This is a post I thought I’d missed the boat on, but I’m happy to be wrong, and even happier to offer my tuppence worth (when aren’t I?). This is a related post to one I wrote several years ago relating to IST travel to the last Jamboree. That post was one of our “big hits” back in the day, so I feel it’s definately one worth repeating for this event. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a bit of time to look at the travel options and the various bolt ons, add ons and my thoughts on it all.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, I’m not on any sort of commission (sadly!) and these thoughts are my own, not representative of any of the individuals, organisations or corporate entities mentioned. The usual disclaimer here, it’s all my own thoughts – there will be those who disagree with what I say, and I will almost certainly disagree with what others have said – it’s already happened!
In the interests of transparency and integrity (because some of us still care about those…), Lyndsey and I will be Independent Travelling (Option 4 below) because this is doubling as a honeymoon for us, spending a bit of time before and after the Moot travelling, seeing some friends and seeing a bit more of Ireland. I’m hoping I give an honest and balanced view of the travel options, based on my experiences, but I may present an unconscious bias towards my preference – so by declaring that up front I remove that bias? Maybe? I can’t remember how that’s supposed to work…
I have done both Contingent travel and Independent travel in the 15 years I’ve been doing this. As I’ve recently commented elsewhere, both Contingent and Individual travel have their own advantages and disadvantages, some of which I’ll explore here.
As with everything you read on the internet, take all of this with a pinch of salt, and do your own research before coming to a conclusion. There’s still about 6(ish) weeks before you need to make your decision and log it. That’s plenty of time to spend an evening or two digging through a guidebook or the internet. We’re all adults and capable of making informed choices based on our individual needs and experiences. If you’re going to blindly follow what I say on here, I’m going into politics…
So, what are the travel options?
There have been some updated slides released about the various travel packages and options. And some information about Independent Travel, in case you haven’t seen these, the link is here. If you haven’t seen these, stop reading this post and go look a the primary source before you read much further!
The options available depend on whether you are a Participant or IST, as we have to be at the Moot site on different days and leave on different days. Broadly speaking, and for the sake of brevity (first and last time I’ll ever say that…), there are, for Participants, four options.
- Contingent Travel with Contingent pre/post-event
- Own Travel with Contingent pre/post-event
- Contingent Travel with no pre/post-event
- Own Travel with no/own pre/post-event
And for IST, two options:
- Contingent Travel
- Own Travel
Although we’re travelling on different days, I’m going to lump IST options 1 & 2 with Participant Options 3 & 4. From the information presented, it looks like Options 1 & 2 are taking a “party” coach/ferry/coach/coach, whilst those on Options 3 & 4 (and IST) will be flying from a series of undisclosed regional airports to Dublin.
So, how to choose between these options?
Effectively the choice faced by everyone is Contingent Travel or Own Travel, then for the participants pre/post event or no pre/post event or one or the other. I’ll consider the actual travel portion first, then give some thoughts on the whole pre-/post-event thing.
On the face of it, this is a relatively simple question. Do you want someone else (who does this sort of thing for a living) to book your travel and make sure everything goes to plan? Or do you want to book your own travel?
For a first time traveller, whether this is your fist Moot or first event as an Adult, I would recommend travelling with the contingent. It is a fantastic experience and it means your Moot starts with your fellow Contingent Members from the moment you start travelling to your departure location. You have people to be excited with, to remind you to make sure your knives are in your hold luggage etc. Travelling as a large group, in uniform, attracts attention and lets you Shout about Scouting to the general public.
I’ll likely give an anecdote about it later, but for Sweden, which was my first event as an Adult, I chose the continent travel option and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For the Participants (on the pre-/post-event), the plan is to meet a bus at a regional hub and drive to Liverpool where you’ll meet the Ferry for an 8 hour crossing to Dublin before heading up to Belfast for the pre-event – unless your Scottish, in which case it’s a casual jaunt up the M77/A77 through the rolling countryside of Ayrshire to Cairnryan and 2 hours on the ferry to Belfast. And the North West Englandshire folk are just meeting in Liverpool. The return leg appears to be Dublin-Holyhead then disperse.
For the IST, then a couple of days later for the participants not taking the pre-/post-event travel, the plan appears to be to fly from regional airports direct to Dublin, with the same in reverse. I may have missed something, but there wasn’t the same level of detail for “regional airports” as there was for the busses. For the last Moot, the flights went from Glasgow, Birmingham and one of the London Airports, so I’d sort of assume something similar when making your choices.
So, there’s the plan, what do I think? Well, generally, travel is a personal choice based on your personal circumstances. I’ve listed some Pros and Cons below to sort of explain my thought process.
- Someone else has to stress about booking your flights
- Someone will be on hand to assist you at the airport(s), to show you where to go etc.
- Travelling as a group
- Opportunities to start your Moot and make friends waiting on the bus.
- ATOL/ABTA protection etc.
- Insurance outwith the core event is covered
- Often there’s someone from the travel agency in or around the departure location to help with lost people/bags etc. and generally smooth the way ahead. (Ground agents)
- Most “sustainable” travel option ( flights are apparently being carbon offset by planting trees).
- Potentially a long bus journey, some busses are leaving late the night before, others at some god awful time in the morning.
- You can book cheaper travel individually or as small groups – I’ve found it’s roughly 30-50% more expensive than sorting it out for yourself based off previous events.
- The departure is from a “central” location within a region, you may be doubling back on yourself, or be quite a distance from your central hub adding to the cost of travel.
- Travelling as a group
- Dates are inflexible – whilst there is currently a “one way ticket” option being discussed, it still ties you down at one end.
- Limits your pre-and post-event opportunities.
- You can’t hang out in the inevitable Wetherspoons before your flight! (Remember your Green card!)
- Potentially a long journey (longest looked like 14.5+ hours)
It’s also worth noting, that the contingent will be unable to cater to individual “wants” – they have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to cater for “needs” under the terms of the Equality Act (2015), but there is a marked difference between “wants” and “needs”. For example, a family member is scared of boats, if they were going to the Moot, the contingent wouldn’t be obliged to find them a flight, so they’d either have to face their fear or do independent travel. They’re also not a massive fan of flying and get freaked out by tunnels, so it would be an “interesting” journey…
I’ve listed “travelling as a group” as both a pro and a con. It can depend on your individual experience. I have memories of travelling to Denmark on a bus to Bla Sommer 2009. It was a reasonable experience, I didn’t get much sleep on the bus, but we were travelling through the day and I had a really good book to read. We were on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam (or Anywhere, Liverpool or Rome?) and had cabins booked. Almost like someone planned it, the Scouts got cabins below the waterline whilst the adults were up a few decks. I got to have a relatively decent sleep on the ferry – except my shift wandering the decks to make sure the Scouts weren’t disturbing the passengers.
Conversely, and perhaps more relevantly, the Scottish region organised a bus down to Walesby for the briefing weekend ahead of Iceland. I made the decision to drive down myself, partly because I forgot about the bus until it was too late and the seats were filled. As a result, I booked the Friday off work, stayed in Glasgow with some friends and set off early in the morning and ended up visiting the National Railway Museum at York because I was making such good time. The event didn’t officially start till the Saturday, so I got a leisurely evening to set up the tents, relax, catch up with friends and make some new ones along the way.
Some of my friends travelled down on the Party Bus – including the two whose wedding I was best man at last year. I’d an inkling of what the bus was going to be like. Some of the key “characters” had done the same for Japan Walesby weekend. I had, to my credit, warned these friends, but they’d chosen to travel on the bus, thinking it would be quiet experience where they could get some sleep after a long slog at work. It meant they didn’t have to take holiday to travel and recover from the weekend as well. You may be able to tell from my description of “the Party Bus”, it was not a quiet experience and neither of them slept particularly well.
I hate to say “I told you so…” but they did tell me through bleary eyes and the steam of their 12th coffee I “may have had a point.”
Back in 2014 got the overnight bus to Brussels from Victoria Bus Station in London ahead of my Explorer Belt back in 2014. It was the cheapest method of getting there, but was frankly a nightmare. I couldn’t get comfortable and whether through the excitement/apprehension of setting off on the adventure or the fact it was a Megabus, I didn’t fall asleep until well into France, with Belgium not particularly distant.
Most of that first day, which was supposed to be an exploration of the Belgian capital (and a quick jaunt on the bus for me to the battlefield of Waterloo) was spent sleeping on park benches to try and catch back the sleep before we had to get up and walk the next day. Conversely, our bus home from Paris, I slept fantastically, and arrived back in London very refreshed and ready to head to the Beautiful Days Festival!
Most recently, after the Jamboree in the USA, we were bussed from West Virginia to Washington DC. For those who weren’t there, it was five and a half hours, with a half hour at a truck stop to get some lunch and use the *ahem* facilities. If we ignore the issues with the busses actually turning up, and the issues with the drivers sat navs, the issues with the onboard facilities (or lack therein of) and the issues with blown tyres on the Interstate system – it can’t just be me that noticed that seemed to happen with an alarming frequency? – that journey was absolutely fine. Again, I fell asleep pretty early on, woke up at the truck stop (instead of St. Peters, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah), then fell asleep until we were entering DC.
The purpose of these paragraphs isn’t to scare you off the bus – if this wasn’t my honeymoon, and if I was still a participant, I think the idea of the party bus followed by the ferry sounds amazing. I am almost jealous in fact. But thinking of how you, and others will travel on a bus is something you need to do. I’ve given four examples from my own experience, two good, two not so much just to try and provoke the internal discussion with yourself relating to whether the bus journey is something you want to do.
I know when Ireland was first announced as the host nation, I had a discussion with some friends about travel. “I’d stick on busses, and run them through regional stops on the way to Holyhead for the ferry over then descend on Dublin for a pre-event” said I.
“I get travel sick on busses” said one friend, who later agreed to be my wife (for reasons that still ellude me)
“Can we drink?” said another
“I can’t sleep on things that move, so it’s a hard no from me” said a final one.
This exchange shows that I’m almost precognisant of how the travel to the event was going to run, and also that folk have different considerations. There is no right and wrong answer, it is down to you as an individual to weigh up the options and decide what’s best for you.
If you’re IST and have holidays to burn, and don’t fancy taking those nasty, dirty flying things, nothing is stopping you solo travelling, or indeed travelling with friends via ferry. We were shown some slides on bus’n’sail or rail’n’sail options though both Holyhead and Cairnryan. When I went to Dublin back in 2007 with my Jamboree Unit, we rail’n’sailed from Preston via Holyhead – whilst the exactities of that journey are being saved for another post – I really enjoyed the ability to get the train and sit and watch the world rolling by as I relaxed and failed to pronounce station names as we travelled through North Wales.
I’ll touch more on the pre-/post-events in a moment or several, but if you are IST and looking to do some exploring or cultural type stuff whilst you’re over in Ireland, it’s worth noting that we don’t have any option to do this with the contingent.
Whilst we’re camped reasonably close to a DART station with a 10-20 minute service interval, and if I’ve navigated the IrishRail.ie website correctly a €3.30 return for a 20 minute jaunt into Dublin, we can’t take it for granted that we’ll be based at the main site over one of the trails and/or if you’ll have sufficient free time to jump on the DART to go and do what you want. I think it’s likely that the IST will have “days off”, but the participant programme is bound to be jam packed – there may be an opportunity to go into Dublin, but nothing is currently set in stone. So I’d advise, if there is something you specifically want to do, make the time to do it, before or after the event and incorporate it into your travel plans.
I’ve noted the costs are cheaper doing it yourself. This is apparently a contentious topic, so I’m going to explain this a bit. The UK Contingent contracts a third party organisation, Travel Places, to undertake work (at a flat fee per person). Any time we contract a third party, part of that sum will go to covering overheads – paying wages, keeping the lights on etc. and some will be a profit margin – because that’s how businesses operate.
I have been involved in technical bid preparation and I know how my last company bid for these things and the typical margins we incorporated to the bid, but I don’t know the pricing model Travel Places use, so can’t speculate on the exact amounts. I do think the tender process the Scout Association, and by default the UKC, use is excellent – far better than some of the current government ones – and we’ll be getting good value for money, but this doesn’t negate the fact, we’re paying a premium on something you can do yourself, if you wanted to.
Travel Places have been the third party partner to the UK Contingent for at least the last two Jamborees and two Moots – they might have done Sweden or events before, but I genuinely can’t remember. I’ve found that they’re a wee bit like marmite – folk seem to either love or hate them, with not many opinions somewhere in the middle. A lot of the criticism levelled at them at previous events isn’t completely justified and it’s worth bearing in mind, when you’re moving the numbers of people you do at these events, or dealing with subcontractors who don’t necessarily speak the same language as you, sometimes things don’t go 100% to plan.
Lyndsey’s used them for travel and tours to Japan, Iceland and America and has had no issues. I’ve not used them directly – I did the pre-/post-events in Japan and America, but never travelled or done a post event tour with them. I have found their staff absolutely lovey over the years, even to me as an independent traveller, willing to help out or offer advice etc. and I would have no issues approaching them for taking my Group away, as part of a competitive tender process.
The difference in price comes down to quite a few factors, it’s not as simple as some people seem to think I think it is – you get some additional benefits from the Contingent travel options over own travel, as I’ve put in the pros, above, things like insurance cover, ATOL/ABTA protection etc. Ground agents or even staff travelling with us and smoothing the way if things don’t quite go to plan.
It’s also worth noting when travel agents make a block booking, especially for flights, they tend to pay what’s known as a “last seat on the plane” price. It’s pretty much as it sounds – airlines have price bands for seats, with the initial seats being cheaper than the last ones to be filled – it’s hardly ideal, but is a reflection on how the world works. It’s an unavoidable barrier for any travel agent but does add to the costs.
The last time I wrote this post, I was picked up for not talking about Travel Insurance. The Contingent Travel fee covers you from the moment you step onto the bus at your departure hub right the way through the Moot until you get home. If you’re independent travelling, it’s for the duration of the Moot only. At past events, we independent travellers have been contacted and Unity (our Insurance Provider) has offered bolt on packages at, frankly, brilliant prices. The current thinking is that this will not happen for this Moot.
Which is particularly frustrating because I’ve found not many insurance brokers like to insure you for a few hours/days at either end of another insurance package, so you’re going to have to take a policy for the whole time your away, effectively making you doubly covered (and having paid twice). You also need to read the small print (when it’s available) about pre-existing health conditions. I’ve found Unity to be a bit funny, sometimes my Diabetes is covered, sometimes it isn’t and I need to organise my own cover (whilst also paying for the Unity cover?) Things have been better since the Equality Act, 2015, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. If this is something you are worried about, from memory, the standard small print and such is on the Unity Website, alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org, I will be 🙂
Since “Brexit”, it’s incredibly important that you have insurance because there is no obligation for somewhere to treat you as if you were an EU citizen (no shit?). The old E111 cards don’t work anymore, so please make sure you consider insurance. I did a quick compare the Meerkat search the other day and it came in at £30ish for me for three weeks, and I have a pre-existing medical condition. I know some folk who have annual travel insurance they pay or get through credit cards or bank accounts, so you probably don’t have to worry.
Off the top of my head, the contingent travel to Japan was supposed to be £1200(ish). I booked my flights separately, my Shinkasen from Shin-Yamaguchi back to Tokyo and my airport transfers etc. for less than £800. hence the hand wavy 50% more end of the bracket. For Iceland contingent travel was £240, I paid around £160ish which again, if you round a bit and wave your hands in a vaguely magical sort of way comes in at paying roughly 30% more for the contingent travel over what I paid.
I save everything and create spreadsheets to manage my life, so if anyone wants to question these sums, I’m happy to go digging. I suspect Ireland will be at the lower end of that bracket, but as I say, it’s worth bearing in mind.
Part of the difference in cost is that Travel Places don’t use budget airlines – which is fair enough, I try and avoid them as much as possible when someone else is paying. But they are useful and serve a purpose, sometimes incredibly cheap flights to destinations other carriers may not serve. The difference in costs between Ryan Air and Aer Lingus isn’t huge – as you’ll see from the slide pack – but it’s still £30-40 saving, and potentially more if you’re flexible with your dates/times and/or find sales, vouchers etc.
I’ve alluded to it above somewhere, but you also need to think about getting to your regional hub. I suspect we’ll be allowed to chose our hub, so if you live midway between two hubs you can select from the dropdown. But I know some folk will need to travel the day before, and find accommodation and such before their bus. This has its own pros and cons, and we’ll talk about the Three Hour Rule sometime next year.
I’ve offered, for example, to have my Scout Hall open up to take anyone needing a location in Glasgow to stay before heading for the airport or bus. I appreciate not everywhere will have a suitable city-centre location with excellent travel connections like the Hotel First Glasgow, but it’s a way of keeping the costs down, and meeting the folk you’ll be travelling with.
That said, if you live somewhere near a regional airport/port etc. and it’s easier and cheaper to just travel to Ireland rather than travel to a Hub to travel with the contingent – that’s something you need to consider. If, for example, you live near Holyhead, it might just be easier to nip across and meet the Contingent in Belfast. You would miss out on the party boats, but you’ve got to ask yourself is it worth the time and money to get to it?
One final note before I hit the next section, I was looking at taking my Scouts to JamboRI a few years back. This is Scouting Ireland’s national Jamboree and unless I am very much mistaken, it was also held at Malahide Castle. I wanted to use the cheapest and vaguely most sustainable method of getting to the event – I have nightmares about taking Scouts – and truthfully, some Scout Leaders – through airport security, so avoid it as much as possible.
Whilst I was working up costs and prep for that, we found that travel on the Island of Ireland, and between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is significantly cheaper than travelling within the rest of the UK. It was substantially cheaper for us (travelling from the centre of Glasgow) to cross at Cairnryan and get the train down to Dublin from Belfast than it was to travel to Liverpool or Holyhead and get the direct Dublin ferries.
My magic spreadsheet for that event tells me it was (in 2018) €12 to get between Dublin and Belfast (Adult Single). This is obviously a few years ago, pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit etc. so there may be some inflation – but given a search of an Adult single to Liverpool from Glasgow is £63.40 and to Holyhead £115.80 – €12 isn’t a huge sum of money.
I’ll share some more general thoughts and experiences in my “summary” section at the end and I’ll explain why I do independent travel now – but I think it’s worth spending a little bit of time on the pre/post event options for Participants then sort of bringing it all together at the end.
The Pre and Post events are only open to the participants. The pre-event appears to be a Belfast experience, and the post event one in Dublin.
I appreciate that there is cost involved, and it will mean taking more leave from work etc. to attend these, but if you possibly can, I would suggest that you take these options. I’ll list some pros and cons again below:
- Spend more time with the friends in the UK Contingent you’ve made
- More time on event
- You get to see Belfast and/or Dublin as part of the experience
- Take part in potentially totally unique experience
- Big party at the end of the event.
- Extra days in country (i.e. more leave)
- Extra cost so if you’re hoping to do the Moot on a budget, this might stretch it.
- You’ll be knackered after the Moot and still have to run about Dublin before you get to go home
As I’ve mentioned above, I got the opportunity to do Pre and/or Post events before Canada, Japan and America. In all these cases it was a means of exploring the country we were in, and bonding with the contingent.
My pre-event in Canada was a two days, a trip to the National Cultural Museum (which was interesting) and a visit to a First Nations “theme park” on the first day morning of geochaching round Ottawa (which turned into a Tim Hortons crawl) and then an afternoon cycle tour of Ottawa and the area around it, all finished off by a whole contingent meal during the evening of the second day. By contrast, Lyndsey got to go white water rafting on the river Ottawa. There are people who were on those experiences who I met for the first time, (including one member of our CMT who still owes me a woggle…) and others who I got to strengthen my bond with for the time ahead.
There was no official post event for anyone in Canada – rather tours laid on by a third party. I didn’t take one because I couldn’t afford it being a poor student with limited impulse control. But because I’d mucked up my dates and times, I had an extra 26 hours in Ottawa and got to visit the Canadian War Museum seek out a series of statues relating to the War of 1812 that I’d been interested in, and spend a night in a solitary confinement cell, next to Death Row at the Ottawa Jail Hostel before flying home (which was certainly an experience!)
Similarly our ISTokyo adventure in Japan, of the dozen or so folk I went round the Fire Station/Earthquake simulator, the Tokyo Tower and Sumo meal with, I only knew two, and got an opportunity to meet more folk, and just explore the city. I’d been in Tokyo for three or four days ahead of the contingent arriving and had done a lot of the stuff I’d wanted to do myself, but seeing what other folk wanted to see and sharing those experiences as a contingent was brilliant.
There is a whole debate over pre- or post-events. Do you want to bracket your experience, prelude it or epilogue it. My preference is to bracket, to have some sort of prelude where we can meet folk and share the excitement, and also wind down period so the event doesn’t just end. If I had to choose one over the other, I’d likely say pre-events because I love the whole ice-breaking and meeting up with folk I’ve not seen for years, or new folk entirely. For others, they prefer to hit the event with no warm up, but have their cool down at the end. As with much of this post, you can’t please everyone all the time.
I have to say, reflecting on the previous adventures and how the experience was bolstered by the pre/post event(s), I am quite disappointed that there isn’t really anything for the IST. I appreciate the restrictions – the CMT are working on making the whole event take less than 2 weeks annual leave (which I’m sure my boss is happier about than I am), and the Irish Organisers want the IST “on site” much longer than the last Moot which restricts the options.
One of the (many) complaints about Iceland was that the IST were treated as the poor relations. We didn’t have a formal pre-event or post-event. The participants had a contingent led pre-event before the Moot, and they got a massive party at the Harpa in Reykjavik after the departure from site and before the flights home/tours started. The IST got nothing.
I suspect many of the IST won’t particularly care. We signed up knowing that we’re going across to work. I’m sure the Moot Organisers will have something in store for us, whether it will be a party, a collapsible orange lunchbox or wooden pencil pot with the event logo engraved on it. But it would have been nice to have been given the option of something, either pre or post Moot uniquely for the IST – a reward as such for volunteering to do the jobs we’re going to do.
Those of you in the IST Facebook Group may have seen that I’ve proposed our own IST Pre-Event in Dublin, run by the IST for the IST. This won’t be for any sort of profit, and is vaguely planned to be modular to allow folk to do it on whatever budget they have, or to take on board whatever interests they have with a mix of “organised fun” and free-time. I’ve copied the proposal into another blog post so the world can see it.
I appreciate it’s not for everyone, but I’m going to run it for as many folk who want to be there, whether it’s just Lyndsey and I, or any number of other folk who want to join us.
Summary (of sorts…)
I suppose it’s time to start wrapping this up into some sort of summary and personal reflection. I’m going to lead you through my decision making process with regards to travel. This is what’s right for me, not necessarily for you for reasons we’ve discussed and more besides.
So, why do I chose to do Independent Travel now? I’ve recommended the contingent pre- and post-events, I’ve listed a whole host of benefits for using Travel Places to get you there and back. I’m advising folk if they’re new to all this or not confident travelers to travel with the contingent. But why aren’t I?
Well, it’s my honeymoon and if we wanted to do the things we’re sort of vaguely planning, we couldn’t if we took a contingent travel package. But if we ignore that for a moment, and pretend that I’m not getting married in three months, what’s my logic?
There are primarily three reasons I made my choice:
For me the cost is a big one, but it’s linked to the fact that I am a confident traveler. I’m confident enough to travel by myself and because of this, I’m able to take advantage of the lower prices to either do it cheaply, or do more of it.
I’ve been all round the world with work and Scouts. I can pretty much book flights and navigate my way through Glasgow Airport in my sleep – I’m pretty sure I have once or twice…. I like the research side of things. I want to get from A to B at this time on this date, how do I do it? I like pouring over the maps (or Google) looking at routes and working up prices – so why pay someone for something I enjoy doing?
I do understand not everyone is in this boat. If you haven’t ever been in a job where you fly 12 times in 5 days, I can understand airports and the prospect of travel being overwhelming. Even meeting a bus, it not appearing at the time it’s supposed to and having the mental gymnastics of making sure you got the right time and place whilst imagining the coach driving off without you. I’ve been there and it’s not much fun, so I really can empathise, but for me, I’ve (mostly) overcome this (despite a few notable near misses) and it’s just one of those things. Again, I appreciate not everyone can say the same.
Talking about cost rather than confidence, when I look at the price differential, even when it’s at the low end of the range, that’s money better off in my pocket. For Japan, booking flights and organising everything else myself left me an extra £400 that I’d budgeted against the contingent fees to book accommodation and have a bit of a holiday before/after the Jamboree in Japan. Being an independent traveller also meant I could make the decision to do that, to take extra leave (admittedly unpaid) and fly out early. I could do it on my schedule rather than anyone elses.
In Tokyo, during my solo-travel days, I explored the city and I got to go to the Japanese National War Museum – it was somewhere I really wanted to go, I have an interest in the Second World War, but I knew I didn’t actually know a lot about the Pacific Theatre. I can give an almost minute by minute account of D-Day, and I’ve actually given a talk on Arnhem, but know next to nothing about the war in the East. Plus, that museum is written from the Japanese perspective – it gives justifications for a lot of what they did, and the general feeling in Japan that led to their involvement in the war. For me that was fascinating and it was something I couldn’t fly out there and not see.
If I’d solely been travelling with the contingent, there wouldn’t have been the opportunity to visit this museum – there was some free time in Tokyo, but not enough for me to spend time going round that museum, reading and digesting everything on show. Part of our pre-event ISTokyo, was a visit to Hiroshima. I felt this was the end of the story rather than the beginning – and wanted to see more.
Back in 2011 (here it is, the anecdote I promised ages ago!) I travelled with the Contingent to Sweden. I made the decision to fly with the contingent because it was quicker and easier than having to worry about it myself (and my parents were paying). I’ve got some fantastic memories of that trip, getting to experience things with the others on the plane/bus, including forming a impromptu guard of honour to the plane steps for Graham Haddock who’d just been confirmed as Chief Commissioner for Scotland whilst at the event.
However, I didn’t get to see the country. I flew into Copenhagen Airport, drove to the site, spent two weeks in a bubble, drove to Copenhagen Airport and flew home. I never got to go into a Swedish town or see their museums, eat their street food etc. and for me that’s a major regret. Whilst I did do some independent site seeing, and the pre-event was excellent, I regret not spending more time in Canada and exploring Toronto, or Vancouver as part of my trip out there.
I’ve said elsewhere, once you’re on a Moot or a Jamboree site, the country that’s hosting it doesn’t hugely matter. You enter this bubble, a microcosm of an almost perfect society where no-one wants for any basic need. When attending a Jamboree or a Moot it can be in Ireland, Iceland, America, Japan or, frankly, on the moon. It might be slightly different with this setup – with the trails, but that’s been my experience to date.
I don’t really do holidays that aren’t in some way tied to Scout events. So when I travel around the world, I want to experience the place I’m going, to see the culture, to explore the towns and the cities around me. The pre-/post-events (as we will shortly discuss) are kinda sorta a means of doing this, but they’re on someone else’s terms.
I spent a month in the USA in 2019. 28 days to experience a country 40 times larger than the UK. I flew into New York and explored that city. I got caught up in the Great Manhatten Blackout of 2019 and now get to sing with sincerity along with Billy Joel when I hear “I saw the lights go out on Broadway!”. I flew down to Charlotte, NC, and went on a roadtrip into the Boone Mountains, got to visit a Nascar race facility. After the Jamboree I took the train down to New Orleans, LA, then explored that city and met some very interesting people.
Whilst the Contingent had some travel options and post-event tours (for example Lyndsey went to Cancun in Mexico), they didn’t fit with what I wanted to do. The main reason I went to New Orleans was that’s where the National WW2 Museum of the USA is (you may be seeing a repeating pattern…). One of the Post-event tours went to New Orleans, but there wasn’t space in the schedule for me to spend 8 hours trawling through that museum. And yes, I spent 8 hours going through that museum, reading everything, taking photographs, asking questions. I also spent an hour in the gift shop and came home with a special edition of Band of Brothers (the book which inspired the miniseries).
And that’s where the comment about freedom comes in. I dislike being shepherded around places by a guide. Back in 2015 when we visited the museum at Hiroshima, there was nearly 650 of us going through, like a conveyer belt. I didn’t have the time to process what I was seeing and reading about. It was only afterwards, sitting on the bus to the site, playing songs on my mandolin to various folks pleasure/enjoyment/annoyance that some of it hit – and by then it was too late to go back and re-read, or watch or whatever.
I like to do my own thing on my own time. My interests are eclectic and my own – I don’t expect the Contingent to cater for them – I’m not sure how many others would want to spend 8 hours going through a WW2 museum trip advisor recommends half a day for, so I organise for myself. It gives me the freedom to change plans – to go to bed early, or lay in rather than participate in the scheduled activities.
Whilst in New Orleans, I did an open topped bus tour. Twice. The guide was excellent and I wanted to hear everything he had to say (even the corny jokes about the driver). I’d missed some of what he had to say because the mic cut out halfway round my first tour, so I did it a second time – that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t on my own schedule. I rode the street cars end to end, to see the city and to have that experience. I walked the length of Bourbon street, then went looking for the real bars, the ones the locals, rather than the tourists go to to hear the live music.
This is fast approaching the longest post I’ve ever written, and also, the word count of my MSci (Hons) Dissertation, so I’ll bring it to a close here.
There is lots to think about with Travel. It’s a personal choice, based on personal experience and personal needs. Only you can work out what you want to do and how you want to do it. I’m going to steal a Venn Diagram from Marcus (cheers mate!) for a Blether we’re planning with the Scottish Region. It basically shows what I’ve been talking about.
Everyone has their own diagram, there may be more circles, there may be less. There may be broader overlaps, there may not. Somewhere in there, there is a sweet spot where all the circles converge that’s what you feel is right for you.
You may get it wrong. But that’s all part of the adventure. The Moot experience is a journey in itself, and sometimes, you make a wrong turn. C’est la vie as they say in France.
I’ve been careful what anecdotes I’ve picked here. Most, if not all, of my experiences in Scouting, and International Scouting in particular have been very, very positive. And even some of the less-than positive experiences I wouldn’t change. In part because it gives me ammunition for this, and in part because they’re experiences. I’m a firm believer that we’re shaped by our environment and our experiences, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences, thoughts, positives and regrets.
So that’s my 7000(ish) words on the travel options. If you’ve stuck with me this long, well done. If you were coming here looking for definitive answers, well, sorry? I do hope my rambling and a trip inside my thought processes helps you make your decision – it’s not one I can make for you, but if folk are struggling to weigh up the pros and cons, or even to make sense of all the options, I’m sure I can give more thoughts.
Currently I have no idea what I’m going to write about next week – I’m sure I’ll think of something, even if it is more thoughts on travel and/or anecdotes of things that have gone right, or more importantly, wrong whilst I’ve been travelling all round the World with my Scout Shirt on.