x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

All of life's journeys should be precious

There was a time when catching a flight somewhere had carefree glamour to it, but today air travel can seem ordinary - and difficult.

Travel is one of the great life experiences, one that broadens the mind like no other. But with rising costs and increasing worries about environmental effects, I am mourning in advance the loss to future generations of the easy and quick travel available to us today. And I worry that we will have smaller mindsets for it.

I have been fortunate: my early 20s coincided with a heyday of travel, when it was cheap and plentiful and no one batted an eye at travelling abroad every weekend. With money in my pocket after graduation, precious few responsibilities and plenty of discount travel, no place was too far or too exotic.

I saw the world, experiencing first-hand the places that appeared in the news. The conversations I had with people whose voices are rarely heard are irreplaceable: the unemployed PhD graduates at the foot of Morocco's Atlas Mountains; the 20-year-old human rights activist in Gaza who had never been permitted to visit Jerusalem; the caretaker of the cemetery in Qana in Lebanon where 100 refugees were killed within the UN's jurisdiction by Israeli fire.

I feel a nostalgia on behalf of my future self at the loss of these human connections as travel becomes more difficult and expensive, the preserve once again of only the wealthy.

While Facebook and Twitter may connect us with those who inhabit unknown places and cultures, they can never replace the experience of tasting local food or seeing emotions painted in the creases of people's faces as they show you their world.

The new alternative is the "staycation" but that for me is just trying to give a fashionable name to something inherently dull. Who takes a holiday to stay at home with pile of laundry and a constant reminder to get on with the spring cleaning? No thanks.

Of course, the train is still available as long-distance travel, and it has an Orient Express-inspired romance. It is more time-consuming and requires more planning - but it can help us revive one element of travel that was lost when air travel became so easy, quick and ordinary: the idea that travel is grand and aspirational, important in itself.

We'll never be able to travel with such extravagance and ease again - but through enforced rarity and slowness, perhaps we'll come to appreciate more deeply not just the destination but the journey too.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at www.spirit21.co.uk