Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way
On World Thinking Day, we travellers should also stop to think a little
Saturday 21 February 2004
Thankfully, backpackers' bars around the world have not yet started to stage pub quizzes in a big way. One obstacle is the need to find a common denominator for travellers from backgrounds as diverse as Wollongong and Wolverhampton. The solution: questions based on travel-related trivia. Such as: which is the easternmost Baltic capital? (Vilnius, but only just); what do Forrest Gump and Route 66 share in common? (the film features Santa Monica pier in California, which is where the "mother road" ends); and who were Robert and Olave better known as?
Wrong answers include the Wright Brothers, the founders of Lonely Planet, and that nice Swedish couple you met in Greece last year. The correct response is Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, "the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World", as they are titled by the international Scout and Guide movements. And tomorrow is the best day of their lives.
This odd couple was born on 22 February, albeit in radically different years: he in 1857, she in 1889. They met in 1912 in true travel tradition aboard the Arcadia steaming to New York. Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell had by this stage written the ambiguously titled Scouting for Boys. Together with the excess baggage of his name, he was embarking on an American tour to promote the young organisation for young men. Olave St Clair Soames was a footloose 23-year-old Derbyshire lass following in the grand touristic tradition of spending the family fortune on what was, nearly a century ago, a prototype gap year.
"Gap" neatly describes the 32-year difference in their ages. Yet, despite the disparity, within months their cruise romance was consummated and they were wed. The couple devoted their lives to the noble pursuit of broadening the horizons of youngsters: she the Girl Guides, he the Boy Scouts. Robert could still have done with a decent agent to provide some advice on his books: his Biking in Bosnia was not a pedal-away success, but at least had a better title than his 1922 opus, Rovering to Success.
Within four years, their joint birthdays had been dubbed World Thinking Day. The tradition continues, with Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the globe spending tomorrow pondering how to make the planet a better place. "It's an opportunity for our members to think about the other 10 million young women members worldwide," says Charlotte Barran of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (Wagggs).
"They can learn about different cultures and learn that there are a lot of similarities in the problems faced by young women around the world. It empowers young women to become more responsible citizens." Presumably, boys around the planet are far too busy Rovering to Success to spend much time in quiet contemplation.
What the world needs now, as Burt Bacharach so nearly sang, is more thinking. Even as an unreconstructed member of the Woodcraft Folk - a mixed, secular youth organisation so ascetic as to make a flight on Ryanair seem the height of luxury - I can see the point of World Thinking Day. Travellers should give more thought to the journeys they undertake. We are the first generation able to conceive of our own insignificance by travelling the planet and discovering just how minuscule we are in the scheme of things. If that sounds too abstract, here are three specific issues worth thinking about:
Under what circumstances can a visit to Burma or Zimbabwe be morally justified, and how concerned should a traveller be about human-rights abuses in destinations such as Turkey and China?
How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man; and does the D81 in Corsica count?
And what possible justification does the Hilton Colon in Guayaquil, Ecuador, have for charging $25 per minute for calls to mobile telephones abroad?
Whatever travel topics you might choose to cogitate over tomorrow, as the old travel saying goes, "May your roads all end in happiness".
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
This page does not normally go in for self-help, but it is worth thinking about whether you can meet the challenges posed to Guides. The New Zealand Girl Guide Handbook asks: "Without Warning Can You ...?
Ride a bicycle
Light a fire and cook on it
Row a boat
Throw a lifeline
Run a kilometre
Pack an overnight bag in the dark
Build a shelter
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