Virtual Travel

Surreal Travel – now available at your nearest . . .

Shackleton advert 
I wonder what that great Polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton, would think about our “There-and-back in a day” Antarctic scenic flights.

Antarctic scenic flights

I can picture him shaking his head in disbelief. Passengers now can board an aeroplane at some southerly airport and within just a few hours be afforded a high-velocity, sweeping panoramic view of the whole of the vast frozen continent, including Shackleton’s polar nemesis – The South Pole. Fares are structured to provide varying levels of luxury (Dom Perignon or Chandon?) but all are treated to an atmosphere of pampered exclusivity.

Ernes Shackleton and crew

Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams aboard the Nimrod in Antarctic waters 1908 – photo Irish Post

Now my eyes are turned from the South to the North, and I want to lead one more Expedition. This will be the last… to the North Pole.” Ernest Shackleton

And should our Ernest have come across today’s adverts for “Two or three day in-and-out tours of The Arctic”, his jaw would surely have dropped. These trips offer customers such luxurious elements as: “you’ll board a helicopter for the final leg to the top of the world. Once at the North Pole we’ll celebrate with photos to document your arrival, champagne toasts and a call home from the top of the world.” Then our modern-day ‘adventurers’ are whisked away from all that pesky cold, snow and ice and quickly returned to civilisation’s mod cons.

I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.” Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton's ship - The Endurance

Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, frozen in ice Antarctica 1915. It was subsequently crushed and destroyed.

Virtually There
Younger people may not have noticed, but over the last few decades there has been an interesting evolution taking place in the world of ‘travel’. Whereas the vehicle or vessel was once a conveyance to get you started on your journey, it has now become a container that takes you on tour (not unlike the Pope in his Pope-Mobile, or the open-top double-decker city tour bus).

Yes, some will remember those days when the vehicle or vessel took you to the start of your travels; it was then that you disembarked and your adventure, your travel, really began.

Nowadays the vehicles themselves have morphed to provide us with effortless, Virtual travel from within their confines. With minimal use of your tiresome legs, you can now witness scenery unfolding in motion before your eyes through your porthole or window or, weather permitting, out on deck – scenery untainted, untouched and unfelt while you remain in utmost comfort (champagne glass and canapés at hand). But wait a minute, that’s just as it was at home when watching those National Geographic films on your 50“ HDTV screen.

TV Screen

A now common transfiguration (or mutation) of this phenomenon is found on the water (river or ocean). The old Passenger Liners that took us from A to B to start our adventures have all but gone; now we have the omnipresent River and Ocean Cruise Ships.

River Cruise Boat

On the latter, once you and your ample luggage are comfortably ensconced aboard, they proceed to present you with such an insane range of entertainment, shopping, food and beverages that it beggars belief. Your boredom threshold will be kept to a safe, barely-felt pulse: “You vill NOT be bored!” or, God forbid, go hungry. Have a look at this link Oasis of Sea Review and if you can see any relationship to ‘Travelling‘, please let me know (see my reference at the end to semantics). Passenger ferries, at least, still exist – all is not lost.

Upper Deck Cruise Liner

Trains, too, have become tour containers. Advertised Great Train Journeys promise that while within the carriage’s comforting confines you will be pampered with every luxury and whisked along apace while a mobile (and unfelt) panorama passes your window pane – much like watching a movie at home. Mind you, personally, I still get child-like enjoyment from using utilitarian trains to get from A to B.

I should mention that we have travelled on Australia’s Indian Pacific train from the east coast to Perth in Western Australia and, later, travelled the same route, same direction, in a series of camper wagons which we were relocating for the company. The latter was a far more interesting experience.

Lounge Train Carriage

It is worth noting, perhaps ghoulishly, that Air NZ was one of the first to offer “There-and-back in a day” scenic flights over Antarctica. However, on the 28th of November 1979, Air New Zealand flight 901crashed into Mt Erebus on Ross Island Antarctica in white-out conditions, instantly killing all 257 people on board. The passengers knew nothing of what was to happen until the instant they struck. What followed was a drawn-out, scandalous affair with Air NZ, its staff and the Commercial Pilots Association on one side and representatives of the pilot and crews’ families on the other, both locked in a momentous legal battle over cause and liability. A navigational error was mistakenly factored into the flight plan. More here: Mt Erebus Disaster

Mt Erebus disaster

And while on the subject of aeroplanes does anyone remember the Flying Boats of the South Pacific? What a great way to fly that was.

Float Plane

I think the word TRAVEL has been softened, or neutered, and now wallows broadly in the realm of logical semantics. For example – I go to the city in my car, therefore I am travelling.

While this is undoubtedly true, the very first definition of the verb ‘travel’ in my Concise Oxford Dictionary accords with my use of the word –
1. (to) Make a journey esp. one of some length to distant countries”.

To me, travel implies an element of new horizons, adventure, challenge and risk. Elements that will pervade and stimulate all of our senses.

Otherwise, why not just sit back on your couch or settee and watch Virtual Travel on your HDTV at home. It’s far cheaper.

4 thoughts on “Virtual Travel

  1. Yes, I saw that E Shackleton doco again the other night. Godalmighty those men must have suffered! I do not wish ever – repeat, EVER – to undergo anything like what they went through. On the other hand, if I lived for another 50 years I would not be tempted to do one of those ‘cruises’ you speak of: Ughhhh…! There is a trip in a smallish boat that takes in some of our southern fiords – I could be tempted there!


  2. Yes, but while those explorers certainly suffered on their travels, there is today a large sector of the Travel Industry providing adventure-less mind-numbing ‘travel’ for a vast and growing market. ‘Safe adventure???’ It tells us a lot about many folk in the affluent ‘West’ doesn’t it?

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