I’ve just returned from Cambodia. I only had two weeks annual leave, so by my calcula­tions I expected at least half a dozen personal revelations, 12 incredible insights, 17 spiritually uplifting moments of total communion with nature and a rare glimpse into the eternal truth that is at­tained by cultures unfettered by affluence, door lists or retractable/extendable dog leashes.

So there’s Ankor Wat: Tick.

Khmer food: Tick.

Poverty: Tick.

Genocide and social reconstruction: Tick.

Buddhism: Tick.

Monkeys: Tick.

Hot backpackers with no immediate prospects: Tick.

Let’s face it, apart from history, temples, food and jungle, what else is there to Cambodia? I’ll tell you. The same thing every person travels for: experience.

There are only two types of travel experience: good and bad.

“Good” means a positive, personal revelation, as in: “I never knew weaving traditional baskets could be so Zen…”, to other experiences which are “bad” for the locals, but “good” for the self, as in: “When I went to the well with Quisanti and found it dry, she broke down because it meant her family couldn’t cook the half a cup of rice they’d scavenged from an overturned cart… and I took one look into those dark, Patagonian eyes and realised that all this stuff in my life, all this meaningless stuff we surround ourselves with isn’t important at all…”.

“Good” is about building a school, or volun­teering at an orphanage, or constructing a flushing toilet that provides sanitation to an entire village. The trouble with “good” experience is that no-one likes to hear about it at a dinner party. It’s also fairly moot because arseholes who have a life-altering “good” experience tend to stay arseholes, which leads to the obvious question; if it was so life-changing, why are you still an arsehole?

Of course, “bad” experience is only bad at the time. “Bad” is about those experiences which, though painful at the time, quickly morph into experiential trophies. That’s what late January is about: home slideshows (Powerpoint is the new carousel) where pain becomes triumph. The couple that got trapped under an elephant in India, the cross-country skier who had to eat his friend, the scuba enthusiast who got trapped inside a ship­wreck and survived by sucking air-bubbles out of a passing dolphin’s blowhole – these are all “bad” experiences that carry massive social currency.

It’s not just humble survival, there’s a self-important attitude that says you haven’t lived until you’ve been a little bit eaten by something, or eaten a little bit of something no one else at the table has eaten.

In the game of who’s had more experience, “bad” experience wins hands down. Anyone can have a revelation whist milking a llama, but being forced to kill one in self-defence is infinitely more impressive. It’s the journey from “I thought I was a goner” to “I never knew I’d journey so far beyond my self-constructed limitations to experience the almost infinite capacity for human survival.”

Unlike the “good” experience folks, people can listen to “bad” experience stories all night.

The intrepid traveller has a “Potato Eaters” value system that celebrates cultures and peoples who are insular, unchanged, simple, poor and sin­gularly minded. The village that has been making batik silk for centuries, or the town that has resisted electricity and retains its medieval rites and rituals, is somehow closer to “the truth”. It’s ironic that we are so affluent, so driven and disciplined, yet we spend our money travelling the world in search of insular people who have never left their own towns.

Vincent Van Gogh wanted to convey the idea that “the people eating potatoes by the light of an oil lamp used the same hands with which they take food from the plate to work the land, that they have toiled with their hands – that they have earned their food by honest means”.

That’s the problem with money – it gets in the way of the truth. I know, because I spent the money on travelling to get the proof.

Wesley Doom is the alter ego of comedian Eddie Perfect.

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