'Basically, a place has to sound a bit dodgy to be worth going to'
Beyond the perennial favorites like Paris and New York, the student backpackers of this world have a surprisingly specific agenda as to where they should be heading this year. STA travel, who cater for students and young people, have just sent me their annual list of "in" destinations, based on straw polls among its consultants.

The ten "in" places divide half-half into hot and cold areas, which sounds suspiciously symetrical but never mind. Let's start with the hot places, Guatemala, Laos, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates and Zanzibar. What trends do I spot here? Basically these are all places which backpackers' parents would prefer they didn't go to.

Until recently, Guatemala used to be all about death-squads, Laos about primitive communism and Ethiopia about raving dictators. The fact that these places are now more about descending into the rainforest jungle, finding rock-carved churches and cycling to Buddhist temples respectively, has not yet reached the attention of the non-backpacking public.

Of the other hot places, even the United Arab Emirates with its red dunes and palm oases are a pretty unexpected treat for those who fear poisonous oil refineries and the threat of Gulf wars. Only Zanzibar sounds reasonably safe, until you remember that the whole place was built on the slave-trade.

In short, what makes these places "in" depends on people being able to get at their parents by going to them. And the joy of it is that they aren't really dangerous at all.

What about the cold places? Surely these would be quite different. The five on STA's list are the Trans-Siberian railway, the south island of New Zealand, Alaska, Rekyjavik and Talinn, the capital of Estonia. Peaceful, quiet locations in pure, unpolluted environments? Well yes. But according to the STA blurb, this is missing the point.

"The highest bungy jump in the world sets the scene for an adrenline rush," begins the New Zealand caption. "A place to test and be tested by the elements... it's not for the faint hearted," is the way Alaska is billed. Sweet little Rekyjavik is described as being in the "country of ice and fire, but watch out for erupting volcanoes" and even Tallinn is deemed to have an "ambiguous future", perhaps holding out the promise of civil unrest if it seems rather too innocuous at the moment.

Rather improbably, the only trip which is not described in any of these sinister terms is the Trans-Siberian railway, though perhaps this classic trip is relying on the fact that the name "Siberia" is still enough to send a shiver of fear down the spines of the older generation.

Basically, a place has to sound a bit dodgy to be worth going to. Young people need to keep their parents on their toes. Where's the emotional buying power in going to Brittany? I notice that last year's top ten destinations from STA included the Yemen (where tourists are regularly kidnapped), Sri Lanka (where there's a war on) and Colombia (where one in ten of the population can expect to be murdered at least once in their lives). Let's face it. What comes out of all this is that young people don't have enough stress in their lives.

LAST WEEK in these pages I blithely referred to the Western Australian city of Perth as being "stuck on the edge of a vast desert". On the following Monday I received a call from one Mr Trevor Rowe demanding an apology for this flippant description. Perth, he said, had not only won the Americas' Cup, where the Poms had been trying and failing for 100 years, but was responsible for most of Australia's economic strength. It had also supplied the know-how that built the replica of Captain Cook's ship Endeavour, currently visiting British waters (contrary to assumptions that it all came from Sydney). Mr Rowe then insisted that I take his address and bloody well visit him so that he could, at his own expense, show me what a fine place Perth and Western Australia was.

A city that generates this much pride in its citizens must have something special about it. Apologies to Perth.

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