Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
The way I choose to organise my travel depends largely on latitude and altitude. Aiming close to the equator or either pole – or far from the centre of the earth? There’s a good chance I will sign up for an organised expedition.
Polar, tropical and mountain journeys are best attempted in the care of a specialist adventure operator. I pay for experience, expertise and resilience, plus the innate understanding of the hopes and dreams of the traveller that a good expedition leader brings. I also buy a solid helping of reassurance. “Adventure” carries overtones of uncertainty and danger; an operator who’s been taking people safely to the ends of the earth for decades boosts confidence and soothes apprehension.
Throughout 2021, though, such distant dreams have been out of reach. May I remind you how tangled the red tape has been? At the start of the year, the UK government banned all non-essential trips overseas for 19 weeks. When, on 17 May, the British were finally allowed to go abroad, we have had to contend with Europe’s toughest travel restrictions.
Antarctica’s main gateway, Patagonia; the safari plains and primary forests of East and Southern Africa; and the Himalayan peaks of Nepal – have all been on the red list for the past five months. Effectively, as soon as the total ban on non-essential trips ended, they were sent straight back to travel jail.
All of which is annoying for me and perhaps you. But for the thousands of travel professionals who would like nothing more than taking us off-grid and safely back again, the coronavirus pandemic – and the travel restrictions that come with it – constitute a disaster.
Yet that resilience shines through. Paul Goldstein, the wildlife guide and photographer, is normally to be found in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, deep in Brazil’s Pantanal or on the deck of a Cold War spy ship turned expedition vessel in the Arctic Ocean. This autumn, though, you will find the travel veteran leading small group expeditions among the meadows and along the seashores of north Norfolk.
“The clients love the area,” he says. “The birdlife at Snettisham Nature Reserve is a spectacle I would stop anywhere in the world for.” And, he adds pragmatically: “It’s pin money, but it’s some money.”
Meanwhile the globe-girdling giant, G Adventures – most famous for treks of the Inca Trail, or to Everest Base Camp – is launching a trip-you-never-expected-to-see-in-the-brochure: a Christmas markets tour. While Alaska and the Galapagos are off-limits even to no-limits experts, Austria and Germany beckon. Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich, Salzburg and Vienna are not exactly on the raw edge of the world. But I sense a good operator will make it a grand adventure.