The Personal Space Shuttle and Still Being Haunted By Lions on Drugs

I was watching an episode of the new version of Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos series the other day and they came up with the interesting fact that the space shuttle required as much thrust to escape Earth’s gravity as ten Airbus A380s. That pretty much feels like the amount of effort it takes me to go travelling sometimes.

Some people are born travellers but I’m not one of them. I have spent years investing in a nice, comfortable home not realising that that comfort comes with its own gravitational field and one that can be just as hard to escape as the one holding us to the Earth.

It sometimes just feels like it is all far too much hassle. Planning a trip is a time-consuming and complex process, especially if I’m moving around. What to fit in and leave out. Alternative plans for when the weather is poor. How long should I spend at each place on my list, even although I’ve never been there before. Photography adds its own challenges: when to go to each location to get the best light for a given shot. Of course the solution is simply to either take a package tour – and go on someone else’s idea of my dream trip – or pay an agency to tailor a trip for me – and suffer the financial consequences. But no, as comfortable as sitting back and letting someone else do the work sounds, it is important that I do it myself.


Four years later on, I still see this lion, apparently whacked out on Scooby snacks, as I believe the young people would say...

Four years later on, I still see this lion, apparently whacked out on Scooby snacks, as I believe the young people would say. Oh, it reads “abunai, haitteikemasen” or “Danger, you must not enter”.


For a start, it is part of the process and makes the sense of achievement so much greater. When I was in Kobe, Japan, I discovered a tour that took you up the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge – the World’s longest suspension bridge and one metre longer than originally designed due to the 1994 Kobe earthquake. The website was in Japanese, the application form was in Japanese, the tour was in Japanese and the requirement was that you understand it as the safety instructions were in, well, Japanese. So I spent weeks memorising Japanese vocabulary related to safety instructions. Weeks. But I booked the tour, was accepted and had a thoroughly brilliant, if geeky, time. But the feeling of all that hard work paying off is probably what made that tour so enjoyable – and rivals the actual experience of standing atop one of the suspension towers – an experience few will have.


Standing atop the nearest tower, 1 kilometre from shore, was made more special because of what I went through to get there...

Standing atop the nearest tower, 1 kilometre from shore, was made more special because of what I went through to get there…

Second, it’s amazing what you discover as you research – things that you’d never have thought of. For example, I photograph street art – graffiti especially – and as I was hunting around for graffiti in Jerusalem for the forthcoming trip to Israel, I had a bit of a Google. Now, as ephemeral as graffiti is, good examples tend to stick around. To my surprise I found some. Some of Banksy’s work. In Palestine – the West Bank to be precise. So a big detour in my planning this weekend has been to look into travel to the West Bank. Without the planning and research, I’d have missed the whole thing.

Many of you have a passion about something, so you know what I’m talking about when I say that having a passion can be far from easy. It demands time even when you don’t have the time to give. It demands energy, even when the ‘daily grind’ has drained you. And it will always throw you up against a brick wall with no apparent way of getting around. But, of course, it is that same passion that gets you through the day, the hard times, the long evenings away from home in faceless hotels (yes, that last bit is me).

At some point we will all become too old to do what we love. At that point we will all have to face the same demon: regret. We will all look back at all the opportunities that we didn’t take. For me it will be regret at not seeing as much as the World’s great wildernesses with my own two eyes as possible before it is too late. In twenty years time there may not be a Salar de Uyuni, or an ice-covered Arctic. If I want to see them it has to be ‘now’, not ‘tomorrow’. For you there will be other goals, but the feelings of regret will be the same.

Work is tiring, friends and family need attention and comfort’s gravity is a strong and powerful force, but passion is that personal space shuttle that allows us to break free of comfort’s gravity and escape the black hole of regret.

OK. That really was a bad attempt to get the space shuttle analogy back into the story, but hopefully you get the point…

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