& opinion


Every year, Sussex’s long Easter break conveniently provides its American students with the unique opportunity to travel all over Europe, which is really one of the two main reasons why Americans study here in the first place (the HotHouse being the other). After all, what else could be more wonderful than walking around ancient cities, seeing the sights, eating the local food, and getting pickpocketed?

Actually, I’d rather settle for a mild case of SARS and free beer.

To me, travelling ranks high up on modern man’s list of the most highly overrated activities, along with universal suffrage and Footballer’s Wives. Ever since my family vacation to Quebec, I’ve always been suspicious of going to places where one doesn’t have a house key. I was twelve then and kept insisting in horror, "we can’t go to Canada; I can’t understand Saved by the Bell in French!" A near decade of education and maturation later, traveling, I realised, still sucks.

The suckiness (yes, I made that word up) of travelling can be traced all the way back to the first ever recorded tourist in history, when a Phoenician sailor accidentally landed on the shores of Britain and began taking pictures of the Druids and Stonehenge with his hand-powered digital camera, saying, "I like what you did with them rocks there." The Druids later beheaded him for being annoying, and ate his eyeballs with baked beans.

As it turned out, I too decided to pack my bags and join the eager throng of souvenircrazed students setting sail to experience continental Europe. Before this, the farthest I had ever been from Brighton was Arts B, which limited my conversations about England with my mom. "Have you seen a lot of the country," she asked me once. "Yes," I replied. "East Slope is nice."

Now, some may lead you to believe that travelling is an enriching endeavour, which rejuvenates both mind and body by exposing you to other cultures by day and lavishing exotic women at you by night. All these, of course, are true - if you’re Justin Timberlake. In reality, however, travelling for most students is closer to being homeless.

Let’s look at the similarities:
First, the student traveller is deprived of a stable source of shelter; without which, he is forced to aimlessly wander the streets all day. Tourism propaganda use the euphemism ‘sightseeing’ to describe this effect, but ‘miserable vagabonding,’ I think, is more accurate. Secondly, you never know where your next meal is coming from or what you’re eating (this is difficult for the picky, homeless Vegan).

Thirdly, the traveller is reduced to living out of his duffle bag, which he must fanatically protect from other preying, grimy travellers who have run out of deodorant and clean underwear. And lastly, because of his unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings, the traveller, like the homeless person, is compelled to drink constantly in order to be able to sleep at night and forget about the huge blunder of leaving the luxuries of home in the first place.

Yet despite these convincing reasons, some people not only remain champions of travelling but even pride themselves intellectually on how much they’ve travelled. These same people also collect Pokemon cards and routinely act out scenes from Lord of the Rings.

Yes, they are the omniscient, rambling travel connoisseurs. They come from everywhere and have been to every place. In boast, they can name you cities they visited that don’t even have vowels and claim authority on where to go for the best fish-head soup in Kazakhstan. But overwhelmingly as a whole, they share only one common salient characteristic - they are all very, VERY irritating.

I encountered one of them in my youth hostel in Rome, blabbing on and on about which places he preferred over others. I asked him if he had ever been to Brighton. "No," he said. Great. Let’s keep it that way," I suggested.

Sad to say, my own ventures fell relatively short of my stellar expectations and were instead punctuated by outbursts such as: "You’re going to hell for sneaking in the Vatican," "We didn’t walk through the Sistine Chapel already, did we?" "That’s not The David is it?" and "Zeus has pretty small lighting rod...some king of gods."

At the Picasso museum in Barcelona, while refusing to pay the extra three euros to view the extended art exhibit, I did get to see the basic works of the famous painter. It was there before those legendary pieces - witnessing first hand Picasso’s "bold" strokes, "playful" brushes, and "daring" use of colors - that I realized I didn’t know a damn thing about art and felt like a jackass. Soon after, I left the building and paid a vendor five euros for a beer.

Of all the places I visited, Venice takes the cake as the most unforgettable city, despite my repeated attempts to blot it out of memory.

For those who haven’t been to Venice, the city is just like Disney World’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ only dirtier. If you want a cheap way to experience Venice, I recommend running a bath, urinating in it, leaving the concoction to marinate for three centuries, then tipping a small log over so your friends can get on and pay an exorbitant amount of money, while you pretend to row them away belting out "That’s Amore" in bad Italian.

In the end, exhausted, broke, and my right toe having turned blue from all the walking when I was drunk and lost, I was quite glad to go back home to Brighton. But to be fair, travelling, in spite of all its headaches, has its advantages as well. I did, after all, get cheap bottles of Jameson at the Madrid airport to bring back.