A Deeper Understanding of Travel

After avoiding air-travel for a year, I share the lessons I learned along with images from my most recent trip to Chennai.


As many of you might know, my journey with sustainability began as a consequence of applying minimalism into my life. The application of both minimalism and sustainability in my life was initially focused on my clothing and building a deeper understanding of my wardrobe. As I gradually made progress with my wardrobe, this focus began shifting to other areas of life, such as what I was eating and how I looked at travel.

Leading up to June 2018, my exploration of the impact of travel on the environment began gaining serious momentum as I braced myself for a weekend getaway that involved air travel. While researching the impact of air-travel on the planet, I learned that my upcoming flight (return) would result in 0.44 metric tonnes of carbon emissions (CO2e). This was a troubling realization, considering the fact that most experts agree on the importance of limiting our individual carbon emissions to under 2 metric tonnes a year, as one of the strongest ways to combat the possibility of crossing a global rise in temperature of beyond 1.5°C by 2050.

After returning from the trip and having had the chance to reflect on its environmental impact, I felt a strong urge to take a pause and avoid air-travel for a year. The intent was to take a deeper look at my motivations behind travel. This month, after completing a year of avoiding air-travel, I finally made a trip to Chennai. Here are some images from that trip as well as a few words on some of the things I learned during the pause.

Marina Beach (left) and Elliot's Beach (right)

A Deeper Understanding of My Desire to Travel and Explore

Presidency College (left), Ramakrishna Math (right), and Vivekananda House (bottom)

A pause can be transformative. As a mindfulness practitioner, I know this truth far too well. When I took a pause from buying clothes, it gave me something much more than ecological and economical savings alone. It enabled a deeper understanding of the clothes that I already owned and reset the motivation behind buying new clothes.

Taking a pause from air-travel has had a similar impact on me. It gave me the space to ask some fundamental questions about travel, such as-

  1. Why do I like to explore or travel?
  2. Is the motivation external to me or internal?
  3. How much do I align with what modern travel has become?

As I've gradually explored these questions, it has resulted in an understanding of travel, that transcends how it is looked at in the modern world. As part of this exploration, I have been able to really get to the root of what motivates me to explore and travel. I realized that this innate desire to travel and explore, in its most raw form, has as much to do with our collective history of migration as a way to survive and grow, as it has to do with the modern consumption focused approach we have towards travel.

Travel in its modern consumption exclusive manifestation, has some of the same pitfalls, that most modern consumption focused human activity does. When looked at taking into consideration the historically rich migratory perspective, I do feel that travel rooted exclusively in the consumption focused approach, is a privilege for humanity and the planet at large. Of course, as is true with any form of consumption, there is often a positive and transformative consequence to it, which enables us to grow and to thrive. This is why, most of us return from travel feeling like a new person, our perspectives completely reshaped. So, I would not want to make a sweeping statement that the consumption aspect of travel is bad or that it should be avoided. My vision is focused more on merging the two attributes, prioritizing the migratory roots, which I sincerely feel is a pragmatic and holistic way to go about it.

Street Grafitti, Triplicane. Kapaleeshwarar Temple (top) and Street Grafitti, Triplicane(bottom)

The Vision Ahead

Elliot's Beach Elliot's Beach (top) and Ashtalakshmi Temple (bottom)

Since my understanding of travel is now so deeply rooted in the concept of migration, I want it to be as close to what our ancestors did. From this perspective, travel is no longer an exploration for the sake of exploration for me. It is a deep desire to migrate to a space that naturally aligns with what my body, soul, and mind need. My aim is for it to be strategic and less frequent. As for distance, some of it will be near-by, some of it might require me to go far-away. But all of it will be rooted in this deep notion that I am moving, not for the sake of moving, but to be exactly where I need to be, to survive and thrive.

From an environmental perspective, the vision for the coming year is to prioritize travel and exploration that has the least amount of damage on the planet. Reducing the frequency and being strategic about it, partly enables this intent. Beyond this, I will also be prioritizing domestic travel, done over a combination of road and rail to ensure that my exploration doesn't have a damaging impact on the planet. While taking the road, I will be using a motorbike, which will help me to curb my emissions in comparison to a car.

Of-course, as much as I would like to exclusively travel by road or rail; there will be some times when taking a flight would be unavoidable. As a way to keep my emissions in check, I will be limiting my flight based travels to two flights a year. One domestic and one international and I will be carbon-offsetting both.

Government Museum (left) and Santhome Church (right) Government Museum (left) and Santhome Church (right)


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