Having experienced several new modes of transport on my recent holiday to Paris, I thought it’d be worthwhile comparing the different ways humans have invented to get from A to B. All of these can also be considered pleasurable activities (perhaps some more than others), but the fact we’re not all using the same method of transportation suggests each has their pros and cons. Why do we choose to travel the way we do? Here are some of my reasons.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone else who likes buses as much as me. Most people treat them as a necessary evil to be abandoned by the young as soon as they learn to drive or endured by adults unfortunate enough to be unable to use a car for whatever reason. I mean, I can’t say I enjoy buses and I certainly wouldn’t ride about them for pleasure; the screeching noise of people packed within layers of metal accompanied by a constant stop-start and eventual motion-sickness is hardly pleasant. Yet I’ve found buses to be the most useful and cost-effective way of traveling long distances. And they’re not all bad – if you’re a people-watcher like me you can find the most interesting people on them. It also entirely depends what sort of landscape you’re traveling across; taking a bus across Shetland is vastly different than across Edinburgh, for instance. I suppose I could review Edinburgh buses and Shetland buses entirely differently. On one hand, Shetland buses are generally quieter and pass through the most beautiful scenery; on the other, they’re bumpy, unfit for the topography and so annoyingly infrequent. I suppose what I’m describing is a love-hate relationship, but I can’t deny that they’re so very handy for my purposes.
I’ve only ridden in a canoe once, up in the Scottish Highlands a few years ago, so I couldn’t call myself an expert on this mode of travel. An obvious problem is its limitations; there aren’t many places a canoe can take you to. I suspect they’re too frail to be taken out into open sea for long journeys and lack the storage space for provisions. I suppose you could travel through canals which would give you access to most major land areas, though you would make slow progress. No, canoes are primarily used for pleasure. And for this they are truly excellent – my memories of sliding down meandering rivers beneath overcast trees still fill me with joy. But for practical purposes, I can’t see them being taken seriously.
Oh, cars. By far the most popular and widely-used mode of transport on this list – there are 32 million cars in the UK alone. It’s easy to see why. Cars are undeniably the most practical way of travelling, being able to cover hundreds of miles in a single day without causing severe exhaustion to the driver. They can be used to drive to work, to travel on holidays or jaunts, to attend events – everywhere except perhaps in the most congested town centre can be arrived at using a car. Yet, beneath all this, there lurks a dark side to our favourite automobiles. In environmental terms they’re catastrophic; 30% of US carbon emissions comes from its traffic, while cases of city air pollution are as notorious as they are frequent. And these millions upon millions of cars are soon to become totally obsolete once we reach peak oil. Once we’ve transitioned to much more efficient cars (electric cars? Hydrogen cars?) I’ll have to come back to this review. They’re also incredibly expensive to operate: from the cost of lessons to insurance to petrol to the car itself, owning a car will set you back many thousands of pounds. Yes, cars are extraordinarily handy, but come with some heavy costs.
Bicycles are a wonderful thing. Cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly, they’re growing in popularity among many of the world’s cities. I’ve never had much opportunity to use them for recreation, firstly due to living in a sparsely-populated rural area and then, when at university in Edinburgh, down to the difficulty I might face when having to travel back and forth from home. I am beginning to give serious thought to buying a bike to use for traveling around Edinburgh next year for the wonderful positive reasons I’ve listed above, but one thing holds me back: safety. Cycling remains one of the more dangerous ways to travel. In a Geography class at high school last year, shortly after accepting my offer to study at Edinburgh, we were using the city as a case study for urban development. I asked what it was like for cycling, having noticed some cycle lanes near the city, but she replied “I would be terrified to cycle in Edinburgh!” Given that my cycle route would take me through Princes Street and the High Street – the two busiest streets of the city – I’m inclined to agree. Cycling should be the unequivocal best way to travel, but poor previsions for cyclists in most cities is sure to put many people off.
Ugh – do I have to talk about ferries? I do? Hmph. Ferries are similar to buses in that they depend entirely on what kind you’re on. A standard travel ferry is much different to a cruise (I imagine), while the Northlink ferry between Shetland and Aberdeen is much different to the ferry that takes you between the different islands of Shetland itself. I’ll review ferry journeys like the Northlink ones. Imagine 12-14 hour slogs across open sea, being entirely bound by the whims of the weather conditions. Will it be a calm sailing or your shuddering nightmare that refuses to end, minute after minute after minute? If you have £100 to throw away you can at least hide in a cabin but for common students like myself you have to simply rough it in reclining chairs, ‘sleeping pods’, or anywhere else you can find. You have to deal with people vomiting around you if the sea is rough – or vomiting yourself – as well as put up with the drunken antics of many rowdy passengers on that poorly-policed ferry. On my recent trip down I left the Sleeping Pod Lounge ay 2am for fear of a fight breaking out. And you never sleep, either, causing the agonising journey to drag out even longer. Yet, it’s not all bad. If you travel during the summer you have enough light to watch some brilliant views go past through the windows, or it can be quite tranquil just watching the velvet sea. A lot of ferries allow you to go ‘up top’ to get a better view. Just be careful you don’t fall off into the sea.
Horse riding! Here’s a fun one. I have a fair bit of experience with this because of the pony stud my Auntie owns. Well – of pony riding, I suppose. This can be a very pleasant way to travel as you never feel lonely when with a horse, and can experience the journey in its company. There’s a very powerful bond you can feel with a horse when you’re riding it. On the other hand, in today’s age riding horses isn’t a very practical way of traveling at all. Nowhere is equipped with stables for your horse and they’re far surpassed in speed by most longdistance modes of transport. I also suffer the unfortunate curse of being allergic to horses – it can make traveling difficult when you can’t see through running eyes. Horse riding is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable ways of traveling for people who can last a minute without sneezing, but it’s sadly no longer that workable.
Airplanes are undoubtedly the Kings and Queens of transport when it comes to long-distance travel. The idea of traveling between Europe and America, or from Britain to Australia, any way other than by airplanes is unthinkable for all besides the most adventurous. A journey that would have taken weeks a century ago and months several centuries ago can now be completed within a matter of hours. What’s more, they’re statistically the safest form of transport. And yet, I can’t stand them. A significant part of that is an entirely irrational fear I have, based upon the fact that although I’m much less likely to die in a plane, if I am to die I’d rather drown or be crushed than find myself hurtling to the Earth at multiple metres per second amid burning wreckage. Sorry, got morbid there. They also have a terrible impact on the environment, contributing to as much as 9% of anthropocentric climate interference. There are always news story of various environmentally-friendly forms of aviation, such as solar planes, but these are very far off becoming the norm – or even practical. Airplanes are a necessary part of our modern globalised world, but like cars they come at a massive cost.
Dammit, WordPress. I had another 1,500 words [needlessly] reviewing the remaining forms of transport on this list, clicked ‘publish’, got an error message then found it had all gone. I don’t have the energy or the will to write it all again, so I’ll leave you with summaries for each one and this video summarising my feelings.
Subway: exciting rabbit warrens, incredibly useful, though the stench of urine and angry shouty people (still don’t know what that Frenchman way saying to me) are two minor negative aspects. 8/10
Taxis: can be a lifesaver but expensive and not environmentally friendly. 5/10
Trains: I LIKE TRAINS. 9/10
Night trains: These are even better. 9/10
Walking: Fun, good exercise, hippy stuff about experiencing the world around you; but not good for long distances. 9/10
Image credit: By Vince pahkala (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons