[auto]I passed through the security gate and looked back at my parents. My mom was crying and my dad looked like he was trying not to. What the hell was I doing? My heart began to panic and beat against the walls of my ribcage. Several deep breaths later, I found my feet were walking me toward a large display with a map of all the departure gates. I located mine and walked along the window. Massive planes and tiny ones skidded across the tarmac looking awkward, out of their element. The petite wheels that propelled them forward seemed as though they would collapse under the weight of the plane and all of its assumed passengers.
Several hours later, when the tracking map on the seat ahead of me said that we had successfully crossed the ocean and were now over land, I mustered up the courage to lift up the shade over the window and look below. The clouds covered most of the view, but every so often they\’d thin and a velvety green would seep through the mist. I was overcome by the feeling of what was ahead of me. The famous things I was about to see and the world that I would be a part of for such a short time.
Travel offers these feelings of awe, inclusion, and the innocence that sets in upon entering virgin territory. And none of this would be possible without the plane that I sat buckled into.
We have come so far. The steam engine was invented in 1803 and it changed the very face of the country. Less than a century later came the automobile in 1885, and shortly after that the most primitive of planes made headlines in 1903. Now we are sending people to the moon and machines to distant planets. With figures and timelines like that, it seems hard to believe that development will ever cease.
Almost every one of us depends on the transportation provided today. It would be hard to see any other country without the help of a plane and trains are the mode of choice for many Europeans. Boats have become an attraction unto themselves as they upgrade into cruise liners and tour us around the islands to the south and even the glaciers to the north. So how does travel affect our generation compared to generations before us? How do our travel resources compare to other countries? What are the environmental consequences of our cross-country adventures and where will our knowledge lead us to in the future?[car]
Tamara Olton, a travel advisor at STA Travel on Grand River Avenue, is used to sending students on their dream trips, and believes that our generation is traveling more often and to a greater range of places. \”There are lots more resources for people our age now than there were before,\” she said. \”Nowadays you can be just about any age and figure things out – young or old.\” Things always get easier and more accessible as the years go on, similarly to how you can probably operate your computer without a manual while your mother takes 10 minutes to find its \”ON\” button.
We at MSU travel even more than most students. Our study abroad program is nationally known for the large number of participants and the seemingly endless list of destinations. Every summer, more students pick up their passports and load up their luggage to begin an adventure in every corner of the globe. I personally spent the best six weeks of my life in London last summer with MSU and the experience has proved invaluable. MSU provides another avenue for students in conjunction with education and credits, so perhaps we\’re ahead of the rest of our generation.
Not only is travel easier, but the modes we find ourselves taking have changed. Cruises have become more popular in the recent years and STA reports booking more cruises for this year\’s spring break than they have in past years. But Olton said that, economically, cruises are a good choice. \”[Everything is included] except for your alcohol,\” she said. \”Your entertainment is mostly included. You have to pay for your shore excursions but those are choices — you\’re not forced to do any of those. So they\’re a pretty good deal for what you pay.\”
Many are familiar with how popular and efficient the Eurorail is in Europe, but what about other modes in other places? STA Travel Advisor Christal Gener is used to selling other things besides train tickets. \”In Australia, it\’s the bus system,\” she said. \”Hop on, hop off.\” Meanwhile, on another large continent, the most popular way to travel is a little different. \”In Asia we do a lot of flights,\” Olton said.
It changes from continent to continent, place to place. People prefer different methods all over the globe, but it isn\’t random and Olton understands this. \”[European cities] are set up differently than ours,\” she said. \”They are more centralized so trains and busses and things like that need to be a little bit better to get people from the outside in,\” she said. \”Also, they\’re a lot smaller, so there\’s not as many cars. It\’s more expensive to have cars so they need a better transportation system.\”
[backpack]Alissa Folger, an international studies and Spanish major, caught the travel bug years ago and managed to visit Spain, but now she has a new dream. \”I would love to backpack through Europe,\” she said, and Olton can confirm that she is not alone. Many want to see the sights of foreign places on their own agendas with their own two feet as the main mode of transportation. Olton has noticed the new desire: \”I think some people are starting to look more toward nature-based tourism,\” she said. \”I\’ve had some people wanting to hike, like really backpack Europe. I\’ve heard of students going around the world doing everything but airplanes. The only transportation they could take was boats or trains. They could not fly.\”
Trains and footsteps may be popular in Europe, but in South Africa there is a different trend: vans. Elementary education sophomore Andrea Robinson became well-acquainted with the most popular automobiles in South Africa. \”My group and I always traveled by van,\” she said. \”The van was very small and someone always had to sit on the floor.\” In different parts of South Africa, they saw even more modes of transportation. \”In Lesotho we did see some people riding horses [and] walking on foot,\” she said.
Robinson\’s fellow traveler, history junior Chelsea Forster, elaborated on the travel means of the native population. \”The most common mode depends on who you are talking about,\” Forster said. \”The wealthy owned personal cars which clogged the highways during the rush hours. The less well-off who lived in the remnants of apartheid townships, commuted mainly by taxi van, much like the one our group traveled in.\”
There has also been change in the respective categories of travel. When planes were first invented, the public wasn\’t fully comfortable with the idea of their lives drifting between clouds but eventually came around. Retired United pilot Robert Steeneck remembers the change in the business. \”I think the traveling public began to realize that flying is as safe as riding a Greyhound bus,\” he said, \”and it certainly is much more efficient in terms of time spent getting from A to B.\” During the \’60s and early \’70s, flying was a big deal for the passengers. They dressed up as if they were going to church on a Sunday, though they must have looked a little disheveled once they arrived.
In Europe there are extremely inexpensive commercial airlines (Easyjet, Ryanair). A ticket from London to Belfast can cost as low as 34 pounds, and sometimes, during special offers, tickets can be something like 1 pound, along with taxes. Steeneck knows of some companies trying to bring the same thing to the U.S. \”I think there are similar airlines trying to make inroads in the market…Jet Blue, for example,\” he said. \”Adequate funding seems to be a problem, and insufficient backup equipment is often not available.\”
Olton sees similar problems with the introduction of an inexpensive commercial airline. \”Our airlines are pretty centralized and pretty powerful and would try to squash the competition,\” she said.
Cars are the main means of transportation in the United States and road trips are a hallowed tradition in young adult culture that has been immortalized in movies and books. What does all this horn-beeping and pedal-pushing mean for our environment? Geology professor Alan Arbogast tells a grim tale about the cars, their carbon dioxide emissions and the resulting climate change. \”The trend in the United States is toward bigger and heavier cars. The larger the car, the more CO2 is produced,\” Arbogast said.
Most of the cars people drive now run on gas, which is a non-renewable resource (non-renewable means that once it runs out, there\’s no getting it back). \”The geologists who are working in the oil industry predict that sometime in the next 10 or 15 years we\’re going to reach peak oil production,\” Arbogast said, \”and its going to be very interesting to see how we respond to that.\”
[cruise]Cars aren\’t the only methods of transportation that have a hugely detrimental effect on the environment. Cruise ships are one of the worst around. According to Arbogast, they only get 0.6 inches per gallon of gas. With a car, we would consider an mpg of 10 as startlingly low, so the figure of 0.6 inches per gallon is nothing short of shocking, especially considering that according to STA, cruises are gaining in popularity.
Some countries and some companies are making an effort to solve the problem before it becomes even larger. \”The development of hybrid vehicles [that] get something like 60 miles to the gallon [is going to help],\” Arbogast said. \”There is research into hydrogen fuel cells which would run on water in cars.\” Hybrids have been on the market for a little while and the public is still a little wary of them, but some have made the switch.
Any American visitor to Europe will notice a very surprising trend in the automobiles: The Smart Car. This tiny car has considerably smaller CO2 emissions and is more convenient when it comes to parking in a big city. But soon the tiny cars will jump the pond themselves. \”They\’re going to be on the market in about a year,\” Arbogast said. \”It\’s going to be interesting to see what the American public does with those.\”
[plane]It is clear that some manufacturers are thinking about what\’s happening in our world and making the necessary changes. It may be up to us to use those changes in order to paint a brighter picture for the future.
The future itself is an interesting subject. Will travel change? Olton thinks absolutely. \”I believe travel in general is supposed to grow,\” she said. \”It has been continually since 9/11. Not just here, but everyone is starting to travel a little bit more. So it\’ll keep growing so the transportation infrastructure will keep growing too.\”
What advancements are being made in the modes themselves? Some people are looking past the sky, through the atmosphere and into space. Some believe space travel will become commercialized the same way airlines have been. Arbogast warned, however, on the consequences of such a development. Shuttles expel huge amounts of CO2, though they take off so infrequently, it does little to hurt the environment. \”[CO2 emissions are] a lot but its very, very small in comparison to coal power plants,\” Arbogast said. \”Still, if you have people flying into space right and left – that can\’t be good.\”
Will we make it into space? We can only speculate at this point, but everyone has their own ideas. But for many people, space is not the last frontier – not even close. With seven continents thousands of miles apart, there are more destinations than any of us can count. It\’s hard to describe the feeling that rushes through your body as you take that first step onto foreign soil, and it\’s different for everybody. But we all have one thing in common: we can thank the transportation that got us there.

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