Spaces around us are out for the spoils - we've to limit the freedom of travel

Deze tekst is alleen in het Engels.

Tourists at ZadarTravelling the spaces around us has always been seen as the ultimate freedom. The climate crisis will limit our possibilities of travel. That will, however, affect the way we see the space around us.

A great-granduncle, his place in my family tree is somewhat mysterious to me, travelled the world in the early twentieth century. He went to places on faraway continents. He wrote his adventures in places never been travelled before by any family member down into a book¹. Does somebody read this book anymore, besides some members of my family? Do we still read travel books? Are we still content when we read and watch the travel stories of others?

Family stories tell me that the travelling uncle was the odd one out. The adventurer. The one that didn’t want to fit in. The man who sought freedom of convention. The man that we didn’t dare to follow because we thought it was dangerous, unacceptable, impossible to do. You felt unable to do the same, how deep the longing in your heart was to go away too. You didn’t have the required character traits. But who did anyhow? These people were exceptional, not exemplary.

Travelling faraway places have always been for the privileged few. For the adventurous and the rich. Well, my family never have been very wealthy, so only the daredevils dared to go.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Times have changed since the book was published. We, ordinary people, want to travel too. We are no longer content with written stories full of adventure and peril. We want adventure ourselves. We want to seek out freedom in faraway places. We want to be explorers too. We want to be foreigners in foreign cultures, exotic places, and wilderness landscapes. And hurray, with the rise of mass tourism, this is possible. Now everyone with modest means could go places their parents never could have gone. Packaged holidays, cheap flights and mass accommodations made it possible to overrun those exotic places previous generations only dreamt about. You can make your dreams come to when you travel far away.

You can even fulfil your life when being away from home, that dreadful boring space. There are no limits or hindrances anymore finding your destination. You’re a fool when you don’t use the endless possibilities to reach every corner of the earth. No longer do the exceptional character traits make us travel, it is the boring ones that make us stay at home. If you want to belong you should be able to answer the question: Where have I been?

We can fulfil our destiny by reaching our holiday destination. We can conquer the space around us, we can be masters of our freedom when we travel to overcrowded beaches, overrun cities and sites, in cramped chartered aeroplanes. Space around me belongs to me. It’s my space where I can go when I want to. We are truly free when we can go where we want to go.² Don’t stop me now.

“Travel is not a privilege, but basic human right!!” (Planet Abled on Twitter)

This hunger for freedom became so apparent during the corona crisis. Limitations on our movement were attacks on our freedom. Freedom of travel is a human right after all³. We have the right to travel the space around us. Governments revoked that right temporarily, how dare they! We have a deep urge to go again to those places we’ve visited before on previous holidays. The first holiday flights to those too well-known holiday destinations were celebrated as regaining our essential freedom.⁴ Nobody can take the right to occupy the spaces needed for our own well-being.

And just when the impact of corona diminishes in the Western world thanks to vaccination, we start to realise that our regained freedom of travel is limited. Not because our human rights are overruled. Nor because we travel to places everyone has visited before that are truly spurious and universal. Nor is it our desire to be socially acceptable because we travel, and we can brag about it. It’s far more profound and down-to-earth.

In the age of climate change, CO₂ reduction and de-stabilization of world politics, places that are now easily reachable will become far away again. Mass travel comes with an expense for the environment, and for the places, we visit. Air and water pollution, rising temperatures, overrun picturesque towns with only tourist shops, our longing for holiday space has dire consequences. It ruins the world. It can even ruin our livelihood. We won’t be able to travel the way we’re used to. Venice is closed for cruise ships, Thailand closed entire islands after tourism damaged its ecosystems.⁵ We have to change the way we travel. Technological solutions are far from ready, carbon compensation schemes are inadequate. We have to reduce our ecological footprint now.

“Tourism is not just a victim of global warming – it also contributes to the problem. Tourism alone is responsible for 8% of the world’s carbon emissions.” (Sustainable Travel International)⁶

In the end, we won’t be able to travel the world freely anymore. We cannot explore places and cultures as we did before. The side-effects are unacceptable and the costs too large to bear. If we want to give our children some freedom of movement in their lives, we must give in. We must become responsible tourists. No more worldwide travels. Stay at home. Take a walk or a bike trip. Stroll in the park.

Next generations will be still able to travel the world, they still have a right to do so. But it will be exceptional again. Going places will require endurance, perseverance and above all patience and time. Or it will be available to the very rich only. People who can pay off their environmental and societal debts with ease. Who will be able to buy a ticket to space as a tourist? I’m afraid I won’t.

Travelling the world will be for the bold, who are willing to take a long time off to sail the world. We, ordinary people, will have to limit our circle of movement. We will hear and see about those unreachable places on the screen and print only. Distant places will be like Cockaigne, alluring but unreachable. Can we accept this apparent loss of freedom? Our inability to travel the space around us? Are we prepared to limit our movements again because we don’t have the means?

“The space you occupy is always at the expense of someone else.” (Bas Haring, philosopher and professor at the University of Leiden)⁷

The readers of the book of my great-granduncle could only dream about our travel destinations. But they also were relieved that they didn’t have the endure the hardships of travel. Will it be possible for us to return to that old state of mind, or are we to remain jealously longing back to the time that space was there to be conquered by budget airlines? Just to make our lives worthwhile? Are we able again to stay at home and find our destiny there?

I realise that not all space on this fragile planet is up for grabs. I discovered my surroundings and call it home. Do I feel limited? The awareness that unlimited travel is over makes me feel melancholic, but it has to be. Did I plan to travel the world soon? Not really. Do I have a bucket list of places to see? Yes, I do. But I don’t want the world to pay the price of my wanderlust. No way!

This article has been previously published on Medium for The Medium Writers Challenge (August 2021).

Photo Public Domain by Robert Marinković via Pixabay

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¹ Matisse, Maarten: A Wanderer from Sea to Sea; published by L. Dickson (January 1, 1936)

² Caruana, Robert and Crane, Andrew, Getting Away from it All: Exploring Freedom in Tourism (August 23, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1663933 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1663933

³ Freedom of movement; Wikipedia (July 13, 2021). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_movement

⁴ Pitrelli, Monica Buchanan: Vaccines are being required for travel — here’s how unvaccinated people feel about that; CNBC (August 10, 2021). https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/10/covid-vaccines-required-for-travel-unvaccinated-people-dont-like-it.html

⁵ Olito, Frank: 8 tourist sites that had to close due to overcrowding; Insider (July 16, 2019). https://www.insider.com/tourist-sites-closed-for-overcrowding-2019-7

⁶ From the website of Sustainable Travel International (2020). https://sustainabletravel.org/our-work/climate-change/

Haring, Bas & Ivković, Ivana: Is een vakantiewoning overbodige luxe?; Trouw (August 20, 2021). https://www.trouw.nl/religie-filosofie/is-een-vakantiewoning-overbodige-luxe~bfde20be/