War stories from a recovering travel writer
Travel writer Chuck Thompson is burned out.The veteran wanderluster got tired of promoting golf courses, hotels and tourist attractions, and it seems he snapped.”Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer,” Thompson’s latest book, is his chance to tell it like it is. The book is full of insights and candid tales about his life on the road, first as an English teacher in Japan and then scraping his way for cents-per-word to a career as a travel writer and editor.Thompson’s resumé includes travel to 35 countries, two volumes on World War II tourism and a roster of stories published in the industry’s top magazines.He is at his best in “Smile When You’re Lying” when doing what a travel writer does: relating his experience and his keen observations about places where most readers won’t ever go.
I hung on every word about his bumblings as an ESL teacher, and the friendly encounter with college girls from Bangkok that landed him penniless on a Thai island. Thompson’s is an intimate self-portrait, from glimpses of life growing up in Alaska to hanging with the fiendish expats of Bangkok to later frustrations at launching a travel magazine for Travelocity.His prose is quick and witty; it’s like sitting down over a beer with the most experienced traveler you’ll ever meet. His exposés of the clichés, exaggerations, soggy adjectives and preaching of the travel writing trade are incisive.However, he’s not telling us anything new. Anyone who has ever compared a travel brochure to the on-the-ground reality of canned cultural attractions, bland meals and uninspired tour guides knows the truth.And Thompson’s complaining devolves to whining: “… my life became one of delayed flights, middle seats, bad hotels, cold buffets, awkward property tours, pushy PR flacks, off-season travel, miserly budgets, butchered copy, kill fees, and every other indignity visited upon the itinerant travel writer.”
Try sitting in a cubicle all day, Chuck.Fortunately, these heavy-handed moments are a minor distraction from a mostly enjoyable read – one that is inspiring enough to make you go out there and find out for yourself.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.