Take your chances, but take them wisely

Nothing written here or elsewhere can mitigate the pain suffered by the families and friends of the backpackers who died in the fire in Queensland last week. The lives of dozens of those close to the victims will never fully recover from the pain of the loss; of bright, enthusiastic young people who were in the middle of a great adventure. Many of the independent travellers I have met in the past week while hitch-hiking through western Canada were plainly stunned by the news. Each seemed to have the same unspoken thought: there, but for fortune, go I.

Nothing written here or elsewhere can mitigate the pain suffered by the families and friends of the backpackers who died in the fire in Queensland last week. The lives of dozens of those close to the victims will never fully recover from the pain of the loss; of bright, enthusiastic young people who were in the middle of a great adventure. Many of the independent travellers I have met in the past week while hitch-hiking through western Canada were plainly stunned by the news. Each seemed to have the same unspoken thought: there, but for fortune, go I.

Independent travel involves a lot of trust, and luck. Just as it is difficult to comfort those who have lost loved ones, it is easy to empathise with the families of global backpackers over the extra anxiety they must now feel.

Yet there is a wider issue that needs to be addressed. Inevitably, Australia will be erased from the wish-lists of some travellers. This latest tragedy has reawakened the memory of the horrific "backpacker murders" of hitch-hikers by a serial killer in New South Wales. Independent travel in Australia, it is tempting to conclude, equals risk.

In one sense, there is a good statistical case for being fearful about Australia: the traffic-accident record is dreadful, with a rate of road deaths more than twice as bad as Britain's. (In New Zealand, the figures are even worse.) Road accidents will continue to be the leading cause of death for British travellers abroad, likely to number more than 150 this year. Drownings and other accidents at sea will account for a further 100 deaths.

Each of these comprises an individual tragedy with awful repercussions, and perhaps constitutes one more reason to stay at home: is it really wise to place your trust, and life, in the hands of others, thousands of miles from home? We live at a time when the average British person can travel almost wherever they wish. But that doesn't mean travelling is, in itself, always a good thing.

This summer, plenty of us will be exporting ourselves and our culture to a part of the world where the weather is better and the beer cheaper: Benidorm, the Dordogne, or - where I am writing from - the YWCA Backpackers' Hostel in Vancouver, which boasts internet access and Euro 2000 live.

You can make a strong case for the absurdity of taking on extra risks, from plane crashes to falling from a hotel balcony (each claiming about 20 British victims annually), just to go abroad. But almost any journey that puts you in contact with different places and people is likely to challenge you, broaden your horizons and increase your understanding of the world. And even if travel doesn't do for you any of those things, at least you will bring some economic benefit to the community you visit.

The deeper you explore, the more you avoid the well-beaten tourist trail, the higher the rewards - and the risks. There are plenty of steps you can take to reduce the perils from small to minuscule, such as flying rather than driving within Australia, and becoming obsessive about avoiding mosquito bites in the tropics. But you can never eliminate danger altogether.

Today, several thousand Gap Year travellers will set off from Britain, with considerable trepidation, on their personal journeys of a lifetime. They owe it to themselves, to their friends and their families, to take their chances, but to take them wisely.

***

THERE ARE many advantages to boarding a Ukraine International Airways flight at Gatwick. Only a churl would begin the list with the fact that you are leaving Gatwick. The first proper benefit is the prospect of flying to Kyiv, the majestic capital of a beautiful country. Next, the prospect of generous helpings of Armenian brandy after your meal. Third, the pleasures of Panorama, the inflight magazine.

Panorama would be sure to win the prize for honesty in airline publications. It confronts the post-Chernobyl worries head-on: "Radiation levels in Kyiv and most of Ukraine are considered to be safe by the Ukrainian government, and, " it adds with a note of triumph, "the US Embassy." Note that clause "most of Ukraine" - from which it is tempting to infer that parts of the country are still suffering the effects of the catastrophe.

While other inflight magazines counsel caution about how to get around a strange city, UIA's journal suggests a relaxed definition of the term "taxi" when on the streets of Kyiv: "Generally, it is easier to hail a private car in the street, as owners often act as taxi drivers. It is not advisable to get in a private car with more than one person already in it. Set the price before getting in. Rides are usually equivalent to about $2 in the city centre, and up to $5 to Kyiv's suburbs."

When visiting Ukrainians in their home, Panorama advises that it is customary to bring a gift. "Flowers or champagne should suffice," it adds helpfully. Given the average hard-bitten local businessman's likely reaction to being offered a bunch of carnations, I'd suggest the champagne every time.

***

THE CURRENT edition of Panorama curiously includes "Some tips on how to prepare" for April Fool's day. The author, Branco Stanits, says "the reward to a joker is a timely and triumphant yell of 'Fools' Day!' when you see that your scheming has worked," and suggests that for maximum effect you should "explore the world's treasury of practical jokes and pick one well in advance". Life round at Branco's house must be full of fun.

And just in case you have some spare time, you may wish to take a side-trip to Odessa, 300 miles south, which has an unusual property: "Wherever you look, at all times and under any circumstances, Odessa has been full of beautiful women," claims the magazine. Male visitors with nobler aspirations should take the "drive down the French Boulevard along the seafront to Lanzheron, or maybe even as far as the Sparkling Wine Factory". If you neglected to stock up on champagne at Gatwick, this could be your chance to really impress those business associates.

***

The official carrier for the 2004 Olympiad is, appropriately, Olympic Airways. But will the the Greek national airline still be flying by the time the Games in Athens take place? The chronically loss-making carrier has repeatedly had its corporate knuckles rapped by the EU for the state subsidies that helped keep it afloat. In a recent interview for Airlines International, the boss of Olympic said: "I don't think there's anybody in the airline that doesn't realise this is the last-chance saloon..."

Since then, Rod Lynch has thrown in the towel as CEO of Olympic. He has returned to his old employer, British Airways, and a new boss, Rod Eddington. It is whispered that one of the first acts of Rod II, when he surveyed the mess he was brought in to clean up, was to ask why BA was getting so involved with one of Europe's poorest airlines. He cancelled the plan for BA to buy one-fifth of Olympic, and recalled the team of consultants that Rod I had led. Perhaps a comment by Rod I will prove the most accurate: "This airline is going to surprise the whole industry."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

    Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

    Guru Careers: Plumber / Maintenance Operator

    £25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen