Travel is dirty. Just how dirty is set by the price you pay or the level of adventure involved. An example is our Indiana Jones inspired family adventure, travelling through Morocco on the train. The journey south involved cramped spaces and a shortage of seats in a very communal carriage. The look of horror on the face of my wife when she came back from the toilet I will take to my grave. The journey back to the north coast was in a first-class sleeper carriage and couldn’t be more different. Both journeys were enjoyable, and both told a story.
Dirt is intrinsic to travel. Millions of people pass through our airports. Our planes stop for moments for a quick shakedown before returning to the air. Our hold luggage is touched and lifted by many people along its journey. The car door handle on our Uber has been lifted by many hands, and that’s beautiful because each hand and each journey is a story. If I utter “handrails on the tube” our minds can instantly recreate that clammy feeling, making us squeak our fingers across our palm and shudder. Dirt and travel are intertwined. Leaving the beaten track is rewarding, opening our minds to new experiences, but it comes at a cost. Closing our mind to this dirt is essential for travel. The ability to overlook the dirt allows us discovery, freedom and adventure.
But our experiences with covid are making us reassess our relationship with dirt and travel. The dirt which made us grimace or shudder before may now contain a virus that could kill us. Face masks, sanitiser and reduced contact with objects and surfaces is changing the travel experience.
This isn’t the first time mankind had collectively raised the bar of hygiene (soapy pun intended) in response to culture change. One book called “The New Spanards” by John Hooper explores the Spanish love of cleaning, and how leaving poverty and hunger after the war years drove a culture where you could impress your neighbours by your level of cleanliness.
We didn’t believe it until we learned of our Spanish friend’s weekly “bleach wash” or the time we found another friend on hands and knees in the back of their Audi bleaching the boot. Big events like war and disease drive culture change and our new sanitised travel could mean a change to adventure, discovery and freedom as we know it.
Changes in habits, staycations, and sanitised travel don’t need to be the end of adventure. At the moment precautions are necessary. But we need to remember that constantly sanitising our hands is temporary, it’s not normal. Touch and dirt are part of travel. They are intrinsic to adventure and taking the less travelled path.
We don’t know when we’ll be covid free, safe and able to explore our world next, but when the opportunity finally does come round, I’ll be grabbing it with both, un gloved, un sanitised hands.