Travel isn’t about places; it’s about people

What do you remember from your first trip to Paris or last trip to New York? I’ll bet it’s not the Eiffel Tower or Lady Liberty but instead, that ingenious Left Bank bookmaker who’s reviving a lost binding technique, or that Chelsea gallerist who brags about having found a Basquiat for our generation.

People, not places make travel – or the things those people create, curate and cook. And often, those very people who make leaving home and schlepping around the planet worthwhile are pretty invisible to the world at large unless you go and seek them out, or happen to stumble across them.

Travel writing traditionally doesn’t give these people a voice, erring instead towards a colonialist, observationalist take on the world… and pretty pictures of beaches. In WriteYou’s travel pages we hope to give voice to these people – and in doing that, open windows onto hidden corners of the planet.

From wild swimming in the Scandinavian Arctic to contemporary art tours in Ghana, biking Europe’s backcountry to temple mapping in Cambodia (just a few of the stories we have lined up for future weeks), people are doing some pretty interesting things in the name of travel. And along with stories such as these, we hope to bring you insider news and candid views from professionals at the forefront of the travel industry.

Our contributors probably aren’t going to be too obsessed with the latest lux hotel pad, or about being first in line at a new beach club. Of course we will keep an eye on what's current, but we will also be just as intrigued by things that stand the test of time. And things that are useful. Every wondered, say, just how dangerous travelling in Mexico really is and where, if anyway, you should really avoid? The FCO website won’t help you much beyond cautious generalisations but we hope to, with tips and news from people on the ground.

Travel writing cannot (and should not) be reduced to pretty places. It should be the broadest of disciplines encompassing all areas of life: architecture, arts, future technology, ancient traditions, nature, adventure, food, languages, love and myriad libations. It should be as diverse as the human condition, and in the run-up to next week’s referendum we will explore a place that is arguably more diverse per square mile than anywhere else on the planet: Europe.

If anywhere crams a diversity of people into a small landmass, it’s Europe. “You could travel for five hours cross-state and the culture pretty much stays the same,” a barman in Florida said to me recently. “Travel five hours across Europe and: BAM… the whole world is there.”

Interpret as you will, I’m pretty sure he meant this as a salute to Europe’s rich cultural diversity. If nothing else sways “not sure” voters in the coming referendum it will be the threat of cutting ourselves off from this joyous holiday terrain. A (somewhat baffling) statistic published recently by sunshine.co.uk suggested that one in six Brits think that if we leave the EU, we will be “banned” from holidaying in Europe.

Of course, Europe isn’t going to close its borders to the holiday pound (they won’t care if Brexit triggers a long-term fall in the value of Sterling. It’s us who pay). In fact a recent continent-wide poll (conducted by Lord Ashcroft and reported by The Sun newspaper), found that 60 per cent of people want the UK to stay in the EU, while just 10 per cent want us to leave.

Let the votes fall where they may on 23 June but the fact is: we will always travel to Europe. Since the rise of the Grand Tour in the 1700s, we always have and today, still, it’s the place where most of us choose to spend most of our holiday time, increasingly immersing ourselves deeper into its culture, staying with locals in an AirBnB or choosing to “slow travel” across the continent by bike, rail or foot. Some of us might not want to play any responsible part in Europe, but we certainly don’t mind enjoying ourselves there. 

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