The following inspiring nuggets of travel wisdom of a woman adventurer – Dervla Murphy, is an excerpt from one of my favored travel books – The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux.
- CHOOSE YOUR COUNTRY, USE GUIDEBOOKS TO IDENTIFY THE AREAS MOST FREQUENTED BY FOREIGNERS – AND THEN GO IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.
This advice reeks of political incorrectness; it’s “snobbish” to draw a clear distinction between travellers and tourists. Yet it’s also realistic. The escapist traveller needs space, solitude, silence. Tragically, during my lifetime, roads have drastically depleted that natural habitat.
One favourite place where I did so was a trek from Asmara to Addis Ababa.
- MUG UP ON HISTORY.
To travel in ignorance of a region’s history leaves you unable to understand the “why” of anything or anyone.
Heavy sociological or political research is unnecessary, although if you happen to fancy that sort of thing it will add an extra dimension to your journey.
Before your trip, learn as much as possible about religious and social taboos and then scrupulously respect them.
- TRAVEL ALONE OR WITH JUST ONE PREPUBESCENT CHILD.
But a child’s presence emphasizes your trust in the community’s good will. And because children pay little attention to racial or cultural differences, junior companions rapidly demolish barriers of shyness or apprehension often raised when foreigners unexpectedly approach a remote village. I found this to be the case in all my travels with my young daughter, especially when we travelled through Kodagu in southern India.
- DON’T OVER PLAN.
Elsewhere, rely on fate to provide shelter: dependence on those you meet en route greatly enhances escapism, and villagers are unfailingly hospitable to those who trust them.
“Trust” is a key word for relaxed travelling among people who different way of life may demand adaptability but should prompt no unease or suspicion.
- BE SELF – PROPELLED, OR BUY A PACK ANIMAL.
For long treks far from roads and towns, buy a pack animal to carry food, camping gear, kerosene for your stove if firewood is scarce – and of course your child, should he or she be too small o walk all day.
In Ethiopia in 1966, I was lucky to be advised by Princess Aida, granddaughter of then emperor, Haile Selassie, and half a dozen mules were paraded around the courtyard of a royal palace for my inspection.
It’s important to travel light. At least 75 per cent of the equipment sold nowadays in camping shops – travel clothes lines, roll-up camping mats, lightweight hair dryers – is superfluous.
- IF ASSISTED BY A PACK ANIMAL, GET DETAILED LOCAL ADVICE ABOUT THE TERRAIN AHEAD.
People can do the mind-over-matter bit, and resolve never again to let supplies run so low, but an equine helper doesn’t have that sort of mind. If there’s no fodder at six P.M., the mule cannot have consoling thoughts about stuffing it in at six P.M. the next day. And there is nothing more guilt-provoking than seeing a pack animal who has worked hard for you all day going without sustenance.
- CYPERSPACE INTERCOURSE VITIATES GENUINE ESCAPISM.
Abandon your mobile phone, laptop, iPod and all such links to family, friends, and work colleagues. Concentration on where you are derive your entertainment from immediate stimuli, the tangible world around you.
- DON’T BE INHIBITED BY THE LANGUAGE BARRIER.
Our basic needs – sleeping, eating, drinking – can always be indicated by signs or globally understood noises.
Even on the emotional level, the language barrier is quite porous. People’s features, particularly their eyes, are wonderfully eloquent. In our everyday lives, the extent to which we wordlessly communicate is taken for granted. In “far-flungery”, where nobody within a hundred miles speaks a word of any European language, one fully appreciates the range of moods and subtle feelings that may be conveyed visually.
- BE CAUTIOUS – BUT NOT TIMID.
The assumption that only brave and reckless people undertake solo journeys off the beaten track is without foundation. In fact, escapists are ultracautious: that’s one of their hallmarks and an essential component of their survival mechanisms. Before departure, they suss out likely dangers and either change their route – should these seem excessive – or prepare to deal with any reasonable hazards.
Optimists don’t believe in disasters until they happen, and therefore are not fearful, which is the opposite of being brave.
- INVEST IN THE BEST AVAILABLE MAPS.
And whatever you do, don’t forget your compass.