One rule of polite society which I learned long ago is that, as a general rule of thumb, no one really cares to hear all of the details about your vacation. They want to know that you suffered no mishaps, and that you enjoyed yourself. And of course it’s helpful to have a very quick story or two ready, tailored to the person with whom you are discussing your trip, but that’s about it. So for those of you who were interested enough to follow my Instagram while I was on vacation – and most of my pics were of food rather than sightseeing activities – but not much besides, you may want to leave off reading at this point.
Otherwise, if you care to continue, I want to make just a few observations about travel more generally. For I hate to travel, as it happens, even though I must make the journey to get to where I want to go. My aversion perhaps has something to do with rejecting the old cliché about the journey being the destination, which is often adopted by those who have only a sense of the now and not the later. While I’m certainly interested in how you make the pudding, with all due respect to the cook I’m even more interested in actually eating it.
Part of my aversion to travel is the horror of traveling with other people who, in the present day, largely seem to view this shared activity as a forum for the indulgence of every kind of barbaric form of public behavior imaginable. But for the fact that some authority might still fine them for doing so, I would not be surprised to see the undulating, semi-naked, unkempt travelers who populate most airports and train stations today not bothering to go to the loo at all, but simply relieving themselves in their seats because they are too lazy to stop watching their phones. In that sense, “WALL-E” is, one suspects, a rather prescient film.
There’s also nothing like spending 7 hours in a flying aluminum tube, sharing your row with a couple of bitter Baby Boomers dressed as though they had rolled out of bed a few minutes before. In this case, Mr. and Mrs. Lemon, as I’ll call them, were a very dissatisfied pair indeed. They did nothing but bicker and complain throughout the flight, about things such as the temperature of the meal – which was perfectly fine – or why the covers on the pillows were not soft enough, or why the in-flight Starbucks isn’t as good as that in whatever putrid corner of Manhattan they happen to live in. Thank goodness for the extra gin in premium cattle class.
But let us not put all the blame on travelers, here, for we can’t forget that the people who control the procedural aspects of that journey are often part of the problem. Take travel on the AVE, for example. The AVE runs on the fastest and most extensive high-speed train network in Europe, knitting the major cities of the Iberian Peninsula together at speeds over 300km an hour and connecting them to the rest of Europe via high-speed French rail. The train is a great pleasure to ride, at least on the line I know between Barcelona and Madrid, for in under 3 hours, you can see everything from mountains to deserts, forests to vineyards, sprawling settlements to abandoned castles, from the comfort of wide leather seats with plenty of legroom – and that’s in tourist class.
That being said, it can be difficult to enjoy that journey when you can’t even get the journey started properly thanks to those charged with making it happen demonstrating the kind of gross incompetence that one expects at the Department of Motor Vehicles or The Prado Museum. At the train platform, I was told to go to a particular car, even though my ticket said I was to go to a different numbered car. I was then told on board by another person that this car was incorrect, and that I was to go back to the person who had told me to go there. Said person then told to go back to the same car, and tired of lugging my massive luggage and somewhat large self back and forth I sat down.
I was then told by someone else to leave that car, and to return to the same individual with whom I had started, and was told that no, now I had to go to another car all the way at the back of the next train. Not only had she neglected to explain this previously – twice – this detail was at all clear either from my ticket, or from the numbering of the cars themselves, which were not in ascending or descending chronological order. Bearing in mind that my grasp of Spanish is, while not perfect, at least close enough to native that no one ever addresses me in English when I’m in Spain, you can understand why I suspect, without being 100% sure, that the fault was probably not mine in this instance.
Despite all of the forgoing of course – and these are but two examples – I had a great time, and will likely be going back again in December/January. I’m doing so because, despite what conventional wisdom tells us, the journey really isn’t as important as the destination. I’m traveling not because I want to travel aimlessly. I’m traveling because I have a goal or destination in mind: being where I want to be. There are many things that can and should be learned from the journey itself, via reflection, experiences, and conversations, and I certainly have done so over the years. But the point of traveling is that I want my coffee at my favorite café in Barcelona, more than I want to flip through the in-flight magazine and come across an interesting article.
You’re certainly welcome to dismiss me for being too rigid or too goal-oriented. But if you want to sit and complain about your corns coming on from how long the corridors are, or whine to your fellow passengers about how the WiFi on board wasn’t as good as what you have at home, you’ll be doing that without me. I’ll be making a bee-line for the exit, and my cab to downtown.