The Backpacker April 11, 2012
Houseboats are a lot of fun ... until you figure out what you're doing. Photo: Meredith O'Shea
Mention the words "boat trip" to a select group of my friends and you'll probably get a few wry smiles, maybe even a laugh or two. Because they know what "boat trip" means: glorious disaster.
We used to hire a houseboat every year, trundling out to the Gold Coast Broadwater and unleashing our own particular brand of maritime stupidity on the unsuspecting Queensland boating community.
See, you technically don't need a boat license to drive these huge things because they don't have much power, but that doesn't mean you can't get yourself into trouble.
We must have run aground on the Broadwater's sandy bottom at least six or seven times. That took some swimming and some pushing. We capsized the attached dinghy without anyone touching it. That took some bailing.
We almost collected a couple of far more expensive boats, and, one dark and stormy night, stranded ourselves in the middle of nowhere without any fuel.
In short, we had a blast. It was great. But a funny thing happened as time went by – we stopped screwing up so much. With experience came a modicum of knowledge, and by the final boat trip I don't think we had a single mishap.
Notice the operative word there: final. We haven't had a boat trip in ages, and I know why – because with all that knowledge and skill and distinct lack of stupidity, we took all the fun out of boat trips.
There were no great stories to relive over beers down at the bowlo anymore. No one to bag for trying to get into a marina. (Ahem – me.) No one to jeer for missing the channel markers because he's slightly colour blind. (Ahem – me.)
It just got a bit boring, so we moved on.
You can see where this is going, right? Travel. It's a little like our boat trips.
When I first started solo travel as a green teenager, I used to screw up all the time. The travel equivalent of running aground is probably losing things, which I did with alarming regularity. But there were also a litany or more alarming errors that I made.
I allowed myself to go on a lovely guided tour of Nassau, in the Bahamas, which was conducted by a person who turned out to be the local bonkers homeless guy and who, quite fairly, demanded payment for his questionable services rendered.
I made friends with three overly generous local guys in Jaipur, and spent a fantastic three days with them until they finally did the reveal – ta da! – like the end of a makeover show on TV and admitted that they were jewellery smugglers interested in procuring my services as a mule.
I got ripped off to the tune of about 500 per cent by a cab driver in Mumbai. I crashed a moped in Portugal. I tried a "happy pizza" in Cambodia. I ran naked through a campsite in Namibia.
In short, I did a whole bunch of pretty dumb things, all of which seemed like a good idea at the time, then revealed themselves to be very bad ideas, and then eventually morphed into the sort of wildly exaggerated tales of derring do that I've since made my living trading on.
The trouble is, like our improved smarts on the boat trips, I'm not that dumb anymore. That's not necessarily a bad thing – my parents, for one, would be a little skeptical but also very glad to hear that I'm not a complete idiot these days.
But, dare I say it, this improved sensibility has made me worry that the travel experience might become a little staid in comparison to my earlier trips. That, like the boat trips, I might get jaded by the lack of glorious screw-ups.
That's why I still try to throw myself into as many odd, bewildering situations as possible when I'm on the road. Like visiting new countries, where you have no idea what's going on. Something's bound to go awry. I love it.
I also meet up with complete strangers from Twitter for guided tours (all of whom, I should add, have been uniformly lovely). I accept invitations that might initially seem like a bad idea. Throw caution to the wind.
I eat strange things, I do strange things. I seek out strange experiences, sometimes potentially dangerous experiences.
And I do this because travel, I've found, is far more exciting when you don't really know what you're doing. Just like boat trips.
Do you like getting out of your comfort zone? Have you found you make fewer mistakes as you become a more experienced traveller?
Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater