Kate Humble: My Nineties adventures show what social media took away from travel

·4-min read
What was travel like in the nineties, holidays in the nineties, travel, 1990s travel, the greatest decade for travel
What was travel like in the nineties, holidays in the nineties, travel, 1990s travel, the greatest decade for travel

The 1990s was my first decade of independence.

I started a career in television, got married and had my first article published. But underpinning everything was travel.
In 1990 I had just turned 21. I had recently returned from a year on the African continent, a trip inspired by teenage rebellion and books: the writings of Wilfred Thesiger, Mary Kingsley and Doris Lessing. I had travelled alone, with a battered rucksack and £800 that had taken me a year to save. Far from getting travel “out of my system”, it had opened my eyes to what it could offer beyond the cosy, domestic holidays of my childhood.

I had loved our summer jaunts to the Isle of Wight, Sussex and Sark, but hankered after the wider world. I wanted to go further, to experience the countries I had read about, which were so unpredictable and full of wonder. And having returned unscathed from an itinerant year, every part of it dictated by chance and whim, I now had incurable wanderlust.

It was a golden era of independent travel. A time when countries that had previously been too difficult or too dangerous or too expensive to visit became accessible – so long as you didn’t mind a bit of discomfort or uncertainty. Tourists didn’t go to these places, or if they did, they went as part of an organised tour, everything booked in advance. But if you were a “traveller” – and that was absolutely what I considered myself to be – you set off clutching a Rough Guide or a Lonely Planet with little, if any, idea of what would happen when you got there. Because travel, in my mind, was supposed to be an adventure. And in the 1990s, before the internet and social media, it still could be.

Our honeymoon would probably horrify the newlyweds of today. We booked the cheapest flights we could find to Mexico and left the rest of the three weeks we were away to chance. And it was all the more memorable and special for it. Two years later, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa and the pull to visit the region, to feel part of this new, astonishing era, was too much. Friends rented our house to pay the mortgage and I abandoned my fledgling freelance career, little knowing what an impact this decision would make. We lived for a few months in a Cape Town suburb, embracing the crackling, nervous energy of the country’s new-found liberation. Then we took to the road, living out of the back of a Ford Cortina pick-up, travelling almost 20,000 miles through Namibia, Zimbabwe and war-torn Mozambique.

Madagascar travel, travel in the Nineties - Getty
Madagascar travel, travel in the Nineties - Getty

Then, inspired once again by books, this time those of Dervla Murphy and Hilary Bradt, we sold the pick-up and used the money to spend two months on the strange and wonderful island of Madagascar, where tourism barely existed. That journey got me my first writing commission. The article I wrote was published by this newspaper in 1996 and in turn helped me secure a job as a researcher on BBC Holiday, where, on my second day, I was asked to do a screen test.

In the last year of the 1990s, I risked my career again, turning down an offer to present a big series for BBC2 in favour of attempting a journey I had obsessed about for years. If I had waited, as I was urged by many to do, I would never have been able to do that journey. The events of 9/11 in the early part of the new millennium had a fundamental and lasting impact on the world and travel. Crossing the Sahara with the brave and magnificent salt traders of Mali became impossible. And it still is.

But instead, I ended my decade of independent travel with the hardest, most rewarding and unforgettable journey of my life.

Read recollections of travel during the Sixties, the Seventies and the Eighties.

Did you travel in the Nineties? Please share your memories in the comments section below

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