The sea was a long way from my childhood. It was another country, one we went to once a year for the whole of the summer holidays. For 12 years it was always the same place, always the same way of getting there, a series of blunt-nosed buses that smelt of oil and damp plush. You get the same sort of smell in small town cinemas on a rainy Saturday night.

The journey took a whole day. The first leg took us from Abergavenny to Brecon, the second (the longest) on to Carmarthen, where there was a tricky cross-town manoeuvre with luggage to catch the third bus, to Haverfordwest.

During the final haul to our destination at Little Haven, through stone- banked lanes of scabious and yellow toadflax, there was a particular corner where you got your first glimpse of the sea, glinting at the end of a dip between two fields. Each year, at this point, you felt your head was going to shoot off the top of your body with the excitement. You could not shout, or jump up and down. You just sat there, locked on to the sea, with your head about to explode.

Now I can jump into the car, slam the doors on the luggage and be in Little Haven in a quarter of the time. Mostly, that is good. I do not miss staggering through Carmarthen with an overpacked suitcase about to pop its locks, nor worrying about the bus connection. We always made it, but the worry never went away.

The car, though, is undeniably banal. The ease of it reduces the importance of the journey. I miss the ritual of the series of lumbering buses, the sense of pilgrimage to that miracle of the sea beyond the fields.

Speed, too, diminishes the strangeness of a journey. Travelling fast, especially on aeroplanes, there is not enough time to clear away all the mental baggage you have brought with you from the ordinary and make a space in your mind for the extraordinary.

Aeroplanes came into my life immediately after the Pembrokeshire summers, in the period when all I wanted from a holiday was a good suntan. The means was not as important as the end. You just wanted to get to the hot spot as quickly as possible: Spain, the Greek islands, wherever.

When you are flying, detached from the physical world, wrapped in cotton- wool clouds, you have no sense of progressing towards a goal. There is only the start and the finish of the journey: in between is a void.

Sometimes you have no choice in how you travel. You would not have much change left from a two-week holiday in the United States unless you could fly there. But the problem remains. How do you re-invent a sense of having arrived, slow down the approach so that your destination, the object of your dreams, advances imperceptibly, a shape glimmering on the horizon that gradually grows to fill your entire mind?

Boats do it beautifully. It was what made Tresco in the Scilly Isles so special before it got a helicopter landing pad. The helicopter used to go only as far as the biggest island, St Mary's. There you made your way down to the quay from which one of the Bryher boatmen would be waiting in an open wooden boat to take you over the last stretch of water to Tresco's silvery landing stage.

Pure masochism, some might think. I think not. The point of an island is the water around it. Arriving by sea, you arrive more aware of the influences that have shaped the place, accepting, welcoming even, its limitations. You can, fortunately, still ignore the daily helicopter flights to Tresco if you want and arrive by sea, but the island has been subtly changed by its more direct link with the mainland. It has become less different.

Your attitude to the means of arrival at a place depends on whether or not you view the travelling as part of the holiday. In sunbathing mode, I did not. Nor would skiers, who just want to get on the slopes. Now I see things differently. I want to slow the whole business down, stay in touch with the process of moving over the earth and the sea.

This is why, on our first visit to Bequia, one of the Grenadines, we approached it in a creaking old wooden schooner, the Friendship Rose, which we boarded on St Vincent. The island was a disappointment, the schooner superb, with a heavy canvas mainsail and a treetrunk of a mast. The journey is too short, as Bequia lies only about nine miles south of St Vincent, but you come in with chickens and oil drums and vast bundles tied up in tablecloths. That is more my style than the slick efficiency of the island's new airport.

No one could call Canefield airport on the island of Dominica slick. It is little more than a concrete strip, just long enough to take a Twin Otter aeroplane, which you pick up in Antigua. Flying in a Twin Otter is almost as good as sailing, for you are so near the waves you can see the dark shapes of the reefs under them, and you are close enough to the pilot to count the creases on the back of his neck. As you approach the island, robed in impenetrable greenery, small bits of rainbow dance along the wings of the plane and buzz in and out of the propellers. Magic though this is, it would be even better to come in by sea, if you could find a way of doing it that did not involve dressing up for dinner every night.

The smaller the destination, the more carefully you need to match your means of arrival to it. You need to be careful, too, when you are making a journey to a place that holds special significance for you. It is too easy to wipe out that significance, to belittle the place by sweeping down on it with too little ceremony.

I feel bad about Stonehenge when I pass it, storming home down the A303 with Eric Clapton pounding away on the car's tape recorder and a half-eaten Mars bar in my hand. It seems disrespectful to flash by like this. Suddenly, there they are, the stones, and equally suddenly gone. They do not have a chance to speak of their consequence, their gravity, their implications.

You should have to walk a considerable distance to find Stonehenge, to take it in as it rises naked from the plain, to watch the rectangles of sky between the monoliths change as you approach. If it is pouring with rain, so much the better. No effort we make to visit this place can rival the effort made by its builders. We demean that by glancing at it as we pass by at 70mph.

Ayers Rock in Australia also remains a difficulty. Of all the wonders of the world, this is the one I most long to see. But how? You would fly to Australia, of course. Fly even to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory in which the Rock lies. It is the last bit that is the poser. In my mind's eye, I see Ayers Rock shimmering on the horizon, me trudging towards it on foot, the great red shape slowly growing to mesmeric proportions as I approach. This will be difficult, given the conditions in the Simpson Desert. I would accept a camel, but would a camel accept me? For now, Ayers Rock remains a conundrum.