Something needs to be written about the true state of travel abroad these days. Far too much romance is attached to it. Those who stand to profit the most from it are often the very ones grinding out the exaggerated copy about foreign destinations. There would be fewer disappointments if travelers had more realistic expectations about their long-awaited foreign journeys.
It is still very true that life is short and the world is wide and the sooner you start the better. But there is also a surprising amount of frustrations attached to it.I should like to begin by describing the best part. The American tourist is no longer viewed as the world's leading obnoxious traveler. The Japanese in their dark three-piece box suits and the naked Germans outdistanced us back in the early '80s.
The Japanese abroad are only courteous to the immediate members of their tight-knit tour group. They are rude to everyone else. They are also extraordinary shoplifters. They happily pay for all duty-free purchases, but Montana ranches, the Rockefeller Center, shopping malls, large sections of beach-front property and electronic manufacturing plants seem to somehow be missing from every continent they visit. And if this isn't enough, they take 35mm slides of everything, not just sunsets, cathedrals, monuments and mosques. They snap shots of everything - buses, trucks, trees, manhole covers, telephone lines, parking meters, hub caps, tumbleweeds, ash trays and air conditioners. Do they know something we don't? It might be well to remember they did the same thing at Pearl Harbor in the summer of '41.
But you seldom see the Japanese in a tiny swimming suit at poolside or the beach, a good thing in view of their legs. This is the worldwide domain of the Germans. An inverse relationship exists here - the larger the stomach, the smaller the swimming suit. And right off the charts are those Germans with the most disgusting shapes. These are the naked Germans. They all share a common need to issue German demands and German orders to everyone who does not speak German or appreciate what reunification really implies.
What all of this means to the ingenuous American traveler is simply that both the Japanese and the Germans have it inherently within them to take over completely a resort, a hotel or a beach-front condominium project. It would be well to call ahead and check out the nationality of any tour group booking before making that non-refundable deposit for the first week's stay.
No bridge is too far or destination too distant for the Japanese or the Germans. They turn up on tropical coastlines the world over - Sri Lanka, Angola, Mombasa, Mexico, the Seychelles, and Durban, South Africa.
There may also be present at any destination around the world another group that is known as the "universal yuppie." They are wealthy, well-educated and DINKS (double income, no kids). They are there to have an `experience' and in the process let you know how meaningless your shallow life is. They go on archaeological digs, study the annual migration of the wildebeest or scuba dive for lost Phoenician art objects for the British Museum. They are easy to spot because they always wear Banana Republic bush jackets, thin-rimmed tortoise-shell glasses and are very intense. Avoid them whenever possible.
Because of recent events in the Middle East, Americans going to Europe would also be well advised to double their travel expense budgets. Prepay as much of your trip as possible because the U.S. dollar will only continue to weaken abroad, according to the experts. Expenses in the European capitals make New York City look like a cheap, though unsafe, bargain.
If all of this is too much for the reader, you always have the option of remaining at home and reading travel columns of a writer too foolish to heed his own advice.