Tall travel stories: are they inevitable?

tall travel stories

My wife tells me I always exaggerate (she must have told me this at least a million times). While I’m prone to stretching a point on almost any subject, there’s no doubt that my tallest stories come from travel experiences.

It’s an undeniable fact that the exact details of incidents that happened to me when I was travelling solo at 17 or 18 are going to dim as the years go by. Did I really get home from Geneva with £2 in my pocket, hitching rides and scrounging food from strangers? Or is that just one of many occasions where I stretched my story while sharing it with friends soon afterwards and over the years I started to believe that version of the story as the truth? I’m long past the time when I could say for certain and there’s nobody around to prove or dispute the facts.

Exaggeration has long been a central part of recounting a story, whether it’s the fisherman stretching out his arms to indicate the size of his catch or the reveller with the sore head boasting about how much he drank the night before (yes, exaggeration appears to be mainly a man thing).

Does it matter? For most of us I suspect it makes no difference if the details of our recollections are stretched a little to make a story more dramatic when we share it later with friends. Those who publish their travel stories as something intended to resemble the truth clearly have a responsibility to recount things with a greater degree of accuracy.

My greatest frustration comes with simply not remembering properly. It’s now 27 years since I first set off with my backpack to make my way around Europe. I have built up a bank of many great stories in that time: of hitching a lift into Brussels in a Uruguayan diplomat’s car at 2am; of making enough money with my crayon drawings on the streets of Copenhagen (I can’t draw) to cover a few nights in a hostel; of hiding in a lorry driver’s cab to get a free trip across the English Channel. I can say with confidence that these memories are based on the truth. But what really happened? I certainly couldn’t swear on the details.

Perhaps this is why all young travellers should be encouraged to start a travel blog. Forget the nonsense about sharing tips with other travellers or inspiring other people to travel. The real value of maintaining a blog as you travel comes many years later, when your memory starts merging different experiences from various trips and you begin doubting whether the strange episodes you smile about at random moments ever actually happened. You will be able to look back at your words and pictures from that time and confirm what really went on.  Once you know the truth, then of course it’s up to you which version of your travel stories you choose to share.

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Freelance travel writer

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