With a career in journalism spanning two decades, Mark Hodson – co-founder and editor of 101 Holidays – has amassed a fair amount of travel experience. We quizzed Mark about travelling with children and his packing essentials.
Mark Hodson in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
You’ve visited over 70 countries to date: what sparked your love of travel?
I’m not sure, to be honest. I think it’s mainly down to curiosity about how people live. I’m fascinated by all the big and small social and cultural differences you experience as you go around the world – language, food, dress, religion, and so on. When I started travelling I think I was partly motivated by the thought that Britain was pretty dull and monochrome, while large parts of the world appeared to be colourful and full of excitement. My view of Britain has mellowed, but I still get a rush when I go somewhere totally alien.
Tell us about your experience reporting in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami.
I went out to the Maldives a couple of weeks after the tsunami, then shortly afterwards to Thailand and Sri Lanka, to write a series of pieces for The Sunday Times. The most surprising thing I found in the Maldives was that there was very little actual damage to the tourist islands, but because the tourist industry had collapsed overnight, many local people saw their livelihoods disappear overnight. It was a little more complex in the worst affected areas of Thailand and Sri Lanka, where the picture was very grim, but again it was clear that things wouldn’t improve until tourists returned and that positive messages in the media would help that happen sooner rather than later.
Is there anything you really dislike about travelling?
I’m not crazy about the whole airport experience. I also experience a heavy heart when I fly halfway round the world only to find the same parade of shops that I left behind at Heathrow Airport.
What is your favourite travel story you’ve written about?
There have been a lot, but some of the most memorable – and the most fun to write – have been homestays. I did one in Sri Lanka recently, and had a wonderful experience in St Lucia. They’re a surefire way to get to know the destination, and a great source of material if you’re a writer.
Has there been any city or country that has changed you in any way?
India did that. I defy anyone to spend time in India and not be changed. It’s such an intense – and often invasive experience – that the only real way to cope is to become more tolerant and accepting of events and people. Being surrounded by so many exuberant and creative people – many of whom seem to be surviving on a shoestring – makes you consider what you’re doing with your own life.
Is there a place that has seriously disappointed you?
Disappointment tends to come from within. If you’re feeling jaded or weary, anywhere can be a disappointment. The weather can also play a big part. I wouldn’t want to lay the blame with any particular part of the world.
Have you ever been genuinely scared while on the road?
Generally, I find that travel emboldens me, so I am less inclined to experience fear, but there have been moments. I was caught in an earthquake in North Luzon in the Philippines and had a very bad night’s sleep fearing the next strike. It was the obvious terror displayed by local people that made me fearful too.
How has having children changed your experience of travelling?
Children place obvious barriers to what you can and can’t do when travelling, but fortunately they tend to arrive at a point in your life when you might already be questioning whether your idea of having fun is – for example – getting blind drunk on moonshine and floating down a river in Laos on a giant tyre. I’ve found it enjoyable and instructive watching the world from a child’s point of view. I think the key is to try to introduce children at an earliest possible age to “grown up” destinations. I’m convinced that school-age kids can have as much fun in Paris as in Disneyland Paris, for example.
What are your top three things to bring on every trip?
Earplugs, eyeshade and cash.
Which destination do you most want to visit next?
I’ll keep an open mind on that one.