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Timeless Travels: An interview with... Simon Calder
Timeless Travels

Timeless Travels: An interview with... Simon Calder

Posted Friday, March 10, 2017   |   2635 views   |   Leisure Interest   |   Comments (0) He's the man on the news. The man the nation turns to when there is a travel story. But he has also written many books, climbed a mountain and his favourite forms of travelling are cycling and hitch hiking. A well known spokesman for the travel industry, Matilda Hickson recently met up with him to find out a little more about the man behind the advice.

You have written a number of books. Did you always want to be a writer?

No. I’m a mathematician by training and an engineer by trade and I just wanted to travel.


You have said that early trips to Guernsey and Dieppe initiated a love of travel, is that still the case?

I always say that living in Crawley is a very good place to start if you want to explore

whether there is somewhere else with perhaps more appeal. So as soon as I could I started to hitch hike and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m still hitch hiking.


Your first job was at Gatwick Airport. Was that just a holiday job or did you have plans to travel even then?

It was a holiday job and Gatwick, if you live in Crawley, is the obvious employer as they need lots of unskilled workers and my goodness me, I was unskilled! But I would recommend to anybody to work in a big transport undertaking. Of course you have the daily frustrations of going to an airport knowing that you are not going somewhere and millions of other people are; however, the dynamic is always changing, so it is always fun, always interesting!


What would you say your best travel experience was?

I have a very short memory because that is the nature of the game, I can’t spend my valuable memory space remembering X, Y and Z! The most challenging and surprising thing was last year, climbing Aconcagua. I’m scared of heights, and it is the highest mountain outside the Himalayas, 22,837 feet, so it was quite a challenge getting to the top of that! But it was definitely memorable, but more for the fact that it was a ludicrously late time in life to come to it.


You were planning on being a maths teacher - when did you realise that travelling trumped maths for you?

There is nothing wrong with maths and journalistically, the most useful thing you can do is sums, so you can work out how much profit an airline makes per passenger - that’s the crucial measure. If you want to assess how tourism is changing, then basic statistical analysis, which isn’t exactly maths, is useful, so maths is a useful thing. Pure mathematicians like me are supposed to say that it teaches pure mathematical thought, but I’m not sure about that. But I don’t know, maybe it helps you to retain a certain simplicity of language which is important in writing. I don’t really know, I’m not really a writer, I just try to tell some stories.

What is your favourite book that you have written?

I can’t remember what I have written! They were really, really important at the time and then when they’re done, they’re done! You always have to keep moving forward and think what is happening next. What do you like to read when you travel? I read the travel trade gazette, rail news, other competitor travel sections. I pile them up and then when I have a trip I read them then, as travelling is a great time to read.


Do you have a favourite archaeological site?

Without a shadow of a doubt - two really. Lewis, close to Stornoway is one of the greatest and Orkney, the Ring of Brodgar. And more particularly the very exciting archaeological work that is being conducted on the other islands of Orkney, where they are realising that this place was so significant as a human community and there is probably more interesting study going on there than in the rest of Britain put together. I’m not an archaeologist but they are my favourite sites. You are known as the ‘man who pays his own way’.


Was there a reason, a situation that started this? Is there a reason why you stay an independent traveller?

I’d like to say that my art is much more important than squalid financial matters, but all that happened is that I was an engineer and I was doing bits of freelancing. The Independent started and I did some freelancing for them and they had a rigid Stalinist, no freebies, policy at the time, but it didn’t matter as I paid for stuff anyway and wouldn’t really know how to ask people for things. Then that policy changed in about 2000 when the travel section expanded to such a scale that you couldn’t possibly do it on a no freebies policy, and I thought I’ll just carry on in my own little eccentric way. And all that has happened since then is the cost of travelling has fallen, fallen and fallen thanks to the low-cost airlines.

Was it scary being on Mastermind?

Yes, quite scary, but it all depends - it was scary being on Aconcagua when you arrived at the top! It’s a funny thing, your brain does desert you and for a while I’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘how on earth did I not remember that Manchester City played at the Etihad Stadium?’, which is ludicrous, but it has a profound effect.


I know that you hold the record for the longest hitch hike

No, that is long gone now...


...Do any other hitch hiking journeys stand out in your mind?

Hitch hiking is such a benign thing to do. I think the world is safer than it has probably ever been, and it is largely the results of road accident rates falling in a lot of places. So hitch hiking is safer, and it is such a lovely way to connect with people you wouldn’t normally meet. It is utterly random. You have a self selecting bunch of very nice people, generally nice guys with nice cars with good stories to tell and you get chauffeur driven through wonderful places - what could be wrong with that? I still can’t find a downside to hitch hiking.


With all that is currently going on in the world, many places are becoming difficult to visit. Can you identify which are going to be the new places we are going to visit?

Oh, the new places will be the old places! Travel doesn’t change very much. I’m profoundly saddened by the way that the great destinations in North Africa and the Middle East are off limits, and indeed by the way that Russia has decided against tourism with its tougher visa rules, which is depressing. But people love going on holiday to Spain, to France, Italy and the US and those are the main places that people go on holiday. I’m not seeing any dramatic changes. I guess the most dramatic change we saw was probably in the last decade with strong moves to Turkey and Egypt, and they are now changing due to the political problems. But not much changes.


Keep up to date: @SimonCalder

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About Timeless Travels

Timeless Travels is a quarterly magazine for lovers of travel, archaeology and art. Discover new destinations to explore or rediscover more well known ones from a new perspective. For readers who want a different approach to their travel adventures w

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