Today, as I stood on a delayed train that was stuffed to the gills with passengers following the cancellation of the two previous trains, I tried to enjoy myself.
Every connecting train I ran for was also delayed and overcrowded with tired and frustrated people wheeling cases and carrying Christmas shopping.
The weather had caused chaos on the train network; there was nothing anyone could do about it, least of all myself.
I found myself smiling.
I was smiling because I let my mind rewind one week to when I was revelling in the sheer pleasure of driving in Europe.
My recent three week journey started in Hull, Yorkshire where I caught a ferry to Zebrugge, Belgium, then continued down through France, into Spain and down to the Algarve in Southern Portugal. I then caught the ferry from Bilbao in the north of Spain, having driven back up the length of the country.
The first traffic jam I encountered in almost 3160 miles was back on English soil on the M1 motorway.
After the traffic clogged motorways of the UK, my mind boggled; the roads in Europe were empty. The wide toll roads, fast and clear, and even the smaller roads were uncluttered. I knew that in the bowels of the big cities I was bound to find a few snarl-ups, so I chose to avoid those places, concentrating on the mostly rural, mountainous western edge of Spain.
I know, I know. The populations, density and geographical sizes of all these countries differs so wildly to the UK that I can’t really compare the two. My point here is simply that it felt great to get away from all the other people sharing the road and just concentrate on the scenery. And drive.
Travelling For Pleasure
At the back of most people’s mind when they think of a road trip is that go-to image of sun speckled Route 66, sunglasses and hair blown in the wind. Whether you are driving a convertible along the coastal roads in Cali or your budget rental in Corfu, that fizz of excitement is still the same.
That feeling of being able to go where you want, when you want, by whatever route you choose is the intoxicating essence of any road trip. Just the whole idea of driving somewhere new, for the whole purpose of exploration, means that quintessence of the journey is resoundingly positive.
Give or take any potential traffic jams or diversions, you call the shots on your road trip. You are in control of your own pace and destination and I think that’s why we love it so much.
Pick a spot on the map and let’s go.
Travelling To Get Somewhere
Now, travelling to get somewhere can be a pain in the butt.
Take the train journey today, from Edinburgh to Leeds; easy enough on paper and should be quite a pleasant roll through the green landscape of Scotland. But, when it all goes wrong through no fault of our own it leaves a sour taste that we struggle to swallow.
We want to get somewhere and it is going to take longer than we expected. Now we are cross. And there is nowhere to sit.
Suddenly, what started out as a promising trip is now a major headache.
It seems that when we travel for travel’s sake we can enjoy the journey. Even the hiccoughs of a wrong turn or a hold-up can be endured because, hey, it is all part of the experience of getting there, right?
However, when travel becomes a necessity, and we rely on it to run smoothly to get us from A to B, it becomes an irksome activity that must be finished as quickly as possible. Like removing a plaster. Or doing the ironing.
Our patience is immediately stretched thin by roadworks or a chocker-block train, doubling the time of our journey. Ugh, where’s the fun in that?
Because we view these types of journey as essential, we bleach out any potential enjoyment we could have gotten from the time spent in transit. I for one have never heard anyone wax lyrical about the joy that is their commute.
And that is a shame.
Travel in South East Asia was about the journey whether you intended it to be or not.
Sure, it gets you there, but the experience is a baffling one; an onslaught in a language you don’t understand, stops and delays you cannot explain and timetables that work on the loosest of schedules.
Travel in these countries is a sensory overload of unfamiliar sounds, smells, and sights that keep your nose pressed to the glass and a trickle of adrenaline shivering down your spine.
Your expectations are chewed, swallowed and spat out.
If you and your bags got there safely, did it matter what by what time or route? Do you really require that whole seat for yourself, when the space can be shared with another person, or even two? Do you have to stretch out your legs when baggage and other items can be carried in the place where you wanted to put your feet?
These occasions force you to immerse yourself totally in your journey.
You were aware of the sweat on your face in a bus where the windows did not open. You spend a night shivering in the overly efficient air-con of the night bus and vow never to forget to take more layers on board next time.
You were aware of the old lady crouched across from you who cradled a small kitten in her lap for an eight hour journey, and the chicken clucking softly to itself in the basket in the aisle.
You were ushered off buses and into shops you did not ask to visit, where you were stared at until you felt the unspoken pressure to buy something before you were allowed back in the vehicle.
A journey that you thought would take five hours actually took twelve. And you didn not ask why because you knew you would not have understood the Cambodian reply anyway.
And sometimes in these moments you may find yourself yearning to be on that crowded, yet familiar platform at Leeds station when everything actually made sense. Or in the comforts of your own car, although stationary on a motorway, where you can listen to traffic updates on the radio.
But even in those unfamiliar, overwhelming and frantic times of exhaust fumes, potholes and the cacophony of horns, a part of you was still totally in awe of the journey. And you have to admit that you loved it. Expectations dismissed, you finally allow yourself to sit back and travel.
We spend so much time romanticising travel, so why aren’t we in love with it?
I think it is time to rekindle that lost love, sit back, and enjoy the journey.
What do you think? Do you love to travel yet sometimes find yourself getting frustrated at the journey?