Our ability to travel great distances economically is one of the wonderful gifts of the modern era. Past generations have been able to tour ‘the world and elsewhere’ but it was either prohibitively expensive, slow going, or both. The very concept of overseas travel was solely the domain of the rich and idle – the first Qantas flight to London in 1938 cost £400 (about two years on the minimum wage) and took 10 days, with 37 stops. And that was one way.
Commencing March 24th Qantas now offers a non-stop fare between London and Perth – a seventeen hour flight – with prices starting from about $2000 return.
Rewinding 20 years and barely relevant but I’m reminded of that time a work mentor called me into his office and said, “Young fella, no matter how great the job, or how good your boss and workmates are, make sure you always have one of these in your top drawer.” He paused for effect before sliding open his desk and showing me the contents. I leaned over with some trepidation, half expecting to see a gun – or at least a set of nunchucks. To my relief the drawer was empty, with the exception of a neat, thin CV.
I nodded sagely and wandered off, but to be honest then largely disregarded his advice. The concept did stick with me though and has come in handy – over time I have developed my own version; that is, one must always have a travel shortlist ready to go in their top drawer. Or it could be the bottom drawer, just so no-one stumbles across it by accident and discovers that you’ve got plans to cruise to Siberia, hunt elephants, or hitchhike across Syria.
Let’s make one thing clear, this isn’t about having a ‘bucket list’ – that’s for things to do before you die. You can still have one of those stored away as well, but the shortlist is a little more immediate – it’s places you look at and think “I want to go there NOW!”
In actual fact my shortlist is a spreadsheet, but you get the jist. The main point is, when you can travel anywhere in the world with such ease and comfort, it’s about always being ready.
As a concept, a travel shortlist has to tick a few boxes – a bit like travelling itself – and always be a fluid thing. Once a place has been visited it can drop off the list and be replaced by the next place on the list from below, that way you always have the right number of destinations in your travel consciousness. I’ve always found five to be a manageable number – anything more is a bit much to stay on top of, and fewer is far too restrictive.
Next up, there must be a good reason for each place to be on the list. For me, ideally it’s a place I’ve never been, but beyond that anything goes. I’ve visited places on a whim just because some distant relative went there in 1969 and hasn’t stopped raving about it since.
So does this all just sound like a case of traveller’s greed? Maybe, after all, the best trip is often the one you plan while on the plane home from your last one. Either way, come over here for a moment and check out what I’ve got in my top drawer. No it’s nothing creepy, and yes, you should have one too – it’s my travel shortlist revealed.
#5 Cuba and Mexico
Two potentially very different destinations granted, but there’s a reason I’ve bunched them together, their close proximity aside. It was April 2009, and fresh from hitting the ‘click to book’ button about 20 times for an a-w-e-s-o-m-e trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – with a side trip to Cuba – I had just finished congratulating myself on my wise choice of flights and accommodation when the news hit. Yes, the dreaded swine flu was quickly spreading across Mexico.
“Surely it will pass with a strong puff of Pacific breeze” I thought.
But no, it settled in for the long haul, and surrounding countries, Cuba included, swiftly closed off their borders to all incoming flights and other vessels. A few weeks later I gave up, the trip was cancelled and refunds received from everyone involved; Air Cubana, Aeromexico, even the Hotel San Jose, in downtown Merida.
Oh wait, no, there was one single company remaining who refused to provide a refund.
Apparently because the World Health Organisation hadn’t declared a zombie apocalypse on a Thursday afternoon with albino pigs flying across the tarmac at Tullamarine, it was therefore ‘against their policy’. Go figure.
Go for: Jungle ruins, Aztec history, street music, beaches and the colonial architecture and retro-culture of the region.
Greece just seems to have occupied some sort of euro-bermuda triangle type of space in my travel plans over the last 30-odd years. I’ve visited most of the countries that surround it, I’ve flown over it, heard tales about it, but never managed to actually see it with my own eyes. A mythical nation I’m still not convinced actually exists.
How will the Acropolis of Athens compare with the Roman Forum? Do the beaches of Mykonos trump those of Mauritius or the Seychelles? And will the touts be more persistent than their counterparts in Delhi?
Flights are generally cheap from my usual base – the UK – so my conclusion? The excuses don’t cut it any more.
Go for: Sun, sea, island hopping, calamari, homemade ouzo, real tzatziki, white washed villages, and to breathe in some true ancient history.
Firstly there’s my name. Green. And Ireland’s meant to be pretty green – they call it the Emerald Isle after all.
OK that’s stupid.
The real reason I want to see Ireland is because my father was from there. Well Northern Ireland actually, which, well getting those two mixed up in the wrong company could end badly for you. And besides, I’ve heard Northern Ireland is pretty dire anyway, so Ireland – the republic – it is. I might even have time between pubs for a bit of genealogy.
Go for: Castles, country drives, quaint towns, Guinness, and of course, the ‘Craic’. Oh how the Irish do love a chat and to tell a story.
#2 Sri Lanka
I’ve wanted to go to Sri Lanka for years. Even more so since the advent of Instagram. Yes I’m sick of seeing people’s photos of palm-lined beaches, colonial ruins crumbling with charm, elephants that deliver guests across crystal-blue waters to tiny island resorts, and trees that seem to produce mango lassies without human intervention.
Seriously, if I know 100 people I reckon 90 of them have either been to Sri Lanka in the past five years, or will be visiting Sri Lanka in the very near future – probably this year in fact.
That’s it, I’m in.
Go for: Beaches, more jungle ruins, friendly locals, sub-continental culture without the crush, coastal train journeys, cricket, freshly chargrilled prawns, and a bucket of ice-cold Lion Lager.
OK so by now you’ll realise this whole list is a sham. France? Haven’t I been to France like, a billion times?
Yes I have. One billion and one if you count that time I went to Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar, which is technically part of La République, even if it is 9,200km away from the French mainland.
But something about France has captured my spirit. When I go there, it feels like home, and when I leave, I find myself turning around to take one last look, or at least until next time.
As a self-professed Francophile, I source and eat as much cheese, baguette and Côtes du Rhône as my stomach will take, torture myself scouring French property websites, and torture others with my awful language skills.
In a lot of ways my love of France is the reason I even have this travel shortlist, comprising of all the other places I want to go, should go, but just haven’t reached. Just as my mind is ready to embrace another destination, or my finger hovers over the button screaming ‘book now!’, I’m suddenly reminded of spring in Paris, a warm but gentle breeze carrying me as I wander along the Jardin des Tuileries, or a slow canal boat on La Dordogne, or even a chilly night, watching the sunset over the Massif Central mountains, glass of red in hand.
Suddenly the plan breaks down (again), and unfamiliar territories either fall by the wayside, or fall somewhere onto this list.
C’est La Vie.