Tag Archives: Trip Advisor


Every world is changing, even as you step into it. But my own experience of how the world changed in travel writing was growing up reading the likes of Eric Newby, he of A Short Walk in The Hindu Kush. Like Patrick Lee Fermour, Newby was one of the gentlemen greats, who came to travel edit the pages of the Observer, and when I went out to The North West Frontier, lots of people took his very funny Short Walk with them, including me. How travel writing has changed since then, and how our knowledge of Pakistan and Afghanistan too. No longer an adventure, more a horror story. But then all writing is the mediation of supposed universal experience, through a particular consciousness, as language and its precise use mediates too. It was why it was a little funny, talking of “gentlemen greats” to find Country Life editing an article about a polo match on the Shandur Pass, from my line about a local man peeing in a lake, to his “relieving himself”. Up in the Hindu Kush folk pee, they do not relieve themselves, if “this is true, throughout the shires, that horses sweat but Man perspires!”

I was always freelance, trying to write in papers like The Telegraph, The Times or Guardian, specialising in stories related to wildlife or environmentalism. It never brought in any money, but it did give the chance to do some extraordinary trips, and to write too. So I heard little stories like an editor bumping into Jan Morris, James in a dress by then, and telling her travel writers had charmed lives. Hmmm. Jan Morris is certainly a deeply charmed writer. The problem was the days when you could sound off as real traveller and writer were also morphing into the days when you had to write about the quality of hotel shower heads, and so sell the travel industry itself, to support a paper’s advertising revenues.

The democratically thin end of that enormous wedge is the Internet and the likes of Trip Advisor, where self-appointed experts apparently cause horror stories complaining about the number of tea bags, or the position of the kettle in Bed and Breakfasts. In trying to set up potentially interesting pieces though, with prominent companies, that could be a little corrosive of your independence too. But there was also the fact that no journalists took travel writing very seriously, as they should have done, and often saw it as a chance for freebies, or a holiday from the real fight. Art though, and finding a real voice in writing, and travelling the world, is the fight too.

I fell very foul of The Telegraph when I was attacked by an editor, and many editors on the inside love their bits of power, for daring to be rude about Devon and Cornwall, although I wasn’t really. That was the impression that came out from a piece about history there, or England’s story, notably falling off our own maritime identity into American dreams and longings at “Westwood Ho”, that had been severely slashed in print, causing several “points of view” complaints from the public. Hey ho. Travel writing at its best is writing at its best, but rather than glossy food fests, posh hotels or book stunts like crossing the Atlantic in a bathtub, it should be brought back in print, if only as a leader to other articles more obviously engaged in selling things. One place that dedicates itself to travel writing as writing, almost purely in fine reprints, is Eland Books.



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There could be no greater dis-recommendation for Democracy, and this Internet place, than the documentary about all the little critics on Trip Advisor. Perhaps being bullied at school brings out those gloopy figures, fighting back late in life, so we should teach our kids to fight harder, and earlier on. Perhaps the Internet glories in all the awful voices, but Bukowski was right, ‘there’s enough hate in the average man to destroy you’. William Hague has just advised, at this London Cyber Conference, on the world threat of Internet attacks, but he forgot the enemies within. It’s not that the small hotel review service does not have some useful function, it is the glee with which some self-appointed, self-aggrandizing critics seem to go about it all, and with very little right of come back. At least when it used to be about professional Newspaper Reviews, those little establishments mostly got ignored, or if you wanted to play in a big kitchen, you had no right not to expect the heat. Now anything can be splashed over the net and stay there, written often before the semi-detached flick knifers have even left, while people seem to expect the Ritz at the price of a Camper van. With it goes all that little England indignation about rights and freedoms and the rest. Sure, but go and do something more inspiring with existence.

We think most of the critics should be fed to the ‘exotic’ animals on Louis Theroux’s journey into the half wilds of middle America. It is a pity the documentary could not have added some note about The Muskingham County Farm tragedy, last week, because that lay at the other end of the explosion of private owners – majestic, meant-to-be-wild animals, lying dead in the American mud. Theroux’s big-girl’s-blouse whimsy though got a little irritating, because for a programme like that you need someone who really loves or understands animals, to roll up their sleeves, get in the cages and see if it is all right or wrong. Theroux does not like them at all. Of course, the animal Theroux really studies is the Human one and a weirder bunch of primates you could not have encountered this side of Regent’s Park. Not that that put us necessarily on the side of the critics snarling at animal cruelty either, because at least some of those eccentrics do glory in animals. What they mostly do not like is people, and if they’ve been watching the Trip Advisor show, how could you blame them?

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