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Travel, the fear factor

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaWhat stops people from travelling more? We polled readers to find out. You’ll surprised at what they said.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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WHILE it seems everyone and his uncle wants to travel – or become a blogger cavorting on 600 thread count linen, which feels pretty much the same as the worn threads at home after a boozy night out – more and more people are shunning the global fraternity for a quiet, safe, boringly predictable evening at home in front of the telly watching celebrity bloopers and indecipherable Trump twaddle.

It would spell the end for magazines like ours if travellers shunned planes, trains and automobiles though, arguably, mushroom clouds and missile showers might hasten the end of travel for all. The End. But why – after centuries of exploring, marauding, converting, looting, chronicling and traversing the world – are we giving up on that one fundamental freedom, to foist ourselves on the less fortunate armed with dollar bills and huge cameras with Attenborough lenses capable of capturing nostril hair and perhaps even mysterious mitochondria?

Is it obnoxious folk who drink too much on interminable transpacific flights? Overlarge passengers who inadvertently or unapologetically ooze out across your armrest? Is it the stress of reclaiming the vacant middle seat deviously bagged by some Speedy Gonzalez who has spread out his newspapers and paraphernalia all over the space? Is it airline food and toilets? We ran a snap poll to find out what stops people from travelling more, and here’s what readers say.

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We provided a choice of five travel turn-offs: 1) Tired of airport queues and hassles, 2) Taxi driver cheats, 3) Terrorism and safety concerns, 4) Health issues, pollution, and viruses, and 5) weather concerns. And we supplied an option to list more. What do you think they said?

With images of fear and mayhem from North Korea and London to Mexico and Texas splashed across newspapers and television channels, the No.1 concern on respondents’ minds was neither terrorists nor touts, but taxi drivers, those perennial arch villains. Taxi drivers the world over, save for London’s extraordinarily erudite black cab mob, are clearly one sandwich short of a picnic, mean, dishonest, devious and oftentimes dangerous. Right?

{Since meters are the cause of so much argle-bargle, Bangkok taxi drivers dispense with the them entirely, offering instead calibrated ‘package’ fares

Yet, taxi drivers in India graciously toss towels on the meter so as not to alarm visitors. Sanya cabbies roar along incomplete highways, in the wrong lane, racing into oncoming traffic. Surely passengers must shell out more for such time saving derring-do? In Hong Kong, family-friendly cabbies may use colourful and intimate language to outline the sort of welcome they would like to offer your mother.

And since meters are the cause of so much argle-bargle, Bangkok taxi drivers dispense with the them entirely, offering instead finely calibrated ‘package’ fares based on laissez faire and the passenger’s level of desperation (size of baggage, number of frazzled kids, hour of the night, level of flooding, amount of traffic, level of inebriation etc). This efficiently balances demand and supply with price, not unlike an Uber. All travellers will meanwhile applaud a sparky Mumbai company called Taxi Fabric that invites designers to showcase their talents in taxi interiors with spectacular results.

Airport queues and hassles come in for much ire as the No.2 cause of aborted travel. This probably rates as our top peeve, especially when faced with Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport that shoves teeming passengers into immigration lanes that aren’t and offers visas on arrival in a holding area akin to a prison pen with borderline riots when the press of bodies exceeds the space by a factor of five and immigration officers close counters to chat cheerily with colleagues. Beijing’s Capital Airport is another litany of crowds, queues and delayed flights as the military regularly blocks off air space leaving commercial jets circling or diverted to destinations unknown. It is not uncommon to book a 6pm flight to Hong Kong that actually departs at 2am the following morning, as I can attest to.

Unsurprisingly, the airport is not a problem for spoiled Singaporeans, who worry more about ‘hygiene, theft, robbery…” Singapore’s Changi is a top rated airport worldwide with several passenger friendly features and Hong Kong’s Norman Foster marvel makes up in efficiency what it lacks in eye candy. And a bold outlier that marches to the beat of its own delightful drum, is Samui Airport, laid back and breezy. Check it out.

A close No.3 on the travel damper list (almost a No.2 tie and climbing rapidly as poll responses pour in) is ‘Terrorism and safety concerns’ though among American respondents this is the top factor. Surprisingly, many travellers rate [frequent] airport hassles and delays on par with [infrequent, or less likely] terror attacks. A few US-based respondents listed ‘jetlag’ as a notable concern, underlining the hazard of a terror plot unfolding at your hotel while you are still adjusting to a new time zone. It’s simply not cricket. Jetlag will take its toll on frequent travellers shuttling across the pond from New York to London, or Sydney to Dubai. It’s a law of nature with just one known fast fix – bright lights, ceaseless exercise, and loud voices. Ask your doctor about health retreat Guantanamo.

Health issues, pollution and viruses’ rank No.4 (Indian travellers expressing the most concern) with ‘weather’ placed No.5 (listed most commonly by respondents from USA, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore). Weather has dominated headlines for months yet it fails to cause a flutter as a whole. People are less impressed with the prospect of falling into an earthquake-induced crevasse or encountering Irma in all her pirouetting fury than dealing with a Beijing cabbie.

A number of other areas were touched upon. US respondents cited lack of language skills, insurance cover, and possible hostility towards Americans, while fear of flying rated a few mentions. One traveller said worst case disaster reconstructions as seen on Nat Geo could likely derail all travel in the short term. Another cautious tripper in Singapore had concerns about ticket prices and fluctuating currency exchange rates. “Cannot lah.”

Marginal concerns often spotted on casual Internet boards include “who will look after my cat?” to “I don’t have a passport.”

While we await more robust feedback, you are welcome to write in and tell us what is stopping you from travelling more. And if you can actually tell the difference between happy rumpled home linen and haute couture hotel cotton, we’d like to know.

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