Summer’s done! The temperature has thankfully gone down; no more 36°C heat, yay! Now we have to deal with torrential rains and flooding all the way until the fourth quarter. This means we’ll spend more time at home, hopefully safe and dry, but also resist the strong urge to go out and travel even in unsafe conditions.
This change in season won’t matter to those who’ve already made early annual “pilgrimages” to the Philippines’ gorgeous beaches, mountains, and other tourist hotspots. But I can’t help but feel a bit shortchanged. I had just one trip on my summer calendar, and during the last week of May! I don’t even know if it still counts, but whatever. Thankfully, the skies remained clear for the most part.
It has also been a year since I traveled with friends, and to be honest, this very recent trip gave me the most fun and relaxation I’ve had in years! It’s mainly because we’re all stressed out and had the same priorities for three days: our missions were to unwind, pig out, drink and swim. Walang arte. It also helped that I didn’t do the bulk of the pre-trip planning, or make crucial decisions. We all had our non-negotiables, but since we’ve known each other for more than two decades, it was all good. We’re pretty much used to each other by now.
Speaking of non-negotiables, I recently read two travel books that deal with this category, and more. The end result? Intensified wanderlust. Grrrr. Reading will have to do for now. 😉️
Click on the links below or keep scrolling down:
- This Book is About Travel: A Modern Manual, Andrew Hyde
- 101 Places NOT to See Before You Die, Catherine Price
One man’s (ongoing) journey
What I love the most about self-publishing is that it enables other people to tell their stories the way they want to tell them, and compete with authors backed by publishing giants. It levels the playing field, and gives smaller players valuable and career-making opportunities.
What I don’t love about it? The seeming lack of professional editing — the kind of editing that involves the fluency, knowledge, skill and intense attention to detail of professional copy editors. (I agree with this article, obviously. Guy Kawasaki values editing, too.)
My strong feelings about professional copy editing in self-publishing were put on overdrive while reading This Book is About Travel: A Modern Manual by Andrew Hyde. There are a handful of incomplete sentences (is that a formatting problem?); and glaring errors in capitalization, punctuation, word usage, and spelling. While reading, I had to restrain myself from highlighting entire paragraphs and clogging up the “My Notes and Marks” section of my Kindle app with errors, flipping tables, or giving up on the e-book altogether and bitching about the money I spent on it.
It’s a 151-page book, relatively short, but it took me three long weeks to finish because of all the grammatical and typographical errors. I initially thought Hyde didn’t get an editor for this e-book, but he said he had one. I’ve no idea if this editor of his edited text or images, or both. He also asked other folks to read the manuscript before it was published. Why oh why are there still so many published mistakes?
The e-book was outed thanks to a well-supported Kickstarter campaign, and promoted through Hyde’s blog and a dedicated website. There’s also 15things.me, where people are asked to enumerate and share their travel/life basics. (I tried it out, and quickly found that I’ll need more than 15 things. You know, like money. 😜️) The Kickstarter campaign was successful, and the websites are beautifully designed. I can’t help but feel appalled and disappointed that there are so many published typos and grammatical errors in the actual e-book. I’m the type of person who expects polished work, especially when I spend my own money for it. I really hope this doesn’t happen in Hyde’s next book, if he does self-publish another one.
/copy editing rant
OK. That’s finally out of my system. Let’s move on… to more cons. If you’re looking for a detailed guide on the places he visited within a two-year period, don’t read this e-book. This is a highly personal publication, with some of the chapters lifted from his blog. Each chapter contains his musings, observations and mindset during that particular time period; and they’re not always connected to his actual location at the time. This is fine for most readers looking for first-person stories, but if you want a Lonely Planet-ish travel book (e.g., instructional, like a real manual), read something else.
There are also some travel tips that can’t be applied to all cases, particularly for those coming from third-world countries. (I admit that I may be asking for too much here.) Money can be a real issue for aspiring/longtime travelers in this category, and sometimes, even extreme hard work may not give them enough funds to travel as extensively and thoroughly as Hyde does. He can say that it’s just another restriction I needlessly put on myself and on others, but in the end, not everything can be solved by hard work and determination. That’s too idealistic, in my opinion. There are different costs of living, personal priorities and circumstances, and complications regarding a traveler’s nationality/country of origin (among other things) to contend with.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of how I used to blog while reading This Book is About Travel: A Modern Manual. I think the text can be too “emo” at times; it makes me recall my early, overly emotional LiveJournal entries; or the memes I see on Tumblr these days. 😜️ There are lots of flowery prose and let’s-talk-about-the-meaning-of-life type of sentences. It was a bit of a turn-off, actually.
But after I stopped smirking and started thinking about it, I realized that hey, he raised plenty of good points, overly flowery language and all. And as a solo traveler, I can relate to him in many ways. I found myself nodding in agreement when Hyde talked about the following:
- Traveler stereotypes and tendencies. He delved into the “real” vs. “fake” traveler, and travelers’ tendency to categorize everyone and even look down on fellow travelers. We’re all travelers. There’s absolutely no need to be catty! BTW, I am “Option #1”: the kind of traveler who’s OC with planning and research — and I do all those months or even years before leaving Manila!
- The helpfulness of strangers. That part where a kind (and ridiculously rich) Emirati paid for Hyde’s boat fare without a second thought made me remember all the strangers who provided help when I clearly needed it, or even when I didn’t ask for it directly.
- The complexities of modern travel. Admittedly, the adage “take only pictures, leave only footprints” can be hard to follow since every action already has an impact. Andrew Blackwell’s Visit Sunny Chernobyl… also comes to mind, specifically Blackwell’s sentiments that there’s no place in the world that can truly be considered pure and untouched by humanity.
- The cultural differences that come up during trips. Also includes the biases and faults one may find.
- Romance on the road. Yeah, I enjoyed this one. A place can take on an entirely new vibe when you’re with a loved one. And… Paris! My bitter, black and cold heart got slightly mended by this chapter. Slightly. 😜️
- The way travel changes a person and his/her perspective. It really is the best kind of education.
- The different things travelers do to amuse themselves during lull moments. I like integrating some of the people I meet and see on the road into my short stories. That’s about it. I never devised personal games or went to extremes; maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t. I particularly loved Hyde’s “Mark, Sue” game. But dude, pretending to be homeless was a really risky move!
- The wild and scary things that happen during travel. Read “Over the Atlantic” and think about all your seatmates on long-haul flights, then consider yourself fucking lucky you never sat beside Hyde’s single-serving friend. And I’ve made it a point to stay relatively sober while traveling. Hyde’s “New York City” chapter can serve as a warning. 😉️ As for health problems, the “Chiang Mai, Thailand” chapter really got to me; the concussion I suffered in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2009 was top of mind.
- The locals’ and tourists’ responses to criticism of countries and places. The author got banned from Nepal for criticizing the country, and detailing the nasty effects of its tourism push on communities and the environment. “Rethinking Nepal” looks back on the brouhaha with a more sedate tone. Reminds me of all the times Filipinos get pissed off after negative depictions of our country, and criticism from foreign nationals. It makes one question when to speak up, in what manner, and to what extent. Constructive criticism for one person can be thought of as combative words by others.
- Post-travel depression. Oh, I know. I often say “I need a trip to get over this trip!”, and don’t get the disinterest of other people in travel stories and lessons.
The “manual” aspect of This Book is About Travel: A Modern Manual comes in the chapters where Hyde tells readers how he plans and does research for his trips, and also in the interviews he did with other travelers. Thanks for those resources! I can’t and won’t whittle down all my material possessions to just 15 things (that aren’t really 15 things), or leave important aspects of my long-term trips completely unplanned and open, but it’s nice to know about what Hyde and other more flexible travelers do for their own trips. Each trip does require a lot of work beforehand, but maybe I can also leave some things to chance when I get to my destination(s).
I particularly loved the e-book’s overall message: Travel starts with you. You give yourself permission to leave, explore, learn and grow. No one else. If you don’t start now, you never will! It’s a good motivator for people to start planning their own long-term trips, and it got me to resume planning and research for my third solo trip. I may not be able to do it for two straight years, but I’ll certainly take the little opportunities that come my way.
Don’t go there!
If Andrew Hyde’s e-book encourages people to get moving and see the world, Catherine Price goes in the opposite direction, telling her readers to avoid specific weird/overhyped/odd places. The 2010 book 101 Places NOT to See Before You Die was written in response to the overwhelming lists of must-dos (The first and most prominent: Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, which I haven’t read yet), and the final destinations list was based on suggestions by strangers and Price’s personal network. I love people and material that buck the norm, and those prescriptive lists make me feel nauseous. It wasn’t long before a paperback copy of Price’s book accompanied me to the cashier counter of Powerbooks‘ Alabang Town Center branch.
Right away, Price made a valid point: travelers do have “a reluctance to define anything as bad” — which makes this book (and Hyde’s “Nepal” chapter in This Book is About Travel) a rebel of sorts. There’s always the pressure to say good things about the place, lest you hurt the locals’ and tourists’ feelings, or set a bad example. See the second-to-the-last bullet point in the previous page to see what I mean. This makes people focus more on the good things, but this can be difficult or even impossible to do if the place really bites.
Price lays it out for readers quickly, simply and honestly; each chapter is composed of just a few pages, with at least three of them requiring only one sentence to tell you why it’s a bad place to be in. Sometimes, that’s all you need. No fuss, no muss. I certainly don’t want to be in my boss(es)’ bedroom, in AA meetings when I’m thoroughly soused, or my college campus… at any time, not just after graduation.
The author doesn’t just take on modern tourist traps and “absurd” occasions. She goes back in time, specifically Ancient Rome in 64AD, the East Coast of Germany in 1362, and that time when the dinosaurs were made extinct by an asteroid. There’s also a forward-looking chapter on the Great Eastern Cicada Brood in the year 2021. I couldn’t help but feel like some chapters serve as fillers, but that’s just me. Three more chapters round up what I consider good creative writing examples: “The Room Where Spam Subject Lines are Created”, “Pamplona, from the Perspective of a Bull”, and “An Overnight Train in China on the First Day of Your First Period”. Price’s dry humor, wit and candidness will make readers laugh, cringe, or both.
Other authors also provide some assistance, Mary Roach, Nick Kristof, AJ Jacobs and Rebecca Solnit among them. Roach’s one-page retelling of her trip to the Tupperware Museum was fun to read and painful to imagine, while Kristof’s travel tidbits make me feel damn lucky I didn’t experience what he’s experienced.
Another thing I liked about this book is that it referenced some of the places I already know of through books and mainstream media. It was nice to read a different writer’s take on them. For example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was also discussed in Visit Sunny Chernobyl…, while the chapter on body farms reminded me of Roach’s book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Meanwhile, the Road of Death/Yungas Road/Death Road was also the setting for IRT: Deadliest Roads. I can almost hear Rick Yemm screaming “Welcome to the Death Road!” in my ear.
Like This Book is About Travel, there are also typos and errors in 101 Places NOT to See Before You Die, but significantly less. (whew) The content within 236 pages also make for a quick read; I finished this one in just a few days, and it was real easy to go through. I loved that the book made me aware of places around the world that actually exist and attract (hapless?) tourists. However, I think some chapters did reverse psychology on me. Now I want to go to the following places:
- Hell, Michigan (would love to send postcards from there!)
- The beer wellness land in the Chodovar Brewery, Czech Republic
- the skinniest buildings in the world (more of these over at Flavorwire!)
- Dildo, Newfoundland
- the Amsterdam Sex Museum
- the Black Rock Desert during the Burning Man festival.
Yeah, yeah. I know. I’ve been warned.