Did you have narrow travel horizons growing up?

Did you have narrow travel horizons growing up?

24th September 2021 0 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 5 minutes

While listening to a friend’s travel podcast recently it made me realise how blinkered little old me was regarding my travel choices and my distinctly narrow travel horizons. The time in question was back in the late 90s when I was in my early twenties. I knew far-flung destinations existed (I was studying a BA Hons in Geography after all). I loved using my globe as a kid, but I just didn’t realise I could, in fact anyone could travel to these places “on holiday”.

It was a podcast by the Barefoot Backpacker on ‘solo travel’ that got me thinking; an episode from ‘Travel Tales from Beyond the Brochure‘. Some of his contributors were talking candidly about far-flung backpacking trips to Peru, exploring the Silk Road in Uzbekistan or closer to home, inter-railing around Europe. All when they were at a relatively young age.

Foreign locations were just fictitious movie sets

Growing up in the late 1980s, watching films such as Crocodile Dundee or Out of Africa, I innocently saw them as just movie sets and not actual real cities/locations, with actual real people, that (money aside) you could actually visit yourself. Did anyone else think that? Were you so used to your normal “day to day” living, that what you saw on TV came across as purely make believe?

Crocodile Dundee up a lamppost on 5th Avenue.
Crocodile Dundee up a lamppost on 5th Avenue. Source

Some people are happily “home birds”

I guess too there’s a travel spectrum with “home birds” who never leave their own county (or even want to) at one end. While at the other there are backpackers exploring the entire globe, who never like being back “home”. In my twenties I certainly fell left of centre and was massively influenced by where other people were choosing to go … or not go. I didn’t consider anything other than the standard 7 or 14 day beach holiday. Even 10 days felt strangely exotic!

In my mid 30s I moved right of centre and couldn’t wait to explore further afield. This led to a 6 month backpacking trip across SE Asia. Now in my mid 40s, and due to COVID I’ve firmly swung back to left of centre again.

How did I book my holidays in the late 90s?

Once again I naively assumed there was only 1 way of booking a holiday (going into your local branch of Thomas Cook, Thomsons or Going Places), choosing from just 1 of their brochures (Summer Sun), selecting 1 country from it (Spain) and spending 1, maybe two weeks in the sunshine on the Costa Del Sol … and on a package deal. It never occurred to me to do anywhere else.

Everybody else (neighbours and friends ‘n’ family) went to Spain for their summer sunshine so my travel horizons were well and truly dictated by that too. It was only when I started my full time job in 1999 that I considered, and went to, one of the Greek Islands instead. And then only to the British market bolt hole of Malia in Crete, laying in the sun by day and drinking beer my night.

Thomas Cook and Going Places in the High Street
Thomas Cook and Going Places. Source

Spain, Spain or Spain?!

Now in my defence when you’re in your early twenties you want to:
a) go to a beach and enjoy the sunshine;
b) drink beer in the evening.

40+ year old me may still be rusing why I didn’t hit the Uzbekistan Silk road when I was 21. But 21 year old me probably wouldn’t have wanted to go there anyway, wouldn’t have really known why you’d want to go there and instead still wanted to fly to Tenerife.

Most people when they’re younger tend to be more easily influenced by those around them. If your five mates are wanting to go to Benidorm then that’s where you’re likely to end up yourself. If your friendship group is somewhat more cultural then a yoga retreat in India may broach the shortlist. Or, like some of those contributors, they knew exactly what they wanted to do … and as a solo traveller, went off and did it.

Narrow travel horizons start to widen

You can’t turn back time and what happened happened, and I certainly had a great time on all of those Spanish/Greek beach holidays. I may be doing myself a slight disservice as I did do a solo trip to Hawaii via LA back in 2002 and was “only” 26 back then. But it still felt relatively safe and I booked it directly with a walk-in travel agent.

Actually am I still needlessly berating myself for not considering exploring the Silk Road when I was 21? I’m not particularly bothered about contemplating it now in my mid-forties.

Me with some Hula girls in Hawaii
Me with some Hula girls in Hawaii

Travels further afield

Another one of Barefoot Backpacker’s podcasts talk about privilege. As a white, middle-class, British male I have enough of that in spades. So I’m very grateful to have travelled further since my “yoof”. It just took me a little longer to work out where I wanted to go. In my early 30s I took a 6 month “gap year” and travelled from China to NZ via 5-6 countries in SE Asia. OK – I was made redundant and had it forced on me but still …

In 2012, at 38, I trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and since then I’ve been 7-8 times to New York to work with a charity called Every Mother Counts, ticking off the New York City Marathon twice while I did so.

My dad finishing the NYC Marathon in 1989 and me 24 years later!
My dad finishing the NYC Marathon in 1989 and me 24 years later!

Are our travel choices made for us?

Even now penning this post I’m realising those two last trips were heavily influenced by my dad. Perhaps I didn’t really have a free choice after all? He visited Everest Base Camp back in the late 90s and ran the New York City Marathon in 1989. It seems I’ve pretty much followed in his footsteps. If he’d travelled the Silk Road in Uzbekistan at some point I may well have done that by now too.

Maybe the Barefoot Backpacker can look at narrow travel horizons, bias or influences in one of his upcoming blog posts? Ian?

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