Talking (and listening, watching, reading) travel non-stop for the last two weeks around the US, I've been surprised that the connecting word which seems to come up every time the word travel gets mentioned in the UK didn't get raised so often: Guilt.
Climate change, global warming and the problems that go with it are big topics almost everywhere in the western world (and not far behind in the developing world) and the finger is increasingly being pointed at travel, and air travel in particular, as a big contributor. In fact, air travel is not that serious right now, but its contribution to global carbon emissions is growing more rapidly than almost any other form of energy consumption and there's no sign of it slowing down. It's become a major factor in the UK because 'short break' vacations have had enormous growth over the past few years.
'Low Cost Carriers,' the budget priced airlines often modelled on Southwest, have popped up all over Europe, but it's the UK's EasyJet and Ireland's Ryanair which are the big players. As a result the British are increasingly zipping off to somewhere in Europe for weekend trips. Where to go for the weekend? What about Prague? Somewhere for a Bachelor Party* on Friday night — how about Tallinn in Estonia, Europe's party night central.
Or look at second houses — traditionally the British bought houses in Provence (Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence was an indicator of that passion) or Tuscany, but now those houses have become places for weekend breaks as much as summer vacations. And the British are moving further afield, buying houses on the Adriatic Coast in Croatia and even on the Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria. Cheap flights have made this possible.
Last year Mark Ellingham, the founder of Rough Guides, and I made a joint announcement that we were concerned about the huge growth of increasingly shorter term travel and perhaps we needed to travel less frequently, but travel longer when we do hit the road. The Italians have made 'slow food' a popular reaction to the fast food movement. Our Italian guidebooks even enjoy their expertise in finding really good restaurants around Italy. So perhaps Slow Travel could be an interesting alternative to our current tendency to rush off everywhere. I try to spend at least a week on a long walk every year and in the past 12 months I've already been walking for three weeks (two weeks walking the Wainwright Way across England, one week walking the Overland Track in Australia) and next month I'm going to spend another week climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
'Travel Guilt' is not the only new phrase which may soon find its way into our vocabulary. How about 'Food Miles'? It comes from the concern that our food travels too far to get to our table. We expect strawberries for dessert year round and if that means flying them from half a world away, then big deal. Just a few weeks ago there were articles in the British press that enthusiasts for organic food were becomingly increasingly concerned that eating organically could also mean eating destructively, that organic food was often flown huge distances to arrive fresh at our local supermarket and as a result our passion for the freshest food was also becoming a major contributor to climate change. Google 'food miles,' it's a surprisingly big topic.
*Bachelor Party — now there's a word with international English language variations. According to Wikipedia it's a stag party or stag night (UK, Ireland, Canada, and New Zealand), bulls party (South Africa) or bucks party, bucks night (Australia).
Maureen walking the Overland Track, Tasmania, Australia.
Tony & Maureen walking the 'Wainwright Way' the coast-to-coast track in England (and in wet English weather).
Books mentioned in this post
Tony Wheeler is the author of Bad Lands (Travel Literature)