Road Rules: Semester at Sea

It seems MTV might have actually influenced my life in some significant, non-musical way. I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I’ve been struggling to come up with something to write all day long. Now, about 8 hours before my self-imposed Monday deadline, it clicked that THIS is the thing. And once I decided to write about it, I ended up finding it all online and took a happy trip back in time to my high school mindset, and to when reality TV was a bit less polished and pervasive. (See, Kate, having a standing writing assignment almost always turns out to be a good thing.)

Remember Road Rules? I was never big on the Real World, and I was never even that big on Road Rules in general, but the Semester at Sea season stuck with me. I never knew you could do something like that in college! Study abroad, sure, but what was this madness about going around the world? It might have been the first time I even realised that was a feasible thing you could do, and that people did do, in college or not, on a boat or however. And I was plenty old and wise enough to know by then that if MTV was glamourising people doing it, and paying for it, it was sure as hell possible to do on your own, for less money, and involving much less drama.

That was really, REALLY exciting.

(The other reason the show maybe stuck with me is because I had a total high school crush on Pawel, the photographer. But I promise that’s not the only thing I remember about the show. *ahem*)

Anyway. I watched that season religiously. It aired in 1999 when I was in 10th grade, right when I was seriously starting to look into colleges so I remember I was all over looking into how to get on that boat myself. And I know I looked at it again when I was considering study abroad programmes IN college, but it was too expensive and didn’t quite match up with life at the time. Regardless of that though, it got me thinking about the possibility of long-term travel years before Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman infiltrated my brain with a need for the Siberian beyond.

Aside from being completely fascinated by all the College Stuff going on (and the shaving your head when you cross the equator thing), one of the challenges that I always, ALWAYS think about when I think about traveling is the one in Vietnam where they had to spend LOADS of money in one day (12 million Vietnamese Dong, which was $866 at the time), and if they managed to spend it all, the same amount would be donated to charity. But the catch was they couldn’t buy any THINGS. They had to spend it all on services and experiences. So they had a super fancy meal, got their hair done, got massages, hired locals to be their guides for the day, that kind of thing. The point was to put money into the local economy, support businesses, and get the money to the people. And I remember thinking what an awesome challenge it was. And I STILL think it’s awesome. They had a really hard time spending all the money, but they did do it.

The internet is truly a wonderful beast, because here’s the episode, so you can watch it for yourself.

Maybe this is in my head right now because it’s Christmas time and I’m trying to get all my gift stuff done and in general, I really hate buying random shit for people that doesn’t mean anything. I feel disgusting if I get something for someone just for the sake of them having a gift. Because what’s the point? Where’s the love in it? And I’d much rather get someone an experience, but that’s expensive and tricky and it’s so hard to pin anyone down these days that it’s easier in the end to get them something they can use or read or whatever.

At the same time, I’m trying to save all this money, and I feel like I should probably just not bother myself thinking about it for the entire month of December because I might just explode if I worry about how much is currently flying out of my accounts in the name of the holidays. All I can do is make sure that the shit it’s flying on is stuff that will truly be appreciated, rather than just useless tat with a ribbon on it.

All this to say, isn’t it so much better when you spend your money on something that provides a lasting memory rather than a thing that you can lose or break? Like, I’m just as bad as the next person when it comes to Cool Stuff. I bought a freakin’ dinosaur tail phone stand today for no reason other than it’s a dinosaur tail and I’m a sucker for dinosaurs. I am The Actual Worst.

And having ITEMS to remind you of a place you loved is no bad thing, but in general, the reason you want those items is because you want to remember the place they came from or what you were doing when you found them. I remember that particular episode all the time 15 YEARS LATER and I wasn’t even the one HAVING the experiences. It was just a brilliant idea.

Imagine that. MTV producers doing something that was memorable for reasons other than sex or manufactured dramatics. I guess the good old days really are gone.

ALSO. You guys: College. ON A BOAT. I’m not sure I could have handled how ABSOLUTELY bonkers that would be.

(Also also. I just now did some Googling and Pawel is still a photographer. Of cars mostly, which he is clearly quite gleeful about. This warms my heart right down to the cockles, and has made my night.)


As I recall, sophomore year was a big year for you. Road Rules and Great Gatsby! And that’s the first time those two things have been put together. You’re welcome. I often wonder how much having you as a student that year influenced my teaching.

Ha! Well, on the subject of influence, I can tell you that whenever I consider shirking my own writing deadlines, you are the first in a long line of teachers and professors parading through my head exuding disappointment. (And at the end of that line, just for fun, is Bob Day saying ‘Well god damn!’ and taking back the tie he gave me.)

Fairly effective, really.

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