Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Instead, I'm going to make a confession: I'm feeling a bit of a fraud about this travel-writing lark. In the dozen or so years I've been going on famils (free trips arranged by tourism people) and writing about the destinations and experiences afterwards, I've been thinking more and more that I'm nothing more than the most superficial sort of tourist. When I was the age my daughters are now, the thing was to be a traveller - out there, winging it, getting uncomfortable (and diarrhoea), rubbing elbows with the locals and being real. Not having some sort of sanitised, dislocated experience, being escorted from airport to resort/tour coach/cruise and back again. (Viz. the American on my recent Danube river cruise, asking his wife "Are we in Bratislavia yet?")
The more I hear about what the girls have been doing (which is, I have to say, very much less and far more infrequently than I would like), the more I see the difference. Cycling the length of France, free-camping and self-catering; working long hours crewing on a yacht in the Med and Caribbean; summiting several 5,000-metre Andean peaks; sleeping in the Amazon jungle; getting hands-on with a sloth; 24 hours on a bus with chickens; snorkelling with turtles in the Galapagos Islands; taking a boat from Colombia to Panama; learning to ski at Whistler. I've touched on this stuff, I've been to most of those places, I've had a bit of a go at some of those things - but that's it. I haven't really experienced it at all. I've just flitted in, skimmed over the surface, and flitted out again, to come home and write about one specific moment or person in a sea of generalisations that's meant to sum up the destination for the reader. Isn't that a bit of a con?
Or, given that I'm a Baby Boomer and most of the readers of my publications are in that demographic too, should I just assume that for all of us our traveller days are over and that what we want now is exactly that: a taste of the authentically exotic couched in insulating and reassuring comfort? It isn't very inspiring, really. Kind of depressing, in fact - though that may be largely age-related rather than an indictment of the international tourism industry. I'm still going to keep doing it, if they'll let me; I'm just feeling that the 'travel writer' label is a cheat. Any suggestions for a more accurate term?
Oh, Merry Christmas, by the way.