The Unhappy Traveller

Years ago I shared a flat with a PR girl from the States. She earned a lot more than my meagre art-world salary, claimed all sorts of allowances (car, housing etc) to boost her already generous income and used what she didn’t spend on rent to travel. A lot.

For a while I found her lifestyle enviably glamourous, until I realised that the destinations she was crossing off her list were chosen to Keep Up With The Joneses and didn’t add any particular value to her life. “Kelly’s going to Morocco,” she’d exclaim, and, before I knew it, she was off to Morocco, too, hot on Kelly’s heels.

When PR Girl returned from a luxury tour of Morocco, I was keen to hear all about it. “well, they all drink tea. It’s gross. They serve it in weird glasses and there’s never any milk.” She screwed up her nose and continued: “We went up to the Atlas mountains on a private 4 by 4 tour and met a local family and they gave us tea. Yuck, more tea.” Who ever would have known that this could create such a downside in a tourist’s review of a nation? “The Souk in Marrakesh was okay, though. I bought some cute slippers, kinda like Aladdin wears.” Saved by shopping. Phew.

PR Girl then planned a five-star vacation with a friend she complained about at every opportunity. Why on earth she’d want to travel with someone so incredibly annoying was anyone’s guess. This time they were off to Thailand to stay at the Banyan Tree Resort and indulge in their relaxing spa treatments. Was the feedback from this trip any better? In a word, no. “The hot stone massage did nothing. NOTHING. I couldn’t believe it. The girl obviously didn’t know what she was doing. The stones weren’t even hot.” Okay, then. I’d never had a normal massage, let alone a new-age version involving stones, so I couldn’t really sympathise. “What else did you do?” I asked, hoping that this super-expensive trip had had some positive attributes. “Well, we went on an elephant ride in the jungle, but the elephants stank. You wouldn’t believe how bad those things smell!” PR Girl exclaimed. Now I was getting annoyed. I’d love to ride one of those beautiful creatures, and I’ve known that they smell a bit ever since my first trip to the zoo as a child. So what? “I couldn’t wait to get off, it smelled so bad!” That sweet little nose would need botox before long to straighten out the constant wrinkling. How was the hotel? “There were bugs everywhere in our villa,” villa? “You’d think a Banyan Tree Resort could at least get rid of the bugs. We sure paid enough.” Then PR Girl brought out a ring she’d found in a Bangkok jewellers. “Isn’t it pretty?” she handed it to me to appraise. I held it up to the light where even without a 10x lens I could see it was synthetic, worth absolutely nothing. No use telling her that. “It’s lovely,” I said.

PR Girl had the whole London Season marked up on her calendar and made sure she got to every event possible: Ascot, Henley, Lords, Wimbledon, you name it. Tickets were procured and outfits purchased, hats donned and appropriate companions sought. When it came time for her to go to Cowes I warned her to leave London in plenty of time as there were bound to be traffic jams en route. There were, and she almost missed the ferry, but apparently that wasn’t so bad. PR Girl was this time complaining about UK hotels. “they didn’t have a hairdryer!” This presented a problem because she got up every morning at 6.30 so she could spend over an hour washing and setting her hair with that perfect Manhattan flip. “what IS it with this country, huh? The hotel amenities are crap, there’s nowhere to eat after 10pm, the sailing guys aren’t that cute and we couldn’t find any parties to go to.” Life’s tough.

Summer ended, winter arrived and with it, the opportunity to ski. “I’ve been invited to Saint Moritz,” PR Girl was excited because a group of appropriate American companions would be meeting her there. “It’ll be perfect for catching a Major Player,” the dollar signs were rolling around her eyeballs like you see on the dials of a one-armed bandit. PR Girl duly went to Saint Moritz and returned from Saint Moritz. As she dumped her case in the kitchen and sank, defeated, into a chair, she amazed me once more: “I didn’t stand a chance. The girls are skinny. Like soooo skinny and they’re way prettier than me!” unbelievable. PR Girl was petite, attractive and always groomed to perfection. The girls she was talking about must have been anorexic models. “besides. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be over there. Everyone’s way too rich.”

I’m grateful that I hadn’t had the money to join PR Girl on any of her excursions. It’s such a shame that even with all the incredible opportunities she afforded herself, she couldn’t see how lucky she was. Only a five-star hotel with working hairdryer and a chic A-list bar full of major players, one of them willing to become her husband, would do. You can get that in New York easily enough, so one asks oneself why she ever left.

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