As I was waiting for my Houston-Austin flight to take off last week, I became distracted by the conversation occurring in the row behind me. An older man, who identified himself as a retired Texas A&M professor, was explaining the details of his journey to an off-duty flight attendant sitting next to him.
I was surprised to learn that the man, whose strong accent and disjointed manner of speaking belied his credentials, had just come from Bangkok. What on Earth could he have been doing on there?
He quickly solved that mystery for me — he was invited to guest lecture at a Thai university — but intrigued, I continued eavesdropping.
“Oh yeah, it’s safe,” he explained to the woman, who seemed more fascinated by each subsequent monologue than the one before it. “Asians aren’t generally violent people.”
As the plane ascended into the clear Texas sky, he continued relaying common travel knowledge — Cambodia uses the U.S. dollar as its currency; hotel rooms in Southeast Asia are extremely cheap; third world travel tends to make first world travelers extremely thankful — as if he were reading Eckhart Tolle.
By the end of the 50-minute flight, I was on the cusp of being annoyed. And then I realized: His words could just as well have come out of my mouth.
It was sobering to admit, as the plane taxied to the gate, that I probably sound like just as much of a douchebag when I rattle off the same sorts of inane trivia in hearing range of other well-traveled individuals.
Even more sobering was my realization that, since the man’s travels in Southeast Asia had led him to the same factual conclusions as me, his esoteric gain had probably also been along similar lines as well.
Since I write this blog to encourage others to travel, and to provide them with practical tools to help them do so, this realization — that travel indiscriminately changes lives and broadens perspectives — should be as obvious to me as the fact that Vietnamese people, in fact, love Americans, or that Laos is landlocked.
But as the man bid his seatmate farewell, and we all disembarked into the terminal, it became clear: Even after nearly a decade of travel, and having my ass handed to me dozens upon dozens of times, there is still a part of me that believes I am special, that I am ever-so-slightly more enlightened than other travelers, even as we tread along the same well-trodden paths.
As I round out my first of an indefinite number of weeks back “at home,” I’ve decided that this is the chief post-travel neurosis that I want to remedy before the next time I fly out so that hopefully, if I do find myself seated near an over-eager traveler sharing the good news with a comfort-loving commoner, I can feel solidarity, and not combativeness.
Well, unless he or she also sounds like Paula Deen.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.