My Travelling Life

Don't take your baggage on holiday with you: funnyman John Vlismas

The South African comedian, currently starring in a new show at Montecasino, has some serious thoughts about taking time out

29 July 2018 - 00:00
By Elizabeth Sleith
John Vlismas' fave city is Montreal, Canada.
Image: Jo Spies/Whacked John Vlismas' fave city is Montreal, Canada.

My first childhood holiday was a trip we took from Harare, where we lived, to Victoria Falls. The rainforest and old hotel were like another world for me. Since that trip, I have always treated travel as a chance to escape context, and therefore something to pursue whenever possible. It's not always glamorous or easy, but it is a chance to re-examine what you consider to be normal or accepted.

The first time I went abroad, my parents made a call when they decided to move from Zimbabwe to SA. They decided to take our family on a three-month trip to see the world. Without doubt, it is the greatest gift I have ever been given. To go from Harare in summer to the UK, and see London, was like leaving the planet. We didn't have the warmest clothes, but we were so excited, and we must have looked like maniacs falling out of the plane into the snow ... it was a true privilege and an education.

Vietnam was my first case of culture shock. The sheer number of people in Ho Chi Minh was new to me and I struggled to walk around at first. After a day or two, though, you learn to go with the flow. After that, India was a shock - there is extreme poverty and opulence within metres of each other.

The best way to travel is to go light.  Don't take your whole ecosystem with you - otherwise what's the point of going? Use local modes of transport, eat the local food and try to experience the customs and norms. You don't have to be obsequious, or condescending. I wouldn't presume to wander up to an altar and pray, but I would certainly find a spot at the back of the temple and try to get a sense of the occasion if it was appropriate to do so.

My favourite city is Montreal.  The blend of French and English vibes, and the dedication to festivals (including the Just For Laughs Comedy Fest) makes Montreal an amazing city. Canada is a great country in terms of social progression, and Montreal is an artistically exciting place with a huge emphasis on culture.

As I get older, when I travel I try to be as comfortable as I can afford. I don't think a holiday has to be harrowing to be valid. Sometimes it is really wonderful to lie in the sun and read a book.

Other times, it is great to actually accomplish something - dive a particular site or walk a particular route. One of the best things I have ever done was go to America with my mum and dad. We rafted through the Grand Canyon for a week, which allowed us to really get to grips with the nature of the river. Sleeping under the stars every night and spending all day on the river was good for the soul.

The oddest thing I've experienced while travelling is being conned out of £135 by a group of men in a high street storefront in London. I allowed need, greed and fear of loss to corrupt me. I even left the conmen to get more cash and came back. Now I have a much sharper sense of how being out of my context doesn't change the universal laws on a deal that seems too good to be true.

Vlismas is obsessed with Japan.
Image: 123RF/bee32 Vlismas is obsessed with Japan.

My best piece of travel advice is to move around as lightly as you can, that includes mentally - don't take your baggage with you.

My perfect holiday involves an open mind, a small bag, some money and people you care about, seeing new things. And don't be afraid to be touristy - everyone is so determined not to be a tourist that they end up being another generic local. Go off the beaten track, but also go to the Louvre. It's famous for a reason.

I really want to go to Japan. I'm obsessed. From the Shinto all the way to the Harajuku - all of it.

Vlismas' show 'Brain Dump' is on at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, Montecasino, until August 12.