Explorer Travellers and Adventure Tourism

Explorer Travellers and Adventure Tourism

by Jennifer Laing, Warwick Frost


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This book examines the nexus between exploring and tourism and argues that exploration travel – based heavily on explorer narratives and the promises of personal challenges and change – is a major trend in future tourism. In particular, it analyses how romanticised myths of explorers form a foundation for how modern day tourists view travel and themselves. Its scope ranges from the 'Golden Age' of imperial explorers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, through the growth of adventure and extreme tourism, to possible future trends including space travel. The volume should appeal to researchers and students across a variety of disciplines, including tourism studies, sociology, geography and history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845414573
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Series: Tourism and Cultural Change Series , #40
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Laing is a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, Australia. Her research interests include heritage, events, travel narratives and the interaction between media, popular culture and tourism. She also co-edits the Advances in Event Research series (Routledge) with Warwick Frost.

Warwick Frost is an Associate Professor at La Trobe University, Australia. His research interests include natural and cultural heritage and the interplay between tourism and popular culture. His recent publications include Books and Travel (with Jennifer Laing, 2012).

Read an Excerpt

Explorer Travellers and Adventure Tourism

By Jennifer Laing, Warwick Frost

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Laing and Warwick Frost
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84541-460-3


Introducing the Explorer Traveller

Prologue: A Time of Gifts (Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1977)

In 1933, 18-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on a big adventure. He was in London, supposedly studying for exams that would get him into the army officer school at Sandhurst. In reality, he was bored, distracted and dispirited. On an overcast autumn afternoon, an idea suddenly sprang into his head:

Change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp – or, as I characteristically phrased it to myself, like a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight ... I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. (Fermor, 1977: 20)

His plan was to walk to Constantinople in Turkey, a destination inspired by his love of classical literature and which would allow a detour via Greece (Cooper, 2012). The rough route was to follow first the Rhine and then the Danube. His clothes and equipment were cheaply purchased from an army surplus store. His budget was an allowance of one pound per week. The adventure was solo:

I wondered during the first few days whether to enlist a companion; but I knew that the enterprise had to be solitary and the break complete. I wanted to think, write, stay or move on at my own speed and unencumbered, to gaze at things with a changed eye and listen to new tongues that were untainted by a single familiar word. (Fermor, 1977: 21)

After an uneventful start in the Netherlands, Fermor approached the German border with trepidation. Born during WWI, for all of his life Germany had been demonised as the enemy. His first taste was the little town of Goch:

The town was hung with National Socialist flags and a window of an outfitter's shop next door held a display of Party equipment: swastika arm-bands, daggers for the Hitler Youth, blouses for Hitler Maidens and brown shirts for grown-up SA men; swastika buttonholes were arranged in a pattern which read Heil Hitler. (Fermor, 1977: 43)

Despite this, Fermor found he warmed to the Germans. He could speak a bit of their language and worked hard to improve. Many of them were interested in history, music and literature just like him. Most were very welcoming, for 'there is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality' (Fermor, 1977: 50). An innkeeper invited Fermor to share Christmas with him and his family, and in pubs and cafes many welcomed the chance to talk with a stranger.

Fermor grappled with this contradictory juxtaposition of friendly hospitality and the embrace of National Socialism. In a Munich bar, he made friends with some factory workers about his own age. One offered to put him up for the night. Proudly, his new-found friend showed him his house:

The room turned out to be a shrine of Hitlerania. The walls were covered with flags, photographs, posters, slogans and emblems. His S.A. Uniform hung neatly ironed on a hanger. He explained these cult objects with fetishist zest, saving up to last the centrepiece of his collection. It was an automatic pistol, a Luger. (Fermor, 1977: 129–130)

His friend explained that this was all new; he was only a recent convert:

You should have seen it last year! You would have laughed! Then it was all red flags, stars, hammers and sickles, pictures of Lenin and Stalin ... You should have seen me! Street fights! We used to beat the hell out of the Nazis and they beat the hell out of us ... Then suddenly, when Hitler came into power, I understood it was all nonsense and lies. I realized Adolf was the man for me. All of a sudden! ... They changed too! – all those chaps in the bar. Every single one! They're all in the S.A. now. (Fermor, 1977: 130)

Crossing over into Austria, Fermor entered a new realm. This was the wreckage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, broken up after WWI. Here, he found that people were looking backwards rather than to the future. There was an elegiac sadness, a despair at what might be coming. Partly, this was a reaction to the changes in Germany, but there was also a more general rejection of modernity. For example, in an inn by the Danube, he fell into conversation with a man in old-fashioned leather breeches. They talked of Wagner, castles, medieval knights and fishing. However, gradually the man became more and more depressed:

Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power-dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They'll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the East – they would never come back! Never, never, never! (Fermor, 1977: 161–162)

Introducing the Explorer Traveller

Today, we might see Fermor as representative of many young tourists. He is taking a gap year, backpacking across Europe. He is trying to get off the beaten path and meet some locals (though at the same time he's got a list of famous sights to take in). He is on a tight budget, scrounging beds and meals where he can. He chases girls, trying to impress them with his knowledge of modern music. He writes in a journal, although he loses this when he gets drunk at a pub. It seems a familiar story. Except he is not following a familiar path. In 1933, young people did not travel this way. There were no backpackers, no youth-orientated travel agents or tour operators, no destination marketing strategies aimed at him. There were youth hostels; they started in Germany in 1912, but he only went to one and there his backpack was stolen.

Fermor is a pioneer, a path-finder. He is an example of a small group of elite travellers undertaking adventurous travel. They go where no-one has been before, or at least where they imagine no-one has been. Their accounts – whether through books, television or increasingly the internet and other new media – open up new places and experiences, inspiring others to follow. Whether through reading them directly or picking up parts of their stories second hand, others are stimulated to try and have similar travels and adventures and push their own boundaries.

Our aim in this book is to examine this phenomenon of travel based on the desire for adventure and the need to explore. We are particularly interested in these elite travellers who set out to be first and provide the inspiration for later flows of tourists. Some write accounts that have made them widely known around the world, bywords for adventure-filled travel and read by many. In addition to Fermor, examples of these giants of travel literature include Richard Burton, Henry Morton Stanley, Thor Heyerdahl, Tim Severin, Dervla Murphy, Eric Newby, Edith Durham and Isabella Bird. Even today, with so much of the world seemingly explored and well-trodden, there is a constant flow of new explorers. They strive to climb all the highest peaks on the seven continents, recreate the journeys of ancient adventurers, trek in dangerous seasons, skateboard across the Nullarbor, and freefall for extraordinary distances at seemingly impossible speeds. Others immerse themselves in indigenous communities, even marrying into them. The modern media, whether online, print or television, continues to have a strong fascination with unusual, heroic, even reckless travellers.

We call these adventurers explorer travellers. Their identities and exploits are tied in with the myths of the explorer and the discoverer. It is a constructed fantasy that permeates modern tourism. Imagining ourselves to be explorers like them gives purpose and status to our travels. Rather than just being tourists on holiday, we are seeking, searching, discovering. There is a primal urge to keep moving, looking over the next hill for new lands, peoples and adventures. Part of the myth is that we expect the experience will transform us. We will return as a better, wiser, more interesting person. Our travels will be our travails. They will test us and we will see just how far our boundaries extend. Such imaginings push us beyond pleasure-seeking and relaxing holidays. They transport us to a different fantasy world in which we fashion new identities as travellers and explorers emulating real and fictional heroes.

The explorer travellers form an elite which leads the way for the rest of us. Most tourists will not engage in anything like the dangerous activities of this elite, but they are powerfully influenced by their experiences and their mystique. The explorer travellers are the trendsetters, the mavens who shape the fashions of modern travel. Their influence has been powerful since the early 19th century and there is no sign of it diminishing.

In this book, we examine the worlds and influence of explorer travellers through their own first-hand accounts. The need to tell their story to the outside world seems to be one of the defining characteristics of explorer travellers. The bases of this study are their personal stories. Our research draws on two major groups of sources. The first are semi-structured long interviews that we conducted with 39 modern-day explorer travellers from around the globe (these are listed in Part A of our sources). Our second group of sources are published explorer and traveller accounts, mainly factual, but including some fictional novels (see Part B of our sources).

We have chosen the 19th century as the starting point for our analysis. While we recognise that there were influential traveller narratives before then, it is really only in the 19th century that these become a very popular genre, widely read and inspiring others to follow. It is tempting to view the 19th century as a Golden Age of exploration, although this needs qualification. The explorers and travellers from this period were Westerners and their exploits were determined by and an integral part of colonial expansion (Polezzi, 2006). Starting with Napoleon's campaign in Egypt (1798–1801) and Lewis and Clark's transcontinental expedition (1804–1806), the century was characterised by an intensification of exploration. Either officially backed, or sanctioned by quasi-government bodies like the Royal Geographical Society (established in 1830), the goal of these explorers was territory, whether it be in the Americas, Asia, Australia or Africa. In a notable break with the traditions of previous Western discoverers, the shift in emphasis in the 19th century was from sea voyages towards walking across the interiors of these continents.

Matching this change in the form of exploration was a fundamental shift towards the romanticisation of the explorer ideal. In 1867, the African explorer Winwood Reade noted with much satisfaction that, 'when a great traveller enters a London drawing-room there are more rustling of flowers, and whispering behind fans, than welcome the novelist or even the poet' (quoted in Driver, 2001: 90). This popularisation of the heroic explorer was a function of rapid urbanisation in both Europe and the USA. For city dwellers following sedentary lifestyles, there was an unquenchable thirst for the vicarious pleasures of adventure and daring on the far-away frontiers. Ironically, 19th century explorers focused on walking long distances just at the time when most urban people were shifting towards mechanised transportation (Ingold, 2004).

This passionate interest translated into a massive increase in demand for adventure books. These included both the travel narratives of real explorers and a vast library of fictional accounts, ranging from Jules Verne and Henry Rider Haggard to the hack writers of dime novels (Laing & Frost, 2012). Apart from an extensive array of new titles, this was a period when hitherto obscure historical accounts were republished and appreciated. Thus, for example, the writings of Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Muslim traveller through the Mediterranean and Asia, were translated into French in 1853 and then into English in 1929 (Dunn, 1986).

Reading about heroic explorers reaffirmed the values of colonialism and was accordingly encouraged by schools and teachers (Parkes, 2009). As Robinson notes, 'the British Empire provided novelists with new dimensions of fiction ... bringing heroic adventure and exotic cultural encounters back to an increasingly literate Britain' (Robinson, 2002: 60). Many of these writers had been colonial officials (for example, Henry Rider Haggard), soldiers (P.C. Wren) or journalists (Rudyard Kipling). They were conscious of a strong demand for stories of expanding and exploring the empire and that many of their young readers would potentially emulate their literary heroes by journeying to the colonies.

By the 20th century, much of the world seemed explored. The missing blanks in maps of Africa, Asia, South America and Australia had been filled in. The decline of empires reduced opportunities and swept away the culture that had valorised exploration as conquest akin to imperial military victories. In the early 20th century, there was a shift towards explorers filming and photographing their discoveries, particularly traditional societies. This allowed a much more vivid representation of their experiences for consumption by Western audiences (Gordon et al., 2013). Yet, despite these changes, the myth of the explorer has remained, albeit modified. Western prosperity and cheap airfares have opened up much of the world for explorer travellers. Less inclined to be part of official scientific expeditions, many are influenced by the mystique and romance of discovery and adventure. The modern model is now more like a Patrick Leigh Fermor – not literally an explorer – but using travel to seek different experiences and even personal transformation.

The Explorer Traveller Discourse

This work is exploratory, in that there has not previously been any full-scale examination of the explorer traveller. Instead, the tourism literature touches upon it incidentally from time to time, often pointing to it as an area for further research. Rather than any fully developed theoretical framework, the value of this literature is in identifying key themes, issues and questions, providing not so much a roadmap, but rather general directions to guide us.

For us, the starting point is with the work of Erik Cohen (brought together in a 2004 collection of essays). He argued for a particular way of looking at the modern tourist, noting that they are driven to travel because they are:

Interested in things, sights, customs, and cultures different from [their] own, precisely because they are different. Gradually, a new value has evolved [for the tourist]: the appreciation of the experience of strangeness and novelty. (Cohen, 2004: 38)

However, this driving force is often limited:

Many of today's tourists are able to enjoy the experience of change and novelty only from the strong base of familiarity, which enables them to feel secure enough to enjoy the strangeness of what they experience ... Often the modern tourist is not so much abandoning his accustomed environment for a new one as he is being transposed to foreign soil in an 'environmental bubble' of his native culture ... The experience of tourism combines, then, a degree of novelty with a degree of familiarity, the security of old habits with the excitement of change. (Cohen, 2004: 38)

Cohen argued that the tourist experience is comprised of a continuum of combinations of novelty and familiarity and proposed that this can be understood through a typology of four tourist roles. These are: the organised mass tourist, the individual mass tourist, the explorer and the drifter. His explorer:

Tries to get off the beaten track as much as possible, but he nevertheless looks for comfortable accommodations and reliable means of transportation. He tries to associate with the people he visits and to speak their language. The explorer dares to leave his 'environmental bubble' much more than the previous two types, but he is still careful to be able to step back into it when the going becomes too rough. (Cohen, 2004: 39)

At the far end of the continuum, the drifter:

Ventures furthest away from the beaten track ... He shuns any kind of connection with the tourist establishment, and considers the ordinary tourist experience phony ... He tries to live the way the people he visits live, and to share their shelter, foods, and habits, keeping only the most essential of his old customs. (Cohen, 2004: 39)

Originally the drifter was a limited phenomenon. However, in recent decades it has grown significantly as an appealing style of living and travel for Westerners. Best represented as backpackers, Cohen described them as mass drifters and nomads from affluence. He argued that the modern version is 'not really motivated to seek adventure and mix with the people he visits. Rather, he often prefers to be left alone to "do his own thing" or focus his attention on the counter-culture, represented by the other drifters whom he encounters' (Cohen, 2004: 58).

Cohen's arguments are echoed among other researchers trying to explain the movement away from mass tourism. Lewis and Bridger (2000) argued that postmodern consumers are becoming more individualistic and accordingly looking for novel experiences to express and satisfy that tendency. Urry (2002) linked the demand for new and extraordinary experiences to a Western culture which demands gratification of desires, often impatiently. Similarly, Feifer (1985) saw a reaction to the boredom and sameness of mass tourism, resulting in savvy independent travellers wanting to have very different experiences, plus now having the time and resources to achieve this.


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Table of Contents

1 Introducing the Explorer Traveller 1

Prologue: A Time of Gifts (Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1977) 1

Introducing the Explorer Traveller 3

The Explorer Traveller Discourse 6

A Typology of Explorer Traveller 11

Some Themes 15

Scope and Structure of this Book 16

Part 1 The Hero's Journey

2 The Call to Adventure 23

The Serendipitous Call 23

Objects or Talismans 24

Childhood Influences 25

Motivations Behind Exploration 30

The Explorer's Gene 41

3 Preparation and Departure 43

Selecting the Team 44

The Planning Phase: Routes, Logistics and Training 46

Clothing 50

Sponsorship 52

Crossing the Threshold 53

Rituals of Departure 55

Saying Goodbye 57

4 The Journey 59

The Goal or Boon 59

Initiation and the Road of Trails 64

The Apotheosis 76

5 The Return 80

The Long Wait 81

Recrossing the Threshold 83

The Restless Return 86

Transformation 88

Constructing the Narrative 91

The Spoils of Exploration 95

Causes and Charities 96

Failure to Return 98

Part 2 Imagining Explorers

6 Fiction and the Myth of the Explorer 103

Imagining the Explorer 104

The Golden Age of Exploration Fiction 107

Parodying Explorers 113

New Finds 114

The Explorer's Legacy 119

7 Desert Island Castaways 121

Darker Modern Narratives 130

The Lost Explorers 136

8 Re-enactments 138

A Rationale for Dangerous Travel? 139

Solving a Mystery or Conundrum 141

Personal Challenge 146

Resurrect Reputations 147

Furthering Knowledge 148

Authenticity: The Explorer as a Role Model 150

Role Play 152

Revisiting the Past: Scott, Shackleton and Mawson 153

Part 3 Tourists at Play

9 Crossing Borders 165

Getting the Costume Right 168

Dress-Ups for Grown-Ups 169

A New Imperialism? 172

Australia 173

Africa 177

Asia 179

Venturing into Unsettled Territory 181

10 On Safari 183

The Group Tour 186

The Experience Economy 188

Blurred Lines 191

Challenges and Issues 193

Part 4 The Future

11 Destination Mars 205

The Race for Space 206

The New Frontier: Mars 208

Once Upon a Time, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away 211

Space Tourism 217

Exploring Mars: Fiction Versus Reality 222

Why Explore Space? 224

12 The Explorer Traveller: The Myth Continues 225

The Demonstration Effect 227

The Inner Journey 229

Walking the Camino Santiago 230

Food Explorers 236

A Research Agenda for Explorer Travel 238

The Cycle of Myth-Making 241

Sources A Participants Interviewed 242

Sources B Primary References 244

Secondary References 249

Index 260

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