Adventure Found, January 1998
Five years ago, when we last checked in with Michael Palin ("And Now for Something Completely Itinerant," February 1993), he'd just finished wandering from Pole to Pole. Since then, he's circled the world repeatedly by train, ship, balloon, helicopter, cow, camel, junk, bush taxi, and Maori war canoe, BBC camera crew always in tow. But now this most peripatetic of former Monty Pythonites has had enough. He's said that his most recent low-rent, high-comedy tour, Full Circle, which aired on PBS in October, will be his last. Before repairing to the London flat that the Upperclass Twit Olympics helped provide, however, Palin agreed to pass along some of his accumulated travel wisdom, from proper baggage selection to the world's best vacation spot.
Is this really your last trip?
It's the last of the long trips. There are still places I'd like to go and see and not necessarily get chased around by a camera. I want to go to Cuba. I want to go to Zanzibar. I'd like to do more lingering and exploring and a little less rushing around.
Over the years, what have you learned that helped you the most?
Always smile at people. Also, never taste the water first — let someone else do it.
But you willingly ate maggots in Mexico City while making Full Circle.
Well, we didn't go grubbing around, looking for the maggots under floorboards. They were very nicely done, at a restaurant, in a rather crispy sauce, with a salty, crunchy taste.
Ever been really frightened on the road?
In Bogot¤ recently, my camera crew and I were going up a dingy, nasty street called — appropriately enough — Bullet Street, and there was a sharp crack on the vehicle. I thought, "This is it!" It turned out to be a rock hitting the car, but I don't tell people that part.
Do you have a special travel talisman — a Bible, say, or a favorite pair of socks?
I try not to get too attached to any object, though I am quite fussy about the bags I carry. They were designed as game bags in Scotland, so they have myriad pockets for carrying whatever dead animals the hunter would find. I use them to stow my Swiss Army knife, my notebooks, my toilet paper, all the indispensables.
Where will you vacation, now that you're a private tourist and not a star?
I think I'll be torn between remoteness, like northern Canada, and somewhere full of people yet with some style, like Havana or Mexico City. Probably, in the end, I'll go to my favorite place in the world, which is the west coast of Scotland, where somehow the balance of landscape and the human element is almost perfect. There's a village in the very far north, called Achiltibuie, with a lovely hotel where I can spread out my things during the day. I'll find a comfortable chair and just sit and watch the weather come in off the sea.
What's your definition of a bad trip?
One you can't remember.
How many of those have you been on?
I can't remember.
Illustration by Tim Bower