WHEN people learn that as a travel writer I generally don't have to pay, a common reaction is, "Oh, well, you're not going to write anything critical then, are you?"
Well, yes I am, actually. If you start writing enthusiastic stories about trips that are complete rubbish, you'll soon lose all credibility.
But ... it doesn't occur very often. Partly, that's because an operator would be silly to send a travel writer on a dud trip. But it's also because I happen to enjoy travelling, so I almost always return home bubbling with enthusiasm.
And even on the rare occasions when I'm less thrilled, I need to be sure it is the trip that's at fault. It seems to me that whether or not you enjoy a journey often depends very much on whether you have a positive attitude and realistic expectations in the first place. I especially remember one expedition where I had a fantastic time but most of our group spent their time moaning that the food wasn't like home.
I was musing about this after my latest foray, a cruise along the coast of Borneo on the expedition ship Orion II.
I've travelled with Orion before, on the company's original ship Orion I, to Papua New Guinea and the Sub-Antarctic islands, and both rate among my greatest travel experiences.
The trip on Orion II didn't reach the same standard. This was its first voyage after extensive refurbishing and not everything was working as it should (notably the air-conditioning).
It was also the first cruise round Borneo and there were teething troubles on the expedition front.
I came home feeling a peculiar mix of excitement at what I saw and disappointment that the trip wasn't even better. Hence the musing.
Orion obviously has some work to do to bring its Borneo cruise up to the standard of its established expeditions. I've passed on some criticisms to the company, which has acknowledged problems and listed a number of changes it is making (including replacing the air-conditioning units).
But, that said, it's silly to allow fairly minor hiccups to undermine the thrill of a visit to such a spectacular corner of the planet. After all, I went hoping for orangutans, proboscis monkeys, lush jungles and local culture, and I got all of that and more. And I did it from the comfort of a floating hotel with a comfortable bed, fine food and friendly service.
I suspect that if I hadn't had such a fantastic experience cruising to the Sub-Antarctic islands on Orion I, my expectations wouldn't have been so high.
Which is why, even when things go a bit wrong, I'm reluctant to get too critical ... though that doesn't mean sweeping problems under the editorial carpet, either.
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