There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
All travel destinations are not created equal—until they’re written up in some newspaper travel section or travel magazine. There, every grimy, crime-ridden city with one gorgeous building is suddenly a gloriously exotic locale. Occasionally, an article comes along illuminating the truth: some places are just no fun. In 2004, Slate published a brilliant five part series by Seth Stevenson called “Trying really hard to like India.” The introduction sets the tone: “It’s OK to hate a place. Travel writers can be so afraid to make judgments. You end up with these gauzy tributes to the “magic” of some far-off spot. But honestly, not every spot is magical for everyone. Sometimes you get somewhere, look around, and think, ‘Hey, this place is a squalid rat hole. I’d really rather be in the Netherlands.’ And that’s OK.”
I’m no world traveler, but the general sentiment seems dead-on. Now, it seems finally, there is a whole book acknowledging this fundamental reality: Smile When You’re Lying, Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer. Today, the New York Times has a glowing review of this memoir/non-fiction book by Chuck Thompson, a veteran freelance travel journalist. “Actual travelers exist in real time and have to deal with the kinds of troubles that don’t end up as body copy between splashy photos of a beach at dawn and coconut-encrusted prawns in honey-melon-okra dipping sauce at cocktail hour,” the Times quotes from Thompson’s book. As for overrated destinations, there’s a neat and tidy list included within the review: “New Zealand (‘a junior varsity version of the Pacific Northwest’), Colorado (‘Kansas with big hills’), Austin (‘if it wasn’t surrounded by Texas, it’d be called Sacramento’) and the entire Caribbean (‘a miasmic hellscape’).”