Musings on Global Travel

As my recent trip to Hong Kong was short, I probably spent almost as much time in the airplane as I did on the ground.  While I have done a lot of international travel in the last couple of years, at 16 hours, this was the longest trip I’ve taken in a while.  

The perspective gained from a trip that transports you to the other side of the world is enlightening.  On the flight over I actually watched the sun set, rise, and then set again all in one flight.  How is that possible in only 16 hours?  Instead of heading West as one might think to get from Newark to Hong Kong, we headed Northeast. In the late afternoon.  We flew over Northeast Canada and Greenland into the sunset. We then passed just a couple hundred miles from the North Pole where it is always dark in the winter and flew south over Russia, Mongolia, and China into their late afternoon. By the time we were far enough South to reach Hong Kong the sun had set again.

Another peculiar aspect of a trip like this is the routing.   It turns out that because of the spherical shape of the earth, the best route between point A and point B isn’t a straight line drawn on a 2D map.  Combine that with the strong West to East jet stream of the earth and sometimes it makes sense to fly North to go West.  Even though I have piloted aircraft for thousands of hours, I’ve never flown anything that went far enough that this phenomenon applied. So it still amazes me to see the curved line on the flight map screen when I travel long distances (It’s also a great geography lessen for the kids to show them my routes on a globe and on a 2D map and explain why they differ).




It’s also a testament to the state of humanity that I can get in a machine and be transported to the other side of the planet in just 16 hours.  We often take this for granted and complain about how tiring airplane travel can be. But, if we survey all of humanity from the beginning of time up to about a hundred years ago, even the wealthiest person in the world couldn’t have done what I just did.   All we need to do is sit in a chair in relative comfort, eat good food, drink wine, watch movies (or hopefully write or read books).  It really isn’t that bad.  It’s a sign of far humanity has come. When we can complain about an aching back while being transported across the world in less than a day, we’ve come pretty far.

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