Smile When You're Lying
Chuck Thompson
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Buy *Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer* by Chuck Thompson online

Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer
Chuck Thompson
336 pages
November 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Ever taken a vacation that didn’t live up to your expectations, or wasn’t what it was billed to be by some travel agency or travel writer? Everybody seems to have at least one travel horror story they drag out and tell friends and acquaintances whenever the chance presents itself. The reasons are usually similar: you want to get it off your chest and warn other potential victims about the pitfalls that could happen when one takes a vacation at country X, Y, or Z. You’re not alone; travel editor, author, and photographer Chuck Thompson, like former President Bill Clinton, “shares your pain.” What’s more, he’s written a very entertaining and fascinating account (flavored with choice expletives) of a few of his own personal vacation horror stories, Smile When You're Lying.

The title has to do with travel writers being less than truthful about their experiences, both to appease editors and advertisers, who feel that if the truth were told that not all vacations are fun, sun, and danger-free adventure, people might stop buying their publications. This is not an altogether unfounded fear, as the author himself realizes, having been an editor himself. It can be a fine line trying to please advertisers while at the same time making sure the travel writing in a magazine doesn’t rely on trite, cliched expressions, and also maintains the interest of one’s target audience: the buying public.

If you’re offended by coarse language, this book probably isn’t for you. If you don’t mind reading some, as long as it’s in the context of relating travel stories and adhering to accuracy and the way people often speak in real life, as well as its being used with a humorous intent, then you will likely enjoy Smile When You're Lying and get a few chuckles out of it. As a relatively mild example, when the author describes a trip to Thailand and the fact that the world’s oldest profession is very alive and well there, he writes: “As noted elsewhere, the Thais are the nicest people money can buy.”

Chuck Thompson has traveled to over thirty countries in the world, and in this book he has plenty to say about both places he feels are overrated vacation destinations, and some that are underappreciated, such as the Latin American countries of Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, despite the latter’s reputation as a haven for drug cartels. He traveled there when he worked for Maxim with a staff writer he calls “Peter Henderson”:

While middle-class Americans trembling through the territory of narco-terrorist blood feuds might make for compelling copy, the larger truth was that the four days Henderson and I spent traveling through Colombia were some of the most enjoyable either of us had experienced anywhere. This from two guys with seventy or eighty passport stamps between them.
One extremely popular vacation spot the author mentions that he believes is vastly overrated is the Caribbean. I’ve been there once, in the late ‘70s with my family on a cruise, and had a fun time, but even then I could see what a tourist trap it was getting to be. Though I haven’t been back since then, I can guess it’s gotten much worse. Getting down to brass tacks, Chuck Thompson relates a few of his beefs:
Specifically, I find myself wondering why anyone — much less the 35-million people who go to the Caribbean each year — would blow presumably limited vacation days and budgets on a place where the definition of “paradise” is fluid enough to include sullen service, neglected hotels, and restaurants where waiting forty-five minutes for a small mango juice is considered an immense honor.
Whether you are an experienced traveler or the farthest you’ve traveled from your house is the distance to your local bookstore or fast-food joint, if you like travel stories written in a humorous vein that also tell the good, the bad, and the ugly of travel writing, put Smile When You're Lying on your reading list. While if a travel writer is so blunt he/she writes “Such-and-such a country sucks - I recommend staying away from there like the plague!” the story likely won’t see the light of day, more honesty is needed and is a welcome change of pace to read in books such as this one.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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