This is a new weekly column
Travel is yoga. You can become better at it, but you can never be the best at it.
Simply by anointing yourself as a ‘travel expert’ means you’ve missed the point of travel. When you go for surgery, yes, you need a specialist to make sure you make it out alive with everything where it should be. When you fly in an airplane, yes you need a virtuoso pilot to make sure you land safely. But when you arrive in France, or Peru or Iceland, for the first time, you don’t need an expert to tell you what to do — you just need to explore. This should be your journey to undertake. This is why you travel.
For some reason the travel media and industry have decided to give its affected blessing to individuals and groups of people who pose as travel experts. They announce their services in travel magazines, and pretentiously announce themselves as experts in regions, cities or even the whole world. I think they even sell trips on the Internet with pictures of themselves. Trust me, the experts will just duplicate their lives for you. That is not travel, it’s following a herd you don’t want to belong to.
Ferdinand Magellan who crossed the Pacific, Vasco Da Gama who left for India and Bartolomeu Dias who hit Africa, just called themselves explorers. That was quite enough for them. And these Portuguese map re-drawers actually found new continents to add to the European version of the world map whilst they were traveling. Hey, just some adventure-seeking folks, really.
The Romans used the word ‘expert’ millenia ago. But it meant something much less highfalutin’ than today. It was more related to a person who’s trying (or at least willing) to experience something bigger than themselves. Ah yes, the person who’s eagerly ready to throw themselves into the line of beauty. No expert, just plain curious. And the world opens to this kind of curiosity every single time — don’t ask anyone, just try it for yourself.
Today ‘expert’ means you know better than everyone else. A missy or mister know it all. Isn’t that why we leave what we already know, in order to explore what we don’t know? Isn’t that the point of travel — to experience something new and special and thrilling, and to get to know ourselves through the eyes and minds of others? Also, where’s the humility in all of this? How are we supposed to learn from the world, when we are being suffocated by everyone who knows absolutely everything.
So in this global morass of too many experts, the value of any actual knowledge becomes withered. (Please note that, for instance, you’re not an expert just because you’ve been to Bangkok 15 or even 20 times; you’re just interested in, and perhaps quite familiar with, Bangkok.) And so, one becomes painfully wedded to one’s own analysis.
The author Nick Lovegrove in The Mosaic Principle: The Six Dimensions of a Successful Life & Career exposes the idea that with so much ‘expertise’ the very experience becomes much too narrow. Your very core of what you’re selling is basically being devalued through this process of ‘expert’ everything.
Maybe we need to find the travel industry version of the academic Beatrice Van der Heijden’s expression ‘flexperts.’ A new silly term for people who are both flexible, and in possession of a little travel knowledge that they’d like to impart on the world gently.
Before the Internet and the many lists of ‘experts’, people left home with a map, and maybe a dream. I’m not saying don’t plan your trip, I am saying trust your instinct more than the experts’. Do you want to have the exact same experience as someone else had, because you relied on an expert’s inevitably narrow perspective of the world?
The world is all in grey. An expert makes you see it in black and white. Therefore missing almost everything.