In 1957 the FT sent a correspondent to the Soviet Union to file a dispatch for its new Travel and Tourism section. The writer went into painstaking detail about the ruble-sterling exchange rate, the width of roads and the composition of cement. Jack Kerouac was not.
Almost 70 years later, however, and this magazine has built a reputation for beautiful travel writing, eye-catching photography – and outright adventure.
With airports in chaos this summer and holidays an increasingly painful prospect, the FT Edit has teamed up with the FT’s travel editors to bring you some of the best travel bits from recent years. A reminder that there’s a wide world out there waiting to be explored – once your luggage arrives.
Journey to paradise
Without a 3.30am start and a clearly defined objective, is it even a party? Mike Carter’s expedition to the Indonesian archipelago with a world-renowned evolutionary biologist on the hunt for a bird of paradise takes you on a journey with vivid descriptions of the extreme heat, the humidity, the sheer wildness of it all.
A man at the head of the line hacked his way through the rainforest with a machete. Large flying beetles aimed at my head radius and hit me in the face. The same beam found giant spider webs and, among them, giant spiders. It was 30 degrees, with 95 percent humidity, and I was as wet as if I had taken a bath fully clothed.
The word came on the line to be quiet. No one had given the forest the memo. It sounded like an old dial-up modem, the cicadas pulsing like static; unseen, in the darkness, a horn flew past, its broad wings humming, humming, like the giant’s heartbeat.
It felt like a commando attack, but it was nothing of the sort. We were here in Misool Island, eastern Indonesia, to see a bird. Not just any bird, but a bird of paradise and its dawn courtship rituals.
Extract from An Indonesian adventure in the wake of Alfred Russel WallaceJanuary 15, 2019
Mountains of hidden history
In December 2019, Tajikistan was on the verge of opening up to the world. Sophy Roberts found a place with a deep history, dramatic scenery, warm people – and grand ambitions to become a tourist destination. The pandemic put these in the long grass, of course, and Tajikistan is still waiting to be discovered.
That night, I stayed with Furkat Kasimov, a soft-spoken father of five, in his apartment on the outskirts of Bokhtar. I was his first foreign guest in a country where the hotel infrastructure is negligible. Along with his family, I ate a hearty shurbo broth at a low table laden with dried mulberries, Russian fudge, and tiny Chinese clementines. The room was adorned with felt-embossed wallpaper and a flat-screen TV playing Tajik classical music, including an uninhibited lute-like rubab. Our host placed a pomegranate in his palm and with his other hand, used a sharp kitchen knife to draw a line around the crown of the fruit.
Furkat softened the scalp and core, then made eight vertical cuts, from the head of the pomegranate to its base, until the pieces split open. Without spilling a single drop of juice on the knife, the pomegranate spilled its ruby seeds. When I admired their taste, Furkat put his right hand on his heart. As I watched his pride swell—he had grown this fruit in his garden outside—the unraveling of the pomegranate began to feel like an allegory for Tajikistan: something precious hidden inside a rough, bruised skin.
Extract from I wish I was there: off the beaten track in TajikistanAugust 7, 2020
An island like no other
Janice Booth first heard about Socotra, a magical and troubled island sunk on the edge of the Arabian Sea, when she was a child reading Rudyard Kipling’s book. How did the rhinoceros get its skin?. Decades later, at age 81, she has the chance to see it for herself. White sandy beaches, paradisiacal landscapes, a proud past and an uncertain future make for an otherworldly journey.
Nothing about Socotra is predictable and I love the constant surprises. The famous dragon’s blood trees silhouetted on the hillsides look like old-fashioned giant mushrooms; Serious thick bottle trees in impossibly human shapes are tactfully called “desert roses”; and ever-hungry Egyptian vultures with punk hairdos descend to act as scavengers.
Around the coast, freshwater springs flow between giant sand dunes. A natural pool with 180-degree views rises on a cliff top, a gray lump on a tree trunk turns out to be a mass of a thousand snails, bold pink land crabs come out to explore our toes as we cool our feet in a wadi stream .
And in every direction and at any time of day, the island is stunning, unbelievably beautiful; its shapes, colors, sounds and sudden sense of space blend into something I want to revisit, even in my mind.
Extract from I wish I was there: the treasures of SocotraNovember 19, 2020
Razzle-dazzle on wheels
It’s a rare joy when an experience lives up to its allure. A trip on the Orient Express from Paris to Venice is everything Maria Shollenbarger hoped for: rich and gilded (literally, in parts) with a healthy dose of razzmatazz thrown in for good measure.
Competition, the staff’s and yours, is part of the deal. They: royal-blue paint trimmed with gold braid, leather-brimmed hats, white gloves, welcoming smiles. You: step your party dress up game up a few notches (even if your game is already pretty A), because this is short. Or at least the conductor is (“You may never dress up on board the Venice-Simplon Orient Express,” offers the booking confirmation’s paragraph on dress codes).
Black tie is not expressly required at dinner, you understand; but it’s definitely more fun. Perhaps most importantly, it honors the spirit of enterprise. The train and staff bring great surroundings, history, good food and rivers of really good drinks. But for that old razzle-dazzle to come through convincingly, everyone needs, as the song says, to give it a little.
Extract from The Roaring Twenties were recaptured on the Orient ExpressSeptember 6, 2021
A journey with history
A cryptic letter with Scandinavian runes tucked under a windshield wiper is the starting point for Lorien Kite’s family trip to Iceland. Their tour, inspired by Jules Verne’s classic Journey to the Center of the Earthtakes them to 8,000-year-old lava tubes, iceberg lagoons and volcanic craters – with only a few more amenities than Verne gave his protagonists.
The packages keep coming, all containing riddles or messages that whet the appetite for tomorrow’s activities and support the story of a mysterious uncle with the initials “GH” who has discovered a path to the center of the Earth and is now on the run. ; it’s a treasure hunt of sorts, borrowing from the 1959 and 2008 films as well as the book.
Before long, my wife and I were concerned that our children, ages 12 and 9, might find the activities too young. After a year and a half in which they’ve often been left to their own devices—specifically, a tablet, a smartphone, and a Nintendo Switch—the appeal feels as symbolic as anything, with each artfully aged scroll and runic puzzle in a way other. saying that this time, it really is all about them.
Extract from A journey into the center of a classic by Jules Verne, August 25, 2021
Photos: Indonesia: AFP/Getty Images/ Dreamstime; Tajikistan: Michael Turek for FT; Socotra: Dreamstime; Orient Express: Belmond/Mattia Aquila; Iceland: Sebastian Wasek/Alamy; Dreamtime; Kite Lorien