Thursday, March 27, 2008


All right, that last post was a little rough on the nerves, so let's head into something a little more light-hearted, eh?

One nice thing about travel, of course, is discovering new things. Discovery, however, falls into many categories, and serendipitous surprises can add a little something special to a trip.

One example of this occured during my third trip to London. I don't remember when I became a fan of Red Dwarf, or even where, but it's one of the funniest television shows that I have ever seen, and very creative. Anyways, I was about to say, "let's go to my travel journal for the story", and... honest to goodness, no lie... the story continues on the very next page from my earlier journal entry about Cardiff! Talk about a serendipitous moment!

For you, it's like continuing where we left off, so let's do it.

"A short while ago I finished the new Red Dwarf book: The Last Human, by Doug Naylor.
"Oh", I hear you say. "You DID find it, then?" Well, yes, and as is usually the case with me, there's a story.
So, as promised, we got up Saturday morning with the plan of me showing Marty around town for the day, and getting some shopping done. I wasn't yet sure how I was feeling, so I could not commit to anything yet. So, first thing we went for our complimentary breakfast which consisted of one sip of orange juice, a fresh roll, and coffee powder to take back to our room, so we could make our own coffee. We then exchanged some traveller's checks and headed for Oxford Street.
Sure enough, at Forbidden Planet, they had lots of the new Red Dwarf book - Right next to the sign announcing the book signing at 3:00! Wow!
So not only could I get the book I came for, but I could get it autographed too!"

All right, from that entry, you can probably tell that we were staying in a very 'affordable' little place... almost a hostel. The place had it's charm, though, although wait until I tell you about the morning I stayed there, and had to get up early for a flight to Switzerland.. Yikes!

I was also younger then, and a bit more excitable. Still, going all the way to London to get a book, and getting to meet the Author on the one day you're there is pretty lucky. It's also amazing that this random story follows on the very next journal page after the last page I shared with you - quite accidently.

So, you can find serendipity anywhere, when you're not even looking for it, which I suppose is part of the definition, huh?

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Fool and His Money...

When confronted by someone in trouble, many of us would probably want to help. If we saw a child who was hungry, hurt, or in any dire strait, we would want to do something. But should we?

There are predators everywhere, and when travelling, you are a target. Especially when visiting a foreign city, one where poverty is in abundance, or plain site, there will be those poised to take advantage of the situation. Sick? Yes. Profitable enough for some people to forgo ethics, and all else? Definitely.

A word of advice: When travelling in a foreign place, any foreign place, a place where you did not grow up or spend years of your life, do not, and I repeat, do NOT assume that you understand the place. That borders on arrogance, and can be dangerous.

On my first trip to India, quite some time ago, I took a tour bus from Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Majal. Trust me, I've written quite a bit about that trip, and you'll hear of it again. Anyway, our bus was full of tourists from all over, and some of them were older people who obviously had some money. All nice, smiling happy people until we made this one stop, and got off of the bus.

There to greet us was a small group of children... all handicapped, all dirty and dressed in rags, and all crying with their hands out. Some of them had missing limbs, and one had a bad case of elephantitis, his leg swollen to 3 or 4 times it's normal size. One leaned on a handmade crutch, and all looked hungry. A matronly German woman ran over to them before they could surround us with outstretched, tear-stained hands, and several others from the tour reached into their pockets to help these children. I was warned by an Indian traveller to keep moving, so I did.

As we walked into the Red Fort, my fellow tourists felt so good about themselves. They were happy to know that they could share their good fortunes, and help those poor children in need. We all had a nice time in the Fort.. it is a beautiful place full of magnificent gardens, architectural wonders, and the best view of the Taj Majal. A pleasant afternoon was spent, and we made our way back to our bus. As we left the gates, our lives changed forever.

There, before us, laughing and smiling, were the children. They were standing around like a bunch of old men, smoking cigarretes, eating bags of potato chips, and just having a great old time.

My fellow tourists suddenly felt like fools. I know I did. It seemed we were suckered.

Now, hold off until I'm finished. I learned later quite a bit about this. The money given to those children was probably given to gangsters, who took care of these kids. The kids were probably taught how to act for maximum impact and profit.

Yes, we were helping poor, handicapped kids, but we were also giving gangsters a living, and a reason to continue using these children. Yes, the children were handicapped, but was it all accidental, or did someone damage these children to make them more effective at getting money from tourists? Also, where did these children come from? They may have been kidnapped by the gangsters, or equally as bad, purchased from families who had too many children to feed?

Yes, this is horrible to think about, but I've heard from many sources that these things happen all the time, in many places. You can go back and forth in your mind about it, but the truth is we may never know the truth, and we may never know if it was right or wrong to give those children money.

And this is a good lesson to keep in mind... if you do give someone money in an impoverished area, there will more than likely be many others who will want their share, and a crowd will quickly form around you. And wherever you are, if you are in a crowd, you should always watch yourself, and watch your pockets. That little kid hugging your leg and crying is probably looking for yor wallet.

Am I being cynical? I only wish. This is only one incident that I am telling you about. There have been several others.

Travel helps one grow, but it isn't always easy. Remember; open eyes, open ears, and open mind.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

North vs South

Something's been bugging me for some time now, so I'll put it out here, and see if someone out there can offer some intelligent feedback. And yes, this is travel related. :0)

Until recently, there has been East vs West, which is quite an understandable division. Asians and Europeans went their separate ways millenia ago, and with time and distance creating a barrier, they grew independantly from one another, with very different cultures, languages, etc. Understandable. However, I hear more and more of differences between North and South... within the same country!

Travelling allows you to see how others live, but only a glimpse. You cannot know what it is like to actually grow up 'somewhere else', so some things, like prejudice, may be difficult to understand. For me, it is a question of why is it that one country can have its north and south be so independent that they could easily be separated into two? (And at the same time be entirely dependent on one another.)

Extreme examples are the American Civil War, of course, or the troubles in Ireland. Gentler examples would be the difference between food in northern Italy and the south, or the cultural differences between north and south India. In the middle are the prejudices seen between the north and south of England. I'm not talking about the differences between Scotland and England, which there are many, but the division within England itself.

Maybe there is no one answer. In some cases, distance can be a big factor, especially on a planet like ours where the climate can vary drastically between the north and south ends of a country. But Ireland and England don't have that much of a distance barrier, or even cultural difference. Switzerland has three regions that each speak a different language, and yet as far as I know, one section doesn't see itself as far superior to another.

Differences can be good: they give us choices, such as al dente pasta vs a seafood sauce. Differences that cause prejudice are another thing altogether. Your average traveller won't usually be affected by this, but such problems may be important to know about before travelling. Research into a foreign country can make any trip more enjoyable, and safer, even a country where you speak the language. Cultural differences are something an outsider cannot totally understand, and usually your opinions are not wanted.

When travelling, don't be the loud American, or the missionary who walks into someone else's life and tells them how to live, or worse, acts superior. Arrogance is not pretty. And by missionary I'm not just talking about religion. Try to learn about another country before travelling there, and try to learn some of the language... at least enough to get by. In Switzerland I had so much help from friendly people wanting to practice their English. In France I couldn't get an ounce of help without knowing the language perfectly.

If you haven't travelled much, remember this: the world is a big place, and there are taboos, laws, and rules of life that you may not understand. And though something may seem silly to you, it may be very serious to someone else.

So be careful. Travel is a way to broaden the mind. Go with open eyes, and open ears, and leave the ego behind. You'll get through culture shock a lot faster that way.

And if any of you have thoughts about why we divide countries North and South, I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Travel Bug

Why is it that some of us, once we have travelled, simply cannot get enough of it? Well, believe it or not, but I may have an answer for you!

A recent report in The Wall Street Journal (March 12, 2008; Page B1)
discussed internet addiction and the brain. Apparently, our brain rewards us whenever we experience something new, on the condition that the newness requires interpretation. We 'feel good' with new experiences, and therefore seek out more new experiences, as in an addiction. Now, you know where I'm going with this, but here me out.

Internet addiction can be a bad thing, like food or drug addiction. In this day and age, we avoid boredom, and seek constant thrills. What better, and safer, way to do this than to travel? Think about it: visit someplace you've never been before, and everything you see, and many things you smell and hear, will be new. The more foreign to you, the better. A natural thrill occurs, as your brain is stimulated by all of your senses, which explains why travel can be such an adventure.

Of course, too much of a good thing isn't good either. There is such a thing as culture shock, and expanding on our theory here, too much exposure to new things can simply overwhelm the mind. On my third trip to India, in a familiar place, surrounded by familiar people, culture shock hit me bad. My mind literally realed, and I was quite shook up. Going further, now, perhaps we can seek a cure for culture shock?

I discussed this in the afterword of my book, 3 Knights in India, and advised anyone travelling to a new place to start out slow, and seek the familiar. Even if you can't afford to stay in a fancy hotel, you can walk into any hotel in the world, and have a seat, a drink, or a meal, and relax. These places look pretty much the same anywhere, and can be a great 'home base'. However, all you really need to do is sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, or read a book.... something to trick your brain into thinking it's experiencing the familiar. Then you can set out for adventure, and let those new experiences be the fun that they should be.

So, if you have the travel bug, now you know why. But don't let the science of it spoil anything for you. Just look at it as improving your mind, and having fun while doing it!

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Dichotomy of Travel

I'm going to mention this a lot at this blog, but travel is good for you. Your mind expands from the onset of new sights and sounds, and from adapting to new situations. If you've never left your home state, then it's time to cross that line. If you haven't left your country, then take the first step out, and get yourself a passport. Few things can help you grow, and give you such an education, as seeing the world beyond your doorstep.

Saying all that, there's a certain dichotomy to travel. You'' see this on your first international voyage, especially if you go by air, and travel far. It's an 18 hour flight from New Jersey to India, and 24 hours to Australia. That's a long time to be sitting in a tiny seat, trying to sleep as the air gets staler and your internal clock starts to lose confidence in what time it is. Get a window seat, and make sure you look outside once in a while. The world is a big place.

Passing over the top of the planet, you see miles, and miles, and more miles, of nothing but black dirt and occasional ice. Pass over the middle east, and it can take hours to cross nothing but desert, with the occasional oasis or oil field to break the monotony. Fly to Japan or Hawaii, and there is so much ocean spread before you, that it takes hours to cross. The earth is a truly big place when you see it in this manner.

However, and here's teh dichotomy, you land. At the airport, you see a few familiar thigns, such as currency exchange, and long lines of people. Some airports can appear quite foreign, but if you get out into a big city, you may find yourself staring at a McDonald's, or a Citibank, and several other familiar landmarks. You stop at a market, and there are familiar fruits, candy bars, and of course, Coca Cola. Suddenly, it seems like it's a small world after all.

That will change, of course, if visiting a truly foreign country, but the thing is, we're all people. Go into a restaurant anywhere, and there will be kids eating treats, young couples laughing, older folk in the corner with their coffees... and people in general trying, just like you, to get by in life.

Remember that flight, and looking out that window. Keep that humbling experience of seeing just how big the planet is. But don't forget that its getting smaller every day, perception-wise. And get out there, and see it now, because its changing, and changing fast.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

PS For a travel illustration, we turn to my first book, Take Me Away From All This!! for today's 'small world' moment. Please click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Starting out...

Before we actually 'travel', let me share an important tip with you: Keep a journal.

Okay, a journal isn't for everyone, and trust me, you'll never ever have enough time to write everything that you want to write. However, you'll also never ever remember everything that you want to remember, and looking back at a journal will not only help you relieve some great travel memories, but you'll also get a glimpse into how you've grown as you travel.

Also, a travel journal can be like a scrapbook... I'm always picking up matchbooks, and ticket stubs and anything else that colorfully tells where I've been, and I stick them in the journal, and tape them in when I get home. Now I have several scrapbooks full of memories, and also a handy reference to places, like "what kind of train ticket did I buy when I went to York", and stuff like that.

A travel journal covers mostly highlights, and is written on buses, trains, and aeroplanes... anytime you're sitting down, really, with nothing to do but sleep. There's an excitement in them, though, that comes from rushing to get down as much as you can in the time alloted. There's also an immediacy to it, that comes from looking around as you write, and puttin down exactly what is happening around you at that moment. I tried to capture that feeling in my first travel book, my graphic novel 3 Knights in India. The book doesn't tell you nearly enough about India, but you do get the flavor for travelling there, and hopefully enough of a taste as to want more.

Sure, there's always more that you wished you had written, but that's not the point of a travel journal. Besides, you should also have some photographs to tell some of the story as well.

At this point, I'll give you a peek into one of my own private travel journals... nothing too personal, but a bit of fun. And don't worry about reading it: I'll include an excerpt after the photo.

7:15 PM Cardiff to London 5 Nov, 1995
{A nearby full moon is all I can see through the train window, and the occasional lights in the distance. It's very dark out. Inside, the train is packed, mostly with} obnoxious teenagers on their way to London. Where they come from or why they're going, I don't know. One of them, obviously drunk, is bellowing out a ballad of sorts. I don't know what she's singing, but lots of people have their hands over their mouths in apparent astonishment.

All right, so I didn't promise you War and Peace. :0)

Today, those of you brave enough to travel with laptops can blog from the road, and even further capture the moment. However, I'll leave you with another tip: Leave the iPods and computers at home, unless you're travelling for a month, and keep a cell phone only for emergencies. This is a must when visiting a foreign country, or some place for the first time. This way you can soak up the sights and sounds around you. Heck, I prefer to leave the video camera at home, as well. The fewer distractions, the better.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)

Sunday, March 9, 2008



My name is John, and I'm a Cartoonist / Illustrator who loves History and Travel, and cooking, and.... well, let's just stick to travel for now, with a side-dish of history. I have another blog devoted to creativity, cartooning, and illustration, and since my work overlaps with my life, a lot of my blogs end up about travel. I also write occasionally for The Fylde & Wyre Antiquarian , and those blogs discuss my travels in England, as relates to history, especially prehistory.

So... in an attempt to separate things a bit, and try to focus my other blog on my art, I am beginning this blog to focus on my other interest; travel.

Of course, you'll have to expect to see my art showing up here: it's only natural. But I'll stick to travel themes.

Here's a travel toon, to get us started.

All right, I might as well add right now that England is one of my favorite places. I've been there many times, and cannot wait until I return. So... you'll see quite a bit about England. However, I've been all over, and I tell it like it is, so we'll eventually get to other places as well.

Thanks for visiting, JOHN :0)