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The End Of Travel

In travel, as in other things, I am rather preoccupied by the idea of le monde a l’envers. The old assumptions are changing.

Several years ago I took part in a Conservative Party Conference debate about low-cost air travel. I’m a libertarian-hedonist free-marketeer, but my argument against it was based on environmental concerns (not just carbon but con-trails) and an anxiety about destinations being destroyed. I advocated self-denial, restraint and social responsibility.

Against me was the delightful Simon Calder, a traditional socialist. Not just in ideology, but in his sandals-and-socks costume too. He argued in favour of free markets, consumer choice and the price factor. He advocated unreflective self-indulgence. I was concerned with principles. He was concerned with convenience. Of course, in front of an audience who depended on EasyJet to get value from their golf-and-cocktails timeshare in Marbella, I lost.

The belief that travel is a private pleasure or a business necessity is one of the great delusions of our age. Henry Ford’s gasoline buggy was intended to facilitate escape from the boredom of life on the farm. Now, the liberating machine is oppressive.

Today, young people prefer a smartphone to a car. Mobility is virtual. When I was twenty, I was free because I had a car. My children now feel free because they do not.

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