“Smartphones and the internet have made arrangements much easier, but made travel more of a commodity, less a series of accidental adventures” – so says the doyen of travel television, Sir Michael Palin.
The Monty Python star-turned-documentary maker has compiled a retrospective of four of his most memorable series: Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle and Sahara.
Ahead of the programme, to be broadcast on 4 October, Sir Michael, 77, has been talking about how travel has changed – and how it has changed him.
“Travelling woke up my senses and emotions and showed me a whole new way of life, so I never noticed the male menopause,” he says.
The most formative of all his experiences was shortly after the start of his first travel series, Around the World in 80 Days. In 1988, he set off from the Reform Club in London to circumnavigate the globe without flying. Palin sailed “side by side with eighteen Gujarati fishermen” between Dubai and Bombay (now Mumbai).
But, he says, “the 79th day of our 80-day journey was one of the worst. I had so looked forward to seeing home and family again and yet when we reached London we found the capital in a very bad mood.
“The weather was grey and cold, it was Christmas, the streets were full of stressed shoppers and on top of that there had been a terrible rail crash at Clapham Junction.
“But worse was to follow when the Reform Club, where we’d started out 79 days and 7 hours earlier wouldn’t let us back in. I almost decided to go round the world again.”
Sir Michael’s most memorable encounter was with Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama – “whose mixture of humour, helpfulness and humility was truly inspirational”.
There were days of despair, too: “When altitude sickness wiped me out on the Anapurna trail, and tainted camel liver had me racing for non-existent toilets across the Sahara Desert.”
What kept him going? “The wonder of the world I was seeing, and the fact that the nearest airport was 500 miles away.
“In just over 20 years I filmed eight series in every corner of the globe, building up an enormous stack of memories and experiences. They were indeed travels of a lifetime and I sometimes think I need another lifetime to take them all in.
“This series gives me a chance to look back and re-live some extraordinary moments with extraordinary people in extraordinary places.
‘Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime’ is broadcast on BBC Two at 8pm on Sunday 4 October