It also provided opportunities to ponder his specialist subject, allowing him to note that you can calibrate the effects of global warming by the length of the mini-skirts worn in Siberia, or that ‘air quality in Beijing... is an oxymoron’.
In Guangzhou, ‘a city that does the most convincing impression of Blade Runner’ he finds buildings lit by adverts screened on enormous LED panels, all lashed by torrential rain; if nothing else, this cures him of falling back on ‘it was a bit like Norfolk’ as a cover-all description.
Other travellers provide bemusing background detail, from the man who took a two-month journey on a cargo ship to avoid a 24-hour flight without cigarettes, to the girl asking her boyfriend to take her photo on the site of a mass grave in Cambodia. Watching tourists in Vietnam pay $40 to spray rounds from a semi-automatic weapon, he determines from their sheepish attitudes that this is pretty much the definition of ‘guilty pleasure’.
Sometimes, slow travel is made compulsory by interminable customs procedures; at other times, it offers the chance to discover that Mongolian ‘sushi’ is actually made from spam – evidence enough that ‘flight-free travel is revelatory and transformative in a way that air travel can never be’.
ONLY PLANET: A Flight-Free Adventure Around the World by Ed Gillespie, Wild Things Publishing, £14.99