Loved this op-ed in The New York Times:
Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.
My girlfriend and I recently set out to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of any aircraft. Along the way, we took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the wilds of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, and drove a car through the empty doomlands of the Australian outback. These journeys take less than half a day if you go by plane. Each lasts nearly a week when you stick to the ground. But taking to the air means simply boarding, enduring the flight and getting off at another airport. Going our way meant sharing bread and cheese with kindly Russians in a shared train cabin, and drinking beers with Australian jackaroos (we’d call them cowboys) at a lonely desert roadhouse. These are warm, vivid memories that will stay with us forever.
Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? (Turbulence, bad in-flight movies and screaming children don’t count.) Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.
Now, imagine floating across the Atlantic on a ship. Do you think you might enjoy those days of transit — the joys of a starry night in the middle of the ocean, or a round of drinks with new friends as you look out across the stern railing at the glimmering water — and hold them in your memories well after your vessel made landfall?
Fellow True Slant writer D.D. Cook wrote, back in January, about his cross-country train trip.
I’m pretty evangelical about travel — my Mom and I share the fantasy of true wealth being a deep drawer filled with pre-chosen tickets to places we haven’t even thought of into which you’d dip your bored hand, then go! — and especially about non-airplane locomotion. I love trains. My Dad loves buses. I once dragged my horrified high-end sweetie onto a series of buses in Mexico (we all know how horrid much bus service is in the U.S.) and showed him the deluxe travel, complete with movies and clean comfortable seats, first-class carriers offer there.
(Although, and we have a the photo to prove it, we were less amused when each bus showed a video, sort of like pre-flight announcements on a plane, showed a bus rolling over and crashing and telling us what to do. Hmmm, pray?!)
I recall most of my non-flying moments vividly:
A 2.5 hours bobbing under a blazing sun traveling by boat from southern Thailand to Ko Phi Phi, tropical paradise.
Five fragrant days traveling across northern Corsica on a mo-ped — inhaling the smells of sun-warmed maquis — which I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal.
Gabi and me jumping into the back of a pickup truck in Jaji, Venezuela to attend a local dance, so high in the mountains we were literally shrouded by the occasional cloud.
Eight days in a truck with Pierre, the French trucker who spoke no English and let me share his cab from Perpignan to Istanbul, no showers along the way; cops confiscated my film in Bulgaria and thieves siphoned gas from the tank while we slept in the cab in (what was then still) Yugoslavia.
What has been your best non-airplane journey?