The Joy of the Journey
Today I bought a piece of wrapping paper, not because I had a gift to give – nor in fact will I likely use it to wrap a gift – it’s too nice. I bought it because the images on it caught my eye. I bought it for what those images represent.
It is a collage of old advertisements for grand international hotels and stately cruise liners, mixed with old luggage tags and different-shaped stylised stickers for destinations around the world. I’ve never been good with dating things… the 30s, 40s, 50s? It doesn’t matter but to me it represents a time when travel was fun. Not the destination, but the very act of getting there. When the journey was slower, and savoured as such, and you dressed up for it like any other event. The golden age of glamorous travel.
I could lament that the days of perfectly-preened, stylish stewardesses serving three course meals on china plates are gone, etc but to be honest I’m not old enough to remember. They’re just romantic images in the movies for me. (Check out Toronto-based Porter Airlines for this retro flavour). Although I have heard rumour that such things exist in First Class (sadly, I’ve never been) but that more often than not stylish has been replaced by surly. Even so, I do remember travel pre-September 11 travel. When shoes stayed on, knifes were metal and actually cut your food, and you could take your liquids on board. Of course I miss that. I’m even angry about it. That such a wonderful and amazing thing such as humans taking to the air – breaking free from Earth’s hold and with the speedy ability to get halfway around the planet in less than a day! – should become a hassle.
I love flying. My excitement builds the moment I get to the airport and scan the screens for all the destinations available to me – I let my imagination linger – before finding my flight. While shuffling through long check-in lines I’m observing my fellow passengers, wondering what brings us together on this shared experience. I always ask for a window seat so I can marvel at my departure city from above and gain insight into my destination city upon arrival. I also love watching the wing of the plane as we land. The engineering that sees it double in size as it extends against incredible airstream forces to slow the plane down.
I love the ritual of boarding. The very excitement of stepping over the threshold and onto the plane; in a world of squared corners I always acknowledge the curving exterior of the plane and take a moment to realise that this is something different, special, not to be taken for granted. And while I love being greeted by the crew, particularly if I’m getting on the national carrier of the country I’m travelling to – their foreign accent can incite an instant surge of excitement that you’re halfway there – I’ll never understand why they need to look at my seat assignment even when there are two aisles to choose from.
I love the exhilaration of take off, the uncertainty of landing. (I love that in most Latin American countries a good landing – that would be any safe landing – is greeted with an enthusiastic round of applause from the whole cabin.) Sometimes I am childlike during a flight, pushing all the buttons, trying to watch as many movies as possible between flipping back and forth between the flight tracking map and constantly looking out the window to see what daylight and cloud cover reveal. Sometimes cities, sometimes mountains, sometimes landscapes dotted with a myriad of reflective lakes, sometime vast oceans of humbling nothing. I love seeing the shadow of my plane on the ground below for the perspective it brings.
I like the food. I know I’m going to lose some of you here. But truly I do. The thought that’s gone into making this perfectly packaged meal that has to excite, enliven and nourish. I’m often asking for a second meal if there are any spares, and there always is.
I once took a sleeping pill on a flight between Toronto and Vancouver and missed all this! The sleeping pill was 6 hours, the flight 5. Thanks to the pill I fell asleep before the plane even pulled away from the gate and only awoke when the wheels touched down on the tarmac. Some would call that the perfect flight. For me it was one of the strangest days in my life. I had no accounting of how I got to Vancouver and walking around the city that day felt completely displaced. Worse yet I missed the experience of getting there. I can only imagine how ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ transporting technology will leave a future generation similarly displaced and the joy of the journey all but lost.
Ok, I’m not a fan of the Immigration queues at the end of the journey. But who can deny the excitement that comes from an official welcome and the all important passport stamp that says ‘hey, you did, you got here!’. (Unless you’re dealing with American immigration, hands down the worst welcome in the world.)
And while the seemingly random reveal of luggage on the carousel – (Am I the only one that wants to jump on it and go for a ride?) – can be a bit of an anxious and impatient wait when you’re eager to discover your new destination, nothing beats the emotionally-charged atmosphere of the Arrivals Hall! I rarely have people waiting for me but when do I celebrate along with the rest of the greeted passengers. But more often than not as I stroll past I revel in the anticipatory faces of those waiting, searching for their friends, their family and the resulting unbridled excitement, tears, and joy when they finally have those that they’ve come for in their arms and by their sides. You can feel the love in the room. It’s overwhelming. I’ve had an amazing and rich experience already and I haven’t even left the airport to discover my destination yet.
Lovely post. Despite the fact that long-haul can be torture, I actually love the feeling I get at the refuelling stop half-way from Australia to Europe when you step off the plane in the middle of the night and can instantly feel the heat and scent and sounds of Asia. No amount of air conditioning or thick glass can keep the difference out.