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Author Paul Theroux in Wall Street Journal on Glaser Designs leather bags


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Jul 10, 2007
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you can see one of his Glaser deal bags behind him


TRAVEL MAY 28, 2011 The Great Escapist

Peripatetic author Paul Theroux has a new best-of book—and strong views on travel essentials, the worst tourists and food worth avoiding

Susan Seubert

Author Paul Theroux at his office on the North Shore of the island of Oahu, Hawaii
"I ate some sparrows in Burma," Paul Theroux confides in his new book, "The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments From Lives on the Road."

When he was a child growing up on the Mystic River in Medford, Mass., Mr. Theroux's grandmother fed him salads made of yard-picked dandelions. It got far more exotic from there. Over five decades of traversing the most remote and iffy corners on Earth—living in Malawi, Singapore, England and Hawaii along the way—the travel writer and novelist has dined on turtle meat, alligator tail stew, snake and "a very questionable hamburger in Glasgow." (He "passed" on an owlet offering.)

F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal

Best known for his 1981 jungle-set novel "The Mosquito Coast" (made into a Harrison Ford film) and his train-travel memoirs (especially "The Great Railway Bazaar"), the scribe is often recognized in tweedier circles as a snob, a provocateur, a curmudgeon. Mr. Theroux has had his share of literary skirmishes, often played out in print. In 2005, he branded good-will celebrities Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Bono "mythomaniacs... who wish to convince the world of their worth."

But "The Tao of Travel," a memoir, travel guide and literary anthology that mixes the tastiest morsels from his adventure tomes with excerpts from other writers' works, positions Mr. Theroux as a romantic. "A traveler needs optimism and heart," he writes. "If one is loved and feels free and has gotten to know the world somewhat, travel is simpler and happier."

Luxury, meanwhile, "is the enemy of observation," he opines, "a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing."

Now 70, the former Eagle Scout shows no evidence of slowing down. Last year, he lectured in California and Nevada, went on an elephant safari in Botswana, hiked at a bush camp in Zambia, "peregrinated" Nairobi, crossed India by train, sailed the coast of Maine and bicycled "up and down Hawaii," where he keeps a home. "This year," he says, "has been slightly more hectic." From his Cape Cod nest—then from London, then Dublin (via Amsterdam)—Mr. Theroux extolled upon stinky hotel rooms and rudimentary Dopp kit logic.

Extreme travel likes (and dislikes) from the literati's explorer-in-residence:
On Good-Will Hunters

Many celebrities perform worthy deeds. But others want to see themselves in a dramatic landscape of suffering or deprivation, perhaps to raise their profile or emphasize their humanity. Such people are nearly always in cahoots with the heads of states, and often monsters. No good can come of it.


Glaser Designs saddle leather bag

On Baggage Claims

I travel with one bag and a briefcase, both leather, made by Glaser Designs in San Francisco, the greatest luggage makers I know. My children will inherit those bags.

On Man's Worst Enemy

The worst travel experiences I have had have both involved a young person pointing an old gun in my face, in Africa and in South America. People talk about the danger of wild animals, or insects or snakes, but there's nothing so dangerous as another human being.

On the Road

My favorite places to stay in the States are "Bates Motels," by which I mean the folksy, roadside lodgings I arrive at by chance at the end of a long day's drive.

Taj Hotels

Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, India
On Local Delicacies

The worst damned thing I've ever eaten had to be criadillas—bulls' testicles—in Spain. Just knowing that the bull had been stabbed to death the day prior was enough for me. "Gracias, señor. No quiero."

On Palatial Living

Abroad, my favorite hotel is Rambagh Palace, in Jaipur. It's the palace of a maharajah, made into an inn, where you are offered all the pleasures befitting a maharajah and none of the duties of being one.

On Security Checks

I have secret hiding places for my money in my luggage, because cash is important in remote locations. Don't leave home without it.


An Orvis jacket
On Needful Things

My essentials are gout medicine, a battery-operated razor and a toothbrush. No deodorant: fragrance attracts insects, especially bees. I also travel with a plastic bag of green tea in powder form.

On Odorous Inns

There are smells in some hotels that cause me to demand a new room. Japanese hotel rooms often reek of cigarettes; Indian ones, of incense; and in Vegas, there is an unmistakable gonadal waft in some rooms.

On Proper Outfitting

Never wear shorts in foreign countries. I find Patagonia makes the most appropriate and durable travel clothes…and I'd add Orvis to that.

On Entitlement

The worst tourists are the very rich ones. They're impatient, used to getting what they want, making a fuss if they don't. And their conversations are often about how "hard up" they are.

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