Exotic holidays used to be something you could brag about, but the era of cheap flights and easy visas means that there?s precious few places you can visit that will raise an eyebrow at a dinner party any more. Even Bruce Parry probably finds people yawning at his latest anecdote about bamboo willy pipes and hallucinogenic caterpillar burritos, so you really need to push the rickety wooden boat out if you want some cool stories to tell your friends, co-workers and whoever is at the end of that latex-covered arm in the little room at the airport.
Luckily for you aspiring globetrotters, help is at hand. Don?t bother with Thomas Cook, and bin that copy of The Rough Guide, because I?m here to give you the lowdown on the far-flung destinations that will provide you with a bottomless reservoir of unbeatable traveller?s tales. Nobody will give a toss about Steve?s dodgy tummy in Goa or that time Marcus did the bull-run in Pamplona, because they?ll be too busy hanging on your every word as you retell your adventures in places so weird and backwards they make Guernsey look like the city in Blade Runner. What?s even better is that you?ll still get away with the ridiculous exaggeration that once characterised the best travelling tales – people may have stopped taking ?accidental ladyboy in Thailand? stories seriously around 2001, but few people know enough about Slovenia to call you a liar when you tell them you paid to watch three naked men erotically wrestling a horse. Here?s my top picks for unusual trips – hopefully Gallery will print some exchange rates and a legal disclaimer at the bottom in case anybody gets kidnapped by crocodiles or eaten by pirates. I want you to have a good time, but I don?t want Anne Robinson to damage her last remaining facial muscle by talking about me on Watchdog.
North Korea: Jewel of the Orient
As a longtime fan of the tiny, fluffy-haired dictators of our world, I?ve always dreamed of visiting the Democratic People?s Republic of Korea. I yearn to experience the crumbling concrete majesty of Pyongyang, the enduring subtleties of North Korean propaganda art and enjoy the splendid banquets that are spontaneously presented to visitors unfortunate enough to live in the impoverished capitalist world, yet fortunate enough to be travelling with a BBC camera crew.
Providing you can avoid being kidnapped, brainwashed and (for the ladies) coerced into an unhappy life as the sex slave of a tubby midget grandpa, North Korea is guaranteed to be an unmissable trip. You?ll get to see the mass games, a kind of North Korea?s Got Talent with a cast of tens of thousands, and perhaps stay in the Ryugyong hotel, a hideous concrete structure which resembles the background skyline of a bad video game and has been under haphazard construction since 1987. A holiday in Krazy Kim?s atomic powered Disneyland will provide plenty of memories, and you?ll need them, because if you ever want to describe Korea to anybody not holding a stun gun it might be unwise to do much unsupervised photography. Bon voyage, try not to have too much fun!
Sunshine in the Middle East
For the ageing hippies that spawned my ungrateful generation, few budget holidays were more enjoyable than the experience of working on an Israeli kibbutz. Participants would return to Europe with a taste for hummus, an appreciation of the complexity of cucumber growing and a treasure trove of anecdotes concerning the virtues of communal living. There are plenty of traditional kibbutzes still out there, but the modern visitor needs to be careful where they end up in the Holy Land – people will be less impressed to hear you spent your summer bunking up with a bunch of Uzi-wielding zealots and planting avocados amidst the wreckage of a bulldozed hospital in the West Bank.
Of course, if religious extremists are your thing, you?ll have plenty of fun backpacking through the majority of the region – just be careful to check up on which dictators our governments are trying to topple and which ones we?re propping up in order to subcontract our torturing and sell us cheap oil. Like exchange rates, this can fluctuate on a daily basis, so look smart unless you want to be telling your anecdotes via camcorder testimony sent to CNN.
Trekking in the Congo
Africa truly is an unmissable destination for any traveller – it?s just a shame that jaded backpackers are getting bored of the wildlife of the Serengeti, the majesty of Victoria Falls and the breathtaking inland deltas of Botswana. Worry not, because you can go one better by following in the footsteps of our ancestors, by which I mean the white Europeans whose dogged pursuit of gold, minerals and slaves helped mould parts of modern Africa into the exhilarating hotspots they are today.
Your friends might be able to boast of time spent in amidst natural beauty of Tanzania, maybe exploring the sandy vistas of Namibia, but real adrenalin seekers are booking a flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo – a country invaded so many times that its borders are drawn in pencil on the map. There aren?t a lot of internet cafes, yoga classes or full moon parties, but any currency that you don?t spend on bribing bloodthirsty militias and corrupt police officers will probably buy you a lot more banana pancakes than you?d get in Bali or Koh Phangan. Who knows, you might have enough change left over to purchase a shipment of Kalashnikovs, a bauxite mining operation and possibly even your own group of crazed paramilitaries to machete the locals if they don?t put enough ice in your G&T.
Learn to know yourself with Scientology
Not everybody is comfortable visiting the developing world, but that doesn?t mean you should be denied the chance to enjoy the kind of profound spiritual awakening that rich white people experience whilst patronising the inhabitants of India. Your inner child needs nurturing, and possibly spanking, but maybe you just don?t like the idea of mixing with poor people in order to do it.
That?s where Scientology comes in, a religious experience for the type of person who doesn?t mind buying their way to a higher state of consciousness. My lawyers and a threatening postcard from Tom Cruise tell me that it?s probably unwise to speculate about exactly what Scientologists believe, but according to an episode of South Park it has something to do with a giant atomic volcano and a galactic overlord named Xenu. I?m sure that can?t possibly be true, so please don?t tell John Travolta where I live.
You can learn all these secrets and and more by taking your holidays in a luxurious, air-conditioned Scientology facility in California, where trained staff will be on hand to relieve you of your psychiatric medications, fears and chequebooks. You?ll discover a new you, a new world, all by studying the writings of a science-fiction author who allegedly believed that mankind was descended from clams.
The only problem with your Scientology vacation is that you won?t really be encouraged to talk about it, outside telling your friends that it?s something wonderful and mysterious that they absolutely need to experience for themselves. And that?s what I?m telling you, in the hope that Kirsty Alley will calm down and take her foot off my neck.