BELOW YOU’LL FIND the absolute worst questions to ask a traveler. In the meantime, I’m still waiting for the moment when SNL finally solidifies some version of the traveler’s skit we all see with alarming regularity:
EXT: Central America — stereotypical parada de buses — daytime
There’s not a lot of activity at the station — it almost looks defunct. James sits on his pack with his back against the metal sign pole. He’s idle behind dark sunglasses; too cool to read, or look around. Mike comes around the corner and studies the scene; his complexion is slightly lighter than James’.
Hey, howzit goin man?
James raises an eyebrow.
(referencing the bus schedule)
Have you been here a while?
Yeah, I’ve been coming here since ’98, actually.
I don’t even know how many times I’ve been here. Probably at least ten times.
Oh, right on. (beat) How about the buses — have you been waiting a while?
You can’t even think like that, man. Is this your first time here?
Uhm, yeah. First time.
There’s an uncomfortable beat. Mike walks across the lot to stop a local walking by. He asks him fluently when the next bus can be expected. The local points him in the direction of a parking lot two blocks north, and one west.
Dale pues. Suerte.
INT: Bus cabin — moments later
The bus rumbles down the shoddy road. From a window seat, Mike takes in the scenery of the countryside, then the sight of James unmoved against the pole.
* * *
10 questions to never ask a traveler
So how many times have you been here?
There’s a break in the conversation, and you can’t resist. Really? You just met the guy. I gotta believe you have something more to offer. This is egotistical expressionism at it’s worst, and it usually ends with the deathtrap of the quiet guy in the corner having lived there 10 years before your first out of state road trip.
Did you get directions?
The best role models lead by example; traveling is no different. Take responsibility and show some ownership, especially if you are traveling in a group. Your findings will be much sweeter if you do. Plus, assumptions can be dangerous when it comes to similar questions like,
Did you lock the door?
There are better ways to support the hyper-local economy than giving away your smartphone.
How long have you been traveling for?
With a few exceptions, this is completely irrelevant. Moreover, it’s normally just a set up for more egotistical expressionism. Beware of the quiet guy in the corner — he’ll probably up your “three months” ante to a few years, at which point there will be an uncomfortable break in the conversation, and you’ll be stuck with another mirror moment wondering why you felt the need to establish your traveling resume, yet again.
What are your plans when you get home?
The primordial beauty of travel is concerning yourself with your immediate reality. You’ve left behind the overzealous planning and stress of the working world, at least momentarily, so you owe it to your fellow traveler to avoid that thread altogether.
Were you here before it changed?
It all changes: everything, everywhere. Hopefully you’re still in puberty if you haven’t caught on to that one.
Are you on Facebook?
No, she’s not on Facebook. She’s actually right in front of you.
Is it safe?
When you are younger there are many people who screen your next trip. For a lot of those people, parents especially, it’s duty. But if they really cared, wouldn’t they mount a case against going budget through Iran with their own research?
You weren’t here last week were you?
Is that a question?
Any chance I can tag along with you guys?
They would have asked you.