Lucy Mangan

"It's time to break my vicious travel cycle"

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Here is my complete foreign travel history:

1. A week-long student exchange trip when I was 17, to a tiny, brutal hamlet in rural France – La Ville Douche de Merde, if I remember correctly. Seven days of staring at my host Delphine’s long, mournful Gallic face chewing implacably and interminably on some impossibly disgusting morsel of meat carved, I believe, straight off the nearest pig, of spending terrible evenings sans TV, trying to make my own entertainment (“Oh, non, mere de Delphine, ne worry yourself pas. C’est une grande tradition anglaise, le biting de one’s own eyelids. C’est what nous do instead of mangezing les pig lips le whole frigging time”) and of waking up every rotten morning to find the whole rotten lot of them were still French. Jamais again, I promised myself. Jamais again.

2. A week in a Neapolitan villa, aged 27, with a well-travelled friend determined to introduce me to her favourite country’s delights. Instead she introduced me and the seven people we were sharing with to food poisoning via a vat of enthusiastically seasoned but woefully undercooked spaghetti vongole and we ended up violently pebbledashing the single lavatory until someone fainted, cracked her head on the terracotta tiling and nearly bled to death. We went home early.

3. Four weeks in New York for work, aged 30. Took my boyfriend, had a brilliant time, got engaged, returned to find the boiler had broken, flat had flooded and someone had shot my best friend’s cat. All because I wasn’t there to exert my benign but irresistible will over my tiny habitat. And I wasn’t that happy about being engaged either.

In short, like soft fruit and British sitcoms that are not The Office, I don’t travel well. It doesn’t agree with me, which is just as well because I don’t agree with it.

As well as the series of unfortunate events, the preparation too puts me off. It requires a level of foresight, organisation and expense that I do not usually or easily manage. Think of somewhere. Book somewhere. Find someone to cat/house/plant sit. Remember to cancel the papers and the milk. Spend 11 hours weeping over how to work the light timers that fool no-one into thinking you’re still at home. Put in an extra fortnight in overtime at the office to clear your desk before you go. Pack, repack and still forget whatever the most vital thing to your particular version of happiness is (book, fags, straighteners, teddy bear, contraceptives, whatever). Then two weeks exploring a new place and hoping the sanitation is up to scratch. Return to find your office cover’s been either so useless that your desk is a sea of urgent memos demanding your immediate attention or so brilliant you have been completely usurped.

Travel does broaden the mind. I know this because my mind has calcified at a terrifying rate

At least, they’re the logical, sensible, publicly admissible reasons I don’t travel. The others are that I am simply too insular, physically lazy and intellectually incurious to bother. And these natural predispositions are of course aggravated by the very inertia they cause – a splendid example of the unvirtuous circle.

Because travel IS a good thing. It DOES broaden the mind. I know this because my mind, my attitudes, my conversation have all calcified at a terrifying rate over the years, while my cosmopolitan friends, annually revivified by a flood of new sights, sounds and experiences have remained vibrant, outwardlooking people still interesting and desirable to know. And thinner, thanks to at least one bout of amoebic dysentery a year.

So I must break my vicious travel cycle. My husband – whom I married because he was the only man I had ever met who didn’t have a passport either and whose heart and soul are even more crabbed and cramped than my own – agrees.

As a preliminary step, we have agreed that this year we will go to Bruges. Because we’ve seen the film In Bruges. He liked the medieval architecture and I liked Colin Farrell. Also we now have a baby, and a duty to bring him up as unlike us as we can possibly manage.

So Bruges it is. To you, proud, experienced voyagers, a sojourn in Belgium may be as naught – an extended train ride to a region barely past zone six of London. To us it is a trip of Shackletonesque proportions. Wish us luck. The rest of our lives starts here. If we ever sort out new passports, of course.

Main picture credits: Rex Features

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