Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

28 August 2009

Nothing Good Can Come of This

We thought we’d pause a moment and talk about the Number One location of Our Top Ten Places to Avoid (if you’ve never seen it, look in the right-hand column). Why did we list the travel section of a magazine rack as the worst place to visit? It might seem odd, since it’s so unlike all the other destinations we write about. Let us explain. —MB & JS
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Anyone who travels looks for advice, tips, and warnings. We like to think it’s the reason you’ve ended up here at our blog page, and we like to think that we satisfy that need. Granted, sometimes we recommend that you trudge through the Gates of Hell before trying a location we found. But we like to think this is a useful service in an industry rife with false advertising.

Which brings us to other sources of travel information. We recognize we haven’t visited every place you might want to go (or avoid, as is the often the case). So we hope you search for other useful sites and sources to supplement the invaluable advice you can find here.

No matter where you find your travel advice, do yourself a favor: avoid the travel section of your favorite bookstore’s magazine rack. We’re not just issuing this warning because these magazines won’t publish our stories. Our stories aren’t fit for mass consumption. We know that. They just don’t fit in those advertisement-driven glossies. We’re content to offer our travel advice for free on the alternative distribution medium that is the Internet.

Travel magazines, on the other hand, exist to sell advertising. They fill the occasional page with pretty prose with the hope that you’ll be suckered into coughing up your hard-earned dough. Don’t fall for it.

Try this exercise at a bookstore: holding your nose, pick a travel magazine off the rack. Holding it at arm’s length, open the front cover to the first page. If you were to do this with a Bill Bryson opus, you’d find a neat page with the title and hopefully an autograph. With the travel magazine, however, your senses are assaulted with a two-page spread trying to entice you to buy something you likely don’t even need. Toss the offending magazine back at the rack and wash your hands thoroughly.

Here’s an example. On the front page of a recent popular travel magazine whose name we will not utter except to say its initials are CNT (where the “T” stands for “Traveler”), we read the following headline at the top of the front cover: “Summer 2009: Greatest Deals Ever.” Who could resist a teaser like that? We picked up the magazine. Holding it at arm’s length, we scanned the rest of the cover and discovered we were tricked.

Further down the cover were these words, in very large type: “Hot List,” followed by “50 Restaurants, 50 Spas, 35 Nightclubs,” and the “World’s Top New 140 Hotels*.” Although we rarely travel to a destination just to frequent a restaurant, spa, or nightclub, we recognize them as perks of traveling. But wait! What was that asterisk? And there, in the fine print, we read incredulously: “including 43 under $250.”

That was the moment we tossed the magazine back at the magazine rack. This, we realized, was not a magazine that could yield any information we could use in the real world—the world most of us inhabit. This magazine wants to entice us with 43 hotels (of the 140 hotels they’ve written about and let advertisers push) that offer rooms for under $250 a night?

We rented a hotel room for $250 a night once, in downtown Seattle. Yes, the location was perfect. Yes, the pillows felt like clouds under our heads. Yes, the bathroom (especially the tub) was absolutely incredible. No, we would never stay there again. Unlike Republican congressmen, we don’t hang out in hotel bathrooms. They exist for one purpose. OK, two. But we don’t spend any more time there than we have to. We hadn’t traveled 2,000 miles to take a bath.

Travel magazines like this one cater to people who either have $500 to throw into a hotel toilet or wish they did. In either case, you’re not getting any information that will help you the next time you hit the road, regardless where you go. What you need are true bargains, like the $35 a night shit hole with clean sheets and freshly laundered towels, or the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet for $6, or the university bulletin board advertising those who need a ride to the coast and are willing to split expenses. You won’t find these tips in a travel glossy.

So keep returning here to seek the travel wisdom of your friends Mark and Jason. We’re only too happy to share true lessons from our hard-scrabble life as amateur travel writers. You benefit. We benefit. Everyone wins. Except the glossies.

Lessons Learned: We’ve saved hundreds of dollars not buying the glossy advertising that passes for travel advice. You can too. A trip to a neighborhood bar in a strange place can often provide better sightseeing tips than a Froemmer’s, and you can wet your whistle at the same time. Our traveling motto is: “Money can’t buy you happiness.” It’ll get you a comfortable bed, a sumptuous meal, and even a gorgeous traveling companion, but it will do nothing to point you in the right direction. On the other hand, we will.

We offer no location ratings this week, since we really didn’t write about a specific destination. Thanks for reading our rant, though, and come back often, even if it’s just to read our backlist. Next month, we’ll be back to our usual selves to skewer a brand new travel destination. Until then, keep your wallet close to your chest, your dirty underwear in a plastic bag, and the travel magazines wherever you find them.

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