On 5 March 1496 King Henry VII of England gave the explorer John Cabot letters patent with the following charge:
…free authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians
Henry VII might have got John Cabot started but when it comes to my own foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary. Let me explain:
When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales. I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford. To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and wondered if they were telling the whole truth! As for going further than Europe I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!
Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me. He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography. The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me. Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.
As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel. Really travel. Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.
Bill Bryson is my favourite author (not counting people like William Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places. His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.
And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that. It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.
In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if using the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels. And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons. Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable – arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents.
That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up? The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. Low cost air travel! That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all. I like the 1p flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.