- 12 June 2012
- Filed under
Robert ReidLonely Planet author
The USA is one of a handful of nations that sets aside a day, official or otherwise, as a national flag day. June 14 (quietly) marks the date in 1777 when the US flag was adopted and has been celebrated, to a degree, since 1861.
But let’s be honest, the US flag means a lot of different things to people around the world (even around the USA), and from a design perspective it’s sort of a feng shui mess, isn’t it? A field of stars in one corner, and a bunch of stripes in the other? None of it especially makes me want to travel. But some nation’s flags do a much better job advertising their country’s attributes and making travellers eager to go and see what all the flag waving is about. For this, we pledge allegiance to the travel-inspiring flags of the world, starting with:
If you ever get into the travel branding business, go talk to the Cambodians. Forget symbols, they put their main attraction – the Angkor Wat ruins - on their flag in 1850. At every official building, or any time a foreign visitor steps onto the airport tarmac or a dignitary shakes hands with a foreign one, flapping in the breeze is one of the world’s greatest archaeological ruins.
Yes, travel shows us that the world has different ways to handle universal tasks and problems. Like eating food, driving, electing leaders or picking a flag shape. No flag is more exotic than Nepal’s irresistible double-pennant flag jutting out and up, reminiscent of a pagoda roof or a ragged Himalayan peak. Seeing it makes you want to travel there just to see what could inspire such a shape. The design turns 50 this year.
Simply one of the coolest flags of all time, the Macedonia flag design is based on the ‘Vergina sun’, a symbol found in 1977 on the 2300-year-old tomb of Alexander the Great’s dad. The Greeks claim the design as their own, so a Macedonian who made album covers in the 1970s tweaked the flag look, inverting the rays in an inward way that seems to say, hey, it’s not such a lonely planet after all.
Maps are a traveler’s best friend. Cyprus’ flag, made in 1960, is one of only a small handful that helpfully puts a map right on the flag. In case you forget where you are, just find the nearest flag. In an act of Cypriot unity, the flag removes all mentions of the geographic tensions still present between on the island and places an olive branch of peace below the map.
It’s nice when a flag can promise what you’ll get if you go. And for this South Pacific chain of islands, it’s pretty much sun, sea and funny looking birds (not to mention hearing the official language: Gilbertese). The islands – divvied into three groups: Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Islands – have only had independence from Britain since 1979, though its flag dates from 1932, when a certain Sir Arthur Grimble, who wrote a few books about the islands, put it together.
Don’t limit yourself to the literal world. With Bhutan you get a jewel clutching dragon – called a Druk, after the ‘Thunder Dragon’ Bhutanese myth – set atop a diagonally split clash of yellow and orange. This is the banner for travel fantasies.
The Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles redesigned their flag in 1996 purposely to indicate a forward look into the future. Like a rainbow version of the video game Tempest, the oblique bands of color start separate and come together in a far corner. If you were particularly poetic – and aren’t we all? – you could say Seychelles’ flag reminds us that there is no right way to travel, that different paths can be taken to find a common travel truth. Well done, Seychelles.
Its off-center golden fish eagle and box of stripes can pause you in your tracks. Keep going, as the country – sometimes dubbed ‘real Africa’ by visitors – is one of the better bird-watching destinations with 750-plus bird species, best spotted at South Luangwa National Park, one of Africa’s best.
OK, this is a bit of a cheat. But even if France’s last remaining North American colony – a self-governed one, off Newfoundland – salutes the French flag in official affairs, its local flag, around since 1982, is the de facto flag of the streets. And it’s marvellous, isn’t it? To the left, popping like clashing wallpaper swatches, are mini banners tributing diverse occupants of the islands (top to bottom: Basques, Bretons, Normans), while the cartoon ship in the Sponge Bob-blue sea is supposed to be Jacques Cartier’s vessel when he arrived here in 1535. Diversity! Carbon-neutral travel methods! Cartoons! Oui, s’il vous plait!
Canada’s barebones maple leaf flag probably doesn’t make you want to go to Canada and pour heavy doses of syrup on your food. But seeing it is a buzzing reminder of travel, in particular the legions of Canadian backpackers who take not one foreign step without a mini version of the flag stitched onto their luggage. And so the flag serves as a reminder for all of us to get out there and travel. So do as the Canadians do: wear your flag with pride and hit the road.