I’d be the first to admit that in my rush to see as much of the world as possible, patience has sometimes not been uppermost in my mind. But now that I’ve seen half the world, and I am probably about halfway through my life as well – and much wealthier than when I started out – my priorities have started to shift. This has come in tandem with an increased interest in sustainable travel, in the widest possible sense.
I do believe that travel is a force for good, but as the world shrinks thanks to globalisation, there’s a sense that what we do locally is more important than ever. Sustainable travel shouldn’t just be about using public transport, staying in small huts or reducing time in the shower. It’s no good doing these things and then shoving your camera into people’s faces, pushing into queues, tooting your horn, losing your temper or ignoring other travellers.
Truly holistic travel is about how you treat other people as you go, how you engage with a place and what you get back from the experience. Driving is the only option in much of the United States, but I drive compact, efficient cars in an efficient way, and have started to believe that one can "offset" the pollution caused in one activity with positive actions in another.
This week, as smoke from forest fires cleared in southern Oregon, I wasn't going to let the Labour Day weekend crowds spoil the experience. I could either get annoyed or embrace it. So, despite covering more than 1,500 kilometres in four days, I've taken things slowly. Instead of staying at a motel chain or camping, I've splashed out on a couple of Holiday Inns. Yes, you may laugh, but it does make a difference not having to walk 500 metres to the nearest bathroom or staying at a place where your room looks like a crime scene, and where you can chat to other guests or staff without fear for your safety or seeming eccentric. I've spent two nights in each place instead of one, which reduces the level of stress and allows you to explore at a sane pace, with time for diversions.
I’ve stopped to talk to people. Unless they’re crucial to a story, I’m often reluctant to do a “stop and chat” with random strangers since – well – there isn’t time and they usually aren’t that interesting. This week though, I’ve stopped, and, to an extent, I’ve chatted. At Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, I helped several people with their photos, and the encounters, strangely, made me feel more connected to the place. I waited patiently in the queue to get into the park and was held in a lengthy and entertaining chat with a British park ranger there.
Instead of jostling to the front of a line of hikers, I hung out near the middle. I got chatting to a bearded man in a bandana who told me in hushed tones how data from global seismic monitoring is showing that earthquakes on one side of the world have a corresponding effect on the other, making accurate prediction imminent.
Back at the hotel, there was another revelation. An almost offhand complaint/comment to reception about my room’s air conditioning – old, noisy, on-off throughout the night – resulted in a big discount.
Sometimes, being patient pays off in the most unexpected of ways.