Sunday, 3 February 2019

THE PATRI(ART)CH OF TRAVEL



I attended the Destinations Show at Olympia on Saturday.  I remember when it first started being asked to interview Alan Whicker and a boy who had just climbed Everest (think it was the year before) Bear Grylls.  He was, as I remember him, rather gauche, and taken back by the interest but aware even then, of the commercial possibilities of what he had just achieved. Alan, who later became a friend, and who I interviewed several times after the Destinations show, was keen to know I had read his book (which he was promoting) and would ask serious and inciteful questions. This, as you may imagine was intimidating but I passed the test and he allowed me to interview him again on several occasions. 
            So I watched with interest Levison Wood (a name which surely belongs in a Jane Austen novel or a brand of antique furniture) being interviewed at this year’s Destination Show. An army man, he writes for the papers and has written books but he is still an army man at heart and travels as though in a war zone even if he is not. (Something perhaps we may all have to do if the pessimists have their way).  A packed audience of silver surfers who may have come just for the cruise news, listened to him as he talked about complex expeditions (what is a complex expedition? – is it relative, subjective, objective, what) and travelling ‘whether there were cameras there or not’ I suppose meaning BBC cameras as opposed to instagram, youtube, and the plethora of other photo framed hashtag wish you were here not clichés, platitudes and soundbites which bounce off the internet. 
             Destinations as an exhibition has not expanded and although many of the faces have changed, the cliches remain the same. 'Feel like following the sun instead of a schedule' - 'feel free'. 'Greece, more than classic' - what does that mean?  Loads of stalls telling me I must 'immerse myself',others offering me  'up to date, no nonsense, practical advice' (is there any other?).  Tour operators offering authentic and unique experiences, with local guides, (these places must have as many guides as Richmond has yoga teachers).  Saga Holidays was something that didn't relate to me then, but they've got younger and I've got older but I still don't think they're for me looking through their brochure.  
           I interviewed several women – one who was newly divorced and talking about rail journeys – expensive ones – and told me she'd just starting reading a book 'How to be a successful woman while not hurting men's feelings' (not exactly a snappy title), and another Lynn Hughes, who set up with her husband, Wanderlust, an excellent magazine which was independent and perhaps is not so independent now.  She told me how she was on the way to Ecuador and they wanted to read something that was about independent travel, and so devised something on the back of a postcard or some such - even had to borrow a pen. The rest is history as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  She said she felt slightly sorry for the young now as everything seems to have been discovered already, or rather everyone is taking photos, so you know millions have been there before you and had a better time there than you could every conceivably have.  So nothing seems new any more. But they are much more caring, sharing and genuinely eco friendly than the baby boomer, empty nesters, silver surfers, who have screwed the world up for them. 
         I personally don't think everything is discovered.  If the only thing my generation is able to think up after twenty odd years in the industry, is still immersive, wish you were here, cliches which allow you to go to never seen before destinations with local explorers who will give you authentic experiences in sun kissed landscapes, then the young have so much to explore. Despite being the first to travel to these places our generation has learnt nothing. And it shows. If all you want is to cruise, albeit to more exotic destinations, with more experts, with hop on hop off adventure, you are still basically an armchair traveller, only your armchair just happens to be on a ship - large, small, with sail or motor, it is still a ship.  
     So it is not a case the young need to follow in our footsteps. They must do it differently, see it differently and experience it differently. The reality is, it is new. Travel is subjective, relative, anything but objective. They can choose to gloss over the ugly parts as our generation did, and they are doing with smudging their instagram shots so things look brighter, more luxuriant or they can expand their vocabulary beyond the cliche and ego driven travels of (mostly) male explorers.  And they can be honest. And honesty is not a thing the travel industry does well, mainly because they forget it is highly subjective. 
       I have always written about what I have experienced. Sri Lanka is allegedly the destination to go to in 2019, but on my visit, I disliked the place intensely. I am sure it was a one off, and I got it on a bad week, (indeed, some of the other journalists I went with told me ‘this isn’t the real Sri Lanka). It was, however the Sri Lanka I saw and the one I remember. And the one I wrote about. 
       But as I listened to Levison and remembered my interviews with Bears and Alan, I couldn’t help thinking the #metoo movement has failed to hit the travel industry.  It is still the ego trip of a patriarchal mindset where the man explores, supported by the woman.  If the woman explores she has no support, and usually if she’s gone that far, she’s had to give up a lot in order to achieve it (children, marriage, partnership, companionship).  Life has taught me it is about the stuff of experience, rather than the experience of stuff.  Travel has taught me to men, adventure is an ego trip, to women it is invariably one of carrying someone else’s baggage. And supporting someone else's ego.  



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