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The future of travel: Hay Festival authors discuss a responsible return to global exploration

Lockdown has left us with itchy feet, but it’s also taught us the value of local community. How will this affect the way we journey in the future? Six authors scheduled to speak at the online Hay Festival (26 May to 6 June 2021) share their thoughts.

By Horatio Clare, Jini Reddy, Hafsa Zayyan, Jay Griffiths, Diane Cook & Camilla Pang
Published 30 Apr 2021, 15:45 BST, Updated 19 May 2021, 12:53 BST
A festival attendee in a deckchair enjoys a book at 2019's Hay Festival, Wales.

A festival attendee in a deckchair enjoys a book at 2019's Hay Festival, Wales. This summer, it'll bring together more than 200 authors, global policymakers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators for 12 days of online debates, workshops and performances.

Photograph by Adam Tatton-Reid

The pandemic has forced us to appraise the way we live; to scrutinise the unthinking habits that shape our daily lives. Will our next travels be mindful of these shifts? The authors and speakers coming together to debate these subjects at this year’s Hay Festival — taking place in Hay-on-Wye, Wales’s renowned Mecca for bibliophiles — seem to think so.

The 34th Hay Festival (taking place from 26 May to 6 June) will bring together more than 200 authors, global policymakers, historians, poets, pioneers and innovators for 12 days of online debates, workshops and performances. As well as launching the best new fiction and non-fiction, the free digital programme brings together writers and readers to discuss some of the biggest issues of our time, from building a better world post-pandemic to tackling the crises of climate change, inequality and challenges to truth and democracy. Here, a selection of festival speakers share their visions for a responsible return to global exploration.

Jini is the author of Wanderland, published by Bloomsbury Books, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Wainwright Prize celebrating the best in UK nature writing, and the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award 2021. Jini will be delivering Hay Festival's inaugural Jan Morris Lecture.

Photograph by Lisa Bretherick

Jini Reddy: ‘How do we travel less, while not shaming those among us who have links to countries abroad?’

Jini Reddy is the author of Wanderland (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £16.99). 

Photograph by Bloomsbury Wildlife

My hope is that we begin to broaden our definition of travel. We glorify adventurers who have the luxury of embarking on challenges across rugged landscapes, and yet we vilify refugees who are forced to flee their homes and make arduous journeys as they try to escape war and persecution. Not everyone travels out of choice. And those of us from cross-cultural backgrounds have more than a single pair of eyes with which to see and interpret the world, literally, imaginatively and philosophically. 

So, how do we travel more responsibly and protect our environment? How do we travel less, while not shaming those among us who have links to countries abroad that we yearn to visit, or those for whom journeying, exploring and cultural exchange is meaningful and humanising? There’s no easy solution. But perhaps we fly less, take longer trips, use trains and travel more judiciously. And my hope is that when we do get on a plane, the end goal is to travel in a way that enhances host communities, their economies and wildlife. We can begin by booking trips led by people indigenous to those places we’re exploring — people who historically may have been dispossessed and shunted off ancestral lands by colonisers; people who actively steward their environment. And maybe, here, we can learn from them how to broaden our perspective and begin to experience land as kin — and protect it accordingly.

How do those who rely on tourism for employment continue to thrive if we stop visiting them? As these past months have shown, destinations need to make local visitors feel welcome, and make domestic travel desirable, accessible and affordable. These days, I travel closer to home and I adore it. I love coastal landscapes, walking with a pilgrim spirit. I don’t drive, I take trains and I often wish that buses in rural areas in the UK were more frequent.

We need to be good guests in our own backyard — collecting our rubbish, supporting local, independent businesses and steering away from overcrowded places. I love exploring places where progressive thinking and a culture of care, for people and the environment, has taken root. Wherever we travel in the world, we value hosts who are friendly, helpful and kind.

Jini Reddy is the author of Wanderland (Bloomsbury Wildlife, £16.99). She’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 27 May.

Read more: Jini Reddy on hearing nature’s voice in the French Pyrenees

Travel writer Horatio Clare has worked extensively in Africa, been around the world on container ships and followed migrating swallows from Cape Town to South Wales.

Photograph by Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare: ‘I’ll never fly if I can take a train’

Horatio Clare is the author of Heavy Light (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). 

Photograph by Chatto & Windus

Humans are born to travel. The beat of the road under our feet, the slow shift of horizons, journeys measured in days and nights: this has been our rhythm since our ancestors first crossed the Serengeti plains 3.5 million years ago. As a travel writer, it’s been my privilege to make my living on this ancient path, and my great pleasure to record and recount, for example, the heart-swelling space of the Serengeti, for readers around the world. That most of my journeys have begun with airplanes and continued in diesel-driven Land Cruisers makes me feel some shame but little regret.

I’ve worked extensively in Africa, been around the world on container ships and followed migrating swallows from Cape Town to South Wales. Although I regularly thanked the gods for such extraordinary gifts, I never fully appreciated the good fortune of this life, with missions also to China, India, Greenland, Svalbard and the Galápagos, until the pandemic put a stop to it all. Now we must face the great question: do we go back to doing what we did, despite the consequences for the planet and our children?

My instinct, at first, was yes. Offered a trip to Sicily last September — two cheap, world-warming flights — I seized it. I sent a two-word email to my editor: ‘Hell, yes!’ A kind of end-of-the-tunnel demob delirium. I’ll still travel — it’s my job, and I crave it. Sustainable and sustaining tourism exists. Good people devote their lives to the best part of that industry. Why not support them? If writers don’t see and report on the world (I work for the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent programme; I don’t see luxury hotels and game drives as the point of the job), then readers, listeners and the world are poorer for it.

But I’ll never fly if I can take a train. If the journey is longer and slower, so much the better. I’ll remember that you don’t have to go far to go well. One of my best adventures was a canoe trip down the River Teifi, in my home country, Wales. I’m doing it again this year. Seeing the sky almost free of planes and tasting truly clean air has been wonderful. I’ll think long and hard before polluting it again. 

Horatio Clare is the author of Heavy Light (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). He’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 27 May.

Read more: Hay Festival authors reveal their all-time favourite travel books

Novelist Hafsa Zayyan suggests that ‘the beachgrass of the Devonshire coast may not quite match the paradisiacal fronds of islands in the Indian Ocean, but it can certainly offer a moment for us to pause and to reflect.’

Photograph by Hafsa Zayyan

Hafsa Zayyan: ‘The privilege we took for granted of being able to jet off at any time, to go anywhere, has all but disappeared’

Hafsa Zayyan is the author of We Are All Birds of Uganda (#MerkyBooks, £14.99). 

Photograph by #MerkyBooks

Travel, for me, offers a chance to experience the vastness and variety of our natural world — connecting me with it and at the same time making me feel incredibly small. I felt this in the depths of the South China Sea as I watched the curiously human-like face of the moray eel — familiar yet strange — surface from the coral reef to look at me; I felt it in Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt flat when looking up at a cloudless night sky sprayed with the stardust of the Milky Way; I felt it standing at the summit of Chile’s Mount Fitz Roy, looking down at the unbelievable blue of the water collected in pools between the peaks. Travel makes me feel alive. It gives me a sense of internal stillness. It’s spiritual, for me.

Mid pandemic, the privilege we took for granted of being able to jet off at any time, to go anywhere, has all but disappeared. In what ways can we remain connected to nature in the absence of being able physically to put ourselves in the locations that inspire? We all remember the graphics showing worldwide carbon pollution levels when cars and planes stopped.  The effects, as the researchers have termed it, of the great ‘anthropause’: cougars emerging from the wilderness to explore deserted cities; the increase in the number of hedgehog sightings; nature, in its own way, reclaiming the earth. 

We can feel connected by the knowledge that our reduction in travel is having a positive impact on the natural world we inhabit. We can spend time exploring nature in our local communities. The beachgrass of the Devonshire coast may not quite match the paradisiacal fronds of islands in the Indian Ocean, but it is beauty in its own way, and can certainly offer a moment for us to pause and to reflect. 

Hafsa Zayyan is the author of We Are All Birds of Uganda (#MerkyBooks, £14.99). She’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 28 May.

Author Jay Griffiths discusses the purpose of travel, saying ‘I want to practise the art of travelling into the unknown more knowingly’.

Photograph by Jay Griffiths

Jay Griffiths: ‘When I go, I’ll travel more deeply. More deliberately’

Jay Griffiths is the author of Why Rebel (Penguin, £7.99). 

Photograph by Penguin

I love the word 'ticket'. I respond to the word 'ticket' like a dog responds to 'walkies'. Tail wagging, nose sniffing for novelties, oddities and serendipities. Senses on full alert, the ideal of travel is vitalising and exhilarating. Each journey needs to be done with a different accent, a style depending on the quiddity of each place. Each traveller, entering land new to them, pays for the journey in coins of curiosity and care, and that priceless thing: a willingness to be amazed.

Travel is not a right. It’s somewhere between a gem and a travail (the origin of the word 'travel') and journeys are paid for in time, effort, preparation, risk, and hardship. Travel cherishes difference, distinctness and the contours of identity, crackling with invisible history. Travel is about plurality and it honours what it loves.

Tourism, however, can kill what it professes to love; its food pre-digested; its routes pre-discovered. Put a McDonald's in Samoa and make Samoa same-same as so many other places. Tourism, like a meta-camera, steals the soul of a place, and it does little for the tourist as well.  To be pampered and fawned over is peculiarly embarrassing. To be purposeless — controlled and processed — is to be the excess baggage in the trolley. To take the beaten track is to be forever disappointed by reality, as the Paris Syndrome demonstrates, with tourists experiencing the acute distress of discovering a place to be not the idyll they were persuaded it would be.

Because of the climate crisis, I don't feel justified in taking plane flights, except very occasionally. But the pandemic, preventing all kinds of travel, denied me something that, if I'm absolutely candid, I’d begun to take for granted. Now, I'm glad for the lesson. I’ll travel both less and more. I’ll, without doubt, make fewer journeys. When I go, I’ll travel more deeply. More deliberately. More carefully. More slowly, of course, walking, biking, sailing. I want to practise the art of travelling into the unknown more knowingly.

Jay Griffiths is the author of Why Rebel (Penguin, £7.99). She’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 1 June.

Read more: Eight of the world’s best historic bookshops, from Portland to Paris

Growing her family made Diane Cook yearn to use travel to build stable foundations. ‘We can go on adventures later, when they are old enough to appreciate what they’re seeing,’ she writes. 

Photograph by Diane Cook 

Diane Cook: ‘Now I'm drawn to steady places, places that feel safe, that feel like home’

Diane Cook is the author of The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications, £16.99). 

Photograph by Oneworld Publications

I didn’t grow up with a sense of home. As a kid, my family moved every year or two. It was hard. I was determined not to do that to my kids. But this pandemic year had my family on the move for various reasons. My late pregnancy coincided with lockdown and so we left our city to protect my immune system. We left again after our son was born to live with family who could help with childcare. Later, back again in the city, we left our rental, the only home our three-year-old daughter had known, because it was a small one-bedroom and now, we were a family of four.

We’ve been bouncing around between sublets and Airbnbs while we decide whether to put down roots, finally, here or begin anew elsewhere, now that we know the world and our opportunities are very different than we’d always believed. I’d always used travel as a vehicle for adventure, to see things I couldn’t see anywhere else, to exist outside of what I knew. But watching my daughter move from place to place, in and out of shutdown preschools, the only constant being her family, made me yearn to use travel to build stable foundations for her and her new brother. We can go on adventures later, when they are old enough to appreciate what they’re seeing. Now, I only want to visit Michigan, where their abuelita (grandmother) and tios (uncles and aunts) and primos (cousins) live.

I want to commit to travelling to Minneapolis every year so they can know their godparents well. And for a beachy ‘vacation’ in the traditional sense of the word, I’m only interested in heading to Puerto Rico, where my husband’s family is from, so that it can be a place that’ll always feel like home to them, just like it felt to my husband even though he didn’t grow up there. This seems like the best gift I can give them after a year like this. Not newness, but familiarity. It seems odd even to me to want to greet the end of the pandemic by keeping our world small, but the world has been anything but stable and I'm fatigued by the shifting ground. Now I'm drawn to steady places, places that feel safe, that feel like home.

Diane Cook is the author of The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications, £16.99). She’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 3 June.

Camilla Pang's new memoir, Explaining Humans, won the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2020, making her both the youngest winner and the first winner of colour.

Photograph by Camilla Pang

Camilla Pang: ‘Our own homes are, now, places from which to find hidden gems’

Camilla Pang is the author of An Outsider's Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me about What We Do and Who We Are (Penguin, £9.99). 

Photograph by Penguin

Travelling has always been a process of privilege to me. The result of visions, planning, investment and hope. I usually seek out places with open landscapes with plenty of scope for movement; hiking around lakes, and mountain biking under clear blue skies, navigating cultures which make me question my own.

Our own homes are, now, places from which to find hidden gems: rediscovering that ‘new’ ice cream parlour from five years ago, or that independent coffee place with queues curling round the block. It’s to live a life bolstered by local markets, by the work of groundsmen that cut the grass in your neighbourhood park, and the generosity of pet owners you befriend on walks to get your dopamine fix. As dust gathered on passports, this attitude of self-reliance is exactly what the world needed. We’ve developed an affinity with where we live. I like, for one, that it’s made us aware of the fragility of local businesses in lockdown, surviving only by the faith of their customers and not just commuters' habits.

I’m more protective than ever of my local area, and I’d like to think future travel will come with a dose of this bioregional thought. Where venturing with a sense of vocation for a place becomes default. I’d like to see more people travel for its own sake, for experience, and not just a side dish to daily life, not just an expensive hobby. The fragility of nature is part of its beauty and we hold a collective accountability to maintain it. I’m all for making humans more fabulous through technology, but not at the expense of other species.

I hope these past months have reset expectations of what we value and given us the belief that we can take leaps of faith in our lives regardless of where we are, or where we plan to go. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that uncharted projects don't have to be squared with new land. Everything I need is already with me and travelling, therefore, can become less of a fix and more of a discovery which, like my local park, I’ll never take for granted.

Camilla Pang is the author of An Outsider's Guide to Humans: What Science Taught Me about What We Do and Who We Are (Penguin, £9.99). She’ll be speaking at the Hay Festival on 5 June.

Read more: A travellers guide to Hay-on-Wye, Wales

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