THE founders of the Lonely Planet guides, Maureen and Tony Wheeler, have been voicing their anger at "frivolous" British travellers who fly to European cities with no sense of purpose or interest in their destination. The Wheelers have identified a new menace: people who travel simply because they can travel.

I completely agree with them. There must obviously be concern about those who fly to a foreign city simply for a weekend of drunkenness. Many of our British city centres have become no-go jungles on Friday and Saturday nights; we are now exporting this degraded syndrome to many other cities across Europe. They go, they drink, they puke, they return. The air journeys are bad enough; it is doubly unfortunate that we are visiting the British disease of yobbery on more civilised and douce destinations, as well as damaging the planet through wholly unnecessary emissions.

Now that international travel is so easy, almost glib, it has become almost routine to fly here, there or anywhere. I am amazed at the sheer ignorance of some people as to where they are flying; I know of people who are barely aware of which country they are landing in. Indeed, a few years ago my wife suggested that it might be good to have a short "destination test" before people were allowed to fly abroad.

Yet it is not just cheap flights that need to be examined. At the other end of the scale, it may be that much upmarket travel is every bit as frivolous and irresponsible. Take the recent top-level junket of the world's leading power brokers at Davos, Switzerland. Were the journeys of all these supposed global movers and shakers, and the attendant media, even if they really did want to discuss great issues and sort out the world's problems, necessary? Could they not have tried to do so via video conferencing?

There is also a danger of cultural snobbery. The English in particular used to be associated with the worst kind of arrogant cultural tourism, where "milord anglais" would patronise the locals as he explored the antiquities of Greece or Italy. Some of the misguided and condescending consequences of this were in their way every bit as irresponsible as the behaviour of the trippers who transport their drunken excess to less celebrated European destinations.

I'm thinking, for instance, of the reputation of Gianlorenzo Bernini, the genius of the baroque who left his magnificent imprint on Rome perhaps to a greater degree than any other artist has on any other great city. Yet this man was viciously denounced by the English cultural commissariat, led by the egregious but influential John Ruskin, as an artist and an architect of false taste and base feeling. Only now are Bernini, and Rome, recovering from this precious and pernicious onslaught.

Effete young men on the "grand tour", carrying their presumed cultural superiority around the sites and sights of earlier civilisations, were in their own way every bit as repellent as modern-day yobs puking in the gracious squares of Prague or Tallinn.

Indeed, the whole notion of necessary or purposeful journeys is complex. Most weekends in Britain there is mass movement of football fans. Literally hundreds of thousands of supporters are transported round the country, mainly in cars and hired coaches. Motorways are routinely clogged up and parts of our cities become seriously congested - all because of what must be regarded as essentially frivolous journeys. The amount of damaging emissions must be colossal. Yet are we to ban fans travelling to away games? And in any case, the "home" supporters of really big clubs such as Celtic, Rangers, Liverpool and Manchester United often travel hundreds of miles to their "home" games.

I raised this point with a thoughtful football man recently and he said that increasing numbers of supporters, particularly in England, were now flying to away games. But that only transfers the problem; and indeed, how do these travellers get to the airport in the first place? A little-discussed aspect of the huge boom in cheap air travel is the link with the motor car. All the airports I know are expanding their car parks. Public transport links with airports are often not well used, simply because they are not convenient. It is almost as if the car and the plane feed off each other.

Meanwhile, let's return to the founders of the Lonely Planet guides. Their guides, like the Rough Guides and the Cadogan Guides, are, on the whole, responsible and encourage sensitive and thoughtful and well-informed travel. Yet some of the Lonely Planet guides actively encourage the travelling of longer distances in the interests of cheapness, the use of "bucket shops" and the making of journeys "on a shoestring". And how can our beautiful Earth be a lonely planet when so many millions of people are routinely encouraged to travel as a routine form of recreation?