Sunday, 7 March 2010

Places I shall never see

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There is a time, in middle age, where you have to admit that there are some things in life you are simply not going to do. This might sound a little defeatist or morbid, but I actually find it rather liberating. I can concentrate on what I am going to do, rather than fret about possibilities missed.

Travel, to certain destinations, for me, is one of these. I know now that there are places in the world I shall never see with my own eyes. I really hate to fly. I hate everything about it: the expense, the queues, the security panics, the discomfort, the lurking fear that I shall in fact die in a ball of fire. So I am now embracing the fact that I am not going to go anywhere I cannot get to by train or boat. I feel rather joyful as I write that sentence. I realise that I have known this for a while, but refused to confirm it; there is a lurking guilt in me, because I was brought up in a generation that religiously believed in travel broadening the mind.

The gap year was fetishised in my youth. Everyone hurled their possessions in a backpack, and set off for South America and India and the Far East. How we all scoffed at those mad statistics everyone bandied about in the eighties, about only 7% of Americans having passports. I remember feeling properly shocked by the fact that George W Bush could become president when he had only ever visited Scotland and Mexico. How could a son of such preppy East Coast privilege, from a family of great wealth and sophistication (however much he tried to pretend he was just a down-home Texan) never have been to Paris or Rome or Bombay or St Petersburg?

So travel was never just a whimsical luxury to me, but enshrined as a moral imperative. This is, of course, absurd. There are plenty of perfectly good, clever, imaginative people who do not dash off about the world. There are travellers of the mind. I suddenly realise that I do not have to castigate myself because I shall never see the statues on Easter Island. I am going to think of the great luck I had in seeing the places I did. I shall live off my hump, like a camel. I shall remember Venice and Rome and the Italian Lakes and Capri and the great, crazy New Year's Eve I spent in Naples. I will recall taking the train from Bombay to Cochin, three magical days in a crowded carriage with an American artist, two Swedish hippies and a very polite Keralan called Albert. I have in my mind Manhattan in a snow storm, and Seattle in the blinding sun, and Paris in the rain, and the marvellous city of Malacca in the sultry, tropical heat.

All the same, I feel the need to bid a formal farewell to the places I shall not witness. It is an occasional series, if you like. Today, for no reason I can identify, it is Colombia.

I shall never see Bogota:

Cathedral in Bogota

Or the wonderful Las Lajas Cathedral:


Or the majestic plaza at Villa de Leyva:

Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Or the backstreets of old Cartagena:

Claudia Londono Agredo Cartagena colonial houses

But thanks to the miracle of The Google, I can see the pictures. And I think that is sort of all right.

Fact check: I am certain that 7% figure can never have been true, although people did repeat it as if it were gospel. I do discover the current number of Americans owning passports is 22%, according to State Department figures, and I do think that is quite strangely low. But then if I lived in a country with such an amazing variety of landscape and flora and fauna, maybe I would come over all Uncle Matthew and refuse to go abroad too.


  1. I am almost where you are, at the point of declaring I will never board a plane again. But my husband refuses to acknowledge this and books us anyway. And I'm terrified, don't sleep for days, conk out on the plane, then am glad I went. But I can't imagine being able to do this for much longer. I have always been this kind of flyer.

    I've told my husband to choose his retirement travel partner, his brother for instance. Because the long-distance (airline) trips won't include me. And I'm preparing, meanwhile, for the battle epic.

  2. Oh Tania, It's such a shame, we are the same age! I want to see as many places I can before I pop my clogs. But I do understand, funnily enough I was having a similar conversation with my Belle Mère last week she is approaching 80, and has recently visited South Afica and Israel, solo. She said: "travelling is such a bore these day's, it used to be so exciting. With all the new security checks, a lady can't even travel with her vanity case"
    Loved it.

  3. Firstly your carbon footprint will be amazing... Secondly I couldn't agree more with this post. I am so happy with where I am, I've been to every single place you mention bar India (I've been to Sir Lanka and Thailand, not the same I know...) but I have no desire to go everywhere. I too hate travelling. I'm about two years younger than you but feel I've already crammed a couple of lifetimes into one so don't feel I have a void I need to fill with travel and thank god I don't! I'd get far too cross with all the hold ups. A very happy Birthday to your blog by the way, it's always a joy and I adore your dog pics. xx

  4. How completely sad and irrational! I think that this is so disappointing and I am surprised to find so many of my contemporaries feeling the same way. After being made redundant and retiring I had the opportunity to work in S.E. Asia for 18 months and took it! Wow to have the opportunity to explore that part of the globe was so liberating.So much to see so many places to go and experience.

    No one enjoys the flight! It is a means to an end and the recompense is seeing these places yourself.No number of google hits can possibly be the same. Be brave and go!!!

  5. On my last flight, going home for Mother's 90th birthday, I was pulled out of line and placed in a glass cage and searched relentlessly. Wanded, patted down, etc. Several times.

    They didn't like a little gel I had in my medicine baggie, for migraines, a pain gel. There was a tiny amount of it I had placed there because the large jar was too big. I put it on my forehead and it helps.

    Then on the way back they didn't like the container in my backpack containing my jewelry. I put it in there so I could keep it on my person. I don't know why they didn't like it but it triggered another round of searching. Meanwhile, all sorts of people were going by unmolested who looked far more suspicious than I do (in my opinion anyway). I know they have their orders, but I can't imagine how these make sense. And combined with my old fear of flying, I now get physically ill before I get on those planes. Sorry, but it's just not worth it anymore.

  6. As much as I love travelling, I find the actual process of flying has become totally humiliating. I hate it - having to get up at some godforsaken hour, stand in queues, fighting with paperwork and passports (put it away, take it out two minutes later, put it away ...), open your bag, take off coat, shoes, belt, whatever. Stampede to the 'plane (why do people want to be the first on board?), small seats for long legged people such as myself, strange trays of 'stuff' that is tasteless, undrinkable coffee - the list is endless.
    Trains however are another matter - I love train journeys!

  7. I still hope I will see more because I haven't travelled as far as you. I agree though you don't need to be well travelled at all- travel is a state of mind, being interested in other ways of doing things, other cultures and being open minded.

    Travel also teaches me how much I love home too though I find. I remember sitting in a cafe in quite remote Canada, having a lovely holiday, really enjoying all I'd seen that day but thinking how glad I would be to be home too- to put on radio 4, hop on a bus, see the Thames.

  8. But you could sail!:

    Thank you for the blog. Lovely thoughtful writing.


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