The Best Decade for Travel: the glorious seventies

Published in Wanderlust, September 2007

Of course the 1970s were the glory years! Or they were for me, anyway. I travelled – with spells of working – almost non-stop from 1972 to 1979. While most travellers headed for Asia, with its cheap dope and hippy tolerance, George and I headed south from our home in the USA to Latin America, then to Africa. We were true backpackers in the American sense, dependent on the contents of our rucksacks while we hiked for a week at a time in the mountains without seeing a shop or a vehicle.

That was the decade of light-weight equipment: tents with a built-in groundsheet, and decent backpacks with an aluminium frame and padded hip-belt. With the weight taken off our shoulders we could carry 40lb with relative ease. It was the era of Knorr dried soups which, with noodles, could provide a hot meal every night, cooked on our handy little Camping Gaz stove.

It was the era of easy hitchhiking. In New England we were given the car keys and told to “bring the car back when you’ve seen the island”; in Nova Scotia we were invited back to “my bachelor pad” by a Catholic priest, and we showed a disgruntled pair of newly-weds how to enjoy The Great Outdoors (by buying and cooking lobsters al fresco).

It was the era of dubious morality. American youth was rebellious, property was theft, and it was OK to drive our hired car in reverse to keep the mileage low.

It was the decade of short sharp explosions of civil unrest. Chile shook off socialism with the help of Pinochet. Our airmailed Guardian newspaper gave us one point of view but the celebrating crowds in the streets of Santiago another. Africa was still the Dark Continent: we were arrested three times in our 11-month journey from Cape Town to Cairo for minor infringements of the law such as taking photos without a permit in Tanzania and discussing capitalism in communist Ethiopia. And, alarmingly, by Idi Amin’s soldiers during the Entebbe raid. Rhodesia was in the throes of becoming Zimbabwe; our white hosts were fearful of the future; the black drivers euphoric with hope. And there were places to be discovered: we travelled for a month in Madagascar without seeing another tourist.

This was also the decade when anyone could write a guidebook and start a publishing company.

© Hilary Bradt

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