In my twenty-two years on the planet, my experiences with efficient transport have been fairly limited. I grew up in an area with three buses a day. I have also only ever taken one flight – we went from Bristol to Glasgow and spent longer travelling from the airport to my grandparents’ house than we did on the plane, before the Icelandic volcano eruption happened three days later. My experience contrasts with that of my friends: one aspires to be a travel writer, another is a dual citizen so has grown up with international travel as a staple part of her life, and my boyfriend spent his adolescence moving between Europe and Asia, country hopping along the way and seeing so much more of the world than I can even imagine.
At first glance, it may be difficult to see how I can consider myself privileged in terms of travel, but once you take a step away from a Western-based view, the picture becomes a lot clearer. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, even in the largest urban areas, a sizeable proportion of the population fall into ‘transport poverty’. Where a lack of access to safe, affordable, and consistent public transport or taxis results in lower participation in school, less women and minorities engaging in the workplace, and overall poorer economic standings.
In terms of international travel, reporting suggests that around 190 million Europeans have never left their home country, despite the majority being in the EU where travel between states is completely free and requires no visa. In Africa, on the other hand, despite promises to phase out individual country visa requirements from the African Union in 2018, there are still several countries where it is impossible to visit without a specific visa which can cost hundreds of pounds. Flight costs are also a limiting factor – it is cheaper to fly from Kenya to Dubai than to Morocco, on the same continent.
International travel has such a colossal environmental impact, and this is a further demonstration of privilege within the field: those taking multiple flights a year, emitting thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases, are frequently from the most economically advanced countries whose wasteful attitude to consumption and travel will likely affect those travelling the least. Look at the irony of the USA, an economic powerhouse and one of the worst perpetrators for gas emissions, flying a motorcade across the pond to protect Joe Biden on the roads as he travels to and from a climate conference. Whilst the environmental impact of my lack of travel was usually a secondary factor to cost when making decisions, it is something I am proud of now.
Whilst it may not seem clear from what I’ve said so far, I have had some amazing travel opportunities without flying: boat trips to France with school friends, annual family road trips to visit my grandparents in Scotland and a kayak trip to Wales which came with a five-hour drive through the countryside. These experiences are a part of me, and if I’d been able to simply fly abroad for the summer, I could have missed a lot of this. Whilst not necessarily in a conventional sense, I consider myself privileged to have travelled at all, although I do plan on flying more when the uncertainty of Covid is over!