What’s the Real Cost of Travel?


There are few things more exciting than taking off in a plane, particularly if it’s taking you to a completely new destination, a new culture, or just an adventure. With the summer break almost upon us, and the end of exams in sight, the desire and opportunity to break free can be a heady mixture. But what about exploring the darker edges of the map?

Most people will tend to travel to Europe, North America and Eastern Asia, but maybe this summer you could move outside the obvious, and go somewhere completely new. An overly-eager and optimistic part of me wants to travel everywhere I possibly can, but unfortunately that’s impossible – there are over fifty eight thousand flight paths crisscrossing the globes surface – so working on the average lifespan of a woman, I would have to travel just over two a day in order to achieve this! Impossible ambitions aside, the years that we all spend as students are probably the ones that are most opportunistic in terms of traveling; lots of free time and, supposedly, lots of disposable income – so maybe we should be making the most of it, if we can?

Travelling to me has always felt like an adventure, but whilst traveling in its own right is exciting, surely we can’t let things like this warp our vision of what all the plane trails are doing to our atmosphere. It’s sort of like imagining a car exhaust giving off roses as it goes along. I’m not suggesting that we should stop taking plane journeys, apart from the fact that that would be physically impossible due to the way the world works, but maybe our engineers should spend more time working on alternative fuels.

Green issues have always been something close to my heart, ever since realizing to some extent the damage that we as a population inflict on the planet every day. It is one thing to revel in the beauty of the world around us and to take pictures of awesome sights available when we travel, but the consideration of our carbon footprints must surely be somewhere close to the forefront of our minds. Not to become overly nihilistic but one can’t help but worry that if we don’t do something now, some of these sights might not be available to others than come after ourselves.

There could be (sun)light at the end of the tunnel, however, as this week the world’s first solar powered plane made a record breaking journey of 1,541 km in a time of eighteen hours. The plane isn’t commercially usable yet, and it’s got some distance to cover before it is, but the fact that it’s a viable model to continue to develop is certainly uplifting. The plane works due to twelve thousand solar cells covering its wings and stabilizer that drives the four propellers, as well as charging the plane’s enormous batteries for when the aircraft is flying at night. Who knows, by 2020 fears about aircraft emissions might be behind us as we all fly off in a renewable energy fuelled aircraft.

While we might revel in our memories of travel, ideas for crazy plans and all sorts of things of that ilk, upon examining some of the statistics, it can be seen that there is a more serious side to travel as well. We should celebrate our ability to travel to these distant corners of the globe and look to a hopeful future when our method of doing it might be a little more environmentally friendly.

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