Don’t Go There!
The Idler Book of Crap VacationsDan Kieran
(HarperCollins · paper · $11.95)
Want to know why Stonehenge sucks, what cities to avoid in Greece, where not to relax in the U.K.? British humor magazine The Idler, “The Periodical of Easy Living,” whose editorial staff is responsible for such titles as How To Be Idle and The Idler Book of Crap Jobs, has once again compiled a handful of horror stories from its readers and contributors. Fans of vignettes, snippets, blurbs and bathroom reading can be both entertained and informed by this cynical little square-shaped book, which sheds an atypical light on vacations as an industry, and as an antithetical getaway.
The 50 stories come with ratings in five categories—stress, sickness, boredom, danger and exploitation—measured in piles of poo, on a scale from one to five piles of poo. Yeah, pretty immature, but sophistication probably isn’t what Editor Dan Kieran (also responsible for Crap Jobs) was going for. Interspersed throughout the book are crude illustrations narrated with often incomprehensible U.K. slang. Most of the stories, for that matter, are littered with British turns of phrase and gratuitous swearing. But it’s also loaded with easily digestible vacation factoids. For instance, did you know that France receives more tourists annually than any country in the world, or that the Peruvian town of Chucuito erected a five-foot stone penis to lure tourists?
In between stories there are larger sections of information in list form, thrown in at random, which deal with subjects such as “The Five Most Ecologically Damaging Vacations on Earth.” These are, as it turns out, the Galapagos Islands, any cruise, super resorts, golf vacations (“not because golfers are pretentious and rude, have stupid rules about certain types of hats ... but because golf course developments are catastrophic for the environment”) and traveling anywhere by airplane.
The other sections deal with “The Five Most Dangerous Vacations on Earth” and “The Five Most Immoral Vacations on Earth.” Here you can learn why it’s ill-advised to climb Mount Everest, trek through Nepal, Peru or Tanzania, visit Burma or the Maldives, or attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. (Uh, it’s their record on human rights.)
While some of these stories seem to be nothing more than personal vendettas against certain locals (whoa, Rhodes and Paris, somebody hates you) and others come off as an exercise in dry, anticlimactic writing, most of the pieces are fully entertaining and some are fraught with hilarity. In one story, the narrator, his wife and parents take a two-night mini-cruise to Spain from England “forgoing the sane option of flight” so his father can bring the car. It turns out most of the ship’s passengers get insanely “tossed” on duty-free each night. The Joe Loss orchestra, despite Joe Loss being dead, serves as the boat’s entertainment, which the narrator enjoys one evening: “In the bar afterwards I asked the band how they felt about this, but with all that cheap gin inside me it came out as, ‘How the hell has the Joe Loss orchestra survived the loss of Joe?’”
The next morning the man’s still-drunk wife pukes all over his father’s car as they exit the boat and enter Spain. Other little gems involve a boat trip down the Thames where the mother “slowly, but inevitably” falls off of the boat, an embarrassing stag week in Greece, a hippie commune in Scotland and a young man reading his pretentious book while getting sunburned on the beach.
With a special knack for taking the luster and exotic appeal out of places across the globe, Crap Vacations is the antidote for those who dream of traveling. Here, the romance of travel is dead, riddled with enough dismal coastal towns, bouts of seasickness, disgusting food, disappointing accommodations, arguments, breakups and divorce to make you realize that vacations, with their high potential for disaster, are not the pleasure cruise we tend to view them as, but an enormous gamble—which many of us are destined to lose.