Recently (well, when I began writing this post, it was 'recently'), over on Coastal Ripples, at the end of a post about a foreign holiday and whether the stress was worth it, Barbara asked the blogosphere for its opinion about travelling. In my head, I had an off-the-hip, top of my head, gut reaction (now can you see why I did not fare well in Biology?), which amounted to 'I'm minimising my carbon footprint'.
But then... but then, I wondered if that was just a big fib I told myself so that I could stay at home.
Cue wibbly wobbly, timey wimey lines as the Imperfect and Tense blog goes back to the 80s and the first forays into holidaying sans parents. It will probably come as no surprise, bearing in mind that at that time I lived in the north east of England (and not to mention all you have learnt about me since), but the location of choice for a little downtime was Scotland. Several girlfriends (no, not at the same time!) were treated to genteel jaunts around picturesque Caledonia. Once serious courting began, the dedication required to maintain a long distance relationship (Yorkshire/West Sussex) meant that a goodly proportion of a weekend was allocated to driving from A to B and back to A again. This was not only time consuming, but quite expensive too, so there wasn't much in the way of an incentive for holidays, other than just to be together. One or both of us always seemed to be on a training course for something or other, which again limited opportunities for vacationing.
Our honeymoon was probably the first time (just stop it at the back there!) that I had flown for pleasure, as opposed to having to travel for work. What was, even at the time, a relatively modest distance to Corfu, seemed very adventurous to us (OK, me).
With training courses completed, and after a further year of long distance love (now West Germany to West Sussex), we were finally together and beginning our family. Energy was now the limiting factor, with financial considerations also taken into account when travelling back to the UK with tiny bairns to visit family. This usually involved a four hour blast across Germany and Holland to catch an overnight ferry, sometimes to Hull, other times to Sheerness, and then another motorway blast to wherever we were headed in Britain.
As you may begin to see, for us, quite often the journey wasn't really part of the holiday, it was a stressful covering of as much distance in the shortest and affordable time as possible. Even when we returned to the UK to live, with a young family and a burgeoning mortgage, holidays remained a tour of Britain, visiting relatives and friends.
By the time we were a little more financially secure and with First and Second Born keen to explore new places, we began a series of holidays to south Shropshire. This was a two to three hour drive from Milton Keynes, eminently do-able in a day trip, never mind a long weekend or a proper break. The hills between Ludlow and Shrewsbury became a second home to us, and there was time, also, to visit places along the way as we trundled back and forth on our journeys.
Air travel was still just something occasionally required for work projects.
When we planned that last big family holiday before the girls went off to university, Orkney was the chosen location. Taking several days to drive through England and Scotland, I finally began to understand that the journey could be an intrinsic part of the experience, as the view changed with the miles, and the scenery became ever more rugged.
After that, Our Lass and I, as I'm sure you know, continued to holiday in the northern isles, although the driving was becoming a little tedious. We did experiment with flying, but if anything it was too quick! Does that make any sense? Whilst we gained several days of actual island holiday, we missed the changing landscape and generally hated hanging about in airports. By the end, we went back to driving to Orkney, helped by picking rest halts which coincided with wildlife watching opportunities (e.g. Garten, Leighton Moss).
I was reminded of the above sentiment when reading Neil Ansell's 'The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence', where the author states, much more eloquently than I have done:
"It would have been quicker, and possibly cheaper, to fly partway. But I like overland travel; it gives a sense of where I am in the world, while flying feels more like teleportation. I step into a box, and when I emerge a few hours later I am somewhere utterly different, having gained nothing but a little time, and perhaps a feeling of guilt for having flown at all. No sense of progressive change in landscape and climate."
Bizarrely, now that we live in Orkney, we probably fly more than we have ever done, with the comparatively short hops across to the Scottish mainland, usually to Aberdeen or Edinburgh. With the seemingly ever-increasing list of things that could interrupt a journey, travel has not become less stressful for me (well, with a blog name like mine, I guess that's a given), but at least I now know that I have a choice about how we plan the journey. If we have to be somewhere in a hurry, then we fly, if a more relaxed approach is available, we sail and drive.
But this isn't the whole story, as it was dawning upon me as I tried to answer Barbara's question. And I suspect that it rather feeds into my approach to watching wildlife. I'm not that bothered about covering huge distances to go and see a rare so-and-so, preferring to stick to the immediate area and what might turn up there. It's the same for holidays. Yes, on the face of it, there's a virtually inexhaustible supply of fascinating places in the world to go and amazing things to see, but... well... folk are still finding species here which are new-to-Orkney. Admittedly, none of the folk are me and most of these species are invertebrates, but somehow that rates higher in my estimation than six depressing hours in a Departure lounge. In some respects, this also manifests itself with natural history programmes on the television. I can become quite grumpy with the director's fixation upon iconic and exotic fauna (often furry and predatory mammals) slinking surreptitiously through a lush habitat in some far flung (and, admittedly, stunning) corner of the globe.
So, yeah, in a way, my glib comment about carbon footprint is part of the answer, but it goes deeper than that. Think of it this way... there's the old saying "It's great to go away, but it's so much nicer to come home." And there's also the oft-repeated "Oh, it's so good to be back in my own bed." Well, I'm just cutting out the travel bit.