Travel Jail

DSCF3596 - Version 2Travel’s great. But not everything that happens in travel is worth an “ooh-ahh” or a pat on the back. This space is for VIOLATORS in our collective progress in striving to enjoy the world.

And so, here’s a…

Meet-and-greet with the TRAVEL JAIL INMATES!*



IIMG_1620t’s time for us to get over this whole “tourist/traveler” debate. Instead let’s just draw a simple line between fudge and non-fudge destinations.

Wherever you go, if you see a “fudge” shop, then you’re in the fudge zone: a culture-free commercial zone created to rid visitors of money via chains and cheap toys made in China. And, for some reason, fudge.

Seriously, does anyone even buy fudge at home? If you do, and actually need it during your weekend trip to San Francisco, so be it. You’re a fudge vacationeer — and perfectly free to be one. But the fudge itself? It’s in Travel Jail.


Richard C Reid, the shoe bomber

First, the shoe bomber is not my dad, Richard H Reid. Nor is it me, Robert E Reid. (Incidentally it’s amazing how many people confuse the names “Richard” and “Robert.” It’s sort of the Colombia/Columbia or Bucharest/Budapest of first names.)

Anyway, the actual shoe-bombing Richard C Reid is definitely in Travel Jail for tricking TSA to require adults to take off shoes off at airports for YEARS. Seriously, if we have to show our “junk” at security checks, then let’s let it hang with OUR SHOES ON.



Airport t-shirts

Whoever is designing all those awful t-shirts you see at airport shops should have at least one arm surgically removed. The whole situation is a mess. Cutting back on all the hot pinks and aqua greens might be a start. Adding actual design, or a font, is a next step.

Meanwhile, the airport vendors, who actually buy and stock these shirts, are also in Travel Jail.


Counting countries

It’s great if you’ve been to 124 countries! Just super. But if you’re not telling us something about any of them, then you’re essentially a data entry clerk of the world, collecting stamps for a passport and to share for Facebook “likes.”

So, before you decide to race around the world, take a couple overnight flights, sleep in airports, just to claim an elusive West African country, then not say a word about the place, consider another option: actually traveling.

Travel shouldn’t be a race or a contest. It’s possible to spend a full travel life in just the USA and Mexico with no lost sense of wonder. It’s like Shakespeare and his pencil. He only had one. But look at what he did with it.


A “wrong way to travel”

Speaking of debates — and fudge — we take travel too seriously at times. Last year, Ilan Stavans and Joshua Ellison went off on how travel needs to restore some sort of higher purpose, “reclaiming it” from tourist kitsch and a “sterilized version of history.”

Codex CalixtinusThe article, which won many fans from its New York Times audience, essentially serves as a rebuke of people with only two weeks of vacation daring to go on a cruise. It didn’t note, however, that original “holy seekers” certainly weren’t “responsible travelers” by today’s standards. In fact, most were really bad at travel.

(Note how a 12th-century guidebook to the Camino de Santiago describes locals in Gascony. It warns: “And the people? Fast-talking, obnoxious, and sex-crazed, they are overfed, poorly-dressed drunks.” Maybe it was just a bitter travel writer….)

When NPR invited Stavans on to discuss the piece (I somehow got roped in too), the best call-in was from a guy in Tennessee who didn’t have the means to spend months crossing South America, as other callers talked of. Instead he found something exotic to him near home to do: fishing. Stavans didn’t have much to say about it, and I doubt a fishing daytrip was what he had in mind as a higher form of travel.

But that guy from Tennessee, fumbling with a fishing pole? Yeah, he kinda wins.


Nomadic Matt’s Vietnam ban

IMG_5193Matt, you’re a nice guy. I like you. But you, as a “travel expert” with a book on how to travel cheap, get a Travel Jail card for (essentially) banning Vietnam based on a lone visit – yet still having the quả bóng to create a “destination guide” for the country.

Dismissing a thing like a country of 88 million people based on a breezy visit of Vietnam’s clingy tourist ghettos simply doesn’t make sense. Or calling a local a “bad person” because they were overcharging you for lemonade. Walk away.

Sure, it’s OK to like some places more than others. That’s not what this is about. Being good at travel teaches us against making generalized conclusions or statements, either damning or glowing, based on a lone experience or two (eg “New Yorkers are rude”).

DSCF8469_2Like it or not, Vietnam is a great place. Go a block or two from where you were hassled, and you’ll see.

Avoid Vietnam if you must. For life even!?! Seriously, you’re the only one missing out.

Here’s a piece I wrote for Transition Abroad on how to dislike a destination.


Wearing sandals and shorts on flights

If you see someone who does this in all but a 20-minute flight between Caribbean islands, please inform that person that they are now in Travel Jail.


People who table-butt in cafes

DSCF0545When we go to a restaurant, we don’t walk past a greeter, plop a bag on a table, then get back into line to point out, with a satisfied nod, the existence of our land-rush-grab. Cafes shouldn’t be different, yet table-butters regularly claim tables before ordering. It’s rude. They know it’s wrong. They act like we don’t see them butting, but they know we’re watching.

Not long ago I asked an etiquette expert, a mathematician and an anarchist for help, but a clear solution remains elusive. Until then, report butters via #tablebutting on Twitter.


“Not in the guidebook,” when it is

blog-photoPretty much any time a travel magazine, or participants of a travel chat, boast of some discovery as something you “won’t find in any guidebook,” it’s always in a guidebook. That’s sort of a rule by now.

Yet somehow, while we’ve been searching for the next Prague (and as guidebooks started losing more and more money), “not in a guidebook” has become the new code for “off-the-beaten-track.”

It’s sad. And lazy too. Particularly as, I believe, very very few people actually know how to use a guidebook. Here’s how.


Walt Whitman quotes

Whitman_at_about_fiftyWhitman, Whitman, Whitman!! We get it. The long-haired writer could pen a memorable phrase on the ways of the road. But we must stop quoting him. At least for a full year.

Whitman quotes are all over travel. Seriously, this book is interesting, but it has three Whitman quotes in its two quick introductory chapters, and nine total for the book. Uncle!


“I want to be a travel writer because I love travel.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this. Everyone loves travel. (Though I hear recent reports of a certain Ferguson near Cincinnati who doesn’t. I guess nothing gold can stay…)

So if you want to be a travel writer, great. Try to love writing too. In the end, most travel writers will say they don’t write to travel, but travel to write. (Then they whine about not being paid for it.)


Bulldozer TV hosts

Most travel shows feature a “host” who talks to the camera, his body — and it’s always a guy — slightly arched, arms jutting out like a Texan, as a teethy mouth barks enthusiasm of how “AWESOME” a place is, with all the subtlety of a cock-punch. This is bulldozing. It’s exclamation point travel!

And, the Travel Jail is here to say, no, actually IT’S NOT AWESOME!


Travel liars

They’re in Travel Jail too.


TRAVEL JAIL WATCHLIST: fill-in-the-blank “engagement” or #chats by brands not listening to answers, street food/food trucks/local food/plates of food, exclamation points, #campaigns, last-second articles on getaways tied to holidays that must be planned weeks or months in advance, “travel like a local,” Henry David Thoreau, Paul Theroux, bucket lists, the Travel Channel, “content.”

But not typos. [Several corrections made in this post.]


* Inmates of Travel Jail serve undisclosed sentence periods. There is no appeal. Inmates will simply be released when it seems a proper period has been served. We do accept suggestions for new inmates — have any?


About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
Tagged Travel Jail. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Travel Jail

  1. Pam says:

    At 37 minutes, Gary Arndt and Andrew Evans discuss country counting. Perhaps under your Counting Countries statute, someone should do some time.

    I’d like rulings on the following:

    Ripley’s and the Hard Rock Cafe and the Cheesecake Factory.

    Those bloggewriter press trip junkies springing from one sponsored adventure to the next, rarely down shifting to organize, pay for, and then take a trip on their own dime, never taking time to remember that *most* travelers never get the best of the house rooms, the tab picked up by PR, their petty complaints resolved by a mere mention of their imagined “status.”

  2. Robert Reid says:

    Thanks Pam. Really enjoyed that “counting countries” bit. Very good conversation. Everyone — anyone there? – should listen.

    “Size doesn’t matter,” says Andrew Evans. [My tally] is about eight inches long.” Hilarious. Totally agree travel is not a “contest,” as he says here. Thanks for pointing out the 37-minute mark.

    Hard Rock Cafe, yes. Madame Tussaud’s?

    A guidebook author is essentially the opposite of the press-trip junkie — nothing is arranged, no one greets you, you check everything on your own, stay cheap (or at least most of them do it this way). It’s very easy to lose site of the audience if you are pampered, I’d think.

  3. Sean O'Neill (@sean_oneill) says:


  4. Rhonda @ Travel? Yes Please! says:

    Love the bit about counting countries. People act like travel is some sort of competition. I prefer to see one country in depth vs a lot of countries superficially- you know just so I can add to my tally chart.

  5. Greg says:

    Counting countries is like counting the partners you have slept with — you may think it impresses others, but it usually only reveals an underlying insecurity. Slow food/slow travel is the responsible and empathetic way to travel, in my view, and results in more profound long-term memories. But to each his/her own, of course!

    • Robert Reid says:

      Great analogy Mr Greg.

  6. Carol Cain (@CarolACain) says:

    I’m confused, are Ripley’s and the Cheesecake Factory not cool in travel standards? Cause I used to like going to Ripley’s just to see my kid’s reactions to it (i think most kids would think it either fun or horrifying) and Cheesecake Factory has slices of cheesecakes bigger than your head…which, if you’re craving cheese cake. Hard Rock is kinda lame…for me, but obviously not for others. So, just trying to understand if i merit my own cell here. I do love what you say about travel in the US as being just as valuable, especially since it is what is most accessible to most families – which, again, not a bad thing at all.

  7. irvin lin (@eatthelove) says:

    Chain restaurants are Travel Jail for me. Sure it’s ok to stop at a fast food joint on a road trip and there’s nothing else on the highway for miles (and even then, it’s not hard to avoid the ubiquitous FF place – I drove from San Francisco to Miami and back this summer – we ate at Subway twice as a last resort and otherwise found local places), but if you are spending time and effort to go to a new location for the experience of NOT being at home, you should make the effort to find a restaurant that is local.

    I have nothing against the Cheesecake Factory. But I can probably guarantee you that any major metropolitan city that has a Cheesecake Factory will also have a restaurant that will serve up a better slice of cheesecake. Eat the chain restaurants all you want at home, but stick to local (or even local chain) restaurants to get a feel of what the culture is like.

    • Robert Reid says:

      I’ve managed to drive across the country a couple times and never stopped at a fast-food place. If someone does, or wants to, fine, but you can avoid them even then!

      Cheesecake is fine by me, but it makes me look fat.

  8. Carol Cain (@CarolACain) says:

    I totally get that, for sure. But, since we often don’t just write for ourselves, it’s nice to keep an open mind about the things that might be interesting to others – even if they are horrid choices for ourselves, right? I mean, I don’t really eat at fast food restaurants…and coming from NYC, it would be a sin to choose Cheesecake Factory over some much legit place in Little Italy. I can of course share what I know – it’s what we do – but when friends from other countries who have never been to the US want to experience the “gringoisms” of this country, who am I to judge? If they want to experience Times Square and Hard Rock and eat a burger at McDs, and that “enriches” the American experience they always dreamed about, who am I to say to them that it was below standards? When I moved to this country after HS I had a friend visit (from the Third World country we lived in) and all she wanted to do was photograph the meat section at the supermarket because in all her life she had never seen so much food like that. Ask her about her trip to this country and she’ll show you her pic next to some cold cuts and laugh and say, “the United States is AMAZING”. Her tales of travel through the supermarket might be worthy of Travel Jail in some people’s eyes, but I adore listening to the way she experienced this country for the first time. I’m just saying, it’s nice to keep an open mind, even while being informative about our preferred choices in travel.

  9. Al says:

    On the topic of TV Hosts, how about the ones who take you on a trip through a destination, doing and seeing things that the average traveler will never experience. I have watched one workout with soldiers at an Army base, take debutante lessons for a cotillion and go skeet shooting with a private social group. The last two experiences were in my home town and I’ve contacted the people involved and was told a definite NO this was not something that they would do for tourists/travelers.

    If a show is supposed to get you excited about a destination, it should do that with places and experiences that you can do yourself. Anything else and you might as well just stand in front of the camera and say “I’m famous and you’re not, so don’t think you’ll be doing this.”

  10. Robert Reid says:

    Carol, I love the discussion. Thanks for your interest. But I think you’re confusing reader’s comments for Travel Jail “inmates.” Cheesecake or Hard Rock or X never make the jail, and for reason. I never mentioned them. That only came up from other readers. I’d never put them in “jail.”

    The only food item is fudge, again for reason. About 98% to 99% of all fudge shops appear in touristy areas bent on ridding visitors, not locals, of their money. (Unlike cheesecake, I might add.) These touristy areas are chain-centric and lack much cultural connection to place. And fudge seems to be front-and-center in any one you find.

    The presence of fudge, in my view, has become nearly synonymous with crass commercialism.

    And I actually like fudge.

    You suggest I keep “an open mind” on things interesting to others, so I think it’s reminding everyone what Travel Jail targets, and I quote: “VIOLATORS in our collective progress in striving to enjoy the world.”

    This means, noise and set-backs in how the travel world can like travel in the world.

    Every inclusion here has, to varying degrees, harmed the general travel community in my opinion. Even a “ban” on a once war-torn nation by a blog (that nets 4.4 million hits a year, admittedly).

    I take this seriously — the burden and duty of travel “experts” or writers.

    Absolutely NO inclusion in Travel Jail suggests there’s a right/wrong way to travel — in fact one “inmate” above is reserved for those who DO think that. I’ve included things, sometimes cheekily as in a fudge shop, that I think deter in the travel world’s overall goal in striving for us all to enjoy the world.

    Thanks for reading!

  11. Pingback: 44 More Little Travel Rules No One Tells You - reidontravel

  12. Mike Lorenz says:

    Hello Robert! Great Article! You visit Philippines too.
    And speaking of Philippines, you try Bohol or Cebu.
    It’s so nice there. If you need help.
    Just check out our website at Thank you!

  13. Vietnam Tour Pedia says:

    If a show is supposed to get you excited about a destination, it should do that with places and experiences that you can do yourself. Anything else and you might as well just stand in front of the camera and say “I’m famous and you’re not, so don’t think you’ll be doing this.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *