As restrictions start to lighten and we get excited about our new freedoms, there is one that will be in place for quite some time – we won’t be freely flying to all the wondrous corners of the world for a while. However, it looks like we will still be able to travel to New Zealand and I’ve heard it’s full of adventures (I have never been). This might hit some of us quite hard, there are those of us with loved ones abroad and there are those of that feel like we are contorting quite uncomfortably in a box by being stuck on one of the largest islands in the world.
This reminds me of the time when I decided I wasn’t going to fly. Well, at the time I was living in Paris, about 17000 kilometres from my home. If my boyfriend had decided to stay with me, perhaps I wouldn’t have jumped on a plane to fly home, maybe we would have even cycled, but it didn’t end up that way. So I took, what I thought would be my last, flight with blurry eyes, feeling like I was a passenger of my body. My original reasons for not flying were a mix. I was learning about climate change and petroleum consumption. I had also visited developing countries where I met people I could relate to really well, but the idea of flying to another country was completely off their radar. It seemed like such an inequitable thing to do.
I found myself in Sydney, finding ways to keep studying – perhaps because I thought I hadn’t learnt enough to contribute anything substantial to society (although I still feel like that) …. During my studies I would try and get a grasp of the latest research on the impact of aviation of climate change. This knowledge could fuel my responses to people’s questioning of my decision not to fly. But as I time went on, I realised it wasn’t about the equivalent tons of CO2 or the fuel being burnt, although they are important. It was about a loss of romance with space, distance, journeys and adventure. I wanted to respect all the space between take off and landing by not taking off.
I could see that some plane travel was necessary (like getting me home from my studies in Paris). However, the mundane, or even habitual, use of planes was undermining how amazing it was that, when needed, we could actually arrive in another part of the world without being out on the high seas for months at risk of getting scurvy. It was sad to see that the sheer amount of energy and ingenuity required to get us up in the air was being wasted on the pathetic arrogance of business meetings and the manufactured whims for a desire to spend a week here or there to unwind. I was in my twenties, so it was my job to feel disgusted with the world.
However, I couldn’t help but feel like I had created a limitation on myself that was not only going to potentially affect my happiness but also my ability to succeed as a researcher. After all, as part of our scholarship we were being offered money to travel to conferences. I did make it to a few local conferences, as well as one in Brisbane and another in Melbourne – reaching the limits of the country link train service or in the case of my trip to Brisbane, testing the limits of my legs as I rode up the coast of NSW. However, my choice not to fly, limited not only my ability to network (which is questionable even when I am in the right location), it also limited my choice of thesis. After living in France, I wanted to gain glimpses of how different aspects of transport systems affected how the local people lived and related to transport – that wasn’t going to happen without flying. So, my work ended up being much more theoretical and as you will see later, it led to my eventual decision to break my commitment… I guess working under these constraints also gave me some direction and it also made me feel less hypercritical about being someone working towards reducing our negative environmental impact.
So, there was also the fear of feeling unhappy, trapped or lost without aeroplanes being able to take me to adventurous locations. However, the time I had spent away from Australia had made me realise how precious this land was and I was going to have plenty of time to explore it. I bought a bike, made some bike buddies and searched for adventures at the end of train lines. I did some silly things, like finding ridiculous and unnecessary hills to climb or taking an extra 50 km to avoid 10 km of a main road only to find myself riding 30 km down the same road a bit further along. These were the days without smartphones, where maps, printouts and memory were the foundation of wayfinding.
Most of my cycle tourism were weekend camping trips. So humble, that tourism seemed a bit of an excessive term to describe it. However, the nature and the experience took my breath away. My friend would casually mention how the countryside we were riding through reminded him of Pakistan…. It made me realise that I don’t need to fly to feel faraway. It was just a matter of visiting different places close to home and seeing them in beautiful ways. So with this in mind, I had some great adventures over six years where my feet nearly never went further than a ten metres off the ground. I did actually fly once, on my way home from Alice Springs after arriving with the combination of a rental relocation to Adelaide and a day on the Ghan train.
In someways I felt frustrated as I sometimes struggled not to buy a relatively cheap flight to visit friends or do an amazing overseas cycling adventure. I would witness others (that identified as environmentalist more than I did) so flippantly flying around for one reason or another. However, I do appreciate the time I spent without flying and I continue to want to limit my flying. I believe adventure can literally be just around the corner and you would be embarrassed to realise you spent thousands to travel the world and missed some of the most amazing spots just a $5 train away combined with a bike or bush walk.
So, after I finally finished my studies, I had a dream to make a documentary. I wanted to convey the human side of transport through words and moving images. To make it about humanity, I decided it had to capture a diverse range of cities and the cultures within them. So I found myself packing my bag, putting my flightless commitment on hold and booking flights. I thought long and hard about it, and tried to find ways to travel across land when it was feasible. This was going to be the trip of a lifetime, and I was going to work hard, not visiting the nature that I was normally drawn to, but instead be in the cities, with the people, completely out of my comfort zone. I did have one fear though. It was that I would fall in love with someone from another country and then create a driver for more air travel once I returned.
But love doesn’t really care about your morals, or maybe my morals are just weak. However, my Spanish husband has always maintained that he is happy to limit our travels. So far, we are doing ok with just a few major hiccups when I decided I wanted to learn Spanish and meet his family and another time I was “tricked” into going over to the Iberian Peninsula for a very very small film festival to show my film. Well, not quite tricked and I did have some good feedback about the film, but I did do that flight with a 1 and a 3 year old by myself.
So, over the next year or two, let’s make the most of this country and its neighbour. Being a tourist in Australia isn’t so bad and our tourism industry is going to need all the help it can get. If you feel like contributing to other countries that you would have visited, use the money you saved from the plane tickets to find ways to give something whether it’s through charities or buying something remotely. My heart goes out to those with loved ones overseas, but just imagine how big the hugs will be when you finally get to see them.