Lonely Planet Writer

The distance of travel

The common idea of travel is that it is about getting closer to somewhere. I leave home to visit a distant place so that I can experience it in person. However, travel can also be about creating distance, not reducing it. For instance, the essential 'destination' of Virgin Galactic is distance itself, so that one can experience the world as a whole from afar.

Image by Mark Broadhead

In general I travel to get closer to somewhere, in order to be in its presence. But this desire for closeness has taken over many of my trips; to the point where the actual travelling part of the trips is no longer really experienced. To be sure, I have been helped into this mindset by air travel. With airplanes, travelling has almost been erased from travel. A plane takes me to a destination as quickly as possible, as clinically as possible.

Image by caribb

The goal of air travel is to be a non-experience. Boring is good for air travel. It means no accidents. But many trips don't involve any major travel other than the flight there and back. The travelling is only a means to an end. To compete with air travel, trains are also becoming faster and more innocuous. Trips have increasingly become all about arriving. As a consequence, travel itself has become distant to the traveller.

Image by Mark Broadhead

What is the experience of travel? It is the sense of movement through the environment or culture around me. It is getting lost. It is the parallax of trees, buildings, hills. It is wind and sea spray in my face. It is the personality of the horse pulling me. It is the sense of gravity while drifting down a river. It is the pain of hiking up a mountain. And the achievement in reaching the top.

On your next trip, once you get off the plane, don't forget to travel.

What are your favourite experiences of travel?

Further reading: Top 10 boat journeys.