James Bond shooting the target

On the road with James Bond

How the philosophy of 007 has helped me on my travels

Reading Time: 9 minutes

James Bond in the movie Thunderball was asked by Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters), ‘What exactly do you do?’ Bond, played by Sean Connery, said, ‘Oh I travel, a sort of licensed troubleshooter.’ This sentence, a typical double-entendre by the world’s famous spy, is one of a number of James Bond’s travel philosophies that have accompanied me as I’ve journeyed to some of the movies’ filming locations around the globe. Surprising as it may seem, the world’s most famous spy reveals on his missions a number of philosophical attributes that could help any non-MI6 traveller on the road…

Destination inspiration

Where to travel to? James Bond can help. First and foremost, 007 is a jetsetter, and any destination he visits in a movie automatically rises in cultural prestige in real life. For me, my first James Bond destination-inspiration was the Eiffel Tower as seen in Roger Moore’s A View To A Kill when May Day (Grace Jones) base jumps off it. I wasn’t inspired to do a base jump but I certainly wanted to pay a visit to the tower, and also discover if Parisian taxi drivers really say in English ‘oh my god’ with a French accent when someone steals their car (see clip below)…

A View To A Kill

Focus on the present

Vienna’s Prater is an area of Austria’s capital where the World Exhibition was held in 1873 and is today home to an amusement park which includes a famous Ferris wheel that was built for the fair. Amongst a number of other films (most notable of which was The Third Man) the Ferris wheel also featured in The Living Daylights where James Bond (played by Timothy Dalton) uttered what could pass as Zen philosophy in one of its cabins: ‘Don’t think, just let it happen.’ The ultimate jolt into the present. 

He used the sentence as a means to woo a lady into a kiss (no surprise for Bond) but nonetheless the sentiment holds value. It actually held value for me when I was at the Prater with a couple of friends who, I don’t want to say forced me (but I will) into going on The Pendulum. This is the ride that has pods on opposite ends of a mechanical arm, the movement of which thrusts you into the air at speed, before lunging down again allowing the pod the other end to reach skywards, before repeating the motion, over and over. 

I’m not a fan of heights and this happened to be the tallest ride in the park. Sitting there, strapped in, eyes closed, waiting for it to start, I repeated the mantra, ‘Don’t think, just let it happen, don’t think just let it happen.’ It happened. I survived. Back on the ground, with rumbles emanating from a thoroughly churned stomach, I had to repeat the mantra again. Within seconds my friends were wearing my Wiener Schnitzel lunch. Nonetheless, the message remains; life, and travel, is best lived in the moment. And deal with situations as and when they arise.

And Bond finds himself having to deal with many problems. 

The Living Daylights: ‘Don’t think just let it happen.’

Problem solving

Timothy Dalton also starred in Licence To Kill, where he catches up with drug lord Franz Sanchez on the Mexican island of Isla Mujeres, an island about eight miles off the Yucatán Peninsula in the Caribbean. 

The following conversation takes place between Bond and Sanchez in the film:

Bond: ‘In my business, you prepare for the unexpected.’

Franz Sanchez: ‘And what business is that?’ 

Bond: ‘I help people with problems.’ 

Franz Sanchez: ‘Problem solver.’ 

Bond: ‘More of a problem eliminator.’

It’s this preparing for the unexpected that serves the traveller well, something that I was myself reminded of on Islas Mujeres. With my travelling partner C– I hired a golf buggy, one of the major forms of transport on the island, and we took it in turns to navigate the reasonably safe, flat roads.

‘Do you think it’d be a problem if we went on the dunes?’ C–  asked me as she took the wheel, having spotted a rather gorgeous patch of sand between us and the sea.

‘They didn’t say we couldn’t.’ 

‘So, if we did, it wouldn’t exactly be wrong.’

‘And neither would it be right.’

‘And in the absence of instruction, it’s up to us to decide.’

‘Well, I guess–’ 

She’d already turned off the road. Problem eliminated. It was one of the most adventurous afternoons jumping dunes on a golf cart. At one stage I even pretended to be shooting bad guys as C– launched the buggy into the air off a particularly large ridge. It felt like we were putting one of Q’s inventions through its paces. Bond would’ve been proud. We lost our deposit (sand in the battery) but not our spirit of adventure. Seize the day.

A golf cart in Isla Mujeres with Dom Nemer
Isla Mujeres
Photo: Dom Nemer

Carpe Diem

In Goldeneye when Bond (Pierce Brosnan) beats Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) in a game of Baccarat at the Monte Carlo casino, the sadistic Georgian criminal says to him, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts,’ to which he replies, ‘The very words I live by.’ (See clip here)

This seize the day philosophy is essential to the traveller wanting to make the most out of their destination; generally, as time spent in one place is limited, carpe diem is crucial. In order to prompt us into fully capitalising and appreciating an experience, the question we must ask ourselves is, ‘will we ever be back here?’ The likelihood is probably not.  

In my job however, I’m often returning to the same destinations with different guests. I still nonetheless, live by the carpe diem doctrine. On one such occasion in Monaco, while my guests were taking their chances at roulette, I sat at the bar and treated myself to an extortionately priced glass of champagne. It was then that I was approached by a glamorous looking woman with piercing eyes and well-defined cheeks looking not too dissimilar to Xenia Onatopp herself. Taking a breath in I wondered if she too could be a deadly killer from a post-Soviet state. It turned out that ‘Sarah’ was a bank clerk from Shropshire, on a weekend jolly with her friends. We got chatting about the grandiosity of the place and she wanted a poker partner, a game which I know little about, but, seizing the day, I was happy to give it a go.   

I noticed that she didn’t have a drink in hand. More to the point, she didn’t have an expensive drink in hand. Besides wanting a poker partner was this also an important reason why she was keen to chat with me? I offered to buy her a drink and when it arrived I said, ‘Cheers, enjoy it while it lasts,’ to which she replied, ‘I’m ready for a card game, you only live once.’

Or is that twice?

Appreciate life

In Ian Fleming’s book entitled ‘You Only Live Twice,’ he informs us how this is conceivable, ‘once when you are born and once when you look death in the face.’ In the film of the same name, starring Sean Connery as Bond, the tagline is ‘You only live twice, and twice is the only way to live.’ Fusing the two together we are to assume that life can only be fulfilling if you stare death in the face. A near-death experience certainly can wake us up to the beauty of life and sharpen our appreciation of it.

You Only Live Twice was set mainly in Japan where I can’t say I had a near-death experience, but I certainly felt the fear of death on a dinner date with a girl from Tokyo whom I’d met at the theatre the previous night. As is sensible on a first date, we rendezvoused in a public place, close to the Shibuya crossing – one of the busiest pedestrian intersections in the world. But then in order to get to the restaurant, chosen by her, she took me through a series of badly-lit backstreets and then through a nick-nack shop. As we arrived at the back door of the shop she opened it to reveal a set of darkened train tracks and motioned me forward. Where was she taking me? I was torn between states: would I make a run for it or would I continue along the train tracks with her? By choosing to run it would become apparent to her that I thought that she might be a killer, but if she wasn’t a killer then running away might seem a little odd. At any rate, she seemed rather pleasant, so I stuck by her side. 

After about ten minutes and a couple of near misses with Tokyo’s efficient public transport network, we arrived at what looked like an abandoned warehouse. We entered through a corner door into a partially lit room where there was another door opposite, but half the size of the first one. She asked me to take my shoes off and enter through the door. Despite believing I was about to be massacred in some kind of satanic sacrifice I did as I was told. It was a strange thought process: I believed that I was in immediate danger of being murdered, yet if I didn’t do as I was told I would be murdered for not doing it, so I felt obliged to do what was asked of me, even though the end result (death) would be the same. But I consoled myself that perhaps it would be a less gruesome death if I was cooperative; there was however, no guarantee of this, my knowledge of satanic killing cults is rather thin on the ground. 

I took my shoes off. I entered the door.   

Subtle lighting and background music were the first things I noticed, followed by people calmly walking to and fro from their tables in what turned out to be a secret restaurant. Our table was at the bar where the chef later cooked our fish with a blowtorch. It was one of the best meals I’d ever had, perhaps owing to the fact that I was alive enough to appreciate it. When we finished the meal and started to walk back along the train tracks I said to her, ‘Funny, I thought you were going to kill me’. We both laughed. And she continued laughing a little longer than necessary along the darkened train tracks. 

Bond brushes with death regularly, which often gives rise to humour, a skill which is useful in times of crisis. 

You Only Live Twice: ‘And twice is the only way to live.’

Humour in times of crisis

Back to the casino, this time in Montenegro during Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond in Casino Royale. Evil villain Le Chiffe poisons 007’s drink during a high-stake Texas Hold’em tournament. Realising what’s happened, Bond leaves the table for his Aston Martin outside where he links himself up to a defibrillator and avoids cardiac arrest with the help of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Le Chiffe is clearly surprised when Bond returns to the table. As Bond sits down, he says, ‘I’m sorry, that last hand, nearly killed me.’

Using humour in times of crisis is one of Bond’s fortes, and a well-placed comment can alleviate some of the drama present in a difficult situation. On a coach trip driving the Montenegrin coastal road towards Croatia with my group, we ran into difficulty when we experienced a near-collision. Driving around a curve we were faced by a car coming in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road. My coach driver and fellow Bond aficionado Thierry, had to swerve fiercely to the left to avoid a collision, then skirt the edge of the road avoiding the rocky drop below before getting us back on course. When the screaming (mainly mine) died down he said, ‘Some of these cars really drive me round the bend.’ Then came the cheers, his quick reactions had saved our lives, but his added good humour emphasised his calmness under pressure, making him even more of a hero.    

Casino Royale: ‘That last hand nearly killed me’

Comfortable alone

Despite his humour, sociability and interpersonal skills, James Bond is nevertheless a solitary figure. This was recognised by Bond’s nemesis, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), in Roger Moore’s The Man With The Golden Gun when they met on his private island, set on location at Ko Phing Kan in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand. Scaramanga says to him, ‘Ours is the loneliest profession, so let us spend a few pleasant hours together,’ to which Bond accepts (see clip here). They may well be enemies but Bond doesn’t pass up the opportunity to make better acquaintance.

Ko Tapu or James Bond Island
Ko Tapu
Photo: Dom Nemer

I was taking a group on a boat tour of Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, and we stopped at Ko Phing Kan, which is now often referred to as ‘James Bond Island’ to attract more visitors. The group had all gone to pose in front of the famous arrowhead-shaped islet called Ko Tapu that featured in the film. I left them temporarily and went to grab a coffee from the ‘James Bond Coffee’ stall and found a quiet corner to drink it, watching the multitude of tourist boats come and go. Separated from everyone, I felt for that brief moment lonely. I was consoled by the words of James Bond in Ian Fleming’s book, The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond, who was stuck in a hut with no human contact for ten miles as a storm approached, said the following:

‘And alone! Above all alone! Loneliness becomes a lover, and solitude a darling sin… Everyone doesn’t have to live in a heap. Painters, writers, musicians are lonely people. So are statesmen, and admirals and generals. But then, I added to be fair, so are criminals and lunatics. Let’s just say, not to be flattering, that true individuals are lonely.’ 

Bond enjoys that loneliness, but he sees it a guilty pleasure, feeling that he should be in a social environment. Nonetheless, finding comfort in loneliness enables him to develop his individuality and that in turn strengthens his social adeptness.

What to me felt like loneliness evolved into quality alone time and allowed me, albeit momentarily, to refocus on myself. By the time I’d finished my ‘James Bond Coffee’ I was ready to rejoin the group.

James Bond Coffee Stand on James Bond Island
Ko Phing Kan
Photo: Dom Nemer

Bond’s new film, No Time To Die, set in Italy, Jamaica, Norway, London and the Faroe Islands, I’m sure will feature some travel philosophy worth exploring, and for that we must wait till October 2021.

Cover Photo: “That James Bond guy is back” by ClaraDon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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