hg: I Need to Stop Flying

The last time I took a flight, I ended up exposing my nipples to dozens of appalled onlookers. It’s no wonder I want to avoid the whole experience.

I should clarify what happened on that fateful day, if only to confirm my innocence in the whole debacle.

I was wading through the quagmire that is airport security. Lacklustre air-conditioning, too many people, shoes off, laptop out. I approached the metal detector and a guard waved me through. The machine, as expected, started beeping. I was pulled to one side and quietly told to lift up my shirt.

Well. That’s not a request one gets every day.

I decided to play along, concluding the guard must be checking for a rogue pair of nail scissors strapped to my chest. Up my shirt went, everything on display. The man, bless him, looked perplexed. An awkward second passed. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments. He finally composed himself and proceeded to dab at my belt with a gunpowder detector.

WHY, in the name of all that is holy, did he not say, “Can I take a swab of your belt, sir?” Or at least specify the degree to which he wanted my shirt lifted. He didn’t even see the nail scissors sellotaped to my sternum.

And so it was that my fellow passengers inadvertently caught an eye-full of my furry torso.

Nipple-gate isn’t the only reason I’m endeavouring to avoid planes though. Flying destroys our environment, as well as my dignity.

It’s been estimated that “just one return flight from London to New York produces a greater carbon footprint [per passenger] than a whole year’s personal allowance needed to keep the climate safe.”

Middle class environmentalism may encourage people to recycle and shop with reusable bags, but it turns a blind eye to jetting off on long-haul flights. In fact, flying less is the third biggest change people can make to help the environment, behind living car-free and having one fewer child. Such measures are rarely mentioned or taken seriously.

I’ve been a culprit of this hypocrisy. Wanderlust has blinded me to the impact of air travel.

So how do I travel without destroying the planet? How do I explore without taking to the skies?

Overlanding

Overlanding, as you may have guessed, is the process of travelling over land (or sea).

By travelling this way, one rejects the harmful, throwaway convenience of flying and chooses genuine adventure instead.

If I may be so bold, I think hurtling through the air at five hundred miles per hour, fifty thousand feet above the Earth, strapped to forty thousand gallons of highly flammable jet fuel, is a rather peculiar way of getting around. It’s also oddly uninspiring, complete with safety demonstrations, little plastic cups of orange juice, and those socks that claim to prevent deep vein thrombosis.

Overlanding, on the other hand, is a slow and invigorating exploration.

There are many ways to get around without planes - foot, bicycle, boat, train, bus, hovercraft - and they provide an intimate journey through landscapes and cultures. They give you time to appreciate and savour. Destinations becomes less important because the journey is the real story.

Yes, by overlanding one can't travel as far (although I harbour a secret dream of cycling to Japan, don’t tell Naomi). But distance isn’t everything.

For me, Edinburgh, York and Snowdonia are all nearby. Why dismiss these places because they’re not abroad? I’m also on the doorstep of Europe, a mere train-ride from Paris, Amsterdam or Berlin.

I once took a ferry to Spain and cycled down the East coast with two friends. I’ll never stop recounting our stories of wild-camping in thunderstorms and constant punctures. And last year I went InterRailing through Europe, exploring cities like Budapest and Krakow. A whole continent slid past my train window.

Travelling sustainably can be done, and in style. It just takes a change of ethos.

After all, when I think about why I travel - to escape the everyday, to seek adventure and explore different cultures, to relax - it becomes clear that grand distances aren’t necessary. They’re just an excessive luxury that I’ve been indulging. But no more! Overlanding is the way forward now.