Travel *Is* Your Own Backyard

MikeachimEngland, Travel, Writing19 Comments

Hebden Bridge train station


How long is a piece of travel?

I really struggle with the word “travel”.

The standard definition goes like this:

verb. Make a journey, typically of some length.

This is of course spectacularly unhelpful. What’s a “journey”? How far is “some length”? When you say “typically,” are you suggesting there are cases where it doesn’t have to be of “some length,” or even a “journey”?

Here’s how the Free Dictionary has a crack at it:

To go from one place to another, as on a trip; journey.

Now we’re getting somewhere, despite “journey” making another appearance. (Here’s the definition of “journey,” by the way – “an act of travelling from one place to another.” Bloody useless.) What travel requires, it seems, is that you start somewhere, and end up somewhere else. None of that maddening “typically” talk with this definition – this is hard and fast, BAM. If you want to travel, you have to go somewhere that isn’t where you are now.

Oh, come on. Let’s not play this pedantic game. We all know what “travel” meanS, right? It means you pull a suitcase (or a backpack) out of the cupboard, you put too many things into it so it won’t close properly, you unpack it again with a heavy heart, you lay those things out on the bed, you get it right this time, you then go downstairs and out the door and get in your car or in a taxi that takes you to a waiting plane or ferry, and then a bit later you’re somewhere hot, with a sun that beats down hard enough to curl the ends of the depressingly expensive hat you bought at the airport / ferry terminal in a moment of weakness – and that’s when you realise you forgot to bring sunscreen.

That’s travel.

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I say all this because in 2014, I’m thinking about travel in a different way. I’ll be doing my fair share of suitcase packing-then-unpacking, of buying overpriced hats and forgetting sunscreen (and Greece might be first on the list), but I’ll also be experimenting with things like this.

Take the opener of this article at The Freelance Strategist the other day:

Travel writers are supposed to live in exciting places like Miami or Paris or Tokyo and jet to places like Cairo or Brisbane or Prague, right? Maybe for some, but many successful travel writers simply embrace their own backyards.

The wonderful Lola Akinmade Åkerström has written extensively about backyard blogging and its use for travel writers seeking consistent sources of income – check out her advice here. There’s also the urge for professional writers to promote where they live, because they love it so much.

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That’s how I feel about Yorkshire right now. How I feel about Yorkshire can best be summed up by the following horrific anecdote: twenty years ago, I was walking through the Austrian Tyrol with a mixed party of English people, a few of them very, very English indeed. At one point, we reached the top of a small mountain, and were met with a truly incredible view, looking right down into Italy. One man strode to the edge, threw his arms wide, and started bellowing this.

That’s kinda how I feel about Yorkshire right now.

(Note: if you’re ever travelling round Yorkshire with me, I promise I will never, EVER do anything like this.)

This year, whenever I’m around, I’ll be taking the chance to write about this county – 22nd on the New York Times52 Places To Go” list for 2014, chosen as Europe’s Leading Destination in the last World Travel Awards, and recently picked by Lonely Planet as one of the top places in the world. They’re all completely right, of course – it’s awesome. But it’s up to Yorkshire and its inhabitants to prove it.

So, that’s a big focus for my writing, and for this blog, in 2014. But…if I toddle off to Scarborough for the day, or mosey round York looking for things I missed while I was a resident, or stagger across the North York Moors in a rainstorm (no, actually once was enough, thanks)…am I “travelling?”


Let’s render this a pointless argument in the following manner. Here’s what I think constitutes “travel” :

1. You go somewhere new. Somewhere you haven’t been before, in part or in its entirety. You can’t travel without moving, no matter what Jamiroquai might say.

2. You do something new. Travel is about new experiences. If you’re not having one, you’re missing half the fun of travel.

3. You reinterpret something. Look closely enough, and everything is fascinating. Everything has a story. If you’re not seeing it, you’re not looking closely enough.

4.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money (take Alastair Humphreys going to Spain for £10) – but you do have to exert effort. How much? Oh you know, typically some amount. The main thing is, it has to stretch you. Maybe a lot – but at least a little.

That’s a definition of travel I can do something with – and I think I’m ready to start.

Are you with me?

All images: Mike Sowden

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