When travel makes our world seem smaller: reflections from economy class

By Ruth Limkin

Flying to the USA recently, I marveled at how international travel is now so easy compared to many decades ago. Granted, twelve hours in constricted economy class can make you dream of the days when global travel meant long, luxurious cruising yet in reality, when that was the way world was traversed, affording such an adventure would’ve probably been beyond me.

As I sat in the plane, I thought about how much smaller the world is now that we can fly to other continents in the space of hours. Me, a girl from Brisbane, flying over 11,000 kilometers and landing in San Francisco.

So many friends have been to so many places. International travel is so commonplace that the wonder of it is easy to miss.

Yet while I was thinking about how the world seems smaller, I started thinking about how the world seems something other than smaller.

We board a plane in one place, and after a connecting flight or two, we alight in a foreign land. Most of the trip, we’re watching movies, or eating, or reading – whatever we can do to endure or tune out the discomfort of the journey. We then turn up in a place that’s different, often in language, usually in climate and always in customs – even if the difference is seemingly imperceptible.

Nowadays, we survive transit by distracting ourselves. Unlike slow travel, we no longer journey through the changes of seasons or cultures observing one melting into another. Isolated within the most efficient vehicle we have at our disposal, we can’t and don’t observe what’s happening in the environment around us during the journey. Instead, we turn up and almost announce ourselves to the destination.

Such a mode of travel can make us impatient with the differences we encounter once we get there. We almost unconsciously expect that things should be similar to where we came from, rather than adjusting our expectations to the unfolding realization of where we find ourselves to be. Without the ability to observe subtle changes as they occur, we struggle to shift internal patterns, even when confronted by stark difference.

Maybe the world seems smaller now, but in making things more efficient, I wonder if we have somehow made it a little more disconnected?

Maybe I’m still talking about air travel. But perhaps I’m talking more about life.



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