If you are looking for “sun-kissed beaches” or lands that are a “mix of the Ancient and modern,” you won’t find them here. Travel Writer Chuck Thompson instead takes his readers behind the curtain to expose what true travel is all about (even those perfect travel-writer-comped moonlit dinners are accompanied by droning PR staff). It’s not a pretty picture a lot of the time, despite what travel magazines and guidebooks would have you believe.
Thompson (whose writing credits include several books and any number of magazines bearing household names) has been trying for some time to expose the real nature of traveling and the faux presentation behind the slick brochures and adjective-strewn travel articles, but has met with great resistance. It’s no surprise that the travel industry (perhaps the largest business in the world…and growing) would prefer to keep those ugly little secrets hidden.
It makes sense that those whose livelihoods depend on a swell of interest in travel or a particular destination would prefer not to air its dirty laundry. And while recent television news magazine shows have done programs on the less-than-pristine nature of hotel rooms or misleading travel deals, overall the media has generally taken a hands-off approach. Thompson might suggest, if anything, the media has been a willing accomplice.
Not for the Faint of Heart
For the sake of us all, let’s hope that many of the stories shared by Thompson are never the experienced by his readers. Still, anyone who travels on a regular basis, particularly overseas will have his or her own war stories to tell about traveling adventures. Even with the best of intentions, the average traveler is likely to encounter his or her share of troubles as a result of ignorance or simply bad luck.
These days, the hassle of traveling begins at the airport and continues from there. Delays, missed flight, overpriced food and drink, and baggage charges are the least of it, however. Real loneliness and anxiety is the companion of any single overseas traveler, especially when the destination is off the beaten track (if such a thing exists anymore).
Should this stop anyone from packing his or her bags and heading out? Clearly not. In fact, the one area where Americans feel most comfortable traveling, the Caribbean, has been deemed by Thompson as one of the world’s worst travel spots.
Tough Critic with a Soft Heart
Many of the descriptions in Smile When You’re Lying may be hard to take or even grate on the refined person’s nerves (whether Thompson is referring to his Japanese students or TSA agents, his language can be harsh and judgmental). He’s been compared to Hunter S. Thompson in his style, and it’s an apt comparison in some spots.
Still, for those who can stick out the harsh sections, the book’s ultimate reward is there. His last story is particularly compelling and points up that you never really know a stranger in a strange land until you give them a chance. Even the biggest jerk can be a good guy underneath it all. Some might even say that about Thompson himself.