Simon Calder
Interview Words : Lara Brunt | 03 April

Simon Calder on the strange questions people ask

Everyone's favourite travel guru talks to Wanderlust about his Sunday evening radio show on LBC - and the weird and wonderful questions that crop up

How long have you been doing the radio show on LBC?

Since Easter 2008; when the programme began, no-one knew whether a Sunday travel phone-in would work. Three years on, there is no sign of the appetite for travel advice (or one-upmanship from other listeners) diminishing.

Why do you think it's so popular?

Gosh, it’s not really for me to say. But what I strive for is to try to inform, empower and inspire listeners. They may or may not also be entertained. And I hope they will be enlightened by the “travel aristocracy” who contribute to the programme, from Stelios and Sir Richard Branson to Wanderlust editor-in-chief, Lyn Hughes.

What is the most common query you get from callers?

1. I’m going to Egypt/Turkey/Thailand. Should I get my travel money here or there? (Answer: there, which applies to every “exotic” currency).

2. I’m going to the euro zone/US. Should I get my travel money here or there? (Answer: here, preferably at one of the “hole in the wall” bureaux de change in central London).

What is the funniest or strangest thing you've ever been asked?

“Where can I go where I won’t meet any Australians?” I’m still mystified why anyone would ask such a question (and am rather horrified by its racist connotations). I can only speculate that the listener had experienced an unfortunate relationship with an Aussie and didn’t want to be reminded about it.

How did you answer that one?

I think I said that I couldn’t imagine why anyone might want to avoid Australians, but if she insisted then Libya would be a possibility; however, since Aussies are such great travellers it could never be guaranteed.

How difficult is it doing the show on your own, rather than with a panel of other experts?

I never feel on my own. Depending on the topic (anything from wildlife to cruising), I am very happy to enlist expert help from time to time. But there is always a panel of other experts, ie the listeners – who will let me know if they disagree with my advice. I have a “heckle of the week” feature to make this easier.

The most challenging programmes are outside broadcasts, of which I’ve done a fair few now – from far north Iceland to an island in the middle of the Nile. The whole show hinges on a single pair of wires, or satellite link, and the excellent LBC production team are thousands of miles away. Fortunately my previous job was as a radio engineer so I have some experience of the technical requirements.

Have you ever been totally stumped by a caller's question?

Yes, quite often. And that’s an important part of the programme. There are plenty of places I haven’t been; I am actively addressing that, by travelling to locations that crop up in questions, such as Nepal and the Cape Verde Islands. But meanwhile, the listeners are never slow to chime in.

Do you ever hear back from callers about how they got on with your advice?

Yes, and happily it’s usually positive. The odds are helped by the fact that the traveller in the second decade of the 21st century is incredibly fortunate. It’s rare that experiences are anything other than excellent. The one thing, though, that can ruin a trip is lousy weather, and so I’m hard-line about telling people not to go to the Upper Nile in July or northern Australia in December. Travel is all about good timing.

Do you follow your own advice when you go on holiday?

I try to, but that isn’t to say I’m actually any good at travelling. Lowlights have included arriving in Oslo with my young family late one night to discover not a single place to stay (we slept on the floor of the airport), and having to be rescued, expensively, by water taxi after a long walk through Liguria that ended up, as night fell, in a ghost village.

The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder has moved to 7pm-9pm on Sunday evenings on LBC 97.3FM. See more details and Simon's online blog here.

Simon is Senior Travel Editor of The Independent.

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