The Swedish word ‘flygskam’ means ‘flight shame’. I think of this word – the only Swedish word I know apart from Ikea — as I fly over Sweden, its million tiny lakes reflecting back up at me, on my way back from somewhere even further away.
Oh dear. Still, at least my lunch is vegan. Although being realistic, a plastic portion of plant-based plane food is unlikely to offset the flight’s quarter ton of carbon emissions per hour. Oh dear.
The ideal number of flights per year is zero. We all know this, and have known it forever, the same way we know that palm oil and burgers are destroying vital vegetation. Yet we fly.
Until the last plane is grounded, we will continue to fly. Until flying itself becomes as taboo and forbidden as actually lighting up a cigar in your window seat, we will continue to hurtle around the planet in fast tin cans.
Yet flying is generally awful. Even if you refuse to fly with Europe’s cheapest, nastiest airline, airports and economy class still tend to be hideous experiences.
You have to steel yourself. Few of us can afford fancy class, which is basically the same experience but with free sandwiches behind a curtain; you still get spooled through security in your socks, carrying your lipstick like it’s a bomb.
Then the enforced yellow brick road of duty-free — stinking of perfume and staffed by people with frightening eyebrows.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Because it’s fast. That’s it. No other reason. So flying is great for funerals, because there’s a good chance you’ll get there in time.
But why do we have to be fast all of the time? Isn’t getting on a plane in the cold and getting off a plane in the heat a bit pointless and disconcerting? (Even worse the opposite way around, if you have ever shivered on a runway in the wrong clothes). What about the bit in the middle?
Slow travel, like slow food and slow cities and slow living, means you actually get to enjoy the bit in the middle. The transformation of scenery from familiar to unfamiliar; the sense of journeying, of exploration.
The unfolding of landscapes, the changing light. You get none of that on a plane, as you sit strapped in, being bellowed at about scratchcards.
Boats and trains are bliss. Had David Bowie not been so famously terrified of flying, he would never have taken the Trans Siberian express through Brezhnev’s Moscow, and we would not have
as a result. Has anyone ever written anything brilliant on a plane? We only ever hear about air rage.
This summer, it’s boats and driving for me. Not because of flygskam — I’m not there yet — but because slow travel brings so much joy.
A boat to Bilbao, then a long slow drive over the Pyrenees in an LPG-converted camper van, to a campsite near St Tropez.
All the scenery, all the stopovers, from the Guggenheim, to the mountains, to the beaches. No rush, no stress. Heaven.