Travel tips

Recently, I am often asked whether I have “travel tips”. Such advise is provided on Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and other publishers and platforms of that kind. They also have the “insider tips” for outsiders. So, I can’t comment on that too much. Don’t know enough about it. Still I am sometimes asked what travel resources I use. That's a bit easier.

Resources? Most importantly, when you travel, you want to have people to talk to and who can explain cultures and places. You want to form your views with own impressions but also in exchange with others. So you do need friends all over the world, if I may call this a resource. You obviously know, that you can’t “make friends”. It is like you also can’t “make money”. Friendship is earned. So the first travel tip I could give is to be worth being a friend yourself. And never network! Networking is a complete waste of time and annoys people. It annoys me, at least.

 Serengeti Airstrip. Main parking lot and runway (2011).

Serengeti Airstrip. Main parking lot and runway (2011).

Travel is not equal to transportation. But of course without logistics there is no travel either. I personally do not like large airplanes very much. And it is less the airplane itself (which is a wonderful machine), than how airlines operate them and how airports are today. A small plane or helicopter bringing you to a place which is out of reach somewhere in the wilderness, is a completely different thing. But when I have to spend time in an Airport Lounge, I usually just want to take a whole bottle of wine over, pull a blanket over my head and continue reading in there with my headlamp on. Like this, I do not have to interact with these people around me at all and my brain dims away for the case somebody wants to network. There is only one nice lounge experience I ever had, which was in 2003 when I met Sir Peter Ustinov sitting in a wheelchair surrounded by stewardesses and telling them stories. I am glad, I did not miss it. He was one of my great childhood story tellers and soon after this encounter, he passed away.

 Jordan, towards Wadi Rum.

Jordan, towards Wadi Rum.

Long haul travels are much better with trains and by ship, than by plane. For example right now, as Feibai has her passport with the UK Embassy and her Resident Permit is accepted by countries but not airlines, we are banned from air travel and took the train from Rome to Palermo. Wonderful. Our way back North will be by ship through the Mediterranean Sea. You might say that this is very slow. Well, if you don’t have time, don’t travel. A very good resource on train travel all over the world is “The Man in Seat 61” (www.seat61.com http://www.seat61.com/). Railways have been for long the very axis and frontier of economic development, and they have stories to tell about this time and these places. As most of the planet is covered by water, obviously ships are essential for traveling to most of it. There are rumors that you can board cargo ships and travel on them for free. The truth is, that due to issues of human trafficking in some of these ships, regulations have become very strict. A captain would not take the risk to be mistaken to carry blind passengers. And the better way is to stay within these rules. For sure, sailing yourself is what makes the real connoisseur. Leave the large motor yachts to the Nouveau Riche. Ever thought why there are nearly no sailing yachts in Hong Kong waters? Because they need more than just money to be understood and appreciated. There is also short range water travel of course, which brings you for example on land from a larger vessel, or deep into a jungle river system. There are two versions of that which I like very much. One is the legendary Zodiac. Highly motorized this is the machine for any job. And when you want it quiet, there is the Klepper Aerius. This one you can even carry over some barriers, and in the worst case disassemble it for that. There is a reason, why you find this boat exhibited in the German Science Museum in Munich.

 The Zodiac with which I made my first landing on Antarctica.

The Zodiac with which I made my first landing on Antarctica.

Where trains cannot reach, land travel is the most rewarding when riding horses, elephants and camels. Also a donkey might do, when crossing extremely rocky terrain. All these animals have their natural habitat and have been used for travel for centuries. Of course, forget “cabin luggage” for that. In the past Luis Vuitton made very good travel luggage. Just remember the old wardrobe trunks. But that’s more than a century ago. Now it is different. But over time you will find what luggage suits which travel. When you choose motorized land transport, the best payload ratio and off road capabilities you get with a motorcycle. I personally am very fond of the BMW G650 GS. It does not have the typical BMW boxer like the larger models. But it is a very powerful and robust piece of gear, with only 192 kg (fueled up) and a very economical 48 BHP engine. I had an overdose of cars in my previous professional life and as many car brands are going the way of Luis Vuitton or the airlines. There is only the Land Rover Defender (which has been recently discontinued) and the G-Class Mercedes left. For a Safari also the Toyota Land Cruiser is a choice. But the 2 x 90 Liter dual fuel tank (which you need) scares me a bit. For hopping around also the older Suzuki 4x4 Models are quite handy. But normally, if you don’t live in the countryside (which less and less people do), cars are something you rent or share. Unless, of course, you are really interested in them.

 Breakdown of the axel, unload and repair by the local blacksmith. Only Land Rover can do that.

Breakdown of the axel, unload and repair by the local blacksmith. Only Land Rover can do that.

 Stuttering engine over East Africa. Before the take off further, Zanzibar runway had a power blackout.

Stuttering engine over East Africa. Before the take off further, Zanzibar runway had a power blackout.

I am sometimes asked about my opinion of travel gear. Well, there is so much these days and I am sure most of it is bought by people who dream of escaping their cubical office with it. Travel clothes are for me only different from normal clothes when you are heading for extreme terrain or climate. Running around in an alpine goose down jacket in a city is about as silly as wearing SCUBA diving gear there. Something annoying me personally very much, is the amount of electronics which I carry. This is the downside of having all these possibilities of the digital world these days. So I accept it and try to manage all these chargers, cables, adopters and batteries efficiently. Generally, in terms of luggage, it is best to have non of it. But that’s hard to achieve. What else? Oh yes. I am sometimes surprised that people have the most fancy travel insurances, but don’t carry a first aid pack. Sure, insurances are important, and I experienced that myself. But then the same silly kids are taking risks doing extreme sports, wearing no helmet or seat belt, going into unsafe locations and even try their manliness by looking actively for trouble. The best insurance policy is first to stay out of trouble, and second to know what to do when you still got in. I have seen people doing quite extreme ski on the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship did not even have an x-ray and it would have taken at least 5 days to reach Ushuaia (the world’s most southern urban settlement) - through the Drake Passage and around Cape Horn! At the same evening they were talking about the (excellent!) travel insurance policies provided by the British Mountaineering Association. Hello? Get real!

 Engine failure close to the Polar Circle.

Engine failure close to the Polar Circle.

Actually, I was very surprised when I was in a German book shop last time. The largest proportion of the assortment was in the sections for travel, self help and cooking. And having a second look at the cooking and travel books offered there, I found that they are really also about self help. My conclusion was, that the real value of travel books, is to see what places they cover and then go exactly the opposite direction. There are only very few exceptions. And that’s exactly what makes it for the real travel books so complicated to sell these days. I love the books published by my friend Magnus Bartlett (Odyssey Publishing Limited, Hong Kong). And there are some others which are timeless and very good. Mostly, what to read when you want to know about travel, is to read the narratives of life itself. That’s called literature, and it is by far the better “travel guide”.

 On the way to Ash Kabat.

On the way to Ash Kabat.