How I Travel: Franz Wisner

Franz Wisner: Professional Honeymooner

Franz Wisner is a fearless traveler, a highly accomplished writer and one of the most affable vagabonds you’ll ever meet. And to think that it all started with getting left by his fiancé just before their wedding day.  In his words, “I got dumped at the altar and turned it into a career.” Reeling from the breakup and unable to cancel his honeymoon, he took his brother Kurt along—a trip that the brothers extended over the course of the next two years. Franz’s first book, the aptly titled Honeymoon with My Brother, details this journey and the deeply personal revelations that came with it. Franz made a splash on Oprah and the book went on to become a bestseller. Franz wrote a follow-up, How the World Makes Love.

I’d describe my travel style as personal.

Meaning I’m less interested in the Eiffel Tower and more interested in the North African immigrant skateboarders doing tricks in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower.  How did they get there?  What’s their story?  I tend to spend more time in conversation, less taking photos.  When I think about a country, the first images that pop to mind are those of the people rather than the landmarks.

Franz in India

My great-grandfather, Oscar Wisner, was a missionary in Canton, China at the turn of the last century.

He helped start a university, now called Lingnan University.  Our childhood house in small town Davis (CA) was filled with his mementos — silk dolls, porcelain vases, sepia tone photos of him and his dapper students.  I never met my great-grandfather, but he persuaded me to travel before anyone else.  I even named my son after him in hopes he’ll carry on the tradition.

Guidebooks should be treated like Steve Buscemi in Fargo

Get them to a wood chipper as soon as possible.

The only time I’ve ever gotten food poisoning was from a Subway sandwich in Lima, Peru.

Choosing my “next” destination is like choosing where to eat—my cravings change daily

When it’s the middle of winter and I’m freezing in Brooklyn, Los Roques (Venezuela) seems a nice escape.

I spent about six years of my life abroad, mostly in countries in the developing-world

The only time I’ve ever gotten food poisoning was from a Subway sandwich in Lima, Peru.  Serves me right for violating the no-chain-restaurant-on-the-road rule.  Food carts, knock on wood, have never let me down.  Hey, you can see the food!  Now you have me aching for some Vietnamese street corner Pho piled high with fresh basil.

Franz in Egypt

I’ve read and reread a lot of travel memoirs for an on-line class I’ve tought at mediabistro.com

Travels with Charley:  “I remember an old Arab in North Africa, a man whose hands had never felt water.  He gave me mint tea in a glass so coated with use that it was opaque, but he handed me companionship and the tea was wonderful because of it.  And without any protection my teeth didn’t fall out, nor did running sores develop.  I began to formulate a new law describing the relationship of protection to despondency.  A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” All hail Steinbeck.

Jet lag?  What’s jet lag?

Sometimes I even believe it.

Some of my favorite days on the road

Staying with a local, riding shotgun as they go about their daily routine — coffee with friends, business errands, family visits, domino games, soccer match in the bar.

“Don’t you want to go see the tourist attractions?” they’ll ask.

“No, no,” I’ll say.  “This is much more interesting.”

Speaking of soccer…

Even if the sport bores you to death, keep up with the latest international soccer news.  It’s the easiest way in the world to start a conversation with a man or find a common gripe with a woman.

Franz and friend

When I was single, I met a beautiful woman in Rio.

She invited me to her house for feijoada.  Life was perfect… until I decided to make small talk with her father about the beauty of Sugar Loaf, Pão de Açúcar, only I kept pronouncing it pow-de-ah-su-car.  Street translation: “sugar penis.”

That story made me change my mind about my next travel destination.

Now I’d like to be on Ipanema Beach, Posto Nine, watching the sunset with my wife, talking with friends about a place for dinner and a little music later on.

I’ll usually pack a great novel or two from the country I plan to visit.

To quote Stephen Colbert, the novels are usually “truthier” than the nonfiction works.

My family took sabbaticals to New Zealand and Australia, so I grew up with rugby and cricket.

Cricket’s been the tougher sell with my American friends, though the baseball fans and fly fishermen seem to get it.  Relax and enjoy the pace.  The beer helps too.

Never wear anything on the road you wouldn’t wear at home.

I know there are modern and adventure-oriented cruise lines out there…

Ones that swear they’re nothing like the rolling buffet- and karaoke-fests we envision.  I know they’re out there, but the thought of spending any time on one makes me want to flee with a massive tour group for a month in Branson, Missouri.

Baseball in Nicaragua

I cringe whenever I see “travel clothes,” those expensive, uber-zippered, earth-toned, polyester abominations.

Never wear anything on the road you wouldn’t wear at home.

Back to my next destination—strike Ipanema.

Now I want to be sipping coffee, predawn, safari camp in the Okavango Delta. I can’t wait to see the faces of my boys when they view big game for the first time.  Botswana, final answer.

I don’t believe in stereotypes of the ugly American tourist.

Most of the Americans I see on the road are compassionate travelers, thoughtful travelers, curious travelers.  And for every “ugly American” out there, I’ll show you his counterparts from Germany, China, Russia, etc.

No, the problem with Americans is not that they travel ugly.  The problem with Americans is that they do not travel enough.

No, the problem with Americans is not that they travel ugly.  The problem with Americans is that they do not travel enough.  Twenty percent of our country owns a passport.  We can do better than that.

By a long shot, the best memento of any trip is personal change.

Attitudes, priorities, tastes — a good, long, deep trip will shake everything up.  I’m someone who needs that push.  It’s not that I come back from my travels armed with answers, but at least I’m asking myself the questions.

Franz in India

“How I Travel” is a BootsnAll series publishing every Friday in an effort to look at the unique and diverse travel habits of some of the world’s most well known and proficient road warriors. 

all photographs provided by Franz Wisner and may not be used without permission

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Older comments on How I Travel: Franz Wisner

Ian Rose
02 March 2010

Your comment on international football is certainly true – one of my main reasons for loving the sport is the universality of football pub talk. Don’t forget, though, the rare and elusive female football fan – they’re difficult to find, especially in some places, but they’re out there.

Stephen Bramucci
02 March 2010

Post Script: Franz likes to downplay himself as a writer and focus on the strange set of circumstances that brought his books forth– but the fact is, he’s a hell of a writer who has the sort of eye on the world that we need more of. He must be the least judgmental guy in the planet and gracious at every turn. My favorite part is the thing about the Ugly American…that paragraph will definitely be making the greatest hits album.

xoloitsquintli
04 March 2010

I couldn’t agree more with the travel clothes section. One of my personal travel peeves is the zip-off pants/shorts. Can’t people make up their minds when they get dressed in the morning?

Traveller At Heart
06 March 2010

Just started his Honeymoon with My Brother. So far, so good. I agree – ugly American, ugly Canadian, ugly British, ugly German, ugly Swiss – offset by thoughtful American, thoughtful Canadian …