Tuesday 4 September 2012

To Travel or Not to Travel

and the joy of localism

I recently reviewed Chris Guillebeau's book The Art of Non-Conformity. Thanks for all your comments!

I said in the review though that I was annoyed by his obsession with extensive international travel for the sake of it. As Ms Sparrow said in the comments, 'Is travel for it's own sake a worthy goal? That sounds quite conformist to me.' My thoughts exactly!

Now, let me make it clear I'm not against travel. I lived in Malawi for two years and have visited several European and African countries. Some people reading this blog may have close friends and family who live a long way away whom you visit frequently.

These days we take almost all our holidays in the UK. The last foreign holidays we had were added on after the time I spent at conferences in Italy and Germany. There are many reasons I choose to holiday in the UK, including avoiding the stress of long distance travel and the many wonderful scenic holiday destinations we have in this country. We've also been remarkably lucky with the weather when we've had holidays in the UK. Even this summer of no summer weather across most of the UK (including Edinburgh), we had beautiful weather when we were up in the north west of Scotland.

So, I get really irritated when people say to me 'so when are you next going abroad?' as though there's something wrong with me for not travelling further.

One of the main benefits of travelling abroad is to experience another culture. When I lived in Malawi, I was steeped in Malawian culture for two years and visited neighbouring African countries for long enough to get a good feel for their cultures too. When visiting countries in Europe, I've often taken part in conservation activities, working with local people and other volunteers, getting to know a specific area. Or I've stayed with friends who have been able to show me their perspectives on the local area. I've also visited several parts of Germany, so that feels like a country I know quite well, specially as I speak reasonably good German.

The average two week holiday abroad though doesn't usually give the option for those kinds of experience. Jet lag, resort hotels and organised tours are all examples of holiday experiences that count against the best things about being abroad. I find that two weeks, specially if I don't speak the language is rarely enough time to get to know a culture anyway, though the activity based trips I mentioned offer a good introduction. 

Of course a main reason for an environmentalist to avoid too much international travel is to avoid the carbon footprint of lots of air travel. I've travelled through Europe mostly by train and through African mostly by bus. In the UK we travel by bus and train. Though when we holiday in remote parts of Scotland (and even some not so remote parts to be honest) we often hire a car. We found after one holiday spent in school buses and hitching lifts that there can be limits to public transport. I have flown, yes, but I have tried to limit it as much as possible.The main thing is though, I don't feel I miss out at all by not taking a foreign holiday every year, there's so much to see and do in this country.

If you're in the UK, you may be interested in the UK Staycation website, full of ideas for British holidays, no guarantee on the weather though....

If you're concerned about the growth of the aviation industry in the UK, please visit Plane Stupid and Airport Watch.

So what are your feelings about staycations? Do you feel your foreign holidays (not including visits to family and close friends) are essential to your life?

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other web-pages where you can find out more. 


Forthvalley scribe said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this, Juliet! I really hate the way tourism treats other people's home life as a peepshow!

Kay said...

Here in the US west...even a staycation involves a lot of driving...one good thing is living so close to wilderness as I do...but it still involves driving. I had finally taken my first European adventure in 2008 and as much as I want to return..so much to see and do...I am waiting to afford to take a very long trip and stay in areas for lengthy amounts of time so I can get to know an area and people and paint of course...so lately because of money limits, and an aversion to kowtowing to the humiliation of the TSA..I have taken no vacations for 3 years. I am planning a train trip to Ohio to see Mom next month for a few weeks as soon as my work is done for the season...and I am so looking forward to that. I could travel Utah for years and never get tired of it...and I have found so many out of the way places. My goal is to get a little teardrop trailer to pull behind my Pathfinder and go painting across the US. I am hoping I can get that next year...I will glam it up , fill it with art supplies and head out to parts known and unknown...fun

Ms Sparrow said...

On my last trip to the UK, I was seated next to a man from Jamaica on the return trip. He said that he was shocked that fewer than 20% of Americans even had passports. After thinking about it, I explained that the US was a really big country and we could travel to Canada and Mexico without a passport. If I could afford to travel, I'd be content to spend all of my time in the UK!

Christina said...

I have been all over the US and would love to visit many places overseas but my favorite spot in the world is a 4 1/2 drive from my house. Its where I go all the time.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I feel my going abroad days are probably over Juliet because I find long-distance travel so tiring these days, but I do enjoy going to various places in this country and there are always memories to hold on to.

Hannah Stephenson said...

It's an interesting question you're asking....

I find that we (my husband and I) usually travel only when we have multiple things to do places (like a wedding to attend, which we can use as an excuse to do fun stuff wherever the wedding is, or a trip for work). Very rarely have he and I taken a large trip with no other purpose than fun...we always say we wish we would do this more, but usually end up using big trips to see certain people.

Titus said...

Made me think. We staycation because we can't afford holidays abroad! Even then, we don't travel so very far, unless we stay with my relatives down south. I'm also horrifed when I research the cost of public transport for a family anywhere in the UK - it is so much cheaper for us to drive, even with the regular hikes in diesel prices.

If we had the money, I'd very much like a foreign holiday every so often to see some of the historical things I'm interested in - and I'd quite happily do it by bus and train. I love long train journeys, and because you're on the ground, with the inhabitants of the countries you're travelling through, you do learn and experience so much more than flying in.

We're also really tempted to do the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in couple of years, once the boys are a bit bigger.

Rachel Fox said...

It's tricky. I've never understood the "must fly to the southern sun or it's not a proper holiday" thing but I am aware that a lot of the population here do feel that way... and what can we do? Make it illegal? And then be hypocrites and fly ourselves when it suits us (sometimes even for green conferences etc.)?

I don't fly much but that is in large part because I hate being locked in a box in the air. And we don't drive much at all in our regular lives but then last year in North America we used a car most of the time... there really wasn't any other option if we wanted to see that part of the world (and we did).

Tricky, tricky...

RG said...

Oh a sticky question with certainly good intents!

I am in an odd predicament in that I am comfortably retired after working for Boeing for 30 years and so people flying is keeping me comfortable! On the other hand, having worked there, I uh - well - uh - do not like to fly - not at all.

I also think it is good for a person to choose to live where the "local" area has so much to offer that travel and distant vacations need not happen often. Such is it here in the Pacific Northwest of USofA.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Thanks Elizabeth

Kay - yes distances are much smaller in the UK, so our staycations are much more local! I hope you manage one day to do your painting tour of the US - that sounds a lovely idea!

Ms Sparrow - international travel does broaden the mind, that's probably why the Jamaican you met was shocked, the statistic can imply that Americans are insular

Christina - it's always nice to have those favourite places nearby

Weaver - memories are always good too

Hannah - we would usually do the same if we're going a long distance

Titus - yes public transport in the Uk is outrageously expensive (apart from MacEwans buses which seem to be incredibly cheap (or were last time we used one)

Rachel - i don't think it's hypocritical to encourage people to fly less. If everyone took one flight less every year that would be a lot of air-miles reduced. I'm not saying everyone should stop flying (though part of me would like to say that). As for environmental conferences - i know several environmentalists who travel the globe for international conferences and site visits every year, and deny that there's a problem with all that travel. I've been to two international conferences, both in Europe. And yes public transport just doesn't exist in some places.

Rabbits Guy - good idea about choosing your place of residence depending on there being lots to do locally (that's why I chose Edinburgh)

Rachel Fox said...

I'm not saying you are hypocritical, Juliet, just that it is something to be wary of in general. Plus the 'holier than thou' approach to travel can annoy as many people as it engages and that's something to be wary of too (and as I say this as someone who walks almost everywhere!). The sad fact is that, despite all the information about, a lot of people just don't give environmental factors a second thought. Hard for die-hard environmentalists to accept but true, I'm afraid. What might change this? I have no idea.

There are so many tricky areas on transport too. You look at something like the Olympics and Paralympics... undeniably a positive experience for so many and yet hugely reliant on people (and in some cases, I imagine, horses) being flown in from all over. How many flights have been taken to make the Olympics and the Paralympics possible? And yet so many people love it and it means so much to them. It's not my thing especially but I'm only one person - it's not only my interests and tastes that count.

It has got worse since the onset of the very cheap flights I suppose - people can fly to Spain for less than a train ticket to somewhere in Britain and all that (although with railcards, Titus, trains are maybe cheaper than you think). No wonder people take the warmer (and often cheaper option). Is there a government anywhere really doing anything about this? Anyone know?

Crafty Green Poet said...

Rachel, no most people don't care about the environment, and few governments do. But those of us who do care, need to keep speaking out otherwise we're all doomed. It can be very difficult to encourage people to cut down their carbon footprint without some people seeing it as 'holier than thou' but better to talk about the issues than pretend they don't exist.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I agree with you!

Lucy said...

I've been mulling over this for ages and find I've still got too much to say about it! I've just cut out the already over-long comment I've just started here and pasted it elsewhere as I think I'll have to make a post of my own about it!

eileeninmd said...

I love to travel and I understand the stress that comes with travel abroad. The planes and luggage for one and then you have to worry about crime. The Staycation sound like a great idea. Wonderful post, Juliet.

Catherine said...

I'd love to live in England for a year or two just so that I can travel around Europe - by bus, train or whatever - without the stress, jetlag, and guilt of lots of air miles.
I have been to the UK once - for a month - and to Australia a few times as well as the Cook Islands once, but mostly we holiday at home in New Zealand. It's a very long way to anywhere else! I do feel that some overseas travel shakes you out of your comfortable perspective - if it can be something like your two years in Malawi, that's much better than casual tourism.
When I was younger I thought I would travel when I was older and could afford it - now that I can afford it, there's the whole environmental thing. Many of my contemporaries travelled a lot in their younger days without any of that guilt.

Nia said...

I don't have a clear view about the question. I do love to travel in most of the ways you mention -to spend months working in a new place, to see the sights, or just to spend a weekend watching people and eating exotic food. However, I think it's silly, not to mention environmentally irresponsible to travel a long distance to do anything that can be done close to home: for example, I've never understood Spaniards who take a plane to go to a beach, no matter how paradisiac. In the same way, I know I could have a "food and monuments" holiday in a place I've never been to before with a 5-hour train ride.

For our honeymoon, we wanted to travel as far away as possible, thinking that our circumstances in the future (mostly, the possibility of having babies) would make it our last big journey in a long time; and we went to San Francisco. But then, even if I could afford to do that more often I think I wouldn't travel by plane every year.