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My family’s crazy Gap Year – Channel 4

I watch many television programmes these days with a strong element of scepticism; travel and nature programmes are often the worst offenders of exaggeration.

The emphasis of these programmes always seems to be about a ‘boast’, with the presenters (or increasingly the camera crews and support teams) becoming the focus; they talk again and again about how ‘they are the first’, ‘how dangerous’, ‘how difficult’, ‘how extreme’, ‘how remote’ and any number of other ‘I am cool and brave’ references. I sometimes wonder why the production companies bother sending teams out for the first few weeks to film nature programmes; after all don’t they always find the species they are looking for on the very last day / hour before they leave…

My point is that so many of these programmes are too stage managed; they are unrealistic and what is really going on behind the scenes (support teams etc.) would negate the emphasis of the programme in an age where sensationalism has dampened imagination and wonder.

I have to say I didn’t really expect Channel 4’s ‘My family’s crazy Gap Year’ to be much different, what concerned me was that many of these programmes send out very poor messages about travel safety and responsible travel. They portray a sense of invincibility and promote the impression that you must always go a step further, beyond what is sensible, to gain bragging rights.

For me travelling in order to gain ‘bragging rights’ is travelling for the wrong reason. If you can travel to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Dive on the Barrier Reef, climb the Atlas or Rocky mountains, meet the people of the Pacific, see one of Africa’s ‘big five’ or any of another million incredible experiences which are out there and not be blown away, maybe that type of travel is not for you.

Why would anyone need to exaggerate further the experience or the privilege of a trip down the Amazon with tales of dangerous tribes and the impression that at any second a jaguar could jump out and attack them?

Is the fact that you are on the Amazon river, in the world’s greatest rainforest not amazing enough without having to lie / exaggerate?

…and it is an exaggeration; how many eminent scientists have spent months and years looking for jaguars in the Amazon, never to have actually seen one?

My point is that the Channel 4 show actually turned out to be more restrained than most of this genre. I was expecting to be writing about all the bad advice the show inadvertently given. At the start of the programme, when the family involved decided to take homeopathic remedies rather than pharmaceutical ones to ward off tropical disease, I thought my worst fears were going to be realised.

It might well have been a good idea for the programme to emphasise the other options available at this point and the risks involved with type of choice; rather than to ignore what is a vital part of the planning process.

However by the end of the show I was pleasantly surprised that there were only two points I wanted to bring up in relation to travel safety; with homeopathic remedies being one (and a very unwise choice). Later in the show, comments from the family (when they were in Papua) mentioned that they were worried about their choice in this respect and ‘they hoped that the homeopathic remedies would protect them’. Don’t rely on ‘hope’ when it comes to your health; get the best prophylactic drugs and vaccinations on the market.

The other big incident in the programme was the car accident in northern India and how lucky the family was that no one was more seriously injured.

Travel by car, bus and road traffic generally, remains one of the biggest risks during travel. Travellers have to be confident enough to say something when they feel uncomfortable.

Travelling at any speed on the type of dirt / gravel road they were on at the time of the accident, especially when there is a large drop on one side, is not a place to cross your fingers and hope for the best; you must stand up and be heard. It is your money which is funding the travel, the driver will follow your instructions if you tell him with enough confidence. Often local drivers drive faster than they might normally, because they assume western tourists are always in a hurry and want to arrive as quickly as possible.

If you are not confident enough to tell the driver directly, then make an excuse; tell the driver to slow down so you can enjoy the view, because you are feeling sick or tell him he’ll get a tip if he slows down.

However I can’t write about this programme without sharing my fondness for episode one. Some of this is because two of the highlighted parts of their trip (Mongolia and Papua) are very familiar to me and similar to experiences I have enjoyed myself in those parts of the world; they brought back great memories.

However the great success of this programme was down to the family who were the subject of episode one. I thought they were charming, very British (in all the right ways), with a fantastic balance of humour and a sense of adventure; maybe qualities the experience brought out in them. What they seem to have gained from their travels above all, is a better understanding of the world around them, an appreciation of the magnificence the world offers and memories that even the youngest child will remember for a lifetime; no need to ‘brag’ when you have gained all of that.

It also just goes to prove that Gap Years are no longer the preserve of school and university leavers, but open to all.

At Safe Gap Year our Independent Travel Safety and Cultural Awareness Workshop considers issues of Travel Safety, alongside sessions on Cultural Awareness, Travel Health, Ethical and Responsible Travel, Travel Equipment, Destination Advice, Transport Options, Documentation, Travel Money and Insurance and more.

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Source – Channel 4

Date – 6th September 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew