Want to be a better traveller? Time to put down the phone, order the strangest thing on the menu and do something different, says TV presenter, author and all-round travel hero Simon Reeve. Here are his tips for a holiday packed with big moments and even bigger memories…
Get out of your comfort zone
Some of the most exciting travel experiences do require you to drop a certain amount of cash, but personally I think it’s worth it. Travel gifts you experiences and memories that are very hard to rack up in any other way in life, and there’s enormous value in that. But you don’t have to go to the other side of Planet Earth – it’s more about how you travel, and I would urge people to try to get the most out of their holidays and adventures by nudging themselves just a little bit out of their comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be trekking through the jungles of northern Borneo – it can be on a weekend trip with your friends to somewhere in the Balearics. Ultimately, it’s all about not wasting a moment of your life on this round rock.
Eat local, and eat weird
Start with what you eat. Eating unusual local food – or eating in a beautiful setting – is a really rapid way of banking some memories. Brits can still be a bit reluctant to eat ‘strange, funny, foreign’ food but I would absolutely encourage people to do it. Rather than going for the blandest thing on the menu, ask to try the most unusual food they’ve got to offer. It’s very unlikely to kill you but it’s very likely you’ll have a great memory and a story to tell when you get back, and surely that’s one of the best reasons to travel.
Be prepared (and bring flapjacks)
Torches have saved my life on more than one occasion so I always take a couple with me, along with a few other small things like a little watch on a keychain and a multitool. Oh, and I always take flapjacks because the team and I tend to get really hungry. People always write in to the BBC, saying “Why’s Simon Reeve carrying a backpack? We know there’s nothing in it.” Yes there is – there’s water, flapjacks, camera batteries and more. I’m like the team Oompa Loompa. I’m not fantastic at packing in the sense that I always take too much, but on the trips I do we never know what we’re going to encounter – one minute I can be diving on a shipwreck and the next I’m meeting the mayor of the town, so we have to prepare for most eventualities.
Make a difference
I used to think the travel industry wasn’t entirely a benefit to the planet but I’ve changed my mind on that – I feel there’s a lot that we as travellers can do to make a difference. One of the most profound things we can do is to recognise that when we go to a national park in Africa, or when we dive in a marine protected area in Asia, we’re directly contributing to the upkeep of that place and the preservation of the species that live there.
By paying our entrance fee we’re putting petrol in the engine of the park warden’s motor boat; we provide a salary for the anti-poaching patrol that protects iconic creatures from butchery. There’s a huge need for this, because unless visit these places and create economic incentives to sustain them, the parks are going to be logged and turned into palm oil plantations and the marine reserves are going to be fished to death. That’s the reality – it’s not just about putting money into local pockets, though that’s important too, it’s about getting outside your hotel. Think about how you’re spending your money and try to get it into the bank accounts of people who are doing good things and can make a difference.
Learn to switch off
So many people don’t enjoy their holidays properly because they’re being sucked into reading work emails or constantly updating social media. I was filming in Israel fairly recently for a TV series about pilgrimage. There’s a trip you can do there where you ride on a donkey – following in the footsteps of Jesus, as it were – for less than an hour. The people running the donkey rides have had to put battery powered Wi-Fi routers on the donkeys so tourists can keep in touch with their social media. They couldn’t go for half an hour without tapping away on a screen, and I think that’s extraordinary.
A new study by American Express shows half of us are checking social media up to 15 times a day on holiday – it’s just gob-smacking. This isn’t a recipe for happy, memorable trips. We really need to transition into holiday mode a little earlier. No one’s suggesting you flush your phone down the toilet – they’re incredible tools and I’d be lost without mine – but you don’t have to update social media every time you do anything. Take a photo and wait until you come back to share it; you don’t have to do it at that precise second.
Simon Reeve is a travel expert and spokesperson for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card Switch Off campaign. For more information about how you can accelerate your holiday switch-off, including a series of meditation podcasts, visit amex.co.uk/goldswitchoff
Read the full interview in the January issue of Escapism magazine.