Living for Travel – Interview with Ben Box

Ben: 20 years ago most people I met traveling were backpackers. Nowadays it’s much more flexible: People might spend most of their trip backpacking, but then they do an expensive trip to an island like Galapagos, or they have pre-booked a custom-tailored jungle trek. People got fed up with the „Gringo Trail,“ the standard tour through South America. Now they go for niches like bird-watching or fishing. Fishing travel is a huge business in South America. And eco-tourism has seen a great increase since the early 90′s. Footprint was one of the earliest publishers to reflect this development with a section on responsible travel.

Sebastian: Do you ever keep secrets from your readers? Are there places that you don’t want to be discovered by travelers?

Ben: I have never done that personally. It happened to me only once that the owner of a restaurant in Brazil said to me: „Please don’t put me in the guide book. If you put me in, I couldn’t cope with the business.“ It was a tiny restaurant in the middle of a roundabout, and it was full all the time.

Sebastian: So being listed in a guide book can actually harm you.

Ben: Yes, it can happen that places become too popular and too crowded. This easily happens to tour guides: If they are good and they get listed, they can’t cope with the demand anymore and employ other people, and then the quality drops.

Sebastian: How has the internet changed your work?

Ben: When I started writing the only way to get information from South America was with a letter. Many places didn’t even have phones. Now you find so much information online. But as a writer, you have to be careful when evaluating online content.

Sebastian: Do you see the internet as competition for guide books?

Ben: It is a certain type of competition and in some ways it’s healthy. It keeps the book modern, up to date, you can’t rest on your laurels. But I think the physical book can’t be beaten as a tool on the road. It’s more user friendly than other things, its batteries can’t run out. Of course mobile applications that immediately show you the closest restaurant are very powerful. But from that you still don’t get insider knowledge that a book can give.

Sebastian: What were your most memorable experiences in South America?

Ben: There were millions of great moments. Rounding up sheep with a Range Rover on the Falkland Islands was a lot of fun. One of my greatest experiences was being on the Southern Altiplano in Bolivia, south of the salt lakes. Or sailing around Cape Horn. Or watching birds in Peru that were thought to be extinct, or the river dolphins in the Amazon. I know I’m very privileged and lucky to have seen all these things, and we have to make every effort to preserve them.

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1 comment on this post.
  1. Ron MaderNo Gravatar:

    Beautiful interview! I’m a big fan of Ben Box and have admired his work for years. I just wish Ben would get a blog or twitter account.

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