One positive thing I hope will emanate from the COVID-19 pandemic is an increased propensity for people to travel conscientiously. I’ve written elsewhere about some of the benefits I see being generated by the situation, one of them being environmental improvements. It has been encouraging to see miraculous improvements in air quality, most strikingly northern India having a view of the Himalayas for the first time in decades. I kind of think there’s an element of nature knowing what it’s doing, and the pandemic being its way of accelerating some sorely needed societal changes in a bid to save the planet from itself.
Of course, travel and transport can’t and won’t remain restricted to current levels, and indeed that wouldn’t be desirable even to the most dedicated eco-warrior. However, it seems likely that global travel will take quite some time to get back to normal, and rightly so. I hope that for many people, having been under such constraints will add more meaning to the idea of freedom to move around the world; make people realise the value of this amazing privilege.
Travel is undeniably nourishing for the soul and good for our wellbeing. It expands our minds, connects us with nature, introduces us to amazing people ad cultures, gives us much-needed rest & recuperation time. But all this comes at such an enormous cost to the planet: each passenger on a plane from London to New York accounts for the carbon-emission equivalent of an average car-driver for a whole year. Multiply that by the number of people per flight and the number of flights going here, there and everywhere each day, and it’s easy to see we have a problem.
It’s only in recent years that I’ve become aware of how lucky I am to be able to travel, and the impact that doing so has on the planet. It really is such a privilege, yet it’s so easy and often cheap these days that it’s naturally taken for granted. I’ve become a far more conscious traveller in the last couple of years, being careful not to fly often and creative about the other options I can take advantage of (more on this in a later post!).
A vital component of my greener travel philosophy is the train. Sadly, the services are under-resourced and over-priced here in the UK, and there has long been a tendency for people to fly short distances (say, London to Manchester or Edinburgh) ‘because it’s cheaper’. Incidentally, recent events have highlighted just how precarious that fact was: FlyBe going bust whilst the British rail service remains intact just goes to show it wasn’t cheaper; the operator simply wasn’t charging enough to build the required amount of resilience into the business. (I’m just a tad less inclined to complain so much about the prices of trains here now, though it still infuriates me that I pay more to commute by public transport than I would to go by car as a sole occupant).
Clearly the airline industry is going to need quite some recovery from the current situation, which may well mean that people have no choice but to fly less because of availability. People may be encouraged to ask themselves: ‘do I really need to fly?’, and perhaps be more inclined to choose alternatives or travel less frequently. Gone are the days, surely, where business jet people off for a day here, an overnight stop there, mindlessly booking flight after flight after flight without a thought for the effects. Companies have been forced to work smarter by the current situation, and I think they’re really waking up to the prospect that travel simply isn’t necessary in many instances. Not only that, but there are so many benefits to remote working: increased productivity, improved staff wellbeing, cost savings… the list goes on.
Back to our holidaymakers, globe-trotters and travel enthusiasts. Will we see people making more conscious decisions about the way the get around? I hope so. Having something taken away helps us realise the value of it, and I think that’s what will happen here. This brings to mind something I often think about modern Western life: that we have too much of everything and, as a result, too little appreciation. I recall stories from my parents and grandparents about how, when they were younger, every little thing had to be saved for, planned in, worked towards. That is so different from the life I know where I could have whatever I want, whenever I want, in a world of online shopping and instant gratification. Much as I’m grateful to live so comfortably, I sometimes envy them: it’s all too easy and I yearn for that sense of reward that comes from really having to earn something. A simpler life, but one that makes you truly appreciate things.
So that’s what I can see happening with travel: the limitations we’re under right now, and will likely be for some time albeit to a lesser extent, will inevitably make people think harder about what they really want out of their travels. What will their priorities be? How could they enjoy adventures closer to home by more sustainable travel methods? Will they limit trips by plane to once a year, perhaps?
We’re entering a new world; we have to be. People talk longingly about ‘going back to normal’, but things will never be the same as they were. Daunting as that may seem to some, my own dream is for a better world, with the current darkness making way for a brighter dawn than before. The earth has given us a second chance to live in harmony with it, and I for one hope we all seize it with the utmost enthusiasm.
How do you think COVID-19 will affect people’s travel behaviour? Will you be making any changes yourself as a result of these times? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to follow me for more on my green travel stories.