Trav­ellers’ Top Trumps, the new favourite game of mil­len­ni­als keen to im­press with their glo­be­trot­ting, is not the way for­ward

The Daily Telegraph - Travel - - FRONT PAGE -

‘Have you done In­dia?” I heard be­ing asked from a nearby ta­ble across a cof­fee shop in Sri Lanka re­cently, my ears prick­ing up at the boast­ful con­ver­sa­tion em­a­nat­ing from be­low a mop of blonde dread­locks. On the ground be­side me, a pair of 20-some­thing Bri­tons were dis­cussing their re­cent trav­el­ling con­quests around the globe as they sat, an­klet-deep, in the soft sand – their turmeric lat­tes, dusted in cin­na­mon, glow­ing rusty auburn in the fierce trop­i­cal sun.

“Yeah, I did In­dia in, like, a fort­night. I’ll do Thailand in 10 days I reckon.”

It was a lovely scene, in­deed – lap­ping waves and rustling, lofty palms. But that choice of word, “done”… the cynic within me was riled. When did this en­ter the trav­el­ling lingo?

Why have coun­tries, cities and re­gions be­come places that must be “done” – com­pleted and ticked off like the lev­els of a video game?

I con­fess to once view­ing the world sim­i­larly, believ­ing that I had to try to see all of it. I hoped this would make me a more rounded, ex­pe­ri­enced trav­eller – but as my bravado has mel­lowed, I’ve be­gun to think that this phi­los­o­phy is wholly un­healthy, for my­self and for the planet. And don’t think I haven’t con­sid­ered how rich this now sounds, com­ing from some­one who trav­els end­lessly for a liv­ing.

As a mostly solo trav­eller, sub­tle eaves­drop­ping is one of my favourite pas­times. And while I sit and write copy or edit au­dio on my lap­top, I’m of­ten se­cretly tun­ing into the conversations around me in de­par­ture lounges, cafés and bars. More and more I’m hear­ing this word “done” – as though two weeks is am­ple time to di­gest and un­der­stand a coun­try as rich, di­verse and com­plex as some­where like In­dia, be­fore then mov­ing on to the next na­tion-shaped prize.

Per­haps, very del­i­cately, this also plays into the global mess in which we now find our­selves. This is an era in which coun­tries, cul­tures and na­tion­al­i­ties are sim­pli­fied and ho­mogenised in po­lit­i­cal rhetoric, when, in re­al­ity, our planet is dis­tinctly more com­plex.

Peo­ple used to name-drop as a means of show­ing off, but these days place-drop­ping is all the rage. Min­gle with mil­len­ni­als, es­pe­cially, and the con­ver­sa­tion will soon be­come an im­promptu game of trav­ellers’ Top Trumps.

All sub­stance and con­text is of­ten lost from travel chat. In­stead, it’s a slap­dash ver­bal on­slaught in which con­tenders at­tempt to outdo each other. Tu­lum trumps Cancún.

Bhutan beats Nepal. Sval­bard tri­umphs over La­p­land.

I sus­pect this cul­ture has been fu­elled by the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the “must do” nar­ra­tive of the mod­ern travel me­dia, where lengthy prose has been of­ten been shunned for thrifty blurb.

It’s a cul­ture in which we must do hun­dreds of things “be­fore we die” – in­stead of en­gag­ing in ar­guably more rounded and worth­while ex­pe­ri­ences. We live in an age of quan­tity, not qual­ity.

Fur­ther­more, tour op­er­a­tors de­pend upon cash flow and re­peat busi­ness – a turnover of des­ti­na­tions to get “done”, be­fore sell­ing you the next place. All of this feeds into the wor­ry­ing rise of over­tourism and crowd­ing at beauty spots around the world. We now feel obliged to do ev­ery­thing that ev­ery­one else has done – and tell ev­ery­one about it, im­me­di­ately.

I’ve pre­vi­ously writ­ten about the neg­a­tive im­pact of so­cial me­dia on the travel ex­pe­ri­ence. But com­pared with lis­ten­ing to some­one mas­sage their ego with a list of des­ti­na­tions they’ve “done”, I’d ar­gue in this case that plat­forms such as In­sta­gram can be ex­tremely

Why have coun­tries, cities and re­gions be­come places that must be ‘done’?

use­ful. We live in a time when the rit­ual of catch­ing up with friends has been cheap­ened, be­cause most of us are fol­low­ing each oth­ers’ lives from the palms of our hands, on an hour-by-hour ba­sis. Nev­er­the­less, hav­ing one eye on peo­ple’s hol­i­day snaps does save us the rig­ma­role of lis­ten­ing to them reel off a rou­tine of travel clichés at a party.

As a teenager I liked the idea of try­ing to see ev­ery coun­try on the planet, but the older I grow the more I re­alise that this is a dis­tinctly self­ish and self-ab­sorbed con­quest. I would much rather know fewer places bet­ter – even if that does mean, for me, that some of it will re­main un­done.

Tak­ing a few snaps isn’t ‘do­ing’ In­dia

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