The following conversation is a thinly exaggerated account of an actual conversation I heard, loudly expressed, on the TransSiberian train last November.
Traveller 1: So we just came from [Cool Place of The Moment #7] and we’re headed for [Place So Cool It’s Not Even A Hashtag Yet]. Where are you guys travelling to?
Traveller 2: Well, we started in [Ridiculously Remote Place Which Nobody Ever Enjoyed Themselves In Ever] 17 months ago, and we’re making our way to [Lonely Planet’s #1 Destination As Announced Last Week] by Christmas. On foot.
Traveller 1: [chastened] Wow, that’s such a cool way to travel, on foot. [more smugly] You’re gonna love [Lonely Planet’s #1 Destination As Announced Last Week]. I was there last year and it was such an incredible spot. There was hardly anyone there back then. I hope it’s not too busy these days after the Lonely Planet thing.
Traveller 2: [visibly annoyed] Yeah. We actually booked this trip for last year but couldn’t go because of a death in the family.
Traveller 1: I’m sure it’s still amazing, even though it’s so popular and commercialised now. If you can, you should see the underground sky caverns. The locals will bring you if you get in with the right people. [laughs] We had the most amazing experience there, I remember… they brought us to this bar afterwards that only locals go to. Wasn’t a soul in the place who spoke English, and we were drinking this stuff which looked like rice milk but we found out afterwards was actually hallucinogenic fermented yaks’ saliva, never tasted by Westerners before. It was unreal.
Traveller 2: Oh, was that Blurgh Water?
Traveller 1: Em, yeah, I think it sounded something like…
Traveller 2: Yeah, you gotta watch that stuff! We learned how to make it with the nomads on the volcanic plains in [Ridiculously Remote Place Which Nobody Ever Enjoyed Themselves In Ever]. Luckily our guide had warned us about it, but it’s strong shit if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Traveller 1: [incandescent with rage but managing to turn it into thinly-disguised derision] You guys always take guided tours, then?
Traveller 2: We always use local guides. We like to learn as much as possible about wherever we are.
Traveller 1: Sure, it makes it so easy to have a guide, but sometimes it’s so much better getting your own feel for the place, you know?
Traveller 2: [flicking open Swiss Army Knife] I guess. So, you were saying that you hardly ever check in with your family and they don’t know where exactly you are right now?
You might think that young people – or Millennials, as anyone with an age-related grudge seems to call them – have a rare old time of it nowadays, travelling while they’re still young enough to wake up with no trousers and be proud of it. You hear lots of mutterings from older folk saying things like ‘I was paying a mortgage at that age’ or ‘in my day Machu Picchu was when young Matthew with the lisp sneezed’, but that’s only because they’re jealous.
And as we all know, there is no higher benchmark of winning at travel, than other people’s jealousy.
Travel is not a joke, or a privilege, or even a joy. IT’S A WAR, PEOPLE. Instagram is the battleground, and free hotel rooms – a.k.a. “social influence” the spoils. But if you’re even thinking about not taking it seriously, think again.
We live in a time where the internet has meant that almost anything can be called work, and travel has become a job. It’s the job of today’s internet-conscious traveller to go places few people ever go, to take pictures few people can ever take, and tell the rest of the world that they’re doing it.
But here’s a question: has travel itself changed? Nowadays, is travel about going somewhere – or is it about being seen to go somewhere?
Has social media turned everything into a competition?
If so, I think there should be a Travelympics.
I even have a list of core events for this vital and necessary tournament. In time, there will be other more peripheral events – the Travelympian equivalents of synchronised swimming and beach volleyball – but let’s not run before we can walk.
I propose that the following 5 events should be staged this year in order to find out, once and for all, who’s REALLY winning at travel these days.
THE 2018 TRAVELYMPICS
- The Selfie That Looks Least Staged Relay
Competitors will take turns lining up at a beauty spot whereupon they will have three and a half hours to take the perfect selfie. The picture which looks most spontaneous will be declared the winner.
- The Most Authentic Experience 400 Metres
Participants are guided into the ring by experienced travel guides who line up 400 metres away. Participants then shoot the travel guides and pretend they stumbled upon the ring on their own. The winner is the shooter whose guide whimpers the least.
- The Life Changing Anecdote Individual Medley
Competitors orate a single anecdote about a travel experience which changed their lives. The person who shouts loudest is the winner.
- The Ad Which Is Not An Ad Flyweight
Participants submit one travel photograph which conceals 17 pieces of sponsored content. The winning photograph will be the one which generates the most Likes from a judging panel of people who have never been on a plane.
- The Great Wall Of China Sprint
Competitors are sent to the Great Wall of China and instructed to take a photograph which does not contain anyone taking a selfie in it. The winner will be anyone who manages to do this. It is not anticipated that there will be regular winners in this category, so an ancillary prize will be awarded to anyone who actually looks at the Great Wall itself.
Whew! I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted even thinking about the thrills and spills of this tournament! I think we can agree it’s something we can all look forward to.
Please deliver your suggestions for additional events in brown envelopes with a cash bribe, and I’ll consider staging it in your home town. I am nothing if not a sporting professional.