Since I’ve been traveling in a foreign country for the last week – I was sipping sugary tea all over Turkey – I thought this article, published last year in McSweeney’s Panorama newspaper, was slightly relevant. If nothing else, it’s my personal attempt to justify both the annoying burdens of travel (especially foreign travel) and the self-indulgence of an extended vacation. I’m linking to the version of the article that was reprinted in the Observer, since that’s online:
It’s 4.15 in the morning and my alarm clock has just stolen away a lovely dream. My eyes are open but my pupils are still closed, so all I see is gauzy darkness. For a brief moment, I manage to convince myself that my wakefulness is a mistake, and that I can safely go back to sleep. But then I roll over and see my zippered suitcase. I let out a sleepy groan: I’m going to the airport.
The taxi is late. There should be an adjective (a synonym of sober, only worse) to describe the state of mind that comes from waiting in the orange glare of a streetlight before drinking a cup of coffee. And then the taxi gets lost. And then I get nervous, because my flight leaves in an hour. And then we’re here, and I’m hurtled into the harsh incandescence of Terminal B, running with a suitcase so I can wait in a long security line. My belt buckle sets off the metal detector, my 120ml stick of deodorant is confiscated, and my left sock has a gaping hole.
And then I get to the gate. By now you can probably guess the punchline of this very banal story: my flight has been cancelled. I will be stuck in this terminal for the next 218 minutes, my only consolation a cup of caffeine and a McGriddle sandwich. And then I will miss my connecting flight and wait, in a different city, with the same menu, for another plane. And then, 14 hours later, I’ll be there.
Why do we travel? It’s not the flying I mind – I will always be awed by the physics that gets a fat metal bird into the upper troposphere. The rest of the journey, however, can feel like a tedious lesson in the ills of modernity, from the pre-dawn X-ray screening to the sad airport malls peddling crappy souvenirs. It’s globalisation in a nutshell, and it sucks.
If you want to know why travel makes you smarter and more creative, then read on.