This is the first of a two-part series by Jayeeta Ghorai on books inspiring budget travel
I recently read Tom Chesshyre’s How Low Can You Go? Round Europe for 1p Each Way (Plus Tax). The title leaves the reader in no ambiguity what the book is about. Tom has been a travel correspondent with The Times since 1997. Besides writing posh columns on amazingly luxurious (and heartbreaking expensive) hotels in the UK and Europe, the kind we shoe-stringers wouldn’t bother giving second glances to, he takes himself off on quirky journeys.
His mission for the book was simple – to take advantage of the low-cost airlines to visit some obscure locales around Europe. Traveling to cold places in mid-winter (all well-heeled travellers will swear by the bargains to be had during low season), taking the lowest flight tickets (yes, 1 pence plus taxes!), shacking up in cheap hostels, sometimes the only hotel in town, in remote areas of the recently opened up Eastern European countries at the time (2006/2007), Tom caught rare glimpses of eccentric local habits and hidden historic connections.
Before anyone starts grumbling about the 1p conversion into Indian Rupee, or the fact that, RyanAir or Wizz Air doesn’t fly out of India, or that it was easy for Tom to do Europe from Stansted, Luton, Gatwick or any such English airport-towns, let me point out the obvious: what stops us replicating his methods in the Asian and Oceanian geography? I mean, seriously, if uber touristy Thamel, the T-girls of Bangkok, a rip-off Chanel handbag from Singapore and a selfie with Burj Al Arab are the summation of all our galloping around, have we even seen Asia? Or for that matter India?
Air Asia with its flash discounts had already made some of us forsake our couches for ‘exotic’ Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Penang. (One of my ex-bosses had bought her entire extended brood a family weekend to Bangkok. Nothing beats that for scoring brownie points with the in laws!) With Mihin Lanka, Continental Airlines, Tiger Airways now travelling out from major Indian B cities, is there an excuse for not seeing Medan, Mattala, Coffs Harbour, Ozamis, Hat Yai?
If ones expectation from ‘travel’ is the inside of a posh hotel, I rest my case, as Tom would. But to quote a Robert Louis Stevenson reflection, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” The planet is h-u-g-e, and the only thing that beats visiting the places everyone goes to is discovering the places no one else has been to.
Closing one’s eyes and jabbing a finger randomly on a map to decide ones next destination, and then finding the resources to make that trip happen, now that’s a challenge to jog the foggy ole’ brain. (Andy’s note: I’d written on how, before my Japan trip, I’d discovered that flights from Kolkata to Nagoya are way cheaper than those to Tokyo).
Besides, ‘everyone’ is often wrong. Everyone, from Lonely Planet to Rough Guides to Indiamike to the Madhya Pradesh Tourism information office will tell you there is no way you can travel from Bandhavgarh to Kanha except by hiring an air conditioned car at an uncomfortably exorbitant price. Nobody talks about the buses, except those that have taken them and local residents. Believe me, even now when I can afford the costlier alternative, I’d not barter the chance of seeing central India from the corner seat next to a mahua-inebriated tribal whoselangot kept slipping off as he slided along the bus aisle.
So, as Tom learnt, Szczecin, Haugesund and Tampere can be as intriguing as some of the more lauded European capitals. It is worth the while pushing off for places one can’t spell, pronounce and hadn’t heard of in those tight no-frills plane seats.