It narrows the mind and distends the stomach, so let's travel less

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The Independent Online
Is your journey really necessary? Here, in the first of a series, is the case against packing self and suitcase into a gas-guzzling tube hurtling along five miles up.

So the collapse of the rupiah, the baht, the ringgit and the won has turned the Far East into a cut-price holiday paradise? Not for me. I wouldn't go to Thailand, Bali or anywhere else in the Far East if you paid me. I will not be cracking open the champagne, searching for the travel sickness tablets and heading for the cheap sun now that the Asian tiger economies have gone belly-up.

It is not just the Far East, either. I would not go to Paris for the weekend. I do not like travelling. It is bad for people. It is unsafe. It is bad for the environment. It narrows the mind.

The modern fashion for long-distance travel is a snare and a delusion. Of course, there was once an evolutionary advantage to the restlessness of humanity, but now we are footloose without purpose. Following a redundant genetic impulse, we pack into large metal boxes which burn unimaginable quantities of fossil fuels to transport us thousands of miles. And then two weeks later we come back again. What for? A better way to get skin cancer? To see the sights ... and make a mess of them? To get to know other cultures? Give me a break. Preferably in the United Kingdom. By train.

The instinct to explore has been played out. Humans have been everywhere, done that. They have been to the top of Everest so often the summit resembles the waste skip of a resuscitation ward. Driven by their genes to invent ever more absurd frontiers to reconnoitre, the sort of people who might once have trekked across the Rocky Mountains are now chartering jets so they can freefall parachute over Antarctica. It is time to cut out this appendix, this leftover wanderlust which troubles us so pointlessly.

It should not be hard. It is not as if anybody actually enjoys being trapped in what MPs call a "sedentary position" for eight hours and forced to watch Men In Black. Then there's the jet lag, the almost inevitable diarrhoea and the common cold. On a two-week holiday you are lucky to have three days of anything that resembles normal fitness.

Then there is the green argument for people staying where they are put. Air travel is the most energy-hungry thing that most people can do, assuming you do not one day come into sole possession of a smelting works. You can drive a car up and down the length of the United Kingdom for years - not that I would want to do that, either - before you burn up as much petrol as your share of a single plane trip.

Not that there is any reason why individuals should change their behaviour just to allow others to warm the Earth's climate. But we should act collectively, through the state. One measure the Conservative government should have been congratulated on, rather than pilloried for, was imposing an airport tax. The only trouble was that it was not enough. What is pounds 20 extra when you can buy beer at 2p a bottle in Indonesia?

It is a scandal that aviation fuel for international flights is not taxed. If the governments of the world could agree to do something about it, they would have a permanent, bouyant source of revenue - and put the brakes on the fastest-growing source of global warming gases.

As for the idea that travels widens people's horizons, promotes international understanding and turns us all into worldy-wise renaissance persons - you only have to see American tourists taking flash photos of Big Ben to realise the absurdity of that.

It may have been a good idea for Marco Polo to have backpacked to Beijing, although it did not do the Chinese much good. It may even have been a good thing to send the educated elite of Britain on Grand Tours of the continent in the 18th and 19th centuries. But we have television and the Internet now. If it is learning you want, you can do it at home.

However, I am not against abroad as such. I am not narrow-minded and ignorant in my insularity. I am narrow minded and well-informed. Indeed, I have been abroad. I was born and brought up there. But you can only really learn anything about foreign countries by working in them, as opposed to sight-seeing. Living and working in foreign countries should be encouraged, within limits. It is tourism I object to, and especially the desire to go to the remotest and wildest places in the world and build four-star hotels in them. It does not do the locals any good, as opposed to filling their pockets - highly selectively - with hard currencies. It encourages the demand for Coca-Cola and accelerates the homogenisation of world culture.

But it is not just travel to remote places which is unwise. It would take more than last weekend's public relations exercise in the Channel Tunnel to persuade me that it was safe to pull open-sided freight wagons through it. And, much as I like boats, cross-Channel routes hardly have the sort of safety record which bolsters consumer confidence.

Even in the United Kingdom, there is no way I would travel long distances by car. As with air travel, motorways may show up well in the statistics, but no one can tell me that it is safe for a bunch of people subjected only to the most rudimentary form of quality control to be hurtling along within feet of each other at (usually) more than 70mph.

If you have to travel long(ish) distances, and even I accept that some people do, the only civilised way is by train - with ships reserved as a seasick-inducing necessity for emigrants.

So, as you sip your complimentary, jetlag-aggravating Pinot Noir on the long haul to the land of the devalued ringgit (that's Malaysia, I think), think of me, boarding the Bournemouth train or the sleeper to Glasgow.