I’ve always enjoyed travelling. When I was a kid, we loaded up our VW Beetle and explored Norway and Denmark during the summer holidays. As a teenager, Western Europe was open to anyone with a backpack and a one month Interrail ticket. Now it’s slightly more emphasis on comfort, but I still enjoy it. When I step on the airport express train in Oslo I look forward to what the next day will bring, even if I’m going to a destination where I’ve been dozens of time before.
But when I think of it, the emphasis is changing. I used to do a lot of shopping abroad. I would, in my bachelor days, spend days in the bookshops of London, in antiquaries in Stockholm and Copenhagen, in record shops with new and second hand vinyl. I still have albums with the stickers from Record and Tape Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, though they are now filling a shelf in the basement.
But my shopping habits have changed – in various ways. First of all, I don’t devour Science Fiction books by the yard, but tend to hand pick my reading more carefully. The same with music, I buy a CD every other month instead of buying everything sold at a discount. I buy quite a few DVDs, though, that is a new item on the budget.
But I don’t set aside days of stocking up on consumer culture any more. I can easily find what I need on the web those days.
The new books from my favourite authors slide easily into my mailbox in heavily discounted hardcover editions. If I want something more evasive, Google will help me locate it. Sure, I miss the smell of old books now and then. But I don’t miss the dust.
The same goes for movies and music. There are online retailers in Norway and abroad which supply me with whatever I wish for.
This does not mean that I don’t pop into brick and mortar shops any longer. But they are not primary destinations as they were.
There are other things that do not travel as well, though, and that is fresh food and drink. Fresh seafood and salads, pastries and pies. Austrian coffee and Italian ice cream. Sure, you can bring home both salami and cheese, but that is just an echo of the antipasti buffets you can experience in the Mediterranean. (And please don’t get me started about the quality of vegetables up here. You call these tomatoes? A ten euro per kilo?..)
And beer. If have told you about my discussions with the check in ladies of the airports of the Free World. Sure, you can bring home good bottled beers from many countries. But only travel can give you the wonders of a fresh Bohemian pilsener or English cask ale. A Belgian bowl of mussels with a Trappist beer. Some weisswurst with that unfiltered German wheat beer.
They can ship their semi-frozen stout and four per cent Stellas and Becks around the globe. But some of us want something else. Something more. Something that is not boiled, dumbed down or made to please everybody. We’re even willing to pay for it.