This weekend I Podthought about The Indie Travel Podcast, a useful, likable program that I stumbled upon while browsing the iTunes directory for New Zealand-y stuff. (It seems only appropriate that I prepare for my trip with podcasts.) Toward the mostly positive review's end, I add:
There's also an eerie cast of unreflectiveness to most of the voices heard on the podcast; while the participants are all respectable travelers, the tales of their journeys hew with shocking loyalty to flat, meaningless adjectives like "good," "great," "awesome," "cool," "mad" and "insane," rarely reaching beyond the surface. Painful as it is to hear Jeff Koons' Puppy described simply "enormous" and "weird," though, the fact remains that Craig and Linda have been to Bilbao to see it. Your Podthinker hasn't.
While the podcast's hosts and guests themselves are more eloquent than I give them credit for, the essential point holds. Listening, I was reminded of most of the serious travelers I've met — those who routinely take off for months at a stretch — and the yawning gap between how fascinated I am by their experiences and how fascinatingly they describe their experiences. How was hitchhiking through Belgium? "Oh, it was cool." That trip on the Orient Express? "It was great!" The surreptitious sojourn into North Korea? "Awesome."
This seemingly willful refusal to draw anything from travel experiences beyond the most basic verbal renderings of those experiences has always surprised me. My standard joke has been to invoke the weatherbeaten Australian globetrotter who, constantly in motion, vigorously zigs and zags from unusual international experience to unusual international experience yet has absolutely nothing to say about any of them except that they were right fun. I hesitate to get stereotypical, but it I'll admit to being archetypal; these characters pop up with surprising regularity. (The Indie Travel Podcast's hosts are New Zealanders rather than Australians, Kiwis rather than Aussies; perhaps that's why they're that much better at talking about their trips.)
When I wrote that Travel People don't have much to show for it, I didn't just mean that they don't have a lot of souvenirs. If anything, I'm anti-souvenir — anti-trinket of any kind, reallly — myself. In a few too many of the cases I've seen, the impoverishment appears to extend to the mind as well as to the possessions. I'm not asking for navel-gazing, but is the smallest degree of probing really to much to ask? Then again, maybe they've got it right and I've got it wrong; the zen Buddhist literature I've been wolfing down recently pushes hard for direct experience, unmonitored by a divided mind. So I don't know what to believe.