WORST JOURNEYS Edited by Keath Fraser (Picador, $87) GOOD writers and their bad trips is a publishing notion with great potential. Worst Journeys is a collection of short pieces written by some of the biggest names in the business of travelling to exotic lands and somehow getting paid for it, and should please arm-chair travellers and derring-do types alike. Pleasant experiences, healthy food, helpful locals, smooth travel arrangements all make for boring stories. But there is much to recommend listening to other people's travel misery without going through the bother of malaria, dysentery, or bus accidents yourself. Graham Greene, the doyen of serious adventurer-writers, finds himself stuck on a spine-bending mule ride in a hot, ugly but otherwise unremarkable part of Mexico with nothing but a raging fever, the merciless sun and a much too cheerful guide. Along the way he taps into three travel truisms of rugged peregrination: ''I was too exhausted to be frightened''; ''Man has a dreadful adaptability''; and ''So one always starts a journey in a strange land - taking too many precautions, until one tires of the exertion and abandons care in the worst spot of all.'' Not all writers set out looking for trouble, but many tend to lurk around places where something untoward might just develop. Bruce Chatwin, for example, was working on a book in Benin (formerly Dahomey) when he was rounded up after a botched coup attempt. He was accused of being one of the mercenaries who allegedly led the insurrection. Chatwin describes in his inimitable isn't-this-interesting style his harrowing time in jail and his rescue by a Frenchman who had seen it all before. Jonathan Raban is floating down the Mississippi in a small boat, not exactly minding his own business - it would be hard to write a book about his experiences, Old Glory, if he kept to himself - but he's a peaceable sort. Raban goes looking for a beer and a feed and finds himself on the wrong end of a large knife wielded by a strung-out redneck who thinks the Englishman is an undercover narcotics agent. This brings home the travelling truth: you don't have to drift into the backwaters of Louisiana to find trouble: it can happen anywhere to anyone. Paul Theroux doesn't usually search for trouble but he has a knack of travelling to faraway places to dislike people. He boards a train in Costa Rica craving ''a little risk, some danger, an untoward event, a vivid discomfort, an experience of my own company and in a modest way the romance of solitude''. Instead, he encounters Mr Thornberry, the worst sort of danger to anyone on the road - a talkative, intrusive bore who never manages to redeem himself. Boredom terrifies travelling writers most. ''My definition of what makes a journey wholly or partially horrible is boredom,'' reporting legend Martha Gellhorn writes. ''Add discomfort, fatigue, strain in large amounts to get the purest quality horror, but the kernel is boredom.'' Boredom, and fleeing from it, features prominently in the writing of Worst Journeys, but rarely in the reading of it.