Over the course of last weekend, the travelled, well-written and young-at-heart gathered at the Kenneth Myer Building in the University of Melbourne, to listen and learn about the many facets of travel and travel writing as part of the Australian Festival of Travel Writing.
On the Saturday afternoon, Rolf Potts, the clean-shaven, easy-going vagabond extraordinaire shared his insights on how to go about making one to two years on the road a reality. Touching on humorous anecdotes and sobering ethics, he gave a well rounded view on travel and the vast array of issues that can come with it.
A panel consisting of travel writers and a magazine editor discussed what it takes to be an accomplished travel writer and how the new media affected the industry.
Joe Hildebrand’s observations when he was host of ‘Dumb, Drunk and Racist‘ was scattered with dark humour and some insightful thoughts as to whether travel did broaden our minds or not. Do you really come back from Bangkok or Bali understanding the local cultures better?
Another panel, including Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, discussed Burma, relishing in its optimistic growth and acceptance into the global tourism industry, but also foretelling a potentially bleak dystopian future, as it struggles to balance the enormous commercial pressure and the demands of tourism with keeping its heritage.
To wrap up the day, a panel of six speakers gathered to voice concerns and insight about various travel and travel writing ethics. What is the cost of our search for the different and the authentic? How sustainable is travel and what can we do about it? What happens when you start photographing residents in the third world, what sort of divide are you creating between yourself and your subject? Whilst there were burning questions and lots of deep discussion to be had, we only just managed to skim over some of the ethics and responsibilities we have as travellers.
Whilst it was an incredibly informative day, especially for those who yearn to make a living off crafting stories to be published in travel magazines, upon reflection, a lot of the advice given, can apply to the average traveller, who just wants to get a little bit more out of their trip.
And so, five simple tips to getting more out of your travels:
1. Slow down
It can be tempting to jump from plane to plane, country to country, but have you ever considered walking across a country? You will take in much more and maybe meet more people. Travelling is not a contest, don’t feel rushed to see everything all at once.
2. Travel alone
Allow yourself the vulnerability that comes when travelling by yourself. Meet more travellers and locals, develop bonds and discover hidden gems that you might not if you were with someone else. Who knows, you might stumble across some Trans-cabaret in Myanmar like Rolf Potts!
3. Be insatiably curious
Like a travel writer who is looking for a different angle for their piece, ask questions. Lots of them! Find out about the history behind festivals and cultural practices, family beliefs and take in all the information around you. Take photos to help document minute details. You can only grow from knowing more about the country you are visiting.
4. Be a good listener
Playing off point three here, when it comes to travelling, to broaden your mind, depth of knowledge is just as important as the breadth of knowledge you receive. Listen to stories of the locals and the sounds around you. Maybe you will discover a treasure of a bar somewhere in South America with a local singer who doesn’t need a microphone to be heard from the streets.
Take the time to educate yourself on the cultures and traditions of the country you are visiting and be mindful to respect them as best you can. Simple things like ensuring your shoulders are covered while entering temples in Thailand, can save you from the embarrassment of not being let in. A little education can go a long way.