A travel writing competition

British Airways Writing Comp - 21 November 2007

This is my entry into the first British Airways travel writing competition. The winner will be commissioned to go on an expenses-paid travel assignment for their 'High Life' magazine, and the resulting 1800-word feature will be published next year.

Write a 500-word feature covering any element of travel.

"Travel – travel in the narrowest sense of the word, as I know it – is a world apart from holidaying. Travel is a challenge that first spits you out into an alien civilisation, then tries to drown you in the perhaps murky waters of other cultures, and finally, when you resurface, gasping for breath, it gives you only foreign air to survive. It is the cultural equivalent of the bends, but from the departure lounge, to the check-in desk, from the goodbye drinks, to the foreign greetings, the challenge offers an incomparable lust for adventure.

The most gratifying element of travel is, for me, the interaction with other travellers. Last year I met some American backpackers at a hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland. One day, we visited a the small town of Lauterbrunnen, in the Alps, and that day I recognised that despite being complete strangers, we all shared something in common – an invisible string which bound us together, and to every other traveller in the world. I came to realise that those seeking to escape a community, those who travel, create a community of their own in doing so; a thread connecting people striving to do things differently, one which makes tracks over any national and cultural boundaries, and embraces the most relentless passion for discovery, not just of other places, but of other people. Without intending to write a utopian hymn, the experience of interaction between travellers is one that changes your perception of humanity for life, where the artificial walls of nationality crumble in one benevolent, inclusive, global society.

The community is one which embodies three different traits – one based on empathy; the passion and enthusiasm to acknowledge a patchwork of different peoples, and in doing so, adding width your own global consciousness, another despising those who spend lots of money on package holidaying, only to check into somewhere with all the comforts of home – with the designer suitcases, the sunscreen and the ignorance to boot.

Interaction between travellers is riddled with cooperation and respect of all kinds, which can take the form of exchanging maps, recommending places to visit, communal cooking, and talking over bunk beds until the sun rises. An interesting aspect of the interaction is the lack of permanence – the checking in and checking out, the coming and going – which is where it stops short of friendship, as because the inclination of travelling is simply not to stop, it is silently accepted.

The third common trait is the belief that no matter how much time spent submerged in the swamp of alien cultures, you always feel cleaner when you come out on the other side again."

In no more than 100 words, review somewhere you have stayed.

"Budapest is a tale of two cities. The two boroughs and the bridge which connects them, are the visualisation of a post-Communism timeline in a history lesson – the developed, and the developing. In Buda, vast office buildings create a modern, business-littered skyline, where western-minded men scuttle around carrying briefcases and sipping lattes. On the other side of the river, in Pest, the homeless lay, begging and broken on the curb outside MacDonalds and chain fashion shops – which comprise the first floor of the grey, Stalinist buildings. It is a city of extraordinary contrast."