Lyn Hughes: The road less travelled is still out there to be discovered
Sunday 23 December 2012
"Is there anywhere left to discover?" It's a question I'm often asked. I've had several conversations with people who are nostalgic for the hippie trail days of travel exploration, even if they are too young to have experienced them themselves.
However, there's seldom been a better time to travel. Despite the prohibitive taxes on flying, travel is relatively affordable. People are getting more adventurous and the opportunities are as great as ever. All that happens is that places come on or fall off the radar, depending on anything from tourism boycotts, to political conflict, to civil war.
However, if you really are looking for somewhere to discover in 2013, how about Iraq? Or Kashmir? These options are no longer as far-fetched as they once were. The FCO advisory against travel to Kashmir has recently been partly lifted with regards to Srinagar. True, many Indians (and some adventurous Europeans) have been happily chilling out on the houseboats of Jammu for years. But, now there is a rush of interest, and the forums are buzzing with advice and tips.
And what about Iraq? Well, a few intrepid souls have been singing the praises of Iraqi Kurdistan for years. And now the specialist adventure operators are waking up to it too. Explore (0845 291 4541; explore.co.uk) has added a series of tours for 2013. "Highlights of Kurdistan" is not your average holiday – travellers take the Hamilton Road (installed by the British 80 years ago) and visit the bazaars and tea houses of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The price is not the average, either, at £3,000 for the eight-day trip, but Explore claims extra departures have had to be added, such is the interest in region's mountainous scenery and mix of ethnic groups and religions.
Meanwhile, Burma returned to travel itineraries last year, following years of tourism boycott. At Wanderlust magazine we chose not to promote the country after a phone call in the mid-1990s from Aung San Suu Kyi's late mother-in-law asking us not to encourage tourism. But now there's a stampede to the country. Having said that, you only need to go outside peak season – which is November to February – or take the road less travelled, and you'll find plenty left to discover at your own pace.
Colombia, too, is at that lovely stage where it has a growing number of places to stay and things to do. Today's travel forums discuss the country's whale watching and birdwatching, rather than the drug wars and kidnappings of previous decades.
So what's behind our interest in exploring off-the-beaten track destinations? Increasingly, it's about a search for authenticity. We want to see somewhere that lives up to our imaginations, where the locals are still welcoming, rather than jaded by tourism. It helps if we feel that responsible tourism is helping in some way, creating jobs or conserving something unique, whether that be traditions, wildlife or wilderness.
So, that's 2013 taken care of. And 2014? Well, Libya looks enticing …
Lyn Hughes is editor-in-chief of 'Wanderlust'
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