Theroux on Why We Travel

Paul Theroux is not my favorite person, but I like his books. Theroux lives on the North Shore of Oahu, when he’s not traveling the world, and thrives as the brash, irreverent, articulate personality that gives his books a rebellious yet true quality.

On the long plane ride to relocate to Hawaii from the East Coast ten years ago, I read Hotel Honolulu – a great preview to the seedier side of Waikiki – with characters I later saw and avoided when I rode TheBus. In 2009, to celebrate Hawaii’s 50th anniversary of statehood, he wrote an essay for the New York Times on Hawaii’s idiosyncracies of island culture (Happily a State, Forever an Island) that I had also learned by then to tolerate.

Theroux often writes travel essays, so his recent article in the New York Times travel section – Why We Travel – seemed to be from an appropriate source.  His advice?  Don’t stay home; don’t be afraid to vacation in tyrannical countries or places in conflict. Go for the experiences – “shocking though they may seem at the time…the experience of being a bystander to sudden political or social change can be alarming {but also} an enrichment…one of the life-altering trophies of the road.

He draws the line: “I wouldn’t go to present-day Somalia or Afghanistan…nor Pakistan,” but “only the other day the Libyan tourist board was encouraging visitors with promises of Roman ruins,” and not all of Japan is in disaster. My guess is that he wrote the article before the no-fly zone air strikes and the radioactive meltdowns – but maybe not.

Theroux goes for the adventure, for the location that is not only “out of fashion” but also places the traveler may “dare to try.”  The article seems to be a preview for his new book, The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road, due out in May.

I look forward to vicariously traveling with him to all those dangerous yet “enlightening” places through reading, but I’m not sure I’m ready to actually go yet.