As anyone who knows me, or reads me here or at my Travelalphablog, knows that my husband and I love to travel. The list of places I want to go is longer than the number of zeros in my bank account or frequent flyer account, or the number of days off work we can get together. My plans for retirement include plenty of travel. My husband and I are torn between saving money for our retirement, and spending it on travel now. Because we wonder sometimes if travelling the world in twenty, or even ten or so years will be as easy as it is today?
Oil prices are increasingly rapidly. For many years, air travel prices haven’t increased. Sure – much to my disappointment – airlines have reduced services, packed in more seats so that travelling is an exercise in endurance and pain, and ensured that all seats are full pretty much always, to keep costs down. But even now, a return flight to Los Angeles is about NZ$2500. In 1995, on our first trip to the US, we paid about the same. Sixteen years later, the price hasn’t changed. That just can’t last. Airlines can’t cut costs anymore, and will have to pass on the rising cost of oil. And some say that peak oil – if you believe the concept – has passed. This means that supply will drop, just as demand from India and China increases. Price rises are inevitable.
Then there’s the global warming issue. I don’t feel too guilty for the international travelling I do, given that other lifestyle factors offset this. But airlines won’t always be able to brush off the impact by charging me to plant a tree to make up for each flight. It will inevitably impact on the price of air travel, and, eventually, my conscience.
So in ten or twenty years, will we once again be travelling by ship or train? That’s okay if you live in the UK. You can get pretty much everywhere by train if you need to. But it’s a bit harder to make an annual trip somewhere – anywhere – from New Zealand, if air travel is ruled out.
As if all this hasn’t already been weighing on our minds, I recently heard that the WHO selected antimicrobial resistance as its theme for World Health Day 2011. Rather scarily, diseases such as TB and malaria are already becoming resistant to drugs in 69 countries. Serious infections in hospitals are commonplace, and resistant HIV strains are emerging. Unless this can be curbed, or new ways to deal with these illnesses are developed, we face being plunged back into the dark ages – or at least the early 20th century – in terms of our ability to treat these commonplace illnesses. It’s a terrifying thought. But even if we do discover new methods of treatment, thousands if not millions will, in the short to medium terms, succumb to these resurgent illnesses. And in an attempt to curb infection rates, travel between continents, countries, or even cities may need to be curtailed. At best an inability to get travel medical insurance might stop us from going to India, or a tropical beach, for example. Or will our own fears and health concerns stop us travelling? Is seeing the world worth risking our health and our lives?
I know it sounds terribly indulgent to be thinking of travel when the globe is warming, glaciers are melting, and people might be dying of diseases we thought were under control. But I wonder, have we lived in the exact period of history – only thirty to forty years long – when travelling the world has been a realistic option for the average person? And is that era nearing an end?