Long before COVID-19 barged in like a snotty teenager and demanded our attention, I was already going sour on travel.
I'm not turned off to travel as in seeing new places and being steeped in the fresh perspective that travel offers, but as another form of consumption—a box to tick—a thing to count and show to others: "look at me, I've been to so many places!" Travel as a fashion and as a self-congratulatory pursuit just seems kind of gross.
I often wonder if we'd bother half the time if there weren't others to tell about our exploits. Taking photos, travel, or otherwise, and sharing them on social media—would we take as many snapshots if we didn't feel like we had, or craved, an audience—along with the brief validation that a like or comment brings?
It's akin to the "if a tree falls…" question—does a selfie exist if there's no one to see it? More importantly, does it even matter?
Carbon + Consumption = Climate Catastrophe
When I started feeling turned off to travel, it wasn't just the idea of collecting destinations and running around to see the guidebook highlights (that's not my style, anyway), but air travel and the consumption that it entails. I've made a commitment to living as low carbon as I can, and that includes how I get around. My feet, and until COVID-19, the bus, are my primary forms of transportation.
I don't want to fly ever again.
I realize that sounds dramatic, and I have caveats, but just the thought of doing all the things one needs to do to get ready, get to the airport hours before departure, finally make it onto the plane, then once on the flight succumb to whatever hell awaits while in the air, well, I'm over it. I much prefer the civility of train travel. Get your ticket, be there at departure, get on, and enjoy the ride, with more legroom than you’ll ever have on a plane!
Is Faster Better?
Although plane travel is quicker, I'm not sure fast is something I value. Yes, at times it makes sense to do things most expeditiously, but other than short hops, air travel is not fun.
In No Travel, Slow Travel, I write about how 2020 was to be my year of travel and how I wanted to use the extensive rail and bus networks that make Europe so enticing to travelers. And when I do travel, I hope to do just that.
I want to go where I can via terrestrial means, like trains and buses (and no, I don't want a car), and save air travel for the long haul back to California to see family. Or, if there's absolutely no other alternative to flying, and there’s someplace I need (want) to be, then fly I will. I hope to only do this once a year for the long one, and maybe once per year for a short flight.
Get a Car
Several people have suggested, with corona virus hanging around for who-knows-how-long, maybe I should get a car. Then I could ramble about the country in my hermetically sealed bubble as a safe travel alternative.
I came to Portugal with the intention of living car-free, and I still don’t see any reason to go against that decision. If we’re still in COVID-ville in another few years, ask me again, but for now, I’m happy being car-free. I do know several Americans abroad who did buy cars, and I understand it, I just can’t imagine owning another individual fossil-fuel burning people mover—it would be a step backwards for me.
So, what about you? Are you excited about traveling again? How do you feel about air travel? Does climate science make you rethink your traveling ways? Or not? I’d love to know your perspective—share in the comments, below!
What philosopher Peter Singer has learned in 45 years of advocating for animals (his new book, Why Vegan? is out now)
How Email Became Work (Anne Helen Petersen's Culture Study newsletter)
What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life? (The Atlantic)
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