Confessions of a status junkie

No trip is too outlandish, writes James Schloeffel, if it delivers an unbeatable anecdote.

I'd always wondered, as I'm sure others have, what it would be like to travel to a country that starts with eight straight consonants and has a Scrabble value of 30. It wasn't my only reason for travelling to Kyrgyzstan but it was as good as any. I knew little else about the place, except that no one I knew had been there. Or heard of it.

As it turned out, Kyrgyzstan was a fascinating country - full of soaring snow-capped mountains, amazingly friendly people and salted horse meat. I had a ball. But, if I'm totally honest, foremost in my mind was how worldly and sophisticated I would sound at the pub when I casually dropped in with a sentence such as: ''That reminds me of the time when I was in Kyrgyzstan …''

I am, sadly, caught up in the growing phenomenon of ''status travel'', a peculiar and rather pathetic form of tourism where a good anecdote afterwards is more important than the actual trip itself. Where getting lost, mugged or caught up in a riot is not an inconvenience, it is practically the object. Where travel is not a leisure pursuit, it's a competitive sport.

It's not that I don't do ordinary travel - I'll happily eat croissants under the Eiffel Tower and haggle for fake CDs on Khao San Road. But give me a politically unstable former Soviet state or an obscure and unpronounceable backwater and my heart starts to race.

I blame my parents. They backpacked along the ''hippie trail'' in the '70s and haven't stopped banging on about it since. The sweaty, cramped bus rides in Pakistan, the dysentery in Afghanistan - it all sounded alluring. And so, at the age of 22, I set off around the world in search of equally impressive adventures with stories to match. I rode down the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia (I remember only the bruised hands and sore bum) and I drank hallucinogenic ''jungle juice'' in the Amazon (truly awful). In northern Brazil I was mugged. Only minutes later I was forming the retelling of the story in my head.

Nevertheless, in the world of status travellers, I was still a lightweight. On that same trip I met a Swedish backpacker who had just visited Iraq during that brief window of opportunity: after 9/11 but before the US invasion. The trip sounded fairly dull - he was chaperoned by government representatives to sanctioned sites and wasn't allowed to ask questions or take photos. But in travel-status terms he had hit the jackpot. A few months later the war started, the borders closed and, watching it unfold on television, he would no doubt have made some offhand comment to his mates, such as: ''Pity that restaurant was bombed; they used to do a gorgeous mint tea.'' I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jealous.

Since then the arrival of social networking sites and the general pursuit of self-promotion has upped the status-travel stakes enormously. Applications such as ''where have you been?'' actively encourage competitive tourism and the ''status update'' was surely invented with this type of travel in mind. ''Just finished the ironing'' doesn't really cut it next to ''currently kidnapped in Colombia''.

And so, in the pursuit of ever more impressive stories to tell, travel is becoming more extreme and more absurd. A mate of mine suggested recently a trip to Chernobyl. Chernobyl! Apparently you get kitted up in full-bodysuits and carry a Geiger counter to keep track of radiation levels while you tour the sites of this nuclear disaster zone. How utterly ridiculous. Had it not been for the fact that I was a bit short on cash due to a planned trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina I'd have been a starter.

I realised just how far people have taken the concept of status travel when a colleague made an alcohol-induced confession recently that the only reason he was spending two weeks of his hard-earned annual leave thrashing his way through Addis Ababa and Nairobi was so he could talk about it afterwards. But if that seems a little mad, look at it this way: Captain Cook might have never set off for Australia and Neil Armstrong may have never signed up for that trip to the moon if there hadn't been the solid promise of a bit of a boast afterwards.

My next trip? I'm off to Rome soon but I won't dwell on that. A bit middle-brow. But I will tell you about my plans for Syria: an ancient country full of history, bustling souks and - since George Bush named it as an ''axis of evil'' - a lot of credibility. Check for my status update.

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