Priest in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. "Small acts of Good change the world."

Travel – you have a responsibility to share.

When I first started working for Lonely Planet (who I left last year), in fact in the first week, I posted on this blog a rather scathing criticism of the Trades Union Congress who had called for a boycott of Lonely Planet:

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The very existence of a travel guide to Burma encourages people to visit a country they might not otherwise consider. We want to see the travel industry drop Burma from their list of destinations and taking the Lonely Planet guidebook off the shelves would help enormously. If enough people sign our petition and stop buying Lonely Planet guides, we hope we can encourage the BBC to think again.’

That post caused a 2am phone call from the then CEO of Lonely Planet asking me – very politely – to remove it as it was an exceptionally sensitive issue and Lonely Planets stance on it was to not comment beyond the statements made by Tony Wheeler (founder). The issue turned out to really be about the fact I’d provided a detailed way for people to tell the TUC what a dim witted and stupid thing they were doing. To tell the TUC quite how fantastically moronic they were being – I provided tools (a pre-written letter complete with email, fax and postal addresses) in order for other travellers – who I thought would flock to my flag – to tell them what they thought. The post wasn’t removed or rewritten, but the tools were taken down.

I’m raising this again now, not because I want to have another go at the TUC, but because it highlights something that is crucial in the understanding of our world. Particularly at a time when we are seeing an increase in troubled areas that could quite easily get thrown in the pot with Burma. I want to attack the premise that if we don’t agree with what a government (or dictator for that matter) is doing – then we should not ‘support’ that authority by travelling there. You Have Got To Be Kidding Me.

Travel is the single best way to support people of any country where the government is less than, shall we say, supportive of the general populous. By buying from the local stores to paying for the bus you’re helping people earn money and most importantly you’re doing two other things.

  1. Helping them see something of a world they may not be allowed to see.
  2. Letting you see the reality of that country unhindered by a media lens.

The second point is the most important, but only if you share that understanding. What happens when you come home? You tell a few friends, you maybe do a talk somewhere about this amazing journey – about what you got out of it. Perhaps you’ve even posted photos and short updates from the road on Facebook to your friends. But we now live in a world were you have an absolute responsibility to share not only what you learned on a personal level – but also what that country and its people are like at the ground level – to as wide an audience as possible.

You’re not a citizen journalist, you’re not an author, you’re not a journalist from a large media organisation ‘on the ground’. You’re a real person, coloured with prejudice and misunderstandings – you’re just like the rest of us. That view is vital to the broader understanding of the realities of the country you’re visiting.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into the various ways you can share what you’ve learnt, your journey of discovery, with the rest of the world – but please do consider the next time you take a trip – start a blog, create a public facebook page, start a twitter stream, shout from the rooftops – anything to let people know what the world is really about, and let us learn from each other – warts and all.

3 Comments

  1. David Brookes

    What this article is about is certainly not at the front of many minds, certainly not mine. But perhaps it should be, especially when it comes to helping the suppressed people of Burma, and a place that is close to my heart, Bali. People from many countries need our help and I believe what Matthew has outlined in this article is extremely relevant and valuable to many regions. Lets do our bit everyone, and help the world we live and roam in. Well done Matthew, you’ve certainly given me a new perspective.

  2. Paddy Tyson

    Oh this is a tricky one.
    Boycotting Burma or Israel for example, as a personal statement is an interesting one, which is surely largely dependant on your statement’s audience. Do I believe it, or should I accept public opinion and demonstrate solidarity?
    My greatest endeavour is to overcome prejudice, bigotry and misunderstanding, so yes, for that, travel is an essential ingredient and of course one may need to gather first hand evidence to formulate an opinion.
    Umm. So I should visit Burma to ascertain it’s suitability for travel….?
    There can be no absolute here. Perhaps the way you feel about Israel’s blockade of Gaza will surpass the desire to visit Israel to see whether Israelis believe in the policy of their gov or not. Perhaps it won’t and you’ll wish to meet those same Israelis to help understand the reasons, or as a precursor to visiting Gaza.
    Yes, should citizens be held accountable for the actions of their government, especially, as in Burma, the military junta weren’t exactly elected? But then, Mrs Thatcher never recieved a majority vote, as more voted against than for her. And the boycott in South Africa certainly helped the developing groundswell to overcome apartheid.
    Everything is politics whether it’s larger geopolitics leading to coldwar style propaganda on all sides or just slanted Foreign Office advice to travellers, which is why on balance, I visit to see. Is that the love of travel overcoming all, or intrigue?
    Stories like the situation in the Philippines should be public.
    Benign dictatorships (I love that phrase) should be highlighted, not accepted because they are ‘our friends’. Countries where the populace is happy and where the populace is repressed, should have their story told.
    The globe may be beautiful, but it is social interaction and the understanding of peoples that brings it and travel alive.

    • Matthew Cashmore

      Thanks for that Paddy – a thoughtful response.

      I think there is an element of the traveller in us all that would say that regardless of any political issue we should go and see for ourselves. I think what I’m trying to say is that in areas of the world where there are questionable (to us) actions it’s important not only to go and see for ourselves, but to share that information with as many people as possible.

      But the idea of someone like the TUC telling me that I shouldn’t go to a country because they don’t agree with what’s going on there is abhorrent. I accept that the opposition leaders in some countries (like Burma) specifically ask people not to go because they feel that international tourism simply supports / legitimises the current government – whilst I don’t find that abhorrent I do find it incredibly short sighted.

      I do understand that if you’re simply going to the big tourist spots, staying at the resorts and flying in and out with the national airline you are supporting them. But – and this is a big but – we’re not those kinds of tourists are we? We take a wheel off the beaten path, we see beyond the plastic hoardings and 12ft signs featuring the face of the beloved ‘leader’. We have a responsibility to support the little guy and tell his story.