The Joys of Travel

“The Place You Could Be Looking For”
An essay featured in the upcoming book by Thomas Swick, The Joys of Travel

Joys of Travel 9781634508216
The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them, veteran travel writer Thomas Swick reflects on what he has identified as “the seven joys of travel”: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection, and heightened appreciation of home. Coupled with the personal essays are seven true stories that illustrate these joys. Each details the author’s experience visiting destinations across the globe, including Munich, Bangkok, Sicily, Iowa, and Key West.

The Joys of Travel awakens readers to pleasures that, as travelers, they may be taking for granted, and shows non-travelers what they’ve been missing. It offers tips on how people can get the most out of their trips, including strategies for meeting locals, and examines how various modes of transportation affect a traveler’s experience. Throughout this enlightening memoir, Swick also supplies readers with the titles of travel classics that will not only prepare them for the places they visit, but make those places more meaningful once they arrive.

Before your next trip, be it a family vacation or a backpacking tour of Europe, read The Joys of Travel. It will inspire you to get the most out of your time away from home—and to get away more often.

Excerpt from the book:

“It’s not the arrival,” they always tell you, “it’s the journey that matters.” However, sometimes it’s neither. Sometimes it’s your hotel.

The taxi from the airport eased off the expressway and made a U-turn onto an auxiliary road. It slalomed along the sloping driveway of a darkened high-rise and made a sharp right past a lineup of food stalls—a few were still lit by bare electric bulbs, though it was well past midnight. Finally, we came to a halt at the end of a cul-de-sac in front of a facade of scaffold-like concrete that gave the upper floors a caged look. No sign identified the building; the cabbie seemed as perplexed as I was. Then I noticed the message next to the entrance: Sex Tourists Not Welcome —and I knew that I had found the right place.

Months earlier, I had asked an acquaintance then living in Thailand if he had any hotel suggestions for Bangkok, and he had immediately recommended The Atlanta. The rooms were Spartan, he warned, but the Art Deco lobby had barely been touched since the opening in 1952, and the restaurant—where Queen Ramphaiphanni had regularly dined—was still excellent. Big band music played in both rooms. The owner, Dr. Charles Henn, was a friend to writers, and displayed books written by guests in the hotel’s lobby. Also, he had an aversion to shaking hands.

I had then checked the hotel website. A picture of the lobby—staff stationed behind the arched eyebrows of matching reception desks, a bouqueted roundabout centerpieced in a checkerboard sea—levitated above the words: Bangkok’s bastion of wholesome and culturally sensitive tourism. Le patron mange ici. Not far below ran a line I was soon quoting to friends, neighbors, anyone who asked about my upcoming trip: The Atlanta is untouched by pop culture and post-modern vulgarity.

The hotel philosophy on global love for sale was stated farther down: The Atlanta is against sex tourism. Sex tourism is exploitive, socially damaging and culturally demeaning: those who want to buy sex should do so in their own country. This was followed by a condemnation of all illegal activities on hotel premises, concluding with the recommendation: Those who cannot go abroad without behaving badly should stay home.

Quietly, I rolled my suitcase into the dimly lit lobby. A thin gray cat lazily licked himself on the roundabout. The night receptionist took my name and asked for payment. I had received a long, single-spaced letter from a Roger Le Phoque, “private secretary to Dr. Charles Henn,” confirming my reservation and delineating some of The Atlanta’s unorthodoxies, including its policy of accepting neither credit cards nor foreign currencies. However, nothing had been mentioned about payment upon arrival. I had some change from the taxi and three Thai words, mai pen rai, meaning, more or less, “not to worry.” The receptionist said I could pay in the morning.

Blurrily, I climbed the wraparound staircase, passing on the landing a sign from which the phrase “catamites or prostitutes” jumped out. I had not come across this term for a particular type of boy since reading the opening sentence of Anthony Burgess’s 1980 novel Earthly Powers: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” Any hotel that reminds you of literary genius is worth the price.

The price was five hundred baht which, with 7 percent tax, came to approximately $13.70 a night.

A Pink and Yellow Hotel Room

In the morning, I awoke in a room painted pink and yellow. The air-conditioner hummed reassuringly. Low windows looked out, through the discolored concrete cage, onto the modern apartment house across the street. I took a hot shower with a hand-held nozzle in a curtain-less tub and then, when dressed, went down for breakfast.

The restaurant had the same cool, unperturbed look as the lobby. At the far end was a small annex with books, videos, and the Times Literary Supplement on wooden sticks. Waitresses shuffled about in loose-fitting blouses and conservative skirts. Small black-and-white photographs of Siam lined the walls, ceiling fans rotated, baroque music played softly.

An expressionless waitress brought me a menu. The cover read: The Menu of The Atlanta. Please do not remove. There are only three copies of this menu. I remembered the website had proudly proclaimed this to be “the world’s first menu with serious and learned annotations.” The first page, however, contained no list of foods, just another pronouncement against prostitutes.

Please, I thought, not at breakfast. Still, I took out my notebook. The waitress walked over with a censorious look on her face. I quickly checked to see if I had unthinkingly brought a catamite to dine. Then the waitress told me I was not allowed to write, and looking down at the bottom of the cover I read: Copyright 2003. No part of this menu may be reproduced.

Properly chastised, I ordered. My pineapple shake arrived on a coaster of The Atlanta. ZERO TOLERANCE & SLEAZE FREE ZONE, it read. NO SEX TOURISTS, JUNKIES, LOUTS & OTHER DEGENERATES.

The reverse side was filled with script:

“There are local expats who walk in with what is obviously a bargirl. They ignore the sign by the entrance and are oblivious to the ethos of the hotel. They think they can go anywhere and do what they like because they are farangs [foreigners]—they have been spoilt by the tolerant and non-confrontational Thais.
Once here, within these walls, they feel offended if resident guests give them disapproving looks and when the staff do not make them feel welcome. They then pompously say the bargirl is their wife! Courtesy prevents me from asking the unfortunate bargirl what desperation drove her to marry that loser.” —Dr. Henn in conversation with a writer.

Number 5 of an indefinite set.

While eating my pork with pickled radish and rice I thought that, to all the other Atlanta superlatives—“the oldest unaltered hotel foyer in Thailand,” “the world’s largest selection of Thai vegetarian dishes”—“the world’s most didactic hotel” could surely be added. All hotels have rules; this one had a code of ethics.

The trendy ones have attitude; The Atlanta had morality. In some ways it reminded me of an English boarding school—the hushed public spaces, the classical music, the books and journals scattered about, the overriding presence of a stern, but wry, headmaster—that for some strange reason served gourmet meals. My breakfast was ambrosial.

[Excerpted with permission from The Joys of Travel: And Stories That Illuminate Them by Thomas Swick. Copyright 2016, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.]
Buy The Joys of Travel, and the Stories that Illuminate Them on Amazon. thomas-swickThomas Swick is the author of the travel memoir Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland, and a collection of travel stories, A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler. For nearly two decades, Swick was the travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He has traveled to more than sixty countries, chronicling his experiences in work that has appeared in the American Scholar, North American Review, Oxford American, Missouri Review, Smithsonian, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, New York Times Book Review, and six editions of The Best American Travel Writing. He lives with his wife, Hania, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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