Is guilt-free travel fulfilment enough?

Richer in life

What’s travel ever done for us? For me, I can safely say that, without quenching my thirst for travel, I wouldn’t have my family, I’d not be in world-wide mapping, and generally life would be worse! Travel at work and play has left me richer in life, poorer in the pocket but happier in general. But can our yearning for travel fulfilment ever be truly guilt-free?

What do our travels do for others?

The UK economy benefits

Travel is good for the economy – both here and where you end up!

It’s great for the economy! ABTA (the Association of British Tourism Agencies) say the industry of getting us to far-off places contributes an amazing £37bn to our economy! That’s nearly 2% of GDP! Innovative map businesses and your end destination should benefit too.

But, 5 per cent of human-caused climate change comes from…

Flying costs the Earth

Our approach to travel comes at a cost. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) claim that air transport contributes to almost 5 per cent of human-caused climate change.

Seeking more guilt-free travel fulfilment

So, more than ever, our drive to explore needs to balance with our travel purpose and choices. Here’s what we discovered when seeking more guilt-free travel fulfilment.

Dig a little deeper

South East Asia in the sun at Olympia

The Destinations show at London’s Olympia was a beautiful, compact and focussed way to dig a little deeper. Inspirational people walked the aisles and strode the stage. The industry, on hundreds of brightly coloured stands, basked in the natural sunlight that pours through Olympia’s Victorian glass roof.

Swimming the British Coastline and wild sleeping

Phoebe Smith and Sean Conway head the line-up at Standfords’ stage

Standfords had worked magic in the depths of Olympia, creating their Travel Writer stage of comfy sofas and upturned boats, rustic bookshelves and tropical plants. It was an oasis among the bustle of the stands. From a growth of shaggy ginger, Sean Conway chatted with Phoebe Smith about swimming the British coastline and wild sleeping under the stars when I arrived. Oh yes, I’d base myself here.

Flying’s safe, but it’s not the only way

Lloyd keeps an audience entertained with safety

I met Lloyd Figgins, travel safety expert, ahead of his well-attended talk on getting smart and staying safe. Lloyd tempered his experience of combating risks and the dangers with stats that compounded travel safety and the wider benefits of travel. “Travel brings us together,” he explained. He’s right of course, but key take-homes – found in his book “The Travel Survival Guide”- were:

  • You’re safer in the cheap seats, in the aisle and near an exit.
  • Death from plane rides and terrorists are amazingly unlikely compared with being killed by your driver. And,
  • don’t look like a lemon! Make a discrete map.

    A brief SplashMaps demo on the Standfords Stage

All this taken on-board, I bought the book, enjoyed an economy lunch, donned my mappy waistcoat and proceeded with renewed confidence.

Rowing Dangerously

Dan Starkel’s 1970’s tale, “Paddle to the Amazon” is still the longest recorded canoe trip ever. It tells how Dan and his sons completed a 12,000-mile journey from Winnipeg to the heart of the Brazilian rain forests. It’s always given me huge respect for those who take to the oars.


Jordan Wylie with the Trip group. All of us Fellows at RGS

But carrying out a rowing challenge in one of the worst conflict zones on the planet adds a new dimension. Silly perhaps to paddle from Somaliland to Yemen? For most yes. But for someone familiar with conflict who wants to draw attention to the atrocity of war on a nation’s children, where could be better?

I met Jordan Wiley, one of the team from Channel 4’s “Hunted” reality show, ex-soldier and serial conflict charity supporter. Square-jawed and mid-trained for his next feat, Jordan paused for photos and a bit of map chat.


The Bab El Mandeb is one of the most dangerous straits on Earth

His next challenge is across the notorious Bab El Mandeb strait to round Perim island, just off the coast of war-torn Yemen. “We’re raising money for the kids displaced by conflict”, he said. In fact, this has been the focus of a number of “Running Dangerously” challenges for Jordan in recent years. This time as he is  “Rowing Dangerously”. Having great sea-proof charts of this area is essential to stay out of harm’s way. SplashMaps will provide maps and charts!

Bucket-list adventuring

Travelling alone can seem amazingly daunting, but it’s often the best way if you are bucket-list adventuring. Particularly in countries that are often seen as “higher risk”. In our family my inspirational 75+-year-old mother-in-law still backpacks independently, having ticked Iran, Syria and Ethiopia off her bucket list in recent years.

Earthbound Expeditions in the Himalaya; local guides now ABTA registered

It’s great to see companies now catering to these unique people. Wild frontiers specifically arrange trips to countries on the “at risk” list of the Foreign Office. Recognising the demand they help in all aspects of travel to these destinations, including the difficult insurance negotiations. Likewise, independent local travel guides like Earthbound expeditions, are now ABTA approved. This gives the assurance needed for many people to take the plunge with more adventurous travel options.


Sarah; Solo female adventurer demonstrated her self defence on the Thailand stand

Never the less it was great to see one woman taking the risks head-on. Sarah Begum, beautifully attired for her appearances on stage, stepped out of the travel authors section and demonstrated kick-boxing in stilettos on the Thailand stand. Sarah, like Lloyd, Jordan and I, was another fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and a solo traveller/vlogger to boot. “Martial arts are essential” she explained to me later, “for a woman travelling alone, I get to use my skills quite a lot” she added.

Guilt-free travel fulfilment

So, we can learn from inspirational travellers and we can help and support them too (just following some of those linked to this article is a great start). But the long-distance transport element – unless you can put 6 months of training to row the oceans – is still likely to end our civilisation as we know it.

The travel industry does offer overland options and railways continue to develop and improve in much of the rest of the world. The Passenger in seat 61 travel search tools means that most destinations in the world can be found via public surface travel. I can get to my meeting in Greece in 4 days!

Beyond your own self-improvement – the RGS way

Almost by coincidence, most of the people featured in this article, like myself, are Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. Fellows’ projects reach far beyond travel fulfilment. They improve our collective understanding of the world so that to attend one of their events leaves you rich with inspiration and positive about your potential impact on the world. There’s a huge array of purposes to choose and so much potential to travel beyond your own self-improvement. Start now, as fellow RGS member James Borrel suggests, by picking ANY animal from the Edge of Existence list and make it your mission to save it. Start now!

Edge of Existence project – save an animal – any animal

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