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Christopher: adventures in happiness

After travelling for eighteen months through Europe, South and North America and Asia, Christopher ended up in Bhutan. But the carbon footprint of his journey led him to question his motivations and consider giving up flying for good.

16 May 2019 3 min read

Picture shows man on bicycle parked at the side of a mountain road. He has his back to the camera and is looking over the edge. In the distance are mountain tops and rolling clouds.

I am flying back to the UK from Delhi today. At least it is a direct flight I tell myself.

Though that doesn’t do very much to appease the awkwardness I feel about flying. . .

Life on a bicycle these past 18 months has certainly brought its challenges, though at least I felt assured that most of the time my environmental impact has been minimal.

If there was a mountain before me then it was my legs that had to get me up and over it, and when I needed rest I would pitch my tent, cook whatever food I’d bought that day at a local market, and gaze out over what I had climbed that day.

Yet I wanted to cross oceans and in the end I chose to do that by aeroplane. On the way to Bhutan there was a flight from Spain to Argentina, then from Toronto to Hong Kong, and then Bangkok to Kolkata. Whilst in Bangkok I took the opportunity to visit my brother in Sumba, Indonesia, and that trip alone took several flights.

That is one heavy carbon footprint.

I wonder, was my journey really worth all that resource use? Is the world at least a little happier for it? It was after all a journey about happiness. . .

Perhaps I could justify my journey based solely on my personal happiness, of which there was a great deal. I fulfilled important human needs (such as physical well-being, connectivity, meaning, and autonomy), I had experiences that were not only awe-inspiring in the moment but can be recounted for many years to come, and I experienced challenge that led to personal growth.

Though is it only about my personal happiness? I think not.

I’d like to think there were wider benefits to my journey, that I contributed to the lives of people I met along the way and that what I wrote about happiness will have been of some use to others. Maybe a little of what I learnt from the many inspiring and happy lands I passed through will one day help me implement ideas back home.

Yet I have to balance all this with the wider environmental impact of my travel.

It will certainly have negative consequences on the happiness and well-being of others, including future generations and other species. I don’t feel very personally happy when I think too much about all of this.

What I’ve learnt is that real travel isn’t about distance.

What I’ve learnt is that real travel isn’t about distance. It is more about how we approach and interact with the world around us. Rarely does one need to go very far to find something wondrous that will challenge all perceptions of the self.

Everywhere there is beauty, but sometimes to see and feel that beauty we may have to go much slower, sometimes we might need to stop completely. That is the real key to happy travelling.

I can’t see any good reason for me to fly again.

And so once I am back in the UK I am committing to not flying for at least the next 5 years, and it may even end up being for the rest of my life unless I can see a good case for it. Anyone else want to come with me, or indeed stay with me and be happy looking at the flowers. . .