Suzanne Harrington: Povhols make me a flypocrite. What to do?

Over the years, I have perfected the povhol — the poverty holiday, or travel on a shoestring.

Suzanne Harrington: Povhols make me a flypocrite. What to do?

Over the years, I have perfected the povhol — the poverty holiday, or travel on a shoestring. While the rare opportunity arises to go five-star luxe, it’s always for work; the places I am sometimes sent to write about are the kind of places where, in real life, I could not afford a glass of water.

In real life, such places — while fun to visit as a travel-writing fly on the sumptuous wall — would have little in common with my preferred kind of travel.

I’d rather a month away on a gloriously autonomous shoestring than three days of cloistered five-star anxiety (they want HOW MUCH for a sandwich?)

But now we have the added thing of what the Economist puns “train-boasts, plane-shame and electric automobiles.” Not everyone can do a Greta, and borrow an eco-yacht to cross an ocean, especially when the mission is a povhol, rather than addressing the UN.

I am spending February in India, in a simple place that costs ten euros a night (including meals), surrounded by the kind of natural beauty that you couldn’t make up, never mind monetise; but how to get there? In this broiling Heisszeit (Heat Age, Germany’s word of 2019), how to travel and still avoid flygskam (Sweden’s now ubiquitous word for flight-shame)?

In the hippie era, you could go overland. Older friends reminisce about camper vanning peacefully through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan; these days, thanks to imperialism and international belligerence, this route is less doable than booking a private rocket to the moon.

Dreams of languid train journeys from Istanbul to Tehran, Kabul, Lahore remain just that — dreams. Boats sound romantic, until you factor in the reality of staring at the sea for weeks on end. Technically you could travel to India by freight ship — except it takes about a month and costs four to six times more than flying. I’ve checked.

Which is how I find myself adding to the growing lexicon of travel-related climate jargon. Flypocrite. I hereby out myself as an Extinction Rebellion supporting user of planes, like an Emma Thompson that nobody has heard of; I am not going to India via train, van or boat. No, my povhol will be made possible by a long haul flight. I am a flypocrite — economy class all the way.

Thankfully, to counteract flygskam and flypocrisy, we have tagskyrt. Swedish for ‘train-boast’, tagskyrt is when you make a song and dance about reaching your destination overland. So for my summer povhol — the annual camp out in the South of France — I will be piously on the ground, reaching my destination by Eurostar, even though flying to Marseille is still faster and cheaper than going by train.

You’d need to be a special kind of deluded not to appreciate the utter first-world-problem of all of this. Individuals in rich countries will have caused more carbon emissions by mid January than individuals in developing countries will create all year. This is where we are at. Flypocrisy still winning over flygskam. What do to? Stop travelling?

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