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*Pic: Charlie in Tromso ...

Some people just can’t wait to retire so they can go travelling. Perversely I plan never to retire so that I never have to travel, at least not under my own steam! Why pay for it? For me travel is travail. It’s hard work, often lonely, always grueling and frustrating, sometimes dangerous and in other time zones cruelly disorienting.

I am well enough paid to do it and I am not really complaining. I even admit to having great fun at least ten percent of the time, so don’t hate me any more than you already do as I write this piece from the bar of a waterfront hotel in beautiful snowbound Tromso in northern Norway.

I can understand the passion that drives those friends, who have lived, responsible, sensible, sedentary lives, to slip on their vagabond shoes and head to an airport for sunny or snowy anywhere.

Tourism is in our blood. It was certainly in mine from an early age. Precociously perhaps, by age 12 my favourite books were among the first stories ever recorded and they were about travel.

The works of Homer fascinated me. [No that’s not Simpson I’m talking about kiddies. I mean the other Homer, the ancient Greek poet who told the first great yarns of Western culture, ‘The Iliad and The Odyssey’. Maybe I was a bit of a nerd, but remember in my defence, we didn’t have iPods back then.]

Anyway the story is a two-parter about a bloke called Odysseus who rules a small rocky island called Ithaca and who reluctantly goes off to a foreign war and gets hopelessly lost on the way back home.

It might happen to anyone who dares to travel. There are monsters, sexual shenanigans and a bit of drinking along the way.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but Odysseus eventually makes it home to his long-suffering wife, Penelope. What we don’t know is whether he settled into a contented retirement on rocky Ithaca or was he soon bored stiff and longing for more travel?

The Ancient Greeks and after them the Romans are the first we should blame for our modern addiction to travel. By the late seventeen hundreds the English had acquired it with a passion. Educated young men just out of Oxford and Cambridge had to do the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe in which they would revisit the same history they had studied in the Classics. It was an earlier, upmarket and better-informed version of our own Contiki Tours. But without the Fosters and the chundering.

Reading this newspaper (Mercury) online from Norway, I perceive much agonizing about the cause of the traffic jams back home in the capital of my own rocky little island.
As a traveller, let me simply say “Hobart, welcome to the world of tourism.”

Surely there is no town planning mystery here? Our island was built to comfortably accommodate about half a million people and a few hundred thousand visitors. Now the tourism figures show that the visitors outnumber the locals. If, say 1.2 million folk are coming to our small island, that means in the high season the population probably more than doubles. And we are wondering why we are stuck in a traffic jam?

Tromso, where I am now, has seventy thousand people and is a frozen mini-version of Hobart. The mountain is closer and the bridge is shorter but
otherwise it’s a snowbound dead ringer.

Our hotel manager told my film crew that there was nowhere to park our camera van. “We can’t cope with the parking. There must be a hundred thousand tourists here. It is only a small town. It is better that you walk.” Good advice for balmy Hobart. I’m not so sure about here in northern Denmark where it’s five degrees below.

Back to the Ionian Sea, northeast of the Greek mainland where old Odysseus’s rocky island of Ithaca is a mere 118 square kilometers. Room enough, you might think, for a population only a shade over 3000. But in spite of the bad headlines and not counting refugees, 25 million tourists visited Greece last summer.

Tens of thousands of them have read their Homer and where do you think they went? A ‘Homerphile’ [my word, don’t look it up] told me you can’t move in Ithaca’s lovely capital of Vathy and that the rest of the island is also crawling with people. But given the grievous state of the Greek economy, I hear the only folk complaining are other tourists.

This column is, as you know, mere opinion with the odd fact spread like fertilizer where it might do some good. Here’s one. Tourism is rapidly becoming one of the biggest industries in the world. Last year it was worth nearly 8 trillion US dollars.

Worldwide more than a billion tourists are on the move. They have money and they are bored and they are coming to a place near you. Be nice to them and remember that it’s money for traffic jams.

If you don’t like it, the good news is that next year they will probably go somewhere else.