Here's a handy vacation tip from Sports Afield magazine:
Don't bother with hotels. Forget about tents, too. And a sleeping bag. Just pack a change of clothes, a stash of rice and beans and some duct tape, and head for the wilderness. The Gobi Desert is perfect. Wander off. Sleep on the ground. Scrounge for food. If bugs start biting, just slather yourself with mud, which is, writes Donovan Webster, "a time-honored human and animal insect repellent."
Webster calls this kind of vacation "coyote camping" or "dirtbagging." He says it's increasingly popular among people who are "embracing their inner caveman." I'm pretty sure he's actually serious about this.
Webster has written two pieces on dirtbagging. The first, "Secrets of the Wildman," is about a "protowildman" paleontologist named Mark Norell. The second is "The Dirtbag Manifesto," which lays out the "10 Commandments" of the movement.
Most of the commandments deal with the practical: "a pile of leaves makes a warm and soft bed" and "if cooked long enough, things considered inedible in the 'civilized' world can become mighty tasty." But the final commandment--"Transcend the artificial conventions of a soaped society"--is philosophical, touting dirtbagging as a remedy for civilization and its discontents: "The enjoyment of being muddy, dirty and soaked by rain," he writes, is "something our parents and teachers crushed out of us during a decades-long 'educational' process."
But maybe you're not quite ready for dirtbagging. That's okay. It's August, and the newsstands are packed with magazines touting all sorts of travel suggestions. It's the time of year when magazines tell their readers where to go.
This isn't as easy as it used to be. The world is shrinking, and travelers have gotten jaded. Consequently, magazines keep searching for places that haven't been "discovered." Back in the early '90s, Prague was the hot city all the magazines were hyping. But then the readers of those magazines flocked to Prague, which then became unhip because it had too many tourists. Since then, magazine editors have been searching desperately for "the next Prague."
"Is Ljubljana the next Prague?" asks Travel & Leisure magazine. Ljubljana (pronounced LON-don) is the capital of Slovenia, a part of the former Yugoslavia where the people aren't killing each other. It's beautiful, friendly and cheap, reports Robert S. Boynton. "If, as conventional wisdom has it, the Muse took up residence in Paris during the 1920s, New York in the 1950s, and Prague in the 1990s, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she makes Ljubljana her next home." Muse-seekers better hurry before the tourists chase her away again.
While Travel & Leisure was discovering the next Prague, Conde Nast Traveler was out searching for the next Tangier. Tangier used to be hip, back when Paul Bowles and William Burroughs were hanging out there, smoking hashish and writing weird books. But now, apparently, Tangier is passe.
"Tangier used to be the fabled enclave of edgy expatriates," writes Larisa Dryansky. But "now it's a melange of squalor and showiness." Fortunately, Dryansky has located the next Tangier--it's Essaouira (pronounced PAR-is), a Moroccan port city. Essaouira wins the title because it has "no world-class hotel, no discotheque, no sizzling nightlife." But soon, she warns, a hotel will be built and tourists will come, which will, of course, ruin the place. Better get there soon, while there's still nothing to do.
Men's Journal brings this search for undiscovered places back home, locating "25 four-star, one-horse, two-bit hideouts at the wildest edge of America." These are towns, writes David McCumber, that have "a secret stream, a funky roadhouse, a bar where somebody colorful got shot for being a shade too colorful." They include Babb, Mont., chosen because it has a good steakhouse, and Massena, N.Y., because it's near the St. Lawrence Seaway and "has the feel of an old factory town." The closest of the chosen towns to Washington is Chincoteague, Va., which was chosen, of course, because of its wild ponies.
Trips, a self-consciously hip travel mag, takes this concept one step further with "America the Odd," which includes such weird attractions as the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, where one can gaze upon Grover Cleveland's "secret tumor" and a piece of John Wilkes Booth's thorax. The magazine also has a tour of New York City crime scenes and Washington, D.C., demonstration sites, where "you can always find someone ranting about something if you know where to look."
The absolute worst travel advice can be found in High Times, the magazine for marijuana enthusiasts, which touts the world's "Top 25 Pot Spots." These include Amsterdam, Vancouver, Seattle, Cancun, Nepal and Thailand. Take it from me, folks, don't smoke dope in foreign countries. Foreign jails tend to be even worse than American jails--sweltering, filthy, crowded concrete boxes with no bed, no blanket, no bath and no toilet.
Living in them is, come to think of it, a lot like dirtbagging, except you don't have any mud to use as an insect repellent, and the wild animals are a little too close for comfort.
LET GEORGE DO IT?
After reading The Post's exhaustive seven-part series on George W. Bush, I didn't have the heart to plow through Rolling Stone's piece on Bush. Fortunately, the title and subtitle of the piece provide a damn-near-perfect summing-up of the Texas governor:
"All Hat, No Cattle: George W. Bush was head cheerleader in prep school, a hard-partying frat rat and mediocre student at Yale. After skirting the draft in 1968, he failed at business three times, got bailed out by powerful friends, made a fortune at taxpayer expense and became the popular but weak governor of Texas, an evangelical Christian who preaches morality but ducks questions about his own past. And now he might be president?"