The danger of travel – dangerous in ways many don’t or won’t understand

The Southern Alps. New Zealand

In this time of Covid-19 (coronavirus) and racism and riots in the United States, it sometimes feels the world is going mad and we’re powerless to stop it.  Only one thing is certain, I am powerless to do anything to stop it.

The sadness this has caused me is because I’m a traveller.  I’ve been to so many of those places, perhaps have even talked to people who are now dead or dying from the virus, or are in jail from protesting, and it reminded me of a column I had written when I was the travel editor of a newspaper in Christchurch, New Zealand.  (Christchurch Citizen)

These weekly columns, which I’d planned to be monthly, gave me space to write anything I wanted about travel – stream of consciousness travel writing was easy for someone who loves to travel – albeit someone who was a late starter to travel.

However, with wall-to-wall coverage about this latest new virus, and the ongoing racism that resulted in yet another death in ‘the states’ I remembered a column I had written some 18 years ago.  I believe it still has currency now.

sailing down the Nile

I’m feeling sad. Once again I see the dangers of travel. Not the rare physical danger of airline or vehicle crashes; not the occasional danger of being robbed or becoming sick, but the every-day common danger of your heart getting to know people and places. People we would not usually meet. This week, hearing of train accidents and even more deaths in the Middle East, I am very conscious of that emotional danger.

Geography was always of more interest than history at school. One could have a stab at answering questions if I knew a couple of other facts. Distance from the equator would give clues as to temperatures and climate. Mountains, plains, rivers all added up to some understanding of a place that dates and historical facts didn’t – well for me anyway.

Now travel has given me a different perspective on places. Geography remains important, history helps with understanding people and the two, combined with travel experience, gives me a sense of, not exactly ownership or belonging, but something rather like kinship, I’m attached. I leave a bit of me in every place, and take some of the places away with me

To me this feeling of human-oneness is particularly acute at times of high emotions; small countries achieve a goal; overcome an obstacle; a national team wins; and in particular, really acute in times of national pain.

My first real experience of this came after I’d been to Ireland and then shortly afterwards ‘the troubles’ began again. I was devastated that the wonderful little city of Londonderry (or Derry, depending on the map consulted) was yet again the centre of violence. Streets I’d walked down were now dangerous. Those people I had maybe spoken to or walked past were now dead or injured had me crying in front of the TV or newspaper.

Turkey and Greece had earthquakes, people in Israel and Palestine killing each other, London had rubbish bins removed from the street for fear of terrorism, New York and the New Yorkers I love have been devastated and traumatised, monsoon floods happen in Asia, and now Egypt, fabulous country and generous people, is grief-stricken with a train tragedy.

With all these,  I think of the diverse people whom I have come to know, love, judge and compare and empathise with their pain. Yet what can we do to ease that pain? Nothing. The one thing that would help – having loved ones alive again – is way beyond anything we can do.

However, maybe travel-writing that gives the texture, flavour and smells of a place helps bridge that gap between us and them. After all the scenery and monuments are the same in everyone’s photos. It’s our experiences that provide the difference.

Travelling, or reading about travelling, help us realise people are not like those presented in the headlines of our papers or in the sound-bites of radio or television. Young or old, male, female, Christian, Pagan, Muslin, or freethinker as a Japanese friend describes herself, we’re all part of the human family and when a  family member is in pain we feel it.” Travel editor” First published – Christchurch Citizen Feb 25th 2002

 

Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, I refuse to stop travelling!

Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.

And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River  -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival  -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling.  I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”

Coffee in XIam, China

Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world  I am going to keep on travelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,

Solitude, Wellington, NZ
Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.

So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.

What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required.  they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.

I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).

If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.

So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.

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Sason Gir: home to the Asiatic lions

Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (Gujarat) is one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries of India. It’s also the only known home of the world-famous Asiatic Lions in Asia.

It covers some 1,412 sq km, and in November 2010 I had the privilege of being hosted by Gujarat Tourism  to their first International Bird Convention,  (search for ‘Gujarat’ to see other blogs I’ve  and written about this fabulous State) and after that, thanks to RAO Tours I explored parts of Gujarat I hadn’t seen such as the Sasan Gir

Mainly made up of dry deciduous forests with short and gnarled teak trees, thorn bushes and grassland, it’s obviously a perfect home to its (approx.) 360 lions.

During the jeep tour, my guide tells me there are some 450 plant species, 32 mammals, 310 birds, 24 reptiles and over 2,000 species of insects. It also has nearly 300 Leopards , 30,000 Spotted Deer, Antelopes, Striped Hyenas, Jackals, Nilgai, Sambar, Wild Boar, Ruddy Mongoose, Jungle Cats, Indian Porcupine, Gazelles and Crocodiles to name a few. Most of these provide the meals for the carnivores!

The birders in the group were thrilled with the bird population, (see Alan McBride ‘s diary) and even I, a non-birder could tick off a number in my book of lists!

The jeep safari’s almost guarantees a lion sighting – although, as I was in the last jeep, I was upset not to get good lion photos. However, like many missed photos, the image of the original remains firm in my memory.

I stayed at the Vanvaso Resortand loved it so can well recommend them: it has been built with care and attention to detail – combining nature with luxury accommodation . I loved my bedroom and the bathroom was a combo  of indulgence and the jungle ambiance.

I also visited the Lion Safari Camp where I had a tasty BBQ meal and was fascinated with the Siddis who trace their ancestry to Africa. They are believed to have come to India as mercenaries, slaves and labour. Here in Gir, there are villages of the Siddis, who are well-known for their dances and ability to live with the lions.

Ranjit Sinh Parmer ( CEO Palaces of India) joins us on the jeep

Enjoy this slide show of some of my photos from the area: as always, copyright to all my photos are owned by me

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youth hostel has great travel tips for us all

starssTOP 5 TIPS ON HOW TO TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY


Responsible travel is a commonly used term nowadays, but sometimes all the talk of negative impacts of tourism can seem a bit overwhelming when all you want to do is enjoy your hard-earned travels! The good news is that responsible travel is not complicated and you can still have a great time, with a clear conscience, by following a few simple tips to ensure that future travelers will find a place as welcoming and magical as you did.

1. Keep an open mind. Embracing other cultures will transform your trip and help you earn the respect and welcome of the local people. Be tolerant and respectful, making sure to observe social and cultural traditions and practices. This will help to ensure that the door is kept open for other future travelers.

2. Help preserve natural environments. Leave things the way you found them – or better still, get involved in a project that will leave a place in better shape than you found it.  Protect wildlife and habitats and do not purchase products made from endangered plants or animals.

3. Respect cultural resources. Activities should be conducted in a way that respects the artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage of a place.

4. Support the local economy. Purchase local handicrafts and products, rather than mass produced souvenirs (and you’ll have something unique and authentic as a lasting momento of your trip). Bargaining for goods should be based on achieving a fair price, rather than a determination to get the lowest price possible. You don’t want to get ripped off, but it’s worth remembering that the merchant probably needs the difference more than you do.

5. Learn as much as possible about your destination and take time to understand the customs, norms and traditions in an effort to avoid accidentally offending anyone. Not only will this make your trip much more enjoyable, but it will also make a huge difference to how future travelers are viewed by the local population.

See more about Hosteling International New Zew Zealand ( I am  life time member – that  tells you what I think of  the organisation!)


Travel tips from an international travel writer

Fifteen travel secrets and tips

Just as real estate is all about location location location, travel is all about attitude attitude attitude.

Our attitude determines our experience, where people are fearful and suspicious they see nothing but trouble and ‘lucky’ escapes while others meet no-one but really lovely people no matter where they go.

I’m in the glass-half-full-group of travellers and could never write a book of ‘all the bad things that happen when you travel’ type book. Unfortunately they are the sort of travel books that sell – and perpetuate the myth of the big dangerous world.

My most dangerous place in my many years of solo travel was in New Orleans, USA (about 15-years ago) and none of the danger – a murder and a hold-up by knife – involved me. (See Murder and Music pg 25  Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad. ISBN 978-0-473-11675-0)

So what are some of my tips for great travel?

  1. Be flexible with your travel dates and travel off-season when you can: that way it’s not only cheaper but also, you don’t have to share great sights (and sites) with hordes of other travellers and tourists
  2. Use the web for research even if you do your booking through an agent
  3. Travel close to home often … you don’t always need an around the world ticket to have a great holiday and discover fabulous people and places Jet lag is less when you fly east to west. Change your watch to the destination time as soon as you get on the plane to adjust your mind to the new time and stay up until the local bed time.
  4. Take an extra pair of glasses or contacts and a copy of your prescription for emergencies or to buy some low-cost specs!
  5. Check local transport options – catch a local bus to the end of the line to see more than the touristy places – ordinary lives are interesting
  6. Walk, walk walk: get lost often as that’s when the fun starts.
  7. I never pay more than needed for a bed as I prefer to keep my dollars to see things, do things and get to places.
  8. Join loyalty programs for in the air, on buses and for beds (such as Hostelling International)
  9. Sleep on the overnight train or bus – it can be done. (Maybe that’s an unfair point as I can even sleep on planes!)
  10. Travel light – no, even lighter than you first think – one small bag and one even smaller carry-on bag
  11. Eat where locals are eating. Eat seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  12. Always have your camera with you: keep it in a bag (zip lock ones are good) so it’s protected from dust and moisture yet handy for use – and of course extra batteries, a charger, and extra memory cards.
  13. Download photos often on to a memory stick, DVD, or external hard drive and keep them in a different bag if one is lost. You can also use an online image library on a website like Facebook.
  14. Keep your receipts for work or personal travel expenses or for income tax details: a good tip I saw recently was to write the amount and other details in your own language on each receipt – this is something I will use in the future!

    traveling feet need a manicure!
  15. Give back when travelling in disadvantaged countries. Boxes of disposable, medical, gloves can be dropped into clinics in poor villages.  Toothbrushes, pencils, pens and notebooks are always welcome in schools. Balloons are a way to give some fun to kids … after all, the best gift ever is your time and attention – and of course, don’t give sweets!
  16. And most of all … dont expect places to be like ‘home’ – take an attitude of couriosty and fun, mix with locals and you will have a better time than most tourists.

Follow your dreams

Tiny plane, big sky, big world

‘I want to be like you when I grow up’ is written on a backgammon set given to me by a young American woman when I was in Greece. I have heard them so often as I travel and I agree – and I too want  to be like me when I grow up. Maybe that’s the secret, maybe I haven’t grown up. Just another baby-boomer who wants it all; now. However I believe I have a better life than anyone I know. Beyond my wildest dreams actually.

I am not the only person to hear such words. Over lunch with Rita Golden Gelman (The Female Nomad.  Vintage.2001) she tells me she too has had the same experiences. We agreed that rarely do our adventures and writings inspire older travellers to throw caution to the wind and join us – but many young people see us as a wonderful role model. A compliment indeed.

We offer an alternative to being captured by societal norms – life on the road. As Rita said, “there is more than one way, to do life. ( read how I have done life in Naked In Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad – see link at top of this page)

Crazy, courageous or downright selfish are the viewpoints people take when judging our lifestyle. Another one that Rita seems to have had more than me is the assumption that you are “running away”. Not so.

Although I often use the term “ I’m running away to. . .” I am not running from anything but towards something new, exciting, different. That does involve leaving the society and expectations that we have grown up with – but it’s not running from. Its making different choices. Continue reading “Follow your dreams”

travel and fear: can a woman survive a year on her own?

Traveling a breeze? Not always!

Fear raises its ugly head and sits beside me. I’ve been fed, watered, had a nap, and now fear demands I re-worry about how to get from Los Angeles international airport to its domestic terminal. Once again I doubt my ability to complete this journey. Am I capable of travelling alone, for a year?  Will I find a bed each night? map worldWith my lack of other languages, how far will miming get me? My mind has a long conversation with itself until I finally push these concerns away, practice living in the now, staying in the moment and leaving the future to arrive, and be worried about, when it is due.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land in Los Angeles. Please fasten your seat belt and ensure your tray table is upright and your hand luggage is stowed under the seat in front of you.”

My heart beats faster, I’m here. My big adventure is really starting. Deep breathing, I brace my back squarely against the seat while the pilot completes the most dangerous procedure of any flight, and within moments we land smoothly, as smooth as I hope my travels will be.

Customs. Despite having nothing to declare I would love to declare the world is wonderful place or some other such facetious remark. Luckily I don’t as I meet the customs woman from hell. She is a well manicured, big haired, beautifully made-up Mexican woman.

‘Next’ she yells. I walk forward. Continue reading “travel and fear: can a woman survive a year on her own?”

how to cost your travel? tourist or traveller?

Read more of this article about how to cost your travel – depending in what you want . . . are you a  traveler or a tourist?

“The Tourist:

* Is willing to pay good money for little or no inconveniences.
* Gets detailed itineraries on hour to hour/ day-to-day activities.
* Will be told when and where they will eat on a tour.
* Trusts in package deals as to accommodation or transportation.
* Will be chauffeured to and from most attractions and monuments
* Usually has a very limited amount of time to sight see and take photos.
* Will meet other people with fairly similar tastes and likeness.

The Traveler:

* Wants to be creative with their travel arrangements.
* Can save money by finding their own accommodations online.
* Will not have a set schedule to keep. After all, isn’t it a vacation?
* Has the freedom to extend, cut short or avoid a stay in any particular area.
* Does not wish to be told when, where and how much time they have to eat.
* Can take all the time in the world to do whatever they want. Ex. take pictures, lounge at a sidewalk cafe, soak up the sun or stay in one attraction all day.
* Will intimately experience the world on their terms.
* Will have a better chance to meet, mingle and mix with the local crowd to truly appreciate the culture and lifestyle.
* Is more likely to have an uninhibited, unforgettable time.”

safe travel? planes, bird ‘flu, swine ‘flu, and a bag snatcher

World Trade Centre disaster, bird flu, terrorists,  swine flu a blog on safety – hidden cash, condoms and broad-spectrum antibiotics- seem a little naive and out of place.

Nothing we plan can save us from major disasters. Nevertheless, on the plane, I will continue to count the rows forward and back to exits in case of minor disasters or accidents.

Survival, from events less than the twin towers seem to be hugely assisted by an intention to survive. Recent TV shows have shown us how to plan to survive the mountains or desert. On a smaller scale I am reminded of my daughter’s attitude to a bag-snatching in London.

Off to see London’s most popular stage show, the wonderful The Lion King, we had arranged to meet her husband in a global food store and stayed for what became an uneaten snack.

‘Your bag’s been taken’ a woman called.

We looked around to see who had been so unfortunate. It was my daughter! With a surge of adrenaline she took off -slamming the swing doors open with a dramatic flourish, chasing a male with a red cap- the only information she had. Her husband and I followed, the police joined in and finally, after a run from Charring Cross to Covent Gardens, my son-in-law had him in on the ground in a headlock, awaiting the police and handcuffs. Her bag, with the tickets and money, saved. I bought up the rear.

Why did my daughter chase him? Why did some of her friends say they would not have done the same? Talking with the police afterwards we agreed, you are either a chaser or a not-a-chaser. My daughter is a chaser. A successful chaser who ensured we were still able to see the show – albeit in a more dishevelled state than we had planned!

In emergencies we don’t have time to think about what to do, we react. I wonder if survival is similar: that some of us will wait to be rescued, others will be proactive.

So how can we look after ourselves while travelling? With major events such as hijacking and  air crashes we can’t do a lot, however perhaps we can be more helpful by being more responsible air travellers.

How often do we see greedy, self-centred people (or worse, have done it ourselves!) struggling on board with heavier or more hand-luggage than regulations allow.

Mid-air, it’s your head the heavy bag could hit, our overweight plane that uses more fuel, could be de-stabilised: a thoughtless act that could put all our lives put at risk. Their intentions would not be to endanger lives, but the results could be just the same.

Also, every one of those extra items has to be examined in the x-ray machine, resulting in longer queues, more time, more staff and consequently higher airfares. Will we willingly pay for those added services or nag the airlines to reduce the costs and time until safety is jeopardised?

Returning from that London trip, I travelled through Chicago airport where I needed to change planes. The next plane was ready to receive us, in fact some had boarded, when an announcement was made.

“There is a strong smell of fuel at the rear of the plane and we need to check where it is coming from and clear the fumes before allowing you on board.”

Waiting, I wrote postcards then settled down to read among a clamour of voices.

‘When will we be leaving? This is really inefficient. I wish they’d hurry-up. I have a meeting to get to, people picking me up. That’s the problem with this airline, they’re always late.’ 

On and on and on they went, moaning at any employee or fellow traveller who ventured too close.

I too had people meeting me at the other end – I too had an event to get to, but I, and I hope the majority of the other passengers, had a different mindset.

My thoughts were more in line with – take as long as you need – I’m glad you found out now, not when we are high above the earth – don’t allow me on until you know the plane is perfectly safe.

I value my life, and although sometimes it is a pain to have to wait for security or mechanical checks when you have been flying for hours or have an appointment to reach – when I consider the alternatives – waiting is the best option by far.

What are your tips for safe travel?