Whatever Happened to Travel?

Jean Burnett is all spa’d out

I think it was Robert Louis Stevenson who said that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive, but he lived before the age of jet planes and airport security. Of course, a man who roamed in search of better health needed something to sustain him on long journeys to the south seas.

Writers travelling in search of better health and producing novels and journals in the process, loom quite large in English literature. There was D H Lawrence moving restlessly around the Med and roosting in the New Mexican desert, Katherine Mansfield enduring misery in the south of France, and poor Keats dragging himself to Rome – all seeking the magic cure for TB.

Despite the fact that we are healthier than ever before, and every far-flung trip sees us chock full of the appropriate vaccines, the number of people travelling for their health is greater than ever. We are all rushing to get spa’d in various ways. No hotel worthy of the name can get by without offering treatments to soothe the troubled tourist or stressed out businessman.

The British have realised what our continental neighbours have always known and are now just as eager to be pummelled, detoxed, covered in mud, LA stoned and massaged. If these activities can take place in Tuscany, Bali or Mexico, better still.

Even if your trip takes you no further than Manchester you will probably check into a boutique hotel where you can offer up your body to obliging therapists. In the past the English took the waters in places like Bath, but that was just an excuse for the traditional pastimes of gambling and getting legless.

Where does this leave the real, dedicated traveller today? All true vagabonds know that hardship and physical privations are essentials when it comes to reaching foreign parts. It’s hard to imagine the likes of Sir Ranulph Fiennes stopping off for an aromatherapy massage en route to crossing the Antarctic, although a sauna and a beating with twigs, nordic style, might appeal to him.

Livingstone crossing Africa, Victorian ladies climbing Mont Blanc in corsets, hauling your backpack up the Macchu Pichu trail – now that’s travel. The writer Eric Newby related how, when he and a companion met the great explorer, Wilfred Thesiger, he watched them unroll their sleeping bags on the stones and said,

‘You must be a couple of pansies.’

Pampering, gourmet eating, and searching for a holiday home are now the accepted reasons for travel. Note that most of these can be done in your own country, you can even buy the house online. No flying, no fuel surcharge, no carbon footprint, the future will be an inner journey with reflexology on the side. Someone should tell Sir Ranulph.

Similar Posts