How To Be Well-Traveled, Part I


If you really want to commit to this project, begin in utero. Experience jet-lag via umbilical connection. Growing up is a matter of having a more or less fixed frame of reference; perhaps a country, a sub-culture. Avoid this at all cost. For maximum efficiency, be born into a nation that is not your own. If possible, have multiple passports. Be a mongrel. It’s trendy. Be a shape-shifter—but don’t let your personality erode.

Fly before the age at which air travel is recommended by the medical profession. Experience the joy of pressure-variation on your infant sinus causing you to bleed from the nose and your hysterical mother to be almost detained, for being hysterical. Paradoxically, remain susceptible to air sickness for years, a sea-sick sailor the other shipmates make fun of.

Speak your first word in baby-speak: Mama. Speak your second, a phonetically-accurate four-syllable French word, to express how fucking hot it is in the desert: Ventilateur. Get dysentery (or some other exotic affliction). Have a near-death experience too early for it to be of any psychological value except for this murky, traumatic fear of dirty water which only serves to embarrass you at the beach—however, keep a hyper-dramatized version of the story for later years as a cocktail-party anecdote. When you repatriate, these anecdotes will be hard currency.

Attend international schools where students enroll and roll away like it’s a fast-food drive-through. Make friends with blurry outlines and jarring, bi-cultural names. Love them. Move to another country. Never see them again.

Move to an island with strange vegetation. Adopt a lemur. Adopt a chameleon. It’s more like kidnapping than adoption, but whatever. Kill them accidentally. Adopt an army of workers in the house whom everyone calls “servants.” This is normal. Call them auntie and uncle. Love them.

Notice the local wealth treat their staff like slaves and you like visiting royalty. See starving children with bloodshot eyes in such abject poverty you wonder how they survive, but who nevertheless seem just as blissfully unaware as you are. See children you are told were mutilated by their parents to make for more effective mendacity. Understand that mendacity is an industry; that parenting has many faces in this world; that children are just another, smaller variety of human: not special at all, just extremely vulnerable.

Adjust your frame of reference. When you repatriate, adopt a world-weary, somewhat melancholic discourse about “how it really is out there in the world.” Some will dismiss you as a pretentious twat, but you can’t have everything. No one ever said being well-travelled was easy. Watch a group of street kids stone a dog to death on the beach. Watch right to the end, but do nothing. Think of trauma as a learning experience, because that’s exactly what it is. Adjust your frame of reference.

Develop a dependent, emotionally-charged relationship with your immediate family; after all, they are the only ones who are always there, drinking the same cultural cocktail. Enjoy the tropical sunshine, the upper-class amenities. There are no McDonalds, movie theatres or videogame arcades and everyone speaks three dialects which sound like static to you — but there are lizards on the walls, monkeys in the bamboo forest in your backyard, and your circle of pre-pubescent expat friends are crazy enough to want to throw stones at African wasp nests, just like you. From this bare-bones sense of play, you will take into adulthood the ability to appreciate the simplest of pleasures.

Feel your sense of entitlement growing but without really noticing, like hair or toenails. Become a brat. Play with the powerful slingshot “uncle” made for you from tropical hardwood and bicycle wheel tubing for your birthday. Shoot “uncle” in the head with it. See a grown man cry for the first time but rest assured, he will not be telling your parents about this. When you repatriate, keep this anecdote to yourself.

As your personality begins to crystallize into something you can work to understand objectively, slowly come to terms with the fact that, despite your parents’ best efforts, you are slowly evolving into a prejudiced little bigot. Adjust your frame of reference. You are still young — you can still change.

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