The thing that has excited me most about the controversy over the Transportation Security Administration’s new enhanced screening is that it has found people on both ends of the political spectrum agreeing on something. It turns out a lot of people, liberal or conservative, don’t want the TSA looking at or fondling their naughty bits.
“In Pattaya, it is hookers. Here, it is treks,” a stranger said to me in a restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was an unusual pick-up line, but factually right on the money. Just as the beach-town of Pattaya was known for prostitution, the mountain town of Chiang Mai had become a mecca for travelers who want to “trek” through the hill tribe villages of northern Thailand. Trekkers claim to want to get a feel for indigenous people like the Hmong, Karen and Mien by sleeping in villages they get to by foot, elephant and raft.
I was one of them.
When I tell people I’m an avid traveler, I say so with both pride and shame. Pride: because world travelers tend to be among the most environmentally conscious, culturally sensitive, socially progressive people you’ll ever meet. Shame: because, as a traveler, I cause more damage to the environment, and more disruption in the lives others, than people who stay home.
Wherever I travel, I make a packing list, and make it early — not only because it’s smart, but because it makes me feel like the heroic leader of a National Geographic expedition. I start spreading my stuff out in the basement about a week before a trip. As I survey my soldierly lineup of trekking gear, I feel empowered. Indiana Jones had his hat and whip; I have my headlamp and clothesline. With any luck, I’ll find that I don’t have everything… yet.