Ten things I’ve learnt about travel

I hadn’t been overseas since a year before Joshua’s birth (he’s now five) and now I’m doing two overseas trips – Mauritius, Rome – in quick succession. Like having an extended *dry spell* and then having two rapid one-night stands in a row, you suddenly realise there’s fun to be had, if you can just set it up right.

Here are ten things I’ve learnt:

  1. There are many ways to get to the same place. That’s not a deeper psychological point. It’s just that if you miss one bus, you can always take another.
  2. Going to museums is like sifting through rubbish: most of it is junk, but sometimes you’ll stumble across a treasure. One person’s treasure is another person’s trash. At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (mostly fairly dull), I walked into a room that showed photographs of a man ageing alongside a duf-duf-duf soundtrack from a video some distance away. Perhaps it was the strange pairing of these two media, but I had an intense, and utterly memorable, feeling of death anxiety and vertigo. At a sixteenth century rich banker’s house down the road from us, I saw how small his bedroom was and how lush and sumptuous he kept his dining and waiting room.
  3. Wherever you go, someone is taking a selfie. Learn to walk around selfie sticks.
  4. Related point: over time, everywhere becomes a spot for selfies. The Colosseum colosseummight have once been a venue for mass executions and blood-letting (the Romans swept the floor regularly to prevent the slipperiness of the blood impacting negatively on the ‘games’), but now it’s an agreeable selfie-spot, especially for Japanese tourists.
  5. South Africans regard themselves as a friendly, nice lot. But others are just as nice, if not more so.
  6. Be direct. Greg met an ancient academic at a conference who, when he’d heard enough of what Greg had said or didn’t like what he was saying, would calmly say ‘Enough,’ and Greg would then keep quiet. This strategy, if applied more widely, would probably lead to fewer fights, bad feelings and divorces.
  7. There are three stages: recovering from the trip there, feeling you’ve been there a million years, girding oneself for the trip back.
  8. Sometimes the most foreign feature of a place is the colour of the sky. Even a slightly more intense shade of blue lends a surreal tone to experience, made more dreamlike if no one else is remarking on it.
  9. The sense that you must always be having a good time is a throwback to the eighties and best avoided. Similarly, the feeling that trinkets must be purchased for everyone at home.
  10. Tsunamis generated in the Indian Ocean pose a threat to all the countries of the region, including Mauritius. Remember: a tsunami will get you one day, but not yet.