Thursday, June 27, 2013

EXOTIC DESTINATIONS: Stories of Adventures from Around the World

When I lived in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), I mentioned to a friend my plan to travel south to Chittagong, Bangladesh, and the woman to whom I was speaking said, "I would never go there, it’s too dirty." (Many cities in that part of the world are notorious for sacred cows walking free through the streets, pickpockets and beggars, trash and litter.)

When I showed a department-store clerk a 20-yuan note, (worth $3.05 U.S.) and told her I had just returned from Beijing, Southeast Asia, she said, "You know, I’ve never had any desire to leave this country." I responded saying, "It is a positive experience, and it makes you proud to be an American." (It is Essay #39, "Proud to be an American" (pp. 246-251), in the book Exotic Destinations.)

The department-store clerk continued by saying, "Oh, I would never want to go there! . . . But I’m not much of a traveler anyway." This same trip came up in a discussion with close friends, and they said, "We would never do something so risky."

I have never been averse to new experiences, unique opportunities, and potentially exciting encounters.

It needs to be said here that at no point in our many travels (and excursions), have we ever encountered problems, troubles, difficulties or any kind of risk. Our traveling—in all cases—has been smooth, trouble-free, and easy. "Easy," of course, is a relative word. (When I showed my sister, who was visiting us at the time, my essay entitled, "Cruise Number Ten: Bangkok to Beijing," —published on my blog while she was visiting — she said she would never want to do all the planning necessary to take such a trip. She did not think what we went through could ever be called "easy." The essay, "Cruise Number Ten . . .," discusses the detailed planning we engaged in planning for our Southeast Asia trip. It is essay #18 in the Exotic Destinations book (pp. 108-114).

Our family (the family I grew up in and the family I am now part of), has been around the world, and we have lived in exotic places (i.e., Pakistan, Hawaii, and Australia). There are separate essays on the exotic places we have lived in Part 10 of the Exotic Destinations book, pages 364-383.

I know how unique we are (speaking of both families) with respect to most other people in the world. It is precisely for this reason that some years ago I began
writing about the places we visited and the cruises and trips we took.

When my wife heard I was planning to write a book that chronicled our travels, she did not hesitate to say, "Who would be interested in reading about your experiences?" It is an excellent question, and it needs to be addressed. (The easy answer would have been to say, "I would." But, then, I have a slight bias.)

There are a number of reasons why others might want to read about my experiences. First, many people want to travel and, for a variety of reasons (e.g., time, money, or fear) cannot or do not. They get their satisfaction vicariously, and these essays provide such experiences.

The second reason others may be interested in reading my insights is that when people travel— especially regular travelers—they love to compare their experiences with those of others. Did they feel the same way we did? Did they do something we should have done? Did they get out of this experience just what we did? How did they like it?

A third, more obvious, reason why others might want to read about my travel experiences is to see if any of these places—exotic destinations and more—might be of interest to them. The questions I would be asking would be, Would I want to go there? Would I make these same choices? How might I want to build on what this traveler did or experienced—or repeat his experiences? (Others’ experiences often provide us guidance, suggestions, and opportunities—and that is, certainly, one of the purposes of the collection of essays in the book Exotic Destinations.)

A fourth reason why others might want to read about my experiences is because everything I write about —all of the experiences discussed in the book—are accessible destinations. If others have the time, money, and interest, these are places they can go and, for the same reasons we were lured there, might even want to go. Why not find out about these places before they go?

There is a fifth reason, too. It is a major one in prompting me to put together the collection of essays. Most of the essays have previously been posted on my blog, and the responses to them have been overwhelmingly positive. It was one of my regular readers of my blog who asked the question, "Have you ever thought of putting your travel essays together in a single volume?"

A reason for collecting travel essays which has nothing to do with the question of why others might want to read them, and which is, admittedly, a selfish one is this: To write about our travel experiences becomes a memory aid. Simply put, I remember the experiences better because I have researched and written about them. It is as if the experiences become etched into the marble walls of my brain.

When that question was asked ("Have you ever thought of putting your travel essays together in a single volume?") I didn’t have enough travel essays to fill a book, but that has changed dramatically. Now, the problem has become: Which essays should I not include in the collection. But, I found, that is a nice problem to have. (If Exotic Destinations proves popular, the essays not included there might find their way into a second book of essays on travel.)

One thing that made putting this book together a thrill for me is simply having an opportunity to relive the experiences. That, too, has been one of the great joys of trying to capture all the experiences in writing. At times it has been a bit awkward to find the time to do the writing, but it has always paid off, and I have never regretted it, and now I insist on the time and place to do it. (This is not always easy when traveling, especially when you have many destinations to see and a limited time to do it.)

My notes about my travels have become far more specific and detailed than when I first began writing about them. Also, I have become more focused. For example, many of the details I first wrote about when we began cruising, no longer seem as important—e.g., crew-passenger ratios, the countries from where crew come, and various cabin adornments—all interesting and new at one time but now commonplace.

When I take an excursion in a foreign country now, I am much more aware (than when I first began) of the culture, the people, the various local traditions, unique artifacts, and subtle cultural nuances. These are the very things that bring a foreign culture alive and make the encounter enriching and worth writing about. They, too, are what make each culture or country distinctive. I tried to capture some of that distinctiveness in the essay, "If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all," which is Essay 24 in Exotic Destinations (pages 148-153).

Perhaps it is just traveling maturity, the accumulation of additional experiences, or simply my observational skills (improved through polishing and honing)—it could be, too, the continued improvement in my ability to take notes on and write about these experiences—but I think I am continuing to improve, learn, and grow.

Having left my formal education behind many, many years ago, I think I am capitalizing on the very things I was so fond of teaching my students. It is not the education, per se, it is what you do later with all of your education that counts. It is the process of learning to learn. All these experiences serve as my own personal educational laboratory and have, thus, helped me add to my knowledge and education.

Another factor that has contributed significantly to my growth is that I am now more relaxed than ever. Previously, I was teaching and writing textbooks. Now, with a single textbook in perpetual revision (Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), when I complete work on a new edition, I am through (with the exception of collecting more information) for another couple of years (on a three-year-turn-around time frame), and can truly turn my attention to other things — including relaxation, travel, and writing.

What this has meant for me personally is simple. My attention is no longer divided. I can spend more time writing, give more time to it, and strive at all points, to make it better. Notable improvements have taken place.

One thing that traveling does (until you can’t do it anymore) is whet your appetite for more travel. It’s is almost like trying to eat one potato chip. You just can’t

travel to one destination without wanting to see more and more diverse places! It affects all parts of your body—your thoughts, emotions, and spirit. It permeates your entire system until you once again satisfy the need.

Exotic Destinations represents years and years of traveling. Nobody could accomplish what is represented in this book in just one or two years. We try now to make two major trips each year—one in the spring and one in the fall. Because we have now seen so much and so many places, we have decided (at least in part) to try to be more selective in the choices we make. That is, we are now going to visit those places we have enjoyed and would like to either see again or see more of.

There will be more essays, no doubt about that—since I have a blog that like an appetite, needs fuel. I have a mind, too, that needs to be continually stimulated, and travel experiences are one type of fuel I seek and enjoy. I hope you derive the same pleasure from these travel experiences as I did, and if you do, contact me at and let me know. I would love to hear from you.

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