In the past ten years I've given up on travel, especially air travel. My flying days are done. It's not like I haven't had my share. I have - and then some, a lot actually.
I traveled most back when I was young. It was a lot more fun then, much more adventuresome. There was nothing pre-packaged, no McDonald's in every town, no credit cards, no ATMs, a good chance of winding up where English simply wasn't spoken, no cell phones, no internet, communication was pretty much a postcard if you could find stamps and some place to mail it. Charging about on a less than reliable English motorcycle you saw more, if only because you broke down more. Yet it was a different world, still emerging from WWII, the signs were around if you noticed, and there were a lot fewer of us crowding this planet, about half our current numbers. Tourism was not the battery-hen operation that plagues us today. Even riding solo through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, you really didn't give that a second thought except, perhaps, to imagine yourself a latter-day T.E. Lawrence.
A couple of times I've revisited places I knew from the late 60s/early 70s only to be disappointed at the change. It's like an assault on some really great memories.
Now there's another reason not to retrace old paths. The air is apt to be rotten if not unbreathable. Enter the age of biohazard tourism. From the New York Times:
While China takes a bulk of the heat when it comes to unhealthy levels of air quality, air pollution is a major issue throughout Asia and beyond, even to Europe and North America. Without research and self-care, even short-term visitors may feel the effects. Here are some precautions you can take to help you breathe easier.
You can find a given city’s Air Quality Index, or A.Q.I., on air-monitoring websites like aqicn.org. This index indicates how polluted or dirty the air is (typically measuring particulate matter in the air) and explains the possible health implications of that level. While A.Q.I. levels are often referenced to in the United States during allergy season or at times of dust storms or wildfires, the index is commonplace throughout Asia. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a complete explanation of what makes “good” or “bad” air quality on its website.
...A proper air-filtering face mask can be your best friend when air quality is low. Although you can find disposable face masks at pharmacies in most cities, the type of masks recommended by medical professionals are rarely found in drugstores or department stores. You’re better off ordering quality ones online in advance of your trip instead of scrambling to find them in a new city.
...After a day of sightseeing, protecting your skin and your lungs from air pollution and particulates that may have settled in your clothes, on your skin or in your hair, is simple: take a shower as soon as you can, apply sunscreen and moisturizer, and repeat every time you spend a prolonged period outdoors.
Refraining from outdoor activities on heavily-polluted days is the most common piece of advice when it comes to avoiding the effects of air pollution from medical experts, including those at the American Lung Association. Plan activities like museum visits, souvenir shopping trips, and other mostly-indoor activities for days when the air quality is really bad. Or, just keep a few of those activities in your pocket in case everything seems good one day, but the air quality takes a turn on the next.Blade Runner tourism where you're a biohazard refugee in every destination. A regime of constant decontamination. Why not find a fashionable haz-mat suit as you prowl the remaining wonders of the world? Know something? I'm good. I think I'll just stick with my memories of a world that is no more.
Fortunately for those looking for a reprieve from air pollution, a growing number of accommodations and activities are now making clean air a main feature. Not only have several hotel chains have added air purifiers to their list of amenities, but smog-free cinemas, oxygen bars and clean air cafes have become en vogue in cities like Seoul, Bangkok and Beijing. If you’ve already been to the museum, maybe it’s time to take in a film.
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