Bill Bryson has always been one of my favourite travel writers from his unexplainable wit in every circumstance to the unique, perspective-changing observations and fun facts he delivers in every place he visits. There’s always a story, and when you’ve read as many of his travel books as I have, you learn that there are some valuable lessons that Bryson offers.
When you travel, start with a positive and open mind. You can’t just expect that the most will be made out of every experience – you have to make this happen by adjusting your attitude. Finding humour in situations not only is more entertaining, but also if you’re travelling alone it makes things a lot less lonely. And let’s face it, people won’t want to travel with you anyway if you don’t let go and just laugh about something that, frankly, you can’t control.
Wandering off the marked path in Sydney, which initially gave Bryson a sense of “lucky discovery”, led to being chased by dogs and trespassing (and being caught) on someone’s back garden claiming “they were after me”. Even during this strange escapade, Bryson manages to see the funny side in ending up in such an unexpected situation. Don’t let an unfortunate, frightening thing change your outlook for the whole trip – you’ve got past it, then move on and add it to your stories!
One of the reasons that Bryson is so admirable is that you can see his thirst for knowledge about almost everything to do with the country he’s in. He’s not a fair-weather traveller who only indulges in the luxury and the opportunity to boast: he is genuinely interested in the culture, the history and understanding differences. So read up, get informed and get prepared. You might just find something really interesting about the place you’re going to and want to visit a museum or go on that hike you’ve read about. Far too many times it can happen where you discover something you want to do in a place you’ve just come back from.
Bryson’s Down Under ranges in interesting facts and research from Indigenous Australia to the infamous dangerous and deadly creatures that inhabit the country. In his home country of the United States, he still buries deeper than any school history lesson could in his journey on Route 66 in Made in America.
To throw in a contradiction, while you’re being prepared, take the moments to be spontaneous. If you see something you like, or just feel like finding somewhere new by getting in the car and driving aimlessly or hopping on a train to a humorously named destination, do it. In a world where you can’t enter some countries without knowing the precise address of where you’re staying (as a somewhat distressing experience at US customs taught me), it’s important to soak up the impulsive urges when they strike you. Jump off a pier on the Great Ocean Road, go bungee jumping in New Zealand, investigate a street you like the look of. Go off track and do something that you know will give you a thrill. In Neither here Nor There, Bryson recalls his 20s when he felt the most alive and content in his life for the few days backpacking in the Ardennes, “at large in a perfect world”.
Only in a dream world would you be able to do all of these and suddenly acquire the wit and determination of Bill Bryson. But what it will give you is a special appreciation and open mind of the world. If you ever get into a sticky situation or don’t know what to make of something, just pause and think: what would Bill Bryson do?