Virtual Travel for a Sustainable World

I stated on a previous post that I would never attempt to try to return to Antarctica due to the amount of hydrocarbons it would take to get me there. However, I must confess that I have recently made several trips there in the last two months, except for Sundays and Tuesdays, which are nights before I have to teach a class the next morning. Those two nights, I go to bed early in Central Oregon to get enough rest to be fresh in the morning. But on Wednesday nights, I usually make the weekly journey back to Antarctica!

On one particularly memorable Wednesday night in early March I found myself camped out on a floating piece of pack ice in the Weddell Sea, as part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition party. Our ship had just been crushed by shifting pack ice and we had to salvage as much as we could before it sank. It was cold and snowing that evening, and I shivered in the 19F temperature dressed only in slippers and a bathrobe. My shipmates and I feared that we might never make it out of there alive. The 20 mph wind made it feel much colder and the exposed skin on my legs and face began to tingle. The cold penetrated deep into my bones. I pulled out a small ration of beef jerky that was in my bathrobe pocket and ate it, in lieu of eating the greasy morsels of Emperor Penguin that my shipmates were eating that night!

The HMS Endurance crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea

We were over 100 miles away from any solid land and we had drifted far enough north that the ice pack was beginning to break up. Our route to safety was at the mercy of the winds and currents as to which direction the floe would take us. Every opportunity that we had, we took observations of the stars to try and fix our position, hoping that we would drift towards the west and toward solid land of the Antarctic Peninsula. But it was snowing hard that night and there would be no stars visible in the sky to enable us to fix our position.

After what seemed like an eternity, the snow finally abated that evening. However, the wind kept blowing hard. I could see a few stars peeking out through the holes in the high cloud. My teeth chattered as I shivered when I looked up. Minute by minute the wind blew away more and more of the cloud cover. I borrowed the sextant from Tom Crean and scanned the sky for a familiar constellation. The Southern Cross was nowhere to be found. The Magellanic Clouds were nowhere to be seen either. I scanned the northern horizon to see if Polaris had come into view yet. Nothing.

Then, to my great surprise, the Big Dipper appeared high in the sky. That couldn’t be!!! Even with the rocking of the ice floe in the wind, making it harder to fix an exact location, the sextant told me that I was near 44 degrees NORTH latitude. Damn! I must be back in Central Oregon….

With that unfortunate discovery, I picked up my wine glass, opened the sliding glass door and walked back into a warm house. My Antarctic sojourn was over for the night. Forty-five minutes in the freezing cold was enough to give me a taste of what life was like on the Endurance Expedition. I can’t begin to comprehend how strong Shackleton’s men had to be to survive for TWO FULL YEARS in the Frigid Antarctic!

I am in the midst of re-reading “South”, by Sir Ernest Shackleton, where he recounts his epic Antarctic Polar voyage from 1915-1917. After reading a chapter, I often open the sliding glass door to the back porch and go outside into a Central Oregon winter’s night, to feel the cold and to try to relate to how the members of the expedition must have felt.

All of this brings me to the concept of Virtual Travel. The amount of hydrocarbons and methane spewing into the atmosphere are warming the planet and wreaking havoc around the globe. The people who are suffering the most from climate change are not the ones most responsible for the anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. While I may not go as far to say I will never fly in an airplane again, I can say that I will attempt to lower my carbon footprint. One way is to change our diets to eat more plant based foods or foods that are locally sourced. Another method is to reduce travel miles, or to travel in a method that uses renewable energy. Virtual travel is a method to meet our desires to explore exotic environments without leaving behind a large carbon footprint. With just a little bit of imagination and a quiet and secluded back yard, I can virtually travel to far away places without using any fossil fuels to get there.

On another night, I opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside into a calm Antarctic night, with the full moon reflecting off of the previous night’s snowfall. The clear skies enhanced the radiational cooling of the atmosphere, and the temperature dipped down into the low teens. But with no wind, it didn’t seem all that cold! There were no bergs crashing together to form pressure ridges on my ice floe. Our camp was intact, and secure. We fired up the blubber stove from the seal oil that we rendered from a Weddell seal we had killed the night before and heated up some water for some tea. With a warm drink to counter the frigid temperatures, our frozen wilderness became a place of contentment. Our thoughts drifted to loved ones back in England. We hoped that they were okay, and wondered about the world at war at that time. Suddenly, the pack ice seemed like a refuge instead of a prison.

At that moment, one of the sled dogs started barking. No, wait….that actually was my next door neighbor’s dog….her barking ended my peaceful night in the Antarctic and transported me again, back to the suburbs of Bend, Oregon. Not to worry, though. My tea is getting cold and I think I’ll go inside and fire up the microwave oven and heat some water for another cup.

Sometimes, when I am virtually travelling in my backyard, I end up sitting in 105F water in our hot tub. There, I can have my body warmed up to my chin, while snowflakes fall on my head. When I close my eyes, I can imagine myself sitting in a desert hot spring in Northern Nevada in the middle of winter. Or pretend that I am competing with snow monkeys for space in a hot spring in northern Japan in the winter time. And I didn’t have to burn any hydrocarbons by driving or flying to get to these places. The electricity needed to keep the water hot comes from renewable hydro and solar.

Now that the Spring equinox has just passed here in the northern hemisphere, I begin to think about traveling to warmer climes. Recently I have taken a couple of nights off from my Antarctic sojourns and begun to explore Thailand. My wife has a friend who is planning a trip there. Being a geographer, I offered to help with some of the research. I’ve read other folks travel blogs, gathered climate and physiographic data, read old issues of National Geographic, used Google Earth street view to ride a bicycle down narrow paths near Chaing Mai, and looked at a lot of maps (both physical and thematic). I’ve explored the ruins of the ancient capital of Siam at Sukhothai, and explored the old city of Ayutthaya outside of the capital city of Bangkok. That led me to get interested in the history of the country. Now, when I climb into the hot tub, I can imagine myself in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Hopefully her friend will find some of that information useful. As for myself, I so enjoyed my virtual journeys there that all I lack is a trip to one of our local Thai restaurants in downtown Bend (Noi Thai, Wild Rose, or Toomies) to satisfy my desire to travel there in person. And if that turns out not to be enough, I can still experience Thailand vicariously through the accounts, pictures, and stories that my wife’s friend may share with us when she gets back home.

The definition of Sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing, or compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. While virtual travel cannot be the only way for us to achieve a sustainable world, it certainly can be a step in the right direction.

Virtual tours became popular during the lockdowns during the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020. They are also popular with people who have disabilities who can’t physically travel. But now, with high inflation and concerns about safety in many tourism locations, it may fill a need for much of the rest of the population. There are dozens of sites on the web dedicated to virtual travel. All you need is a computer or a cell phone to connect to the internet, and you are on your way to exploring the world. And for those of us who still like to read books, our local libraries can fill in the gap.

Another good practice is to read literature of local authors of the places that you are considering traveling to. One of my favorite places to check is British author Ann Morgan’s website “A year of Reading the World” (ayearofreadingtheworld.com). She has a list of books that have been translated into English by authors from 196 countries! I had always wanted to travel to Greenland, but reading “An African in Greenland” by Tete Michel Kpomassie fulfilled my need to travel there.

Simply educating ourselves about the world that we live in and share with diverse cultures is one of the most important things we can do to hope to build a sustainable world. Whether you learn about places first so that you can be a more responsible traveler when you get there, or learn about those places just to give them an existence value, I wish you all HAPPY VIRTUAL TRAVELS to wherever you may go!

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13 thoughts on “Virtual Travel for a Sustainable World

  1. I love this take! I do not have the ability to travel so I have to have a different mindset about the things I cannot do. If I look at in a different perspective, I am being sustainable. 🙂 Thank you for that better perspective.

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  2. Virtual travel is a wonderful way to explore places on this planet as well as being a responsible human! 🙂

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  3. You had me going – what the heck was that 44 degrees North latitude and neighbor dog doing there besides interrupting that adventure! Ha, thank you for the fun read, Mick! I’m very lucky to have your expertise and excitement of virtual travel to assist in my trip to Thailand!

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  4. Fabulous idea to virtual travel. My first thought was Sing Sing. Never been there. Don’t want to actually go there. But, would like to see it. Shakleton and crew – their adventure – could never be repeated because contemporary gear, tools, know-how, nutrition, etc. make our endeavors while still adventurous and awe-inspiring less imminent imperil.

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    1. I can’t read more than one chapter of “South” at one time. I am absolutely EXHAUSTED just reading about what they went through. It’s tough enough just to re-live it virtually! Thanks for reading…

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  5. After arriving here via the random blog page, I’ve read to the end, it seems. Hope there’s more to come, as I don’t fly (for almost a decade), and do quite a bit of virtual traveling via books and blogs.

    Thanks again for the trip to the southern hemisphere.

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    1. Dave,
      Thanks for virtually traveling with me! I’ve been on the road for six weeks and just got home today, so there will be some new posts in the following weeks. We have 73 posts in total on our site, with sub categories on Alaska and Canada, Oregon, Nature, International (Bolivia, Estonia, Namibia, Uzbekistan, to name a few), and a couple of post on memoir. You are welcome to peruse the list, or keep scrolling down until you find one you like. I will post some new ones in the next month.
      Happy Virtual traveling!
      Mick

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      1. Thanks for the pointer, Mick. I’m pretty happy in our chunk of desert, here outside Santa Fe. We’ve had rain four afternoons in a row, which has the NWS guys calling it a Maysoon. Strange times.

        Be well!

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