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The Art of Travel.

Do you remember Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Travelin’ Light’?  If you have a copy on tape or CD, go listen to it now.  Ella hit the nail right on the head in that song.  If you’re going to travel, travel light.

What do I mean by that?  Well, first off it’s a piece of purely practical advice.  When you go on vacation you always take more stuff than you need.  Don’t believe me?  Next time you get back from a trip, empty out your bags.  Make a pile of the stuff you used, and a pile of the stuff you didn’t use.  I’ll bet the two piles aren’t far off being the same size.  You took half a bagful of junk with you.

‘Wait a minute,’ I hear you say.  ‘I might not have used that thirteenth pair of shorts, but I’m sure glad I had them with me. What if there’d been an emergency?’

Well, what if there had been an emergency?  You’d have coped.  The fact that you’re reading this suggests that you’re interested in foreign travel, which in turn suggests that you’re a resourceful and adventurous kind of human being.  Next time you go on vacation, try taking half the usual amount of clothing and equipment with you.  It’s less to heave around airports – or on your back, if you’re a backpacker – and it’s less for the airplane to heave around the sky.  So you get a double glow of satisfaction: first from standing in Arrivals with a bag half the size of everyone else’s, and second from knowing that you’ve saved maybe a gallon of aviation fuel polluting this beautiful planet of ours.

And that’s the second sense in which you should travel light: don’t make a big impact on the places you visit.  Sure, if you’re travelling to the Sudan to work in a refugee camp then the whole point of going is to have an effect.  But if you’re just seeing the world, try not to change it too much on the way.  Tourism is a massive cause of environmental damage.  That’s ironic, as the tourists who are bringing their garbage and their polluting vehicles to Yellowstone or the beaches of Bali or the English Lake District are eroding the landscape they’ve come to marvel at.  Enjoy travelling, and feel satisfaction at the effect your dollars have on local economies.  But don’t be profligate with the earth’s resources.

Lastly, you should make sure that you’re travelin’ light in heart and mind.  Leave your cares behind you, naturally, because that’s the whole point of having a vacation.  But you should also leave behind all your prejudices and notions of what foreign people and places are like.  If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my travels, it’s this: for all the cultural differences that exist, folks all over the world are pretty much the same.  Ninety-nine percent of them are decent, hardworking people who have joys and sorrows, hopes and fears just like yours.  So make an effort to get along with them: smile, and they’ll smile back.  Learn a few words of their language – even if it’s just ‘please’, ‘thank-you’ and ‘excuse me’ – and the chances are they’ll be on your side right away.  Travel light, and you’ll make a lot of friends.

Coming travelling, anyone?

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