“Follies are the only things that one never regrets,” said Oscar Wilde.
Agreed. But travel writers needn’t look far to find excuses for their follies. After all, writers have a reputation for eccentricity. Whatever bizarre situation you find yourself in—and if any awkward questions arise—you can always blame it on the job.
Why were you buying contraband from gypsies in the Czech woods? (“It’s my job.”) How come you spent half the night in a Berlin anarchist squat? (“It’s my job.”) Why can’t you remember how you got back to the hotel from that absinthe bar in Barcelona? (“I have no idea, but I suspect it’s to do with my job.”)
And if you’ve ever been tempted by the idea of living a double life, travel writing is an ideal profession. The moment I board a plane, I shed my inhibitions. Not that I ever had too many inhibitions, but I often seek out experiences that might be considered a little odd by the neighbors back home.
Being a travel writer gives you special status and carte blanche to go almost anywhere. Although I often write about the luxury perks you can enjoy, I’m also fascinated by louche places.
A tourist, especially a female one, might tremble at the thought of staying in “red light” dives. Not me. Obviously I wouldn’t do it everywhere, but in Artigas, an amethyst-mining town in Uruguay, I had four hours to kill before the bus out. So I booked into a rent-rooms-by-the-hour place. In Angeles City in the Philippines, I sang karaoke songs with the hotel’s in-house hookers.
You’ll have to make your own mind up as to whether it’s brave or foolhardy to walk on the wild side—but I think my writer credentials serve as a kind of safety blanket.
There’s nothing odd about playing the part of a slave wench at an Icelandic Viking festival. Not if you belong to that festival circuit. Of course, if a tourist asked if they could participate instead of observe, they’d probably get short shrift. But as a travel writer, I was welcomed. While it was disappointing not to get a Valkyrie costume instead of a slave’s shapeless dress, it was tremendous fun to belong to the Viking horde for a day. And even more fun to dance, drink and roister with them until almost dawn.
Public places where you can prance around naked without getting arrested are quite rare. A German “sauna paradise” is a different story. Most aren’t reserved for one gender or another—and for hygiene reasons, removing every last stitch of clothing is compulsory. Some folks might blush, but I enjoy sweating in sauna cabins and lolling in hot tubs with naked strangers. (And if asked why you visited three saunas in five days, you say: “It’s my job.”)
One of my more offbeat assignments for International Living was the Greek island of Lesbos, birthplace of the poet, Sappho. I timed it to take in the Women’s Festival at Skala Eressos. Although I’m happily heterosexual, I hung out and went clubbing with lovelorn lesbians who kept buying me drinks. My expenses were very low on that trip! Sadly the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” story didn’t please everyone. One reader wrote in saying he would ask his pastor to pray for me.
Admittedly, in Las Vegas you’d have to pull out all the stops to be considered eccentric. But gambling at blackjack tables until 4 a.m. isn’t folly to me. Like flirting with cute dealers, and drinking beer for breakfast, I could again say “it’s my job.” As I’d been commissioned to write a “Women Behaving Badly” story, I brought my daughter along. She also enjoyed “researching” the Australian male strippers who went by the name of Thunder From Down Under…
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