Travelling for Travelling’s Sake

Piers McEwan (One Thinking Man)

Piers McEwan (One Thinking Man)

That annoyingly unavoidable necessity loathed by the majority of humankind?  The precious time lost going from A to B and then back to A again?  Yes, for whatever reason, I’m drawn to these in-between parts of life, the parts skipped over and dismissed by so many.  Something tells me the seed was planted well before I entered this Earth; indeed, I’ve been told on numerous occasions that my first word as a baby, ‘tractor’, was shouted from the comfort of a buggy whilst pointing to a jumbo jet 30,000 feet in the sky.  Whatever encouraged me to do so, it seems unambiguously apparent that there was something about these modes of transport which interested me from a tender age.

On digging a bit deeper back into the parts of my childhood I’ve long forgotten, I was also reminded of my sick to the gills excitedness boarding cross channel ferries to the ports of Northern France.   At a mere four or five hours, such a journey might well deservedly appear unnoteworthy, but for the seven year old me this was it; the funnels atop the ship pumping their smoke as we navigated through Portsmouth Harbour’s narrow passage, the blast of horns out across the Solent and the rubbery English breakfast eaten with a view out to the bolshiest waves the Channel could throw at us.  These are the things that set my imagination spinning from a young age and had my stomach filled with equal part wonder and opportunity, much as it does to this very day.

Undoubtedly, much of these feelings must be assigned to the fact that a journey will take us to the place we've been planning for and probably dreaming about.  But might the process of travelling itself hold just as much merit?  And might it therefore be something which we could all tune into a little more in order to get the best out of it?

These are the questions I was asking myself on a Friday morning earlier this month.  Whilst others slept, checked phones and played games on IPads, I proceeded to stare out of 17A’s smeared window as we surged over the North Sea towards Copenhagen airport.  Air travel, in particular, brings home the often forgotten realisation of how insignificant everything and anything really is; worries, problems, anxieties, failures, you name it.  As grids of cars and high rise buildings transform somewhat immediately into non-descript dots below, I always feel an immense feeling of release.  For the view is no longer of the imaginable, the describable and the day to day; no, they’re all long gone.  Up there, with the clouds for company, pre-conceptions disappear and I often feel the weight of the world literally falling below me.

But it’s not just six and half miles above ground that this phenomenon takes place.  Aboard a boat with just a forceful breeze and intermittently choppy seas for company, all that is normal disappears to some extent and is forgotten.  With views of nothing but water until the horizon all around me, it’s as though I can literally feel my frazzled, technology minded brain resetting and firing up as if new.  And in parallel, for me there is just something ultimately gratifying in arriving to new lands by sea, most notably when the first shapes of one’s destination start to paint their silhouettes onto the distant horizon line.

Whatever the mode of travel is, what binds them all is a sense of movement.  In some way shape or form, movement occurs.  And movement has rhythm.  Be it the rhythm of a train hurtling over bumps in the track, a plane passing over equidistant cloud formations, the boat pounding into an endless supply of waves or wheels spinning over gravel.  And much like the rhythm of a heartbeat or the breath, I find these periods lend themselves to a meditative state.  With just the rhythm of the travel itself, our minds are given the backdrop to be free, free from all the day to day chatter and information.  

And so it is in these transitory moments I often find the most value and meaning.  Sure, the destination itself will have its own virtues and opportunities but it will just be another ‘place’ and so it’s within those in-between bits that I so often feel at ease with myself.  Perhaps it’s evolutionary mechanisms kicking in; I can only assume that instances of movement for our ancestors must have signalled hope of something better, of new beginnings, of someplace far more advantageous than the status quo.  And it’s that feeling of opportunity, of growth and of novelty that often make me content to travel for travel’s sake.