This is a reprise post from 2018. Hubby and I are still away camping. Hope you enjoy it. 
I write quite a lot on my blog about Hubby’s and my travel adventures. We love to travel. But appearances on Instagram to the contrary, travel isn’t all beautiful sunsets and stunning vistas. Sometimes it’s exhausting, stressful, disappointing, and even painful.
Sometimes you get to that beautiful beach, but the water is too cold to even paddle in the shallows.
woman wading in the sea
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France 2015

Or you begin your hike, and it might be cold and windy, but you’re well prepared, in your ski underwear, and heavy Gortex pants and jacket. Besides, there’s all that lovely sunshine.

woman in hiking gear, mountains in background
Mount Kosciuszko, New South Wales, Australia. 2008

Until partway up, the weather turns, and you realize the damp cold is much worse than the sunshiney cold, and it dawns on you that you’d better stick close together or lose sight of each other in the mist. Ha.

woman half hidden in mist
Mount Kosciuszko plays misty for us. Ha.
But, you shrug and say, “We’re in France, or Australia, or wherever. How bad can it be?” And you build a wind-break so you can still eat your picnic on the beach. Or, back at your cosy B&B after returning from that bone-chilling hike, you light a fire, and snuggle down with a glass of wine and your book. Because you don’t expect every day to be perfect. And you know that the perfect moments are worth the hassle, the cold, the stress, and the occasional disappointment.
scree, a lake, and snow-covered mountains in background
 Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado in Patagonia, 2017.
The view from the top of Loma Del Pliegue Tumbado in Patagonia was worth the worrisome bites I suffered that day and which resulted in a trip to the hospital. And that two-day drive along the unpaved back roads in northern Argentina was worth every second of panic that Hubby and I felt on our last night when we were locked in the courtyard of our hotel in Salta at one o’clock in the morning, fearing we might have to navigate the brick wall with the iron spikes on top, or miss our flight to Peru. Ha. The story of that mishap alone was worth all the stress. You can read it here if you’re interested.
But what I’m saying, I guess, is that travel is about much more than perfectly sunny days and five-star accommodation. And according to the experts, it’s good for us in so many ways. Especially international travel, and particularly when travellers “engage with the local community.” Besides the physical and psychological benefits, travel “pulls people out of their cultural bubbles,” and as a result fosters a greater “trust and faith in humanity.” There’s a really interesting article in The Atlantic here, on how travel is, as we’ve long thought, well, broadening.
I’ve been thinking and reading about travel lately because I’ve also been reading Martha Gellhorn’s memoir Travels with Myself and Another. The memoir is by her own description an account of her “best horror journeys.” Gellhorn despite her many horrific travel experiences, never lost her love of travel.
I admit to first being interested in Gellhorn because she was Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, the only one who would leave him instead of the other way round. But I’ve come to be fascinated by her in her own right. In fact I feel a bit sheepish that her marriage to Hemingway is what brought her to my notice, especially since she hated being known for her relationship to him, instead of for herself. As she famously said, “Why should I be a footnote to someone else’s life?” Why, indeed?
vintage photo of woman reading
Gellhorn in Idaho, 1940

I’m not finished reading Travels with Myself and Another yet. It definitely is a book which needs to be rationed, one chapter at a time, with a rest of several days in between. Otherwise one might be put off travel altogether.

I’m loving Gellhorn’s frankness, and her ability to describe so evocatively the bone-shaking plane rides, disgusting smells, filthy hotel rooms, bed bugs, strange skin afflictions she acquires, and utterly unhelpful, even obdurate, guides. In some places I laughed out loud. Especially at her description of her interactions with Ernest Hemingway who, in one section, unwillingly accompanies her to China, is referred to throughout as UC for “Unwilling Companion,” and when things go wrong reminds her “who wanted to see China?” I also love how she describes Hemingway as uncomplaining and even heroic, and herself as writing “yowling” letters home to her mother. For someone whose marriage to Hemingway would fall apart years before she wrote this book, she’s very generous in her descriptions of him, a testament, I imagine, to her honesty.

vintage photo of man, woman and several Chinese soldiers in uniform,
Gellhorn with Hemingway in China, 1941

I’d long intended to read Martha Gellhorn’s memoir, but it was only the news earlier this year of Paula McLain’s latest historical novel, Love and Ruin, based on Gellhorn’s marriage to Hemingway, that spurred me on to finally buy the book. Both books in fact. I’d read, and loved, McLain’s two earlier novels, The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun. You can read my review of both books in this post. And I decided that before I read McLain’s fiction about Gellhorn, I had to read Gellhorn’s own work.

two books
Gellhorn’s memoir and McLain’s novel about Gellhorn and Hemingway

I’m almost finished Gellhorn’s memoir; she’s in Soviet Russia at the moment. So I’ll be starting McLain’s novel any day now. The funny thing is that I’d intended to read both books weeks ago. I’d been saving them for our trip to the Saguenay in early August. Or maybe when we were down east, or on our early September camping trip. I wanted to savour them when we were on vacation. But as each trip, one by one, was cancelled on account of shingles, I decided that I’d better just read the damned books. And so I shall.

woman in WWI helmut
Wearing embarrassing headgear at Hubby’s behest. Carrière Wellington, Arras, France, 2015.

I know that my friends sometimes tire of hearing me relate travel stories ad nauseam. As Gellhorn says in the preface to her book: “Upon our return, no one willingly listens to our travellers’ tales. ‘How was the trip?’ they say. ‘Marvellous,’ we say, ‘In Tbilisi, I saw…’ Eyes glaze. As soon as politeness permits or before, conversation is switched back to local news such as gossip, the current political outrage, who’s read what, last night’s telly…” Gellhorn believes it’s only our tales of horror that keep our friends interested in our travel stories. Certainly it’s the disaster or near-disaster experiences that make the best stories.

But, I also know that for the traveller themselves it’s the disaster, or near-disaster, experiences, the exhausting, stressful, disappointing, or even painful days, which make the beautiful sunsets and stunning vistas even more sweet. The vicissitudes of travel don’t put us off travel in the least.

In fact, this summer, I’ve learned that the vicissitudes of travel are nothing compared to the pain of being confined to barracks, with no prospect of travel at all.

But things are looking up. There’s Italy in a few weeks. And in the meantime, there’s Gellhorn’s book to finish, and McLain’s novel to read, and travel outfits to plan. Life is good, people.

Now, how about you my friends? Have you read Gellhorn’s memoir? I know that some of you have much better travel horror stories than I do. Any that we haven’t heard? Or any travel books you’d like to recommend for those of us who love them?



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From the archives


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38 thoughts on “The Vicissitudes of Travel”

  1. Hi Sue–Your anecdotes mirrored our experiences of living in a small city on the Italian
    Riviera for 5 weeks last winter. Temperatures were sometimes 10 degrees below the average (although warmer than what we left in Montreal), and we saw snow, but we still had a wonderful trip with many highlights. For travel to Italy, you need to read any of the wonderful books by Tim Parks. They are insightful and entertaining. Have a great trip. Bobbe

    1. Five weeks on the Italian Riviera sounds wonderful, no matter the weather. I've just ordered a couple of Tim Parks travel books from the library. Thanks for drawing him to my attention, Bobbe.

  2. I also recommend Tim Parks’ books, and I think that watching Italian movies and TV programs is an entertaining way to pick up basic Italian words and phrases.

  3. I love to hear travel stories…..I like them to start at the beginning with the planning, packing, getting to the airport, how the flight was, what happened the first day, etc etc. I recently called a friend just back from Alaska and invited her to lunch in a quiet restaurant so she could tell all…… But I have noticed that most people don't want to hear my travel stories in detail, so I tend to hold back unless they demonstrate great curiosity.

    I am in hot pursuit of a shingles shot series, after reading your account – so you can think of your shingles stories as a public service. No consolation, I know.


    1. I'm like that too, Ceci. I love the detail of travel stories. We saw the Louvre just isn't enough. I want to hear about the people, the restaurants, what they ate, what they drank, yadda, yadda. Sometimes it's hard to get people to give up the details.

  4. Loved Martha Gellhorn's memoir and also Caroline Moorhead's biography of Gellhorn. I love to hear travel stories within reason: places I'm interested and someone who can tell them well! New Paula McLain book is on my (very long)to read list. Don't know if you plan to go to Sicily but the Montalbano series featuring a Sicilian detective is very entertaining. Have watched rather than read. And I know you've read some of Donna Leon's Bruno books which I also loved. Always love your travel tales and look forward to your take on Italy. Getting closer now! Iris

    1. Thanks, Iris. We're not going to Sicily, but I will look for those books. It's more about just immersing myself in the idea of Italy before we go.

  5. Well, I missed a flight home (misremembered the date on the ticket, if you can believe it!) from London (England) when I was 18 — and I'd brought my 13yo sister along with me to visit rellies, so two of us stranded. I did get us both home, at no extra charge, but plenty of anxiety while waiting to see if there'd be room on the flight three days later. . . .So the possibility of what could go wrong is always there for me, but I try to remind myself that this is also an example of how problems can be resolved. . . .
    oh, and one of our kids left a black crayon on the back seat of the car we were driving as part of a house-and-car swap with a family in France. A very nice car. In hot sunshine, you'd be surprise how completely a black crayon melts into fabric. . . That counts as a travel horror story?

    1. Oh my… as the big sister, although not very old yourself, you must have felt scared and responsible at the same time. Re: the black crayon. Did it come out at all?

    2. the black crayon did — amazingly — come out. Some dedicated melting back up into absorbing materials, followed by miracle products, etc. etc. Thank goodness — husband's first response was to walk off, leaving me with the four kids in the hot sun. He was just so angry he couldn't trust himself. His second response was that we had to find a Renault dealership to replace the seat. . . . (later, when we'd sorted it all, he said he'd just felt as if he'd violated a trust placed in him by the car's owner. Kind of a man-to-man, macho thing, I suspect 😉

  6. My first reaction to this, another of your wonderful posts, is to say no, I do NOT like or want to be the heroine of any travel story. True. I love reading of your adventures, but I've never been one to take chances kind of thing so maybe that extends to wanting to have things "set." Luckily I married a rather similar person! We love travel, but we thrive on what we call "encounters." The chance meeting of people and becoming part of their story, and they of ours. Does that make sense?
    Thus, we really don't travel far and wide but much prefer to go back and explore more of an area we like i.e. south of France. There is so so much still to see and do and encounter. And now we have "discovered" England….I know, corny as it sounds…. but I want to delve deeper into the people, the signs, the shops, the way of communicating that I see. Ah well, that's us!!

    1. It makes total sense, Libby. Often much of the detail in my travel journals is of the people we meet, or the others we "live with" for the brief organized tours we do sometimes. Usually no more that two or three days… then we like to go our own way.
      I'd love to go back to some of the places we travelled through and stay for an extended time. Hubby is not so keen. I have an image of a cottage in Yorkshire for a month. I love that part of England.

  7. As well as Ceci,I love to hear travel stories,from the beginning,with all the photos. I sincerely enjoy – it could always be useful and very interesting,even more if I didn't plan to visit the same countries
    You are right-best stories are near-disaster stories,so it is good to hear the others,maybe some mistakes could be avoided
    I second Iris,Dona Leon's Ispettore Brunetti books are perfect for Venice (plus you have the map of Venice in every book). Do you plan to visit the islands in the Venice lagoon-they are so unique and beautiful-Burano,Murano,Lido….
    I love Ravenna very much,too-completely different in a way,from the other italian cities
    Love and Ruin are on my list for some time…..

    1. I prefer my travel stories from beginning to end as well. Including details of the people… almost like fiction. We are staying on the island of Murano when we're in Venice. I am so looking forward to this trip. Especially after a sedentary summer!

  8. There are many tales…some which we recount with laughter (hired car in California, hot day, very car sick child, speeding, policeman) and some which I still don't like (massive sudden cancellation of all BA flights out of Heathrow, resultant confusion and total chaos in the arrivals hall or the time there was a bomb alert at CDG in Paris and we had to exit hurriedly) but all I will say is that travel is totally unpredictable. Who would have guessed that one of the happiest days of my entire life would be hot on the heels of a day spent on a toilet up in the foothills of the Himalayas? Perhaps that is why we still do it, rather than stay home with what we already know. I think humans were made to wander which is why my brain is currently full of images of sunny Greek islands and white beaches. Hope the shingles are well on the wane.

    1. Airport disasters only bring shivers. Soooo mind-numbing… even when flights are not cancelled. Coincidentally, we were at the gate, and were delayed boarding our flight at Paris CDG in 2015; other frantic passengers had to, like you, exit the building, or were kept waiting outside for over an hour. In that case being left standing in line for an hour not knowing what was going on, was much preferable to the panic mode of those waiting outside, fearful they'd never make their flight.
      Shingles are definitely on the wane. Thanks for asking.

  9. What a brilliant post. I enjoyed reading so much and I do travel makes us get us out of our comfort space. And I would so love to read able Gelhorms memoir. I have had mishaps on travels, the one recently being where I had an accident and dropped a very hot coffee on my arm and had a second degree burn. The. Mishaps along with other travel anecdotes make me understand myself better. #theweeklypostcard

  10. Thanks for bringing the book – both books to my attention. You got me really interested. I agree that most people don't like to hear travel stories, at least those who don't travel themselves. That's why I started writing about them, I think that's why most of us write travel stories. You're right, travel with all its ups and downs, with horror-stories mixed with perfect getaways make us more open-minded, more accepting of other cultures. Great post, thank you for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. Thanks, Emese. The horrific and the perfect mixed together… you're right. That's kind of how I felt about Peru, the poverty juxtaposed against the beauty.

  11. Sue – I agree travel is not all glamorous. Just last weekend during our visit to Dover Castle the weather was terrible. I climbed I don't know how many steps to the roof, went out and was almost blown away. Got wet because my umbrella kept flipping on me. Still, we are able to look back at it and laugh. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  12. The main reason I started to read blogs, was to research before travel and to find out more about places we were hoping to visit. I just love to read about people travels, the area where they live etc… “warts and all” as the saying goes! 🙂
    So far, nothing too traumatic has happened to us apart from the usual delays at airports, infected bites … too numerous to mention! 🙂 A car crash in Rhode Island where we were rear ended three times (no injuries, luckily) and I was so concerned for the young guy whose fault it was, as he was driving his best friends car and had wrecked it! that by the time the police arrived they thought he was part of our family!! …
    Your travel stories are always wonderful Sue. I was interested how you’d like to spend a month in a cottage in Yorkshire but Stu’s not so keen. We always planned to spend a few months actually “living” in various places but my husbands not keen to do this anymore … more interested in new places where I fancy a combination. Still, either will be good! 🙂
    Have a lovely weekend.
    ps I enjoyed Ravenna when we visited Italy as D mentioned. Your trip sounds wonderful … I can’t wait to travel along! 🙂

    1. If you can look at cancelled flights, infected bites, and a car accident as NOT being too very traumatic…. then you must be a seasoned traveller. As I know you are.
      Yep. Stu would rather see new places, or at least new parts of places we've already visited. But I'd like to return to some familiar ones for an extended time.

  13. I traveled to Europe quite often in the 1990s, when my daughter was living there, and I did have a few unpleasant experiences.

    There was the time we locked ourselves out of the Paris apartment we had rented and it took almost a day before we could get back in. The time I believe I was deliberately food-poisoned in Spain by the weird restaurant owner. The time there was a luggage handlers strike at the Rome airport, they wouldn’t let us leave the arrival area, and we had to wait hours for our suitcases. (I have never traveled with checked luggage since.)

    Sometimes travel misadventures can be humorous in retrospect and you can make funny stories out of them, as you do so well. For me they were just minor annoyances (although the poisoning didn’t seem so at the time) that I hadn’t really thought about in years, until you asked. Time has a way of filtering out the bad experiences of life and what we remember are all the moments of wonder and new discovery.

    1. The filtering is good, though, isn't it? Or else we might never go anywhere anymore. I wonder if some people do the opposite. Enlarge minor annoyances, as you say, to become real impediments.

  14. Goodness, I don't think I've ever read a travel book. Well, maybe one about walking the Appalachian Trail, I think by Bill Bryson. Goodness, I haven't thought about that in years. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. I recently returned from a trip to Israel. I plan on blogging about it. Actually, I was so moved by the trip I don't know where to start. But I could talk and talk and talk. But I'm afraid of boring people. So I'll write about it instead. Maybe that's the answer.

    1. I loved that Bill Bryson book too, Sandra. I felt overwhelmed by the effect that Peru had on me last year. Writing about it helped me get my thoughts and feelings straight.

  15. 2 books to add to my ‘to read’ list. It’s so true that the horror stories (always humorously retold) are the ones that captivate my friends. Enjoy Italy! My daughter aged 6 managed to thrown up over a coach full of passengers after a particularly long and windy drive along the Amalfi coast some years ago – now that was an interesting trip!

  16. Am late reading this blog, but had an excellent excuse … I was traveling over the Labor Day weekend. 🙂

    Yes! Travel is hard. It always is. At the same time, it's everything else — mostly wonderful in all the ways we hoped for when we planned the trip.

    As someone who has lived many places and was a road warrior for decades, I've become much more flexible when travel plans go south. Now I consider delays, cancellations, overbookings, and weird companions to be normal occurrences on some part(s) of my trips and try not to get overly dramatic. When those boo-boos happen I do what I can to improve the situation, but try not to burn up very many emotional calories if there's nothing I can do.

    Then sometimes you just have to make a nice little nest for yourself on the airport floor and go to sleep. 🙂

    As Annie sang, the sun will come out tomorrow. 🙂

    Ann in Missouri

    1. Hope you went somewhere nice on the Labour Day weekend. I'm not as much of an "emotional calorie burner" as Hubby. Love that phrase by the way. I'm much better at hunkering down with my book, going to sleep, etc when things go awry. He's a raving at the moon kind of dealer.

  17. Wow. I am totally memorized by your traveling adventures and your zest for life. Lately I've been craving that need to exist my "cultural bubble" and to reach out to the world outside of my normal. You and your hubby have clearly embraced the good and the bad of travel but it really is all good because of the memories you create together.

    1. On our walk this morning my husband and I were saying how much our travel have added to our general enjoyment of life even when we're not travelling. So many wonderful memories and funny stories to share. Thanks, for stopping by:)

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