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The Case Against Travel

By Marty Nemko

(to appear in April issue of the Mensa Bulletin)

People pine for travel: “I’d love to go on safari. “I can’t wait to see Australia.” Ooh, Tuscany.” After age 40, many people would rather travel than have sex.

Indeed, people speak of travel in rapturous terms: “When I stood at the Acropolis, I felt a connectedness with the ages.” “Iguaçu Falls took my breath away.” As I trekked in Badlands National Park (There actually is such a place,) I was one with nature.”

My travel gene must be defective. Here are my main memories of travel:

--Sitting in the airport as they announce that the flight’s been delayed, and after they board us, it’s delayed even more. Then, I’m cooped up in that stale-air plane with its revenue-maximized legroom for endless hours interrupted only by earsplitting safety instructions, B movies, and free Salisbury steak in cholesterol sauce. They’ve even taken that away. Today, the food consists of even more terrible edibles-- at prices that make me choke.

-- Arriving to find that to get my rent-a-car, I have to schlep my luggage through a road-rally-like path through the airport, wait for the shuttle (Of course, everyone else’s comes first.), and when I finally reach at the rent-a-car counter, the odds are no better than 2:1 they’ll have my reservation. If not, the rate is 10 zillion dollars a day (insurance extra. A lot extra.)

-- My usual first stop is to buy some essential I left home (at twice the normal price.)

-- Unless I was willing to spend another ten zillion dollars, the hotel is never as nice as what was advertised, and/or is in a worse location than implied. “Near the beach” means a 15-minute hike while trying to avoid dropping towels, suntan lotion, or beachmat.

-- The weather? Climate roulette. All I seem to remember is racing to escape the rain.

-- And then there’s the food. You tell me the Mexican food in Mexico is that much better than at your favorite local Mexican restaurant? After all, the cook at your local smashed-bean house is from Mexico. Eat in your home town and you’ll not only save the travel money and hassles, you won’t get Montezuma’s Revenge.

-- Speaking of being sick in Mexico, only once have I needed medical attention in a foreign country: I broke a tooth in Mexico. I went to the dentist recommended by my hotel’s concierge, and when he put his hand in my mouth, I swear, it smelled of feces.

-- And then there’s travel’s holy grail: the sights? All those churches, the museums, the historic sites! That’s where my defective travel gene really expresses itself: Seen one, seen ‘em all. I don’t need to fly to kingdom come to see the Church of St. Hoohah. If I want to see a pretty church, there are plenty in my own city.

-- But what about shopping for bargains? Sure, you can find them--if you don’t get ripped off. Most people break even. Of course, bargain or not, you have to lug all that crap home, of course, declaring your treasures so you can pay Customs’ friendly little tax. And be honest with yourself: Haven’t you gotten carried away in a foreign shopping frenzy, buying indigenous doodads only to return home with no idea what the hell to do with the junk?

One kind of travel makes some sense to me: travel to a Mensa gathering. RG’s are near your home so travel hassles and costs are minimal and AGs are held in interesting cities. Well, Birmingham? At least the price is right ($89 for a Sheraton at the 2007 AG), and the registration fee is a steal--four days of Mensan-perfect entertainment and stimulation for the cost of a decent dinner for two. See y’all there. (Maybe.)

When he’s not traveling, Dr. Nemko is a career coach and career editor for U.S. News. 500 of his published articles, plus chapters from the just-published 3rd edition of his book, Cool Careers for Dummies (He insists it’s more appropriate for Mensans) are free at

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