07.28.08

Time for the journey

Posted in Travel at 11:04 by RjZ

An oft cited cliché tells us that travel is not about the journey, but the destination. If you’re lucky, you get to hear this during some arduous adventure after being robbed of your passport. I’ve never bought it. I’ve always found that sitting in the train, bus, plain or car; even walking in the hot sun wasn’t really the point of travel. Don’t we do those things near wherever we call home? I go to far away places to <em>see</em> things. I’ve <em>seen</em> the pyramids. I’ve <em>seen</em> the Taj Mahal. Traveling to them, buying a plane ticket, negotiating with a bus driver, fighting off the camel rides, that wasn’t really the point. The point was getting there and much of the trip was planed around getting to these destinations.

Honestly, I am just as bad when hiking. I was suffering from altitude sickness on the way up Mt. Bierstadt, an easy fourteener. About 300 feet from the top, dizziness and headache maybe wearing off just for a moment, I could see the peak and I turned to my partner and said “I’m going up.” She wasn’t feeling so well herself, so I just plodded my way to the top. I’d have clawed my way the last few feet if that’s what it took. After all, I was <em>that</em> close. I couldn’t even imagine that she’d gotten that far and wasn’t compelled just to struggle the few more feet. 

I can’t say I’m proud of this. It’s true, it’s the destinations that start the conversation, but I’m starting to notice that after all this traveling, it may really be the journey that makes the story. Nowadays I’m planning a round-the-world trip. There’s no confirmed date for such a trip (hey, people I work with read this blog!) but when I finally go, I think I’ll still end up structuring my travel around destinations. Planning and preparing for a longer trip like this one is a much bigger undertaking than a jaunt to Machu Picchu and back. During a two week trip, traveling light is easy. Technically speaking you don’t really need much more for a two year trip than a two week trip. If you can last for two weeks with only a second pair of pants and less than a week’s worth of underwear, what changes over a longer period? I wonder how long it takes before you never want to see that t-shirt you started with a few months back ever again. Still, my most vivid memories aren’t always the World Heritage Sites I’d worked so hard to see, but the insecure hotels and falling apart busses I’d spent time in just to get to them.

What’s missing from the cliché about journeys and destinations is time. When you’ve only got a short time to see the sights, then, surely they’re the most important part of your trip. If somehow you’ve managed to take time out of the equation; if waiting at the embassy to get a visa is no longer ruining your chances to see everything you planned on, then suddenly the waiting becomes as much a part of your trip as the camel ride. When travel is what you’re (temporarily) doing for a living and not an escape from ordinary life, it becomes more obvious that the destinations are only the skeleton that the body of travel hangs on. That doesn’t explain why I had to get to the top of Beirstadt, regarless of whether it was a good idea or not, but maybe climbing some mountains in far away places will bring that into focus too.

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