Where the experts holiday: Ben Anderson, author, filmmaker and a winner of the Foreign Press Award

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Acclaimed war journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, Ben Anderson, has travelled to some of the world’s most fearsome hotspots. He shares his travel experiences with CD-Traveller readers

BAFTA Award winning filmmaker, and author of No Worse Enemy, Ben Anderson

What do you like to do on holiday?
The great frustration with filming abroad for a living is that you don’t get time to just wander around and soak up a place- having casual conversations with strangers, getting lost, being surprised and changing plans on a whim. So now, when I do go, I have to have something to do, and learn, to try out a whole new lifestyle and culture. The problem is, when I start enjoying it, I want it to be my life.

Where did you last go?
For work- it was Rio. But I was with the drug gangs, militias and police who run many of the cities favelas. It’s a military occupation by three different groups, so what I saw was the exact opposite of all the images that spring to mind when you think of Rio. It was an eye opener – I used to love that city, until I saw the violence and corruption that exists just a few miles from the famous beaches. The last holiday I had was two years ago. I went to Round Hill in Jamaica and for the first time in my life, I spent five days relaxing in a small villa that had an open-air living room. I haven’t felt so good, or slept so well, anywhere else. I now want to hibernate to a place like that every winter, just to read, write, and recharge.

Do you know where you’re going this year?
Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Colombia, CAR, Bangladesh and hopefully the literature festival in Jaipur and the film festival in Sedona. I’d love to get back to Jamiaca after all that.

Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
It’s a strange thing. I’ve almost died in Afghanistan a number of times, and seen some horrendous things, but I love the place. The people are some of the kindest, most hospitable and humble I’ve ever met, even when they have nothing and are in the middle of a seemingly endless war. Jason Elliot captured it perfectly in his book An Unexpected Light. And there are so many lies being told about what we’ve done there- so that we can leave with our pride intact, that I feel committed to reporting what we’re actually leaving behind there, which is a terrifying future for most Afghans.

Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I had a long lost many years ago, there are just four places left from that original list- Ethiopia, Buenos Aires and Beirut. I would also love to one day visit the safer provinces of Afghanistan- Mazar I Sharif, Bamiyan and Herat. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that I only ever visit, and report on, the worst places.

In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
Daunt bookshop on Marylebone High Street. The Joint in Brixton Village (for the best BBQ wings, ribs and pulled pork buns in the world). York Hall in Bethnal Green for boxing matches. St. Johns Bakery in Bermondsey for the best doughnuts in the world! And I’d love to see Speakers’ Corner become as important as it was many decades ago.

How do you plan your holiday?
I like the Bradt guides, but I mostly try and read really good travel writing. If I do get a few days in a nice hotel, Tablet hotels is always reliable. I’ve never had a bad recommendation from them.

How often do you go away?
At the moment a few times a month. It’s too much. You need a month somewhere, at least, to even begin to understand a place. My job means I often have to leave just as I feel I’m beginning to learn, which is frustrating.

Who do you travel with?
For the time being I’m travelling with two cameramen, because I’m working on a series Vice make for HBO. But I prefer travelling alone. You’re forced out of your comfort zone, living with the people whose stories you’re trying to tell, 24 hours a day. You form bonds and learn things you’d never learn if you were there with a group. You’re also free to follow your curiosity wherever it takes you, which is the greatest freedom to have when travelling.

Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
I’m fairly depressed with tourism in London. There’s a London for tourists that Londoners avoid unless they work there. Like Times Square in New York. The London that tourists see isn’t the same city I live in. And because so many areas are looking for the tourist money, they are all looking and feeling the same. Maybe things like Airbnb will change that. I hope so.


Ben Anderson  has filmed, presented and produced over 40 films, including The Battle for Marjah for HBO Films. His first book, based on 300 hours of footage he shot while embedded in Afghanistan, is NO WORSE ENEMY: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan

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