I’ve prepared today’s post as part of Pinterest UK’s launch campaign ‘Pin It Forward’. Originally I wanted to use Pinterest as a way to centralise where I kept my own photography from this blog, but very quickly it became obvious that it’s worth a lot more than that. It can be used as a visual scrapbook of ideas and key figures. With that in mind when I considered what kind of board I should create for the campaign I quickly realised that I wanted something that underpinned my whole notion of travel and its importance. My ‘Iconic Travels and Travelers‘ board was borne of that moment.
Home is usually comfortable, easy. When I wonder why anyone would ever bother themselves with travel I think the only answer can be “Because there is something out there worth experiencing”. That ‘something’ has to be pretty damn alluring to be able to drag us out of our 9-5 existences and force us to stride out beyond our normal boundaries, our petty annoyances, our ossified routines.
There can be no denying that simply plodding along is the default setting for the vast majority of people so how do we come to realise there might be something better and attainable? For me the answer lies with the courageous and adventurous people who left their legacies stabbing through history and opening up new realms. Many were vicious soldiers, pirates, or thieves. Nonetheless you cannot help but fall in love with the mystique of travel and the fascination of foreign peoples and places. Even the worst of these people left journals, paintings, and maps to mark their passing from humdrum to legend. Relics of their drive and imagination.
Since way back when I was at primary school I have loved the concept of the explorer and pioneer. Good old Chris Columbus, nasty old Hernan Cortes, unlucky old Ferdinand Magellan – these were the first real glimpses I had of what it takes to twist your mindset into an outward-looking one bent on exploration. Sure, before that I had been utterly obsessed by the Romans, but as a little boy I was more interested in the bloodthirsty and the cruel – the legions and the Colosseum. That has long-since changed to pure wonder at the places and people I don’t yet know. Today we have the luck to be able to watch people like Michael Palin, Ewan McGregor, or even the legendarily eccentric chef Keith Floyd bringing us a taste – literal or not – of the world beyond the one we experience daily.
It just so happened that at the time I took my first ever flight abroad I was studying the Age of Exploration. This opened up my eyes to the wider world beyond sunny Croydon and the Norwood Alps. I think every generation for centuries has had some kind of popular hero to spur on their own travels. The advent of mass-tourism in the 20th Century meant that for the first time ordinary people could emulate these heroes and visit far-flung corners of obscurity, and then come home to tell their friends all about it. And so the cycle escalated.
Often it is as much about the means of transport as the destination so I my mind wandered off to consider people like Robert Louis Stevenson and his brilliant Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes, Amelia Earhart’s early flights, and the Montgolfier Brothers’ psychedelic ballooning. The fantastical nature of some of these brought me out onto a slightly (completely) fictional tangent as I was reminded of the Fellowship of the Ring, Baron Munchausen, and Star Trek, but that is what this board was all about. It brings together all the different noodles that make up the delicious bowl of steaming ramen that is my image of travel now, and then. If that image happens to now include the friendliest Balrog you’ll ever see, then so be it!
Creating my board was fascinating for several reasons, one of which was that I often had little idea of what these ‘icons’ actually looked like! Such a powerful visual tool quickly allowed me to see holes in my own ways of thinking. Women, for example, were a clear exception from the board and I quickly worked to make it a bit more representative. Obviously this board is overwhelmingly white, male, and gloriously bearded, but where possible I tried to include properly momentous journeys like those of the Ming Voyages – something that has pretty much fallen out of the Western consciousness all together. If it ever entered it…
It’s a joy to fiddle around with a tool like this because you find yourself visually brainstorming. You actively go out looking for things to pin to your new board but at the same time whenever you stumble across something interesting you have somewhere to store it. A web browser bookmark just doesn’t cut it any more.
So there you have it. I wandered around the world in my mind. I gobbled up the experiences of other people and lived vicariously, and in the process I learned a lot as well. Not just about how I originally had my eyes and mind opened but also how bloody astonishing many of the great feats of navigation and trekking have been. I can only hope to one day come close to some of these legends by replicating a few of the things they did. I simply don’t have the balls or inclination to go out conquering/slaughtering indigenous tribes but I can try and do smaller and more peaceful things. Like walking from London to Scotland? Or traveling by train from Estonia to Hong Kong? Whatever, the world is open and up for it, I just have to decide what I want to try next.