I used to work for Stanfords Map and Travel Bookshop. And it was the best job in the world. Apart from the bookselling aspect of it, which has its own special place in my heart, I was very much taken with the product and the customers. It was about travel, it was about maps and books and research. It was about people planning holidays and adventures and expeditions. It was about people coming back from holiday and planning the next one, or dreaming or daring to dream
It was about banter and laughter and giving the best service and building the best relationships, because we wanted them, as much as they did, to have as good a time as they could have, and we were part of it.
We had authors and adventurers and travelers come in. We had the nonchalantly intrepid and the foolishly brave. We dreamed as well, with many of my colleagues undertaking considerably adventures of their own, from cycling the salt flats of Chile to walking the trails in the Himalayas to fulfilling a timeless wanderlust by wandering the width and breadth of the planet.
For a long time now I have been contemplating a grand journey, and the catalyst of this post has been the recent activity of the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland with its subsequent impact of flights across Europe, and a very brief exchange with the lovely Theodora8 about traveling on twitter.
I love planes and airports and all the rituals that attend to them. I love customs and passport control and standing in queues and waiting for the next flight. Plane travel has extended our horizons and expanded our gestalt. It has made us more aware and more adventurous.
I also suspect that, somewhere along the lines, we have lost the love and intricacies of travel. We have lost the connection with the journey.
I remember my dad relating that the first time he went to Botswana it took him two days to get there (by plane). We can be in Sydney in half the time.
A couple of years back I took the sleeper train from Delhi to Trivandrum, a journey of 52 hours. I remember walking the length of the train, from the comparatively plush four person berth I was in to the 'third' class, where benches sufficed for all those there. On the way I stopped and listened, just out of sight, as a dozen men and women, crowded together, clapped and sang and laughed. It was magical.
I remember the immense crush at Delhi, the intense heat and clamour and the disorientation as thousands of people struggled past each other to get to their trains. I remember sitting quietly in a corner, watching the world go by, in the calm before the eventual storm, chatting with those sitting near me.
For me the journey is as important as the destination. The destination, in itself, becomes a waypoint on the journey. The people and situations encountered on the journey can be more impactive, more resonant than those at the end. I love the shared experience of the trip, the time taken to take it all in and mull it over.
For many years I have mulling over what would make my ideal journey, and it changes every moment of every day, as I take in new ideas and see new things. The only thing that remains the same is that there will not be a plane used on the whole trip, because that defeats the point. A plane is too quick, too easy, too divorced from the process and intricacies and self-reliance of travel.
One day, it will come to be.