands of dollars in a lawsuit after being stranded on the ride for half an hour. He deserved more.
And then there is air travel, the granddaddy of wrath-inducing activities, with its security lines, turbulence, chronically overbooked flights, poor service, and last-minute cancellations. Having recently been stranded in Los Angeles - thanks polar vortex! - I have seen firsthand the face of Fury, and it belongs to an American being told their flight is delayed until tomorrow.
At moments like that, a little wrath is more than understandable. - Lance Richardson
THREE TIPS FOR THE WRATHFUL TRAVELLER
1. The best method of neutralising a bad experience is to use a pair of sound-cancelling headphones. Close your eyes and pretend you're somewhere else.
2. Wrath of the "hanger" variety - hunger-induced anger - can easily be avoided by always keeping a protein bar in your backpack.
3. Embrace your wrathful energy, and sublimate it into dancing, or karaoke.
Fiction is awash with celebrations of holiday lust and from Grease to Eat Pray Love, they all end happily ever after.
Even by the end of the novel, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, this sin is given the sanctity of relationship status, despite the book being the story of a high-flying Chicago lawyer lusting after a gorgeous young Jamaican resort staffer and for the greater part of the narrative being a pretty good illustration of the pitfalls involved in taking that holiday hottie home.
The awkward introductions to friends, parents, colleagues and the school drop-off crowd are just the start. The hottie's introduction to the real Stella - not hotel-bathrobe-clad Stella but suited-up Stella - is where things go really pear-shaped. And that is why I don't trust holiday lust. It has no basis in reality.
Mine doesn't, anyway. Travel takes me away from my usual context. Unfettered by everyday obligations, I'm still me, but a friskier me. The minute my floaty sundress is unpacked at home, the holiday flirt is packed away until the next trip and the me that has to get on with life takes over.
I've met a couple of lovely gents overseas with whom I had real chemistry. But for the reasons outlined above, when it came time for me to depart the place in which I met them, I decided to leave any yearnings where they arose.
Because lust can also make us all a bit lacking in common sense. Exhibit A: a female friend who was recently in Bali. "I love the attention I get there," she said. "One man stroked my arm and said, 'Mmm, big. Too many Bintang.' I just love how Balinese men go 'mmm' in admiration."
Imagine if a bloke at home stroked her arm and said, "Mmm, big. Too many VB." My bet is she wouldn't be focusing on the "Mmm" bit. (Ketut has a lot to answer for.)
Of course, holiday lust can turn into love. A mate did marry the man she met on vacation in an exotic city. But that's an exception. Mostly, like a sunset across a beach, the best holiday lust is an impermanent perfect moment, the recollection of which can transport real-world you back to a friskier, freer time and place, even as you go about your day-to-day drudge.
My advice? Snog that handsome stranger but don't expect happily-ever-after. Travel insurance does not cover broken hearts. - Julietta Jameson
THREE TIPS FOR THE LUSTFUL TRAVELLER
1. Pack protection. And by that I mean condoms, not capsicum spray.
2. Ducking down that dark Roman laneway for a quick pash may seem romantic. It's also stupid. Personal safety still matters abroad.
3. Ageing lotharios and cougars, listen up: no one is ever too old for holiday lust. Go forth and flirt.
"I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket," warbled Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. A horrid little so-and-so she was, and yet she spoke my language.
The language, that is, of one who knows it is simply not enough to have journeyed to 56, 82, or even 114 countries in a lifetime.
There are 196 of them in the world, and until they have all been scoured, the greedy traveller refuses to rest. Case in point: I might have just spent eight months travelling the length and breadth of India, skipping through temples, ashrams and monuments with the speed of a competitor in the Amazing Race.
But I want to go back. I want to go back now.
Not to any of the places I fell in love with, of course, I simply don't have time for that now.
Not when I have all these other places I heard about while whizzing around the country to get through: to meet the Buddhists in Bodh Gaya (or just take a pic of them, who has 10 minutes for a meet and greet when there's so much to see?), to explore the Andaman Islands (preferably in a jet boat to save time) and to camp in the desert in Jaisalmer (I actually detest camping but a stranger I met had done it and now I have to do it too).
For the sin of covetousness dictates that one must look forward, not back, covering more ground, seeing more monuments, having more adventures than anyone else, well, ever. The greedy traveller has boxes to tick, gazillions of them, and never enough time in which to tick them.
Avaricious travellers are, by their very nature, excessive, and are therefore truly in their element in the bazaar and the marketplace.
They can most often be spotted - freshly purchased suitcase in one hand, gleaming Amex in the other - having a bit of a stall trawl, reaching, grasping, haggling mercilessly for exotic treasures.
And, as we all know, greed has no limits ... and no shame.
"A coin necklace for $30? Pfft! I'll give you $30 for five," I heard myself utter at a particularly low point last year. Not that I needed five, or wanted five. Not that I would even be able to fit five in my already-bulging suitcase.
But one is never, ever enough for the greedy. And besides, we travel Hoovers are the ultimate masters of self-deception. I told myself I'd bought those five coin necklaces for friends back home.
Yet here they sit upon my neck, the entire quintet all at once - mine, all mine - and a slightly shameful reminder of the greedy traveller's most wicked trait: their inherent inability to share with others. - Nina Karnikowski
THREE TIPS FOR THE GREEDY TRAVELLER
1. Bring a few suitcases - preferably empty with expandable zips and a few dozen space bags stuffed inside - to maximise the amount of booty you can lug home.
2. The hop-on hop-off bus tour is your friend. What better way is there of ticking off an entire city in less than one hour?
3. Consider cutting that fifth credit card in two. Bankruptcy can be so embarrassing.
What kind of traveller are you? Leave a comment.