Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

High-velocity travel: the unacceptable face of tourism?
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The Independent Travel

One benefit of a Gap Month, the concept I described last week: you sample a wide range of destinations and can return to them, later, for longer.

Towards the end of my month-long circumnavigation, while hurrying to the ferry quay in Tangier for a boat to Spain, I was captivated by the sight of the once-sleek Hotel Continental. It teeters on the edge of the city's Medina, and on the brink of a refurbishment that could catapult it from £40 to £200 a night. So this month I returned to the chaotic port at the northern tip of Morocco and checked in.

Inside, the Continental is an even more glorious specimen, firmly rooted in the 1930s. As the morning sunlight fragmented on the mosaics in the breakfast room, I sipped mint tea and wrote up the story about taking November off to spend 30 days going around the world.

ONE DRAWBACK of a Gap Month: the opprobrium that gets heaped upon you when you write about it.

"I cannot remember the last time a travel article left me as angry", writes John Hawkins of Edinburgh. It represents, he says, "The worst kind of travel as pornography, reaching maximum sensory satisfaction in as short a period as possible. Juvenile, list-ticking travel where the aim is not to engage, immerse or understand but to pass through as quickly as possible."

How long does it take to "engage, immerse or understand" a location and its inhabitants? I have no idea. But I returned from the trip with a notebook full of contact details for people as diverse as a Maori elder in New Zealand's Bay of Islands and a woman I bumped into in Buenos Aires. Repeatedly. She had to endure what she later described as my dos pies izquierdos during a tango lesson; my two left feet made the Argentinian dance look like a vicious contact sport.

I made the round-the-world trip because I believe the Gap Month represents an inspiring and, yes, gratifying form of tourism. When you seek to distil the human and physical diversity of the world into 720 hours, you make the most of every second of every day - not least because you may never get another chance. The sense of wonder at seeing the world and meeting its people is heightened, and your appreciation is intensified. Handily for the local economy, high-velocity tourists tend to spend cash hyperactively, too.

A SECOND charge from Mr Hawkins: "How does Mr Calder square such a trip with his oft-trumpeted green concerns? His attitude seems to be, 'Damn the environmental cost, I did it faster than you so yah boo!' Grow up, you hypocrite." This view is backed up by Julian Wedd from Cheshire, who asks, crisply, "How does a voyage of a lifetime check out in an 'eco-audit'?"

Well, I made a payment to www.climatecare.org to offset the emissions from the flights I took - though just as there is not universal agreement about the causes of climate change, opinions vary about the usefulness of carbon-offset schemes.

I harbour only one regret: about a flight, a particularly short and painful one. On Day 10, I made the mistake of cycling through central Sydney. After having survived Dubai, Mumbai and Bangkok on two wheels, I hit a downhill patch of Druitt Street that was as corrugated as the Blue Mountains. Quicker than you can say "didgeridoo" I was catapulted over the handlebars. A split-second later, the bike landed on top of me, undamaged. The road surface was removed from knees and elbows and I was patched up to continue my "juvenile, list-ticking" trip.

Should your passion for travel flag, revive it with an adventure like the Gap Month. With all respect to John Hawkins and Julian Wedd, I hope they are outnumbered by people thinking "I wonder if I could do that?"

THE GAP Month was not the only article to enrage readers last week. On this page I explained my unusual carbon-offset scheme, which involves thumbing a ride at least once for each flight I take.

"Hitch-hiking is a form of begging and a dangerous way to travel," writes Patrick Tanner of Epsom. "The last time I did it, as a student many years ago, I found myself being driven by a man who turned out to be completely drunk." (No, it wasn't me.)

Mr Tanner also takes issue with my critical views on the festive film, The Holiday, which I mentioned last week. "I thoroughly enjoyed The Holiday, which formed a wonderful antidote to the loathsome Casino Royale which I saw the week before. Will Simon be doing more film reviews? Perhaps a guide to the top 100 in-flight movies?

"Will he be extending his range in other directions? After all, travel broadens the mind. His must be enormous by now. How about Simon's hitch-hiker's guide to Iraq? Simon's road-map of the Arab/Israel conflict? Will he find time for an on-the-hoof catering guide?"

RIBALD BADINAGE was thin on the ground this week. But Paul Goldstein of Wimbledon makes three enquires about the photography that accompanied the Gap Month article: "When did you decide to take fashion lessons from David Attenborough? Was it really necessary to have the workings of a radio microphone dangling ostentatiously from your trouser pocket? And in the picture taken in the Northern Territory were you deliberately trying to look like a low-rent Marlboro man?"

AS YOU might imagine, I opened David Shamash's e-mail with some trepidation. It turned out to be a rarely uncritical response:

"Can you tell me where you got the blue short-sleeved shirt that you are wearing on the cover of the Traveller? It's exactly what I am looking for to replace an old favourite."

I have no idea where I bought the shirt, so on Wednesday I cycled (carefully) along to Mr Shamash's home in London and delivered the garment. Perhaps I should replace it with one woven from hair.

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