Cutting back on long-haul travel will help the planet and if your children are like mine, they won’t object, says Mariella Frostrup
‘There’s no shortage of wonders in the world, just a shortage of wonder!’ So says Professor Brian Cox the ex-pop star turned particle physicist whose record-breaking world tours inspire his audiences to see the universe with fresh eyes. His words ring in my ears every time I take a walk in the beautiful Somerset countryside where I live and find myself unable to name the unusually marked bird that paddles past on the river, or the familiar tree bearing gorgeous cerise blossom. How can I have lived this long and not been interested enough in my immediate surroundings to be able to name those miracles of nature in my daily life?
It’s so very easy to keep your eye on the destination and miss what’s in front of your nose and this is also particularly true when it comes to the topic of how we travel. Where’s the ‘wonder’ when the kids are sitting in the back of the car as we drive across Sri Lanka, scrolling through their phones to pass the time until we arrive. So often we journey with our eyes wide shut, seemingly looking but actually blind to what’s right in front of us.
With global warming no longer a theory but a clear and present danger, we all need to think hard about where, why and how much we should be travelling. What made for blessed days of February sunshine in the UK bodes less well for the welfare of the world and we all need to decide how to respond to it. Travelling less is an option that’s hard to swallow for my generation, brought up on the advent of cut-price airlines and the democratisation of global adventuring.
A woman I encountered the other day told me triumphantly about the battle she’d fought to end the use of plastic straws at her children’s school, before extolling the virtues of booking a private jet for the family holiday in France. ‘If you fill a 10-seater it’s almost the same price as if you all fly British Airways Business,’ she explained patiently, bemused that I wasn’t seeming to grasp the practicality of it!
So, we do have some way to go when it comes to changing patterns of behaviour. Which brings me back to Brian Cox and his sense of wonder, the very thing we’re surely in pursuit of when we head for the four corners of the earth. I asked my teenage frequent travellers, their high mileage passports the result of my happy side-line as a travel journalist and their father’s globe-trotting profession, what their favourite trips have been and where they’d like to return.
The answers were surprising. The glorious backwater of Paxos in Greece took the top spot. Most summers we rent a small Scott Williams villa and for two blissful weeks the most intrepid we get is steering a little day boat around the enchanting coves. It suggests that the combination of familiarity and repetition are highly valuable commodities when it comes to childhood vacationing.
Mawgan Porth in Cornwall was a surprise second place, thanks to Kingsurf ’s Pete who kept my kids out in the Atlantic waves in minus two degrees for three hours at New Year and returned them utterly frozen but euphoric and now desperate to return. Lastly, claiming third place, the on-water haven of Salcombe in Devon, where the combination of fudge shop and freedom to roam seemingly makes for an intoxicating cocktail. Clearly, wonder is not necessarily about where you go but what you find there, and the good news is there’s as much of it to be uncovered near home as there is anywhere else on the planet.
Mariella presents Open Book on Radio 4. Wild Women and their Amazing Adventure over Land, Sea & Air edited by Mariella and published by Head of Zeus, is out now. Read more of Mariella’s columns