I used to Love Travel™. Partly I’ve been very lucky. I was able to travel for free to lots of Esperanto events through a charity that funds Esperanto-learners in the UK. Through this I went to Slovakia, Germany, and Poland many times. I’ve also travelled independently to Czechia, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Norway, Austria, and with family to Greece, Croatia, France, and throughout the UK. I have a vague recollection of taking on this traveller persona around the time it was become trendy online, and it was more reflexive than active. Travel broadens horizons etc. etc.
When I was younger, I vowed I wouldn’t live in the UK when I grew up. I was awkwardly, unpolitically xenophilic; I listened to only non-English music, hung out on polyglot forums, and found more and more obscure languages to be interested in. I almost ended up going to university the second time to study Icelandic, because I was particularly infatuated with it for a spell.
Now, when I spread the world map before me, I feel the faint nausea of disinterest. The thing is, I’ve never been one for the expensive experience holidays, because I couldn’t afford them. And aside from seeing the sites, which gets tiring pretty quickly, most of the world is now pretty much the same. There are supermarkets, busses, neoliberals and coffee shops everywhere, and pasty British faces abound all over.
Not that this meant the travel industry in the past was any more politically sound. I want to make it clear that I’m not yearning for an exoticism, rather I’m arguing that the driving force for a lot of the travel aesthetic comes from new experiences, when in fact you can find them wherever you live. But equally, modern society is curated to be as bland and formulaic as possible, as neoliberalism has progressively succeeded at eroding any kind of public meeting space and community that falls outside of the nuclear family and the state.
A large part of my disillusionment comes from being trans. The fantasies of going out and meeting people in cozy bars halfway across the world just doesn’t have the same appeal when you’re worried about your safety, worried about callous rejection. I can’t even enjoy “LGBT tourism”, because really all it is is gay tourism.
For a while, I was considering where I should move to based on the availability of an in-person LGBT community. But my experiences at uni made me realise that many of these “communities” are nothing more than vapid scenes, and that I’m too neurodivergent to fit comfortably in them, anyway. What I really need is my own community, made up of close friends I can trust, with our material and medical needs catered for. And that’s hopelessly, desperately impossible, because my friends are as overworked, sad, and time-robbed as I am, and we’re all scattered around the world, scattered inside our minds.
There’s also the environment. It’s impossible to shed this issue off my conscience now. But I don’t believe we should cease travelling entirely. People have always travelled, whether for education, asylum, trade, or pleasure, and it’s unrealistically draconian to expect people to curtail it to within their own back garden. Travel can be green. Europe has one of the best rail networks in the world. The issue is not the technology, but time.
In the past, if you wanted to travel somewhere, you didn’t just hop off for the weekend. You dedicated a good chunk of time. It could take weeks or even months to reach your desination, and you’d better be staying there for long enough for it to be worth it. The journey was resolutely part of the experience, à la Trans-Siberian Railway and not Ryanair-to-Paris. The main issue preventing this now is work culture. No millennial’s boss will allow them to take a month off to go travelling, given most of them are in precarious, poorly-paid work. But it is this vision that truly appeals to me: a gloriously-lazy, wondering-at-the-small-joys, border-sauntering travel experience.
Unfortunately, we seem to be slipper further and further away from this possibility. High-speed rail networks are pushing out traditional, cheaper services, meaning that trips to smaller places become lengthy and cumbersome, and due to the bizarre machinations of international taxation, flying is the most cost-effective option in many instances.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been meaning to go to Spain for a while. I haven’t lost the joy in travelling, clearly, but I’m trying to temper my expecatations as much as possible. For a solo journey, though, I just don’t feel like I can justify a flight. So maybe I’ll try the overnight train from London to Barcelona, or spread the journey through France over several days. It’d be a new experience, for sure.