- By the Seat of My Pants
Lately the trend in literary travel writing is that the best of times is the worst of times. Everyone secretly relishes the bad trip, as long as it's somebody else's. And there are a whole lot of those in Lonely Planet's new book of humorous tales of travel and misadventure, By the Seat of My Pants, edited by Don George, Lonely Planet's global travel editor and former editor of Salon.com's "Wanderlust." Not since Travelers' Tales' Danger! has such a diverse collection combined literary flair with the savoir-faire of luminaries (Jan Morris, Pico Iyer, Simon Winchester) and lesser-knowns (Bill Fink). At least one story, "The Afghan Tourist Office" (whose title says it all), is by a previously unpublished writer, Alexander Ludwick.
In thirty years of wandering the globe, Don George has learned that the one thing you can expect when traveling is that the unexpected will happen. "That's why my #1 rule of the road is this: if you don't pack your sense of humour with your sunscreen, sooner or later you will get burned," Don George says in the introduction. He promises "unadulterated hilarity" and "unimaginable situations" that make us laugh at the world and ourselves.
The thirty-one tales of disaster abroad range from the wryly ironic to the laugh-out-loud absurd. There's Vagabonding author Rolf Potts discussing blue movies in a sort-of Shangri-la on the subcontinent, Christopher R. Cox braving a boat in Cambodia that's nothing at all like the tourist brochure, and Pico Iyer on a hair-raising whirlwind tour of Ethiopia.
One of the funniest stories, "An Idyll in Ibiza," describes a vacation from hell in the beautiful Balearics. The half-Jewish Karl Taro Greenfeld visits the wealthy German family of his model girlfriend, Anya, and ends up battling a pampered rat (the Beckers feed it) with a tennis racket and trying to reinstall the broken propeller of the Beckers' sailboat during a boating disaster.
What makes the book worthwhile is Lonely Planet's knack in recognizing a good read. There is not a boring passage in By the Seat of My Pants, whose tone for the most part is more comedic, mind-ripping yarn than ethereal soul-searching yawn. Who cares if some of the stories aren't misadventures at all, like Kathie Kertesz's fairytale meeting with the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein? The only real criticism is that the anthology is too short [End Page 156] and begs a sequel. The next time you plan to get kidnapped by an Uzi-toting kidnapper-cum-tour guide in Prague, abort a climbing expedition on Mount Fuji, or get locked inside a bathroom in Holland, this is the book to take along for light reading. Your own suffering will pale in comparison.