I've been camping out in No Mans Land for months - years actually, if I'm honest. Trying to decide where to go next. Covid conveniently legitimised this for me by providing The Gap, aka The Pause. It's also been very helpful in terms of limiting my options and narrowing my choices. Now it seems the time has come to make a decision. Is it time to buy the farm?
When we left to live in Vanuatu, we packed up our life into five cardboard boxes that travelled with us, and a storage locker in Auckland which housed our most precious stuff. We sold/gave away/found new homes for everything else, including two high functioning worm farms. It was 2010 when urban recycling didn't have much traction and we couldn't find anyone to take them on. Eventually they were dumped on my non-veggie eating brother, and, well, they didn't thrive. My husband still hasn't forgiven me. If we're going to get another worm farm, we're going to need to be around to take care of it.
Last week I was told that even if the responsible tourism assignment I was supposed to be doing in Timor-Leste goes ahead in the near future, I'm now considered too old (ie, too much of a medical insurance risk) to do it. The news wasn't entirely unexpected and covid has highlighted the misgivings I already had about the viability of growing tourism as a revenue source in developing countries. Even so, I felt grumpy and rebellious about the 'too old' bit. But also grateful. Because now my choices have been narrowed even further. I'm inching closer to buying the farm.
The valley where we live is awesome. I'm constantly amazed at how lucky we are to be here. In the early morning a couple of days ago I climbed the walkway to the ridge above it, and got lost in the view. When we first went into lockdown, the leaves were turning autumn gold. Now blossoms and bright new leaves are re-colouring the brown winter treescape. Here's a picture:
Yep. I think it's time to buy the farm.
My actual backyard is a different story. I love it. Here's a picture:
I wake up to this view every morning and I'm incredibly grateful. I don't want to camp in it though and like any born traveller, no matter how nice a place is, eventually I get restless and need to get out.
We tried recently. Three times. None of them holidays as such, rather they were trips out of Auckland for work or family commitments. There was a lot of rain involved. Splashy windscreen wipers and bleak, cold, winter landscapes. Once or twice we came upon interludes of sunshine, bright green hillsides and misty blue valleys, most notably along the back road from Paparoa in the Kaipara to State Highway 1 near Whangarei, which felt like a gift. But taken overall, not enough to leave home for.
Then we tried for the near backyard, places within forty five minutes drive of our actual backyard. Something magical happened. Here's another picture:
It is entirely dependent on where your live, of course. Forty five minutes from home could find you stranded in the 'burbs somewhere. Living on the outskirts of Auckland in the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges gives us a definite advantage.
There are other pluses to near backyard travel, mostly relating to weather. You can pick your moment. If it's a rare blue sky day without vicious sou'westerlies and we've got nothing to do that can't be deferred, then our near backyard can't be beaten. We don't feel obliged to venture onto the squally open road and sit holed up in a motel room that doesn't live up to the booking.com photos, just because we've pre-arranged a trip.
Which brings me to perhaps the biggest advantage of near backyard travel. Sleeping in your own bed. Personally, I never sleep well the first night in a new place. However clean and comfortable and charming it may be, the sheets smell different and the beds often lose-your-mate huge. If I'm going to lie awake all night I want to at least hear the sound of geckos chirping or lions roaring. In other words, I want to be somewhere exotic and foreign. Backyards, by their very nature, aren't that.
I'm confident that backyard travel will come into its own in summer - which feels like a long way away right now. In the meantime we're doing recces, seeking out places we know we'll enjoy when we're able to hang about on beaches and camp. We've found a few gems that we missed in the pre-covid world in our dash to Go Places. Here's another picture:
Roll on Summer.
I'm more a beanbag than an armchair type of person to be honest, locked-down as I am in one of Auckland's more hippie-ish suburbs. But in the wake of overtourism, carbon offsetting and now a pandemic, I have begun to wonder: Is armchair travel the future of responsible tourism?
Yesterday, 11 May 2020, was supposed to be D-Day. Dianne’s Deployment Day. Travelling through Darwin to Dili on my next travel adventure, a new assignment with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) as a Tourism Development Adviser. Partner organisation: The Asia Foundation. Assignment goal: to help form a functioning destination management organisation in the Maubisse region of Timor-Leste.
Keith, my husband, was planning to join me after he’d finished working on an international conference in the Greek Island of Rhodes in early June.
Instead yesterday, 11 May 2020, the New Zealand government announced that we would be moving to Lockdown Level 2, the next step in bringing ‘normality’ back to the country. It’s going to be a long journey for many, particularly in the areas of our expertise: corporate events and responsible tourism.
Lockdown for the most part, has not been a big stretch for me. I’m the original digital nomad working remotely wherever I happen to be based, which fortunately at this time is in the foothills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland. If I have to be stuck anywhere, I’m very grateful that it’s here.
But what has changed radically, along with my plans, is my worldview. There are multiple question marks hanging over whether VSA will continue and what form it will take; if they will still be sending volunteers to Timor-Leste, if they will still consider tourism a valid assignment, if, at my age, I’d still be considered a viable candidate.
I have begun to rethink my attitude to responsible tourism and the part I want to play in it going forward. It seems to me that tourism, while it didn’t cause COVID-19, needs to take full responsibility for its part in the wildfire spread of it.
From a marketing perspective, I’ve had lingering doubts around the sustainability of developing and depending upon tourism for a livelihood, which the aims of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) et al, have done nothing to allay. When you do a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) the single biggest threat to tourism - any kind of tourism - is a global financial recession. Tourism depends upon tourists having disposable income. The pandemic is certainly going to result in austerity, if not outright economic hardship for many. Add to that the thought of killer germs overflowing from one squashed airline economy seat to another and between cabins and crew on massive cruise liners, and the industry doesn’t look very appealing. For the first time in my life, I have absolutely no appetite for travel.
I’m an anti tourist, which on the surface of things, seems at odds with my innate wanderlust and the work that I do. I love intrepid travel, the adventure of it, immersing myself in new places and as far as is possible, having an authentic local experience. While working and travelling in developing countries, I realised that tourism was going to happen there anyway, whether I approved of it or not. I wanted to be able to offer local people options to selling out to international tourism ventures and watching the profits head offshore. I wanted to help build sustainable tourism while minimising the negative impacts on their land and culture.
Now I’m not sure I want to be associated with tourism at all. I suppose it’s early days. We’ve yet to see the full impacts of the COVID-19, both economic and psychological. Do we limp back into our old lives and try to pick up where we left off, or attempt to forge a brave new world from lessons learnt?
For the moment I’m not making any decisions. Instead I’m going to content myself with armchair travel, a kind of time travel, reliving the travel adventures I have been fortunate to have experienced up to this point in my life. I'm hoping that somewhere along the way I'll discover a yen to revisit old places and begin to hunger for new places to explore.
Armchair travel, quite literally! Keith sitting in an old leather armchair at Roadtrip & The Workshop, Shoreditch, London, during a visit to the UK five years ago.