I am an intrepid traveller. OK, scrap that—I used to be an intrepid traveller until Scout and Inky came along. I admire people like Caz and Craig Makepeace who take their young kids with them on their many travels, but it’s not for me. In a few years, when Ink is at school, we’ll get our adventure mojo back on. For now, I like my brain neurones firing at a safe range, thanks very much.
I have had a crazy number of amazing experiences overseas, but travel, as in life, does not always hand you a celebratory bouquet. These are 5 experiences that I use to justify not taking my kids overseas:
1. Toilets in China
Just this, toilets in China. I had dozens of interesting toiletting experiences in China, but let me share with you the “best” one.
Matt and I found ourselves in the arse-end of China on the way to Huang-hua, a particularly deserted part of the Great Wall, when I had to go to the toilet. As you do. The toilets at the bus station were holes in the ground with no doors on the “cubicles” (and I use this term laughingly). I hadn’t used pit toilets at this stage, so didn’t know whether you squatted facing the “door” or away from the “door”. As it happened, a Chinese woman wanted to see how I peed (or what I peed, I’m still not sure) and stood outside the cubicle staring at me as I squatted over the pit. I was so mortified it drove my choice of stance—peeing with bum to the wall so she didn’t get an eyeful. No amount of cajoling will drive me to show a stranger my bot bot. I left the toilet in tears.
2. Crotch-grabbed in Soho
I was walking in Soho, Manhattan, just minding my own business, when a well-dressed corporate-looking bloke walked past me, put his hand out and grabbed my crotch. How do you like that! Gropeage by the “professionals” in a sweet part of town.
3. Stalked in Seattle
OK, perhaps stalking is too strong a word, but when I stayed at the Seattle Youth Hostel in my early 20s, I met a bloke from Chicago who became obsessed with me (I know, it must happen all the time, right?) At first, it was cute, even flattering, the way he’d follow me around the Hostel like a meningococcal rash that wouldn’t go away. But then he started telling me I couldn’t talk to certain guys and if I went out, would wait up for me in the hostel’s common room until the early hours of the morning.
One day, my flatmate in Vancouver left a message for me (with my phone number on it) which was posted on the (public) noticeboard. When I returned to Van, he would call me every single day, up to three times a day, until I pretended to be my own Quebecois flatmate, “Juliette”, and told him in French that I/she didn’t live here anymore.
4. Hobbled in Toronto (well… )
In 1996, I was house hunting for a place to rent in Toronto, Ontario. Clearly the rental gods didn’t want me to live in Toronto—I saw a room rented by an obese “movie making” bloke with a wall full of porn videos for “research”; a place that had rats in the kitchen that the landlady tried to hide; a basement room about the size of a closet with one small window. But my experience with, let’s call her Annie Wilkes (not her real name) took the cake.
I replied to Annie’s ad for a boarder and took the streetcar out to her house where I was greeted with an… overly eager “charm”. Annie was a loner who’d lost her mother the year before and had a large shrine set up near her kitchen, with photos and artefacts of her dead mother. I’m not kidding when I say Annie had jumped straight out of a Stephen King novel. She sat me down and force-fed me cookies (they’re peanut butter do you like peanut butter do you like peanut butter?) whilst regaling me with tales of her last two tenants who’d just “up and left” one day (don’t look in the attic). She was seriously off-kilter. All I really wanted to do was look at the room for rent and get the hell out of there, but she wouldn’t let me leave.
After two hours she says brightly, “Let me show you the basement” and like any normal young person (!?!?) I went with her. I know, you’re screaming, “Don’t go down to the basement! Are you insane! Don’t go down to the basement!” When she shut the door behind her and handed me a glass of milk to drink in the basement (perfectly normal) I suddenly thought, “This is not right”. I had flashes of being tied to an old rickety iron bed in that very basement. Look, I probably let my imagination get the better of me and she was just a lonely middle aged lady who liked the company, but it was hands down the creepiest interaction I’ve ever had with a human being. I made a ton of excuses and practically ran out of the house. I figured after that experience, I wasn’t meant to stay in Toronto, so buggered off east for a couple of months (some of my best travel experiences) before returning to Vancouver.
5. Bored in Salem, Massachusetts.
So, I went to Salem.
OK, take your rose-coloured glasses of and tell me your worst experience travelling…