Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Art of Travel

Great Barrier Reef from aboveThere was a time when going travelling meant having one long fun session interrupted only an occasional [daily] nap and ending abruptly upon landing back at my home airport. That is no longer the case, a fact that I learned to live with. Nevertheless, this fact still seems to surprise those who ask me about my recent overseas trip: my one liner of an answer, "it had its ups and downs", takes them out of their comfort zone. Surely we need to maintain the illusion that everything taking place during holidays has to be great?
Well, I’m sorry to break it to you but this is not the case. Maybe in dreamland, but not in reality. It has never been the case, really, but as you grow older it never being the case becomes more and more obvious.
For a start, all forms of travel are always restricted in one form or another. The usual restrictions come in the form of us not having as much money as we would like to have (and we would dearly love to fly business class on our next European expedition). We also never have as much time as we would like to holiday: most of us have jobs to come back to, and these jobs restrict our leave allocations. The bastards!
Moving on from restrictions, there is the problem of having to satisfy a growing number of stakeholders with our travelling. We need to accommodate for the fact we are now travelling with a young boy, whose idea of fun is totally different to our conventional senses and whose needs are quite special to say the least.
[A short side note, aimed at those urging us to have additional children: if travelling with one child is a pain, just imagine what it would be like to travel with two! Each time we book a hotel room we would need to book two, and at least while the kids are young we’d have to split up each evening to babysit. Wow, that sounds like fun!]
Then we need to accommodate for the whims of the people we are travelling to. As much as we would like everyone to drop everything and be with us during the short time we have allocated to be with them, that is not the case. It's funny to see how everyone, me mostly, seems to think their private whims are shared by everyone else; they aren't. The people we visit have their own lives, they have their business to run, and they have things they would like to do with their time – things that are likely to be different to the things I would like to do with my time. They certainly have different preferences: to give but two obvious examples, the English part of the family’s taste in food could not be more different to mine, while the Israeli part’s preferred way of spending their leisure time during the hotter seasons is to go and visit a shopping mall – not exactly the most interesting of tourist destinations I’ve had in mind.
Health is another issue that needs to be taken into account. While it could be unlikely for a single person to feel unwell while away for a month, it is quite likely for one of us three to feel unwell while away for a month. Between us getting older (or not being as young as we used to be), the sensitive little boy in our midst, and the varying climates it becomes quite likely to have one or more of us feeling unwell while overseas. Indeed, the last three times we’ve been overseas we always faced some health issues that were severe enough for us to significantly break away from our travel plans.
Flying itself is not getting any better. In the sacred name of security the airport part of the flight becomes more and more time consuming and intrusive. In perfect synchronization, airlines are working hard to cut costs while trying to milk more money: instead of having the usual crappy economy class seat we now have to contend with worse conditions as the airlines try to sell us “premium economy” at premium prices. When you land, weary and tired, you tend to encounter less than fascinating welcomes: you're mostly greeted by poor facilities and long queues, as the airports do their best to increase their profit margins while making the most of their captive audience. Flying: What used to be glamorous has turned into a very shitty experience through and through.

Travelling may be a tedious affair, but it does have its upsides. We had many downs during our recent travels but the break from routine and the ability to see things from other perspectives makes the whole affair worthwhile; not the constant rollercoaster ride I remember from the past, but still an experience worth savouring for its ups as well as its downs. The person coming back from a travel is not the same as the person who left off. The way I see it, travelling is an art; Alain de Botton wrote a book about it already.
In case the benefits of going through the travel motions seem by now as if they are not worth the effort, consider what seeing multiple different cultures has done to our toddler (excuse me, our pre-schooler). At my parents’ third floor apartment in Israel he realized he was in something unlike the houses he’s used to. It made him ask the question we found ourselves asking on multiple occasions during our travels: “How do we get out of here?”

P.S. For further evidence concerning the effect of bumping into the strange, refer to my son referring to Israel as "Warm Weather World", or www in short.

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