Baghdad next year, darling?

Observations on holiday trends

Some people who travel go away for a "home-plus" experience. They want everything they can get at home - fish and chips, pints of beer, tabloid papers - plus beaches, fine weather and beautiful scenery. For others, travel is an adventure, a trip into the unknown.

It is this latter group of travellers who will soon be heading to Basra, Tikrit and Kirkuk. Recent war zones are highly attractive to adventurous tourists - and smart entrepreneurs are capitalising on this latest travel trend.

Ruth Giles, 24, who backpacked around the former Yugoslavia last year, recalls: "Everything was covered with bullet holes; there were UN vehicles everywhere. You couldn't go out of the towns at all because of all the landmines. You could buy all sorts of tourist souvenirs such as pens made out of bullet casings. You could also buy old guns and axes, which apparently had been used during the war."

Peaceful liberations are less marketable. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 actually reduced the number of tourists to Germany because, according to Britta Grigull of Berlin Tourismus Marketing, "a magnet for visitors, the wall, suddenly was lacking". Even now, one in three visitors to Berlin buys a souvenir of the wall. And throughout the former eastern bloc, tourists are offered souvenirs such as Russian dolls of Stalin and Lenin.

War is a selling point in Vietnam, too. Elizabeth Gold, 24, visited the Mekong Delta, the Cu Chi tunnels, Dien Bien Phu and the demilitarised zone. She found exhibitions showing the effects of Agent Orange, and Zippo lighters on sale that had apparently belonged to US soldiers.

Lonely Planet, which publishes guidebooks for the younger traveller, considered putting out a book on Afghanistan last year. Robert Reid, its publishing manager, says the company put the plans on hold because "we felt it was important to let the country recover". But Lonely Planet is sending an author there this summer, not only to update its guide to eastern Asia, but also to determine whether the war-scarred country deserves a separate guide all of its own. In the meantime, the number of tourists to Afghanistan is rising - most of them, according to Reid, hitching rides with relief workers.

On Lonely Planet's website message board, travellers are already exchanging stories and tips on travelling to Iraq.

"Let's go!" says one. "No point in waiting when history is being made as we speak." Other countries being discussed on the message board include Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there is much talk of Rwanda, a country that became popular with travellers after the 1994 genocide.

If you think all this suggests a gratuitous and somewhat ghoulish fascination for danger and death, Michael Money, principal lecturer in psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, assures us that it's all perfectly natural. "The bodies we that have now evolved about half a million years ago. We have biological systems that made us be on the move all of the time. It's only in the past 50 or 60 years that we have had a sedentary lifestyle. So it's not surprising that people feel a conflict between the body evolution has given us and the life we lead."

Indeed. And anyway, who wants to be accused of being sedentary? So see you in Kabul. Or Baghdad. Or Mogadishu.

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