“My first idea had been to follow in the footsteps of those who had gone before me and take a passenger ship all the way to Australia. Forgetting about convict ships, I imagined myself, rather romantically, gazing at the sun setting over the sea and dancing the night away in third class with all sorts of other jumbled together travellers. I dreamt of leaving the docks in Dover with people waving their hats and hankies from high up on the deck, as colourful bunting flapped in the wind.
It only took a little bit of research to discover there were no passenger ships anymore. ‘Why take six weeks when you can do it in twenty-four hours?’ was the common response. And when I researched the carbon emissions I discovered that a passenger ship would be more carbon-heavy than an aeroplane anyway. But my thoughts of ships lingered and made me reconsider the whole concept of travel. I had the idea of slowing it down – so that the journey became the point, and not just the destination. In my case it was all about the destination, but the idea of slow travel was one I was definitely keen on. If I took a plane to Australia I could be there in twenty-four hours, having stopped off briefly in Bangkok or Singapore on the way. Bizarrely enough I could even go through America.
“Aviation began as a passionate desire to fly like a bird and to enjoy the peace and solitude up above the clouds.”
There is a degree of irony that in our world of omnipresent aviation we have forgotten where it all began: as a desperate and passionate desire to fly like a bird and to enjoy the peace and solitude up above the clouds. No one flies these days to ‘contemplate the billions of factors in precise and beautiful combination that make human existence possible‘ or to remind themselves of ‘the precious unity of the Earth and all the living things it supports’. They fly because it is cheaper than taking the train. Or perhaps it is to escape the stress of life back home.
But in escaping life, travellers place different stresses on the places they visit. Local communities become dependent on the tourist industry and its seasonal, low-paid jobs which may disappear in an instant. Multinational hotels spring up, changing the nature of beautiful old towns, and water and energy supplies are strained to suit the needs of the travelling softies. Other travellers fly to take part in well-meaning conservation or cultural work, but when it comes down to it, who benefits the most? I know from my own experience of ‘conservation tourism’ that it is likely I gained a lot more than any of the people and wildlife living near the tropical reef area I spent months surveying.
Like so many inventions, we have forgotten the miracle the modern jet is, and the luxury taking one should be. We take it for granted. Sealing ourselves into a metal tube and moving ourselves over long distances in such a short space of time, we have no knowledge of the countries we have missed, their landscape or people.”
Read all about Barbara’s experiences and the real art of travel in her newly released book, Babs2Brisbane.