The summer I turned 13, all five members of my family piled into our blue Ford Escort hatchback and drove to Yellowstone National Park. On our first day in the park, I bought from the Hot Springs gift shop a formidable book called Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Bad call.

I’d thought—errantly, it turns out—that knowing how to avoid a bear attack would ease my neurotic little mind. I’d grown up around plenty of other wildlife: badgers (enormous pancake assholes of the forest), foxes, beautiful and shy egg and baby chick-gobbling cat-dogs, and black bears, which are basically fuzzy bowling balls that will ruin your garden. I’d never been around grizzly bears. I knew from watching many, many episodes of Marty Stouffer’s Wild America that grizzly bears were big, and mean, and scary, dead-eyed aggressive refrigerators-sized killing machines on legs. I just wanted to know how to stay out of their way. What were the signs? How could I outrun them? Could I fight a bear? Could I befriend one?

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Instead of feeling calmed by the book’s promises (“a sometimes horrific, yet always instructive, story of Bear and Human, written by the leading scientific authority in the field... for everyone who camps, hikes, or visits bear country—and for anyone who wants to learn more about these fearsome but always fascinating wild creatures.”), I spent much of the rest of the trip terrified that during the middle of the night, my menarche would usher me into womanhood, a bear would smell it, and the next thing I knew, I’d be torn apart in meaty tween strips in front of my horrified mother.

Do not read Bear Attacks during your next vacation to one the national parks of the great American West.

Likewise, I would not recommend reading The Shining before a road trip through the Rocky Mountains between Leadville and Denver, even during the summer (the Kubrick film, oddly, doesn’t have the same effect). Especially if you’re 18 and a wimp.

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Further, do not watch Hostel before going hostel-hopping. Do not watch any of the Taken franchise before going to Europe with your family. Do not watch Spring Breakers before Spring Break. Do not watch Cannibal Holocaust...ever. But especially don’t watch it before a trip into the South American wilderness.

These are only a few of what I’m sure are many, many books, films, and TV shows that would not put a person in a good mindset for enjoying themselves while traveling. What’s on your Mustn’t Read or Watch list? Did you learn the hard way? Or maybe you all have the good sense to see a book called Bear Attacks in a gift shop and think, “Maybe I shouldn’t read that on a camping trip.”


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