Perhaps I will permit myself another slightly self-indulgent whinge here, because this thing about 'other travellers' is beginning to frustrate me a bit. I've already mentioned how inane the conversation of other travellers can be on the main travellers' route through Southeast Asia, but I suspect it's more my problem than theirs. The thing is, every travel-orientated conversation seems to be the same; it starts off with 'Where have you just come from?' swiftly followed by 'Where are you heading?' and 'How long have you been travelling?' and continues with 'So, which countries have you visited?' And even worse than this, once you give them the green light with that last question, some travellers get so much enjoyment listening to themselves speak that they don't notice the eyes glazing all around them. Try this, a genuine excerpt from someone suffering from Boring Traveller Syndrome and inflicting it on anyone in earshot:
'I'll probably end up popping back into Singapore, to renew the Malaysian visa, if nothing else, because you get a month's visa extension in Sarawak, but I don't know if you need to have a full mainland visa before going into Sarawak, and of course I can go into Brunei and back into Malaysia, but then Brunei is really expensive and probably not worth more than a few days – we're all on a budget, you know! – and there are no direct roads into Brunei from Sabah or Sarawak so you have to take the ferry, and then there's always the question of flying from Peninsular Malaysia into Kuching in Sarawak and back from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, which costs more if you buy the tickets in Singapore rather than Johor Bahru, which is only a few dollars on the bus over the causeway and saves you heaps, and they never ask for an onward ticket to get into Malaysia, even though you're supposed to have one, unlike in Indonesia where they always ask you for an onward ticket, and you only get a two-month visa, which is never enough to see the whole lot, so you have to leave the country and re-enter by flying to Darwin from Timor and back into Indonesia, as long as you first get an Australian visa, which is a different matter altogether...'
This type of conversation just doesn't interest me any more, if only because I've heard it so many times before, and travel logistics are only interesting when you discover them yourself en route. I've heard every possible story about Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and India – or at least it feels that way – and it's rare I find someone who makes me stop in my tracks and think, 'Wow, this guy's an interesting character.' If I do, I tend to get into a conversation with them and team up for a while, as with Charlie, who is more interesting and on my wavelength than many a Kiwi Experience protégé.
But perhaps the most annoying thing is this fixation with how long you've been 'on the road'. There's an instant class system based on experience that permeates any gathering of travellers, and as travellers who've been at it for more than two years are pretty rare, someone like me elicits a bit of a dazed silence when I mention that I've done this, been there and have been going for this long. It's a bit disconcerting, and even when I do meet someone who's also done a lot, a sizeable number of them manage to be so smug about their achievements that they're unbearable. These days I tend to keep quiet about what I've done unless someone specifically asks; the bragging backpacker is a sorry breed indeed, and perhaps that's why I'm getting increasingly disillusioned about my fellow travellers. I'm tired of seeing smug travellers holding court in a room of relatively new backpackers, and I don't like the fact that when I mention where I've been and how long I've been travelling, it totally bursts their balloon. It just makes me feel a bit cruel.
So I just leave them to it and keep my mouth shut. After all, this is not a bloody competition...