Photo by Yu Kato on Unsplash

Flying questions

I love to travel, but it’s complicated…

Do any of these appeal? Rome for €40 return, Thailand or San Francisco for €400. Next week you could be on a beach in Zanzibar, shopping in Milan, floating among living gems in the Red Sea, or across the globe hugging a friend who you have not seen in years.

The hardest thing is not to fly*. If you struggle not to fly you are not alone. Here are some open questions about flying and tourism.

I have been flying as long as I can remember. In the seventies, we dressed up to fly. No sandals or shorts. Not quite shirt and tie, well not for me, but it was my father’s standard attire.

Through my dawning awareness of climate change and carbon footprint the impact of my flying was camouflaged by smaller and less significant efforts. I dug gardens and did the usual reduce reuse and recycle replacing bulbs with low energy versions, and decades refusing plastic bags.

But a little analysis of energy and carbon showed that to fly contradicted everything else that I did.

It was easy to ignore because so many other people were ignoring it alongside me. Many of my most right-on friends never questioned their flights to Bali or Goa, and that made it easier for me too.

I justified flying to myself because air travel was my gateway to places that stir wonder. Forests and islands, mountains and reefs. It was through these places that I gained a personal sense of connection to the global environment.

To be bathed in the splendour of the world was not my only rationalisation. Travel broadens the mind, they say. I studied with amazing teachers on other continents. Surely I am a better human for the time I’ve spent in dusty markets with gesture as the only shared language. I must be wiser for immersion in cultures that bewildered me, more tolerant and thoughtful for exposure to customs that infuriated me.

That must be worth something, mustn’t it?

I ask myself, is the world closer and more connected for friendships built across continents by air miles?

Don’t travellers build a web of understanding and affection that crosses national boundaries or ancient enmities built on ignorance?

How valuable is that?

Then I ask do these friendships balance the beliefs and prejudices that become entrenched through culture shock?

As an Englishman in Paris, it saddens me to see how much expat banter is anti-French. Not all of it is light-hearted.

Some expats will grow beyond any rancour, but others will return to their places of origin with stereotypes and bitterness as their most compelling souvenirs.

I also consider the resentment of long term residents who see their neighbourhoods transformed by incomers. The daily crowds and nightly madness that clog the canal sides of my mother’s Amsterdam.

I picture the displacement of locals and the defacement of landscapes by concrete hotels that sprout along coasts and suck water from fragile aquifers.

I imagine the airports that have razed forests and farmland, the commercial rat-runs to herd you to embarkment.

There are tourists who don’t see people, only photo opportunities. I’ve seen the enmity created when customs are trampled through simple insensitivity or deliberate crassness.

I can’t measure either these upsides or downsides. I’ve been to many theres and found that the residents are as human as here. I’ve both contributed to local economies and I’ve eroded local customs. It’s complex. I have no easy answer.

If flying is a bad habit I’ve not kicked it yet. But I think hard before I book.

Perhaps some air miles I generate are like the tubs of ice cream I occasionally scarf and burn away later in a flurry of lifted weights and offsets.

Other times they are more of a home-cooked meal with carefully chosen if extravagant ingredients, but shared with love.

I want to believe the world is a better place for human links across borders and geography. I do like to think that travel can be net beneficial.

But this is not guaranteed.

If positive travel is possible it takes thought. It is neither my, nor the travel industry default. As an individual, a clear goal and some understanding of the principles of calculating environmental impacts are your tools.

There is also hope for travellers in an industry movement to create regenerative tourism.

Regenerative tourism has the aim of using the resources from tourism to help improve local economies, to restore ecosystems and water tables. I am no expert on this subject. You can find out more in the links below. If flying worries you, follow them.

Medium is full of articles that promise six keys or steps to health, readership, money and more. I almost feel apologetic that I cannot write surefire ways to take the guilt out of flying. There are no off the shelf solutions yet. If there ever will be it will be because people discuss the issues, question the status quo and demand or build solutions. Will you be one of them?

If you are concerned about your impact on the world or anxious about the state of the planet and you would like to start a conversation that leads to change visit my site

*No not really. A million things are harder. I am really lucky to be in the position to consider any of what I listed in the paragraph above. This is a problem I am grateful to have. a publication on medium dedicated to the subject

This primate writes on environment, biology, movement, martial arts, mind, meditation, how they mix and what you can do with them

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