The Frontal Cortex

Travel

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Rick
    May 17, 2010

    What took you to Turkey? I haven’t been for over ten years now, but I used to travel there regularly. I miss good Turkish chai…

  2. #2 Hugo S.
    May 17, 2010

    Do you know already Alain de Botton. If not, check
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=449400886518295729#

  3. #3 Carol Sanford
    May 18, 2010

    I travel three out of every four week and have for the last 35 years. I don’t mind it. My international flights are a bit more difficult. But when I land, I get to do amazing work with people who really want to make a difference and do what is right with their lives.E. G. I worked in South Africa during the transition to the New South Africa and now in the Middle East as we find a way to move their economies to ones not depend on oil. Without an airplane, my life would have been less meaningful. Travel makes us wiser, reduces our hubris and gives us perspective. Even when I get up at 2:30 am for a 3:30 shuttle pick up in Seattle, I look forward to a new emotional and intellectual venture.

  4. #4 Kirsty
    May 18, 2010

    I wrote a statistical analysis of your travel article for my stats final this past semester. I got an A — all thanks to you! :)

  5. #5 meryl
    May 22, 2010

    I challenge you to visit Singapore with your Mrs.*wink*

    We’ll see if we can change the way you think about traveling.

    There’s a magic in geographical “displacement” that intrigues, captures, and captivates the soul like none other.

    The first time i’d stepped onto African terrains – it was cape town. No doubt, it wasn’t rough and tumble. But it was still in the 90’s. I was in my early 20’s. Most in my motherland thought i’d gone mad, but it wasn’t, it was strictly business; steel business to be specific.

    I never lost that scent of the African wilderness since. It was raw, confrontational and honest. I’d loved that and I’d missed that since.

    Don’t ever lose that traveling bug…it’s wonderful.

    enjoy enjoy
    meryl

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