It’s not about the Journey, it’s the Destination
Ever since I went to Europe for a study abroad year at age 20, I’ve been infected by the “travel bug.” This surprised everyone, including me. I was a shy homebody as a kid, afraid of my own shadow. I’m still not sure what propelled me to get my first-ever passport and go to France that year, but somewhere deep down I just knew I had to do it. To be frank, I was absolutely terrified, but I had to know if there was something beyond my small, scared existence. And I’m happy to report, there was. While it was the best and the worst year of my life, up until the point anyway, it changed me forever. It opened up a whole new world and gave me the courage to really live. As a result, I’ve become an expat, not just once but twice (so far).
I’d like to point out that fear and anxiety has always been there. And it always will be. For a long time, I thought I could conquer it completely. Sadly, that’s not how it works. Elizabeth Gilbert sums it up nicely in her letter to fear in Big Magic, “Dearest Fear: I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting — and, I may say, you are superb at your job…I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still — your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”
For the last 15 years or so, I’d proudly proclaim that I love to travel. However, I now realize that isn’t entirely true. I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between the process of traveling versus actually experiencing a different place.
So, allow me to amend my statement to “I actually hate traveling.
But I suffer through it for the exciting joy of discovering a new place.”
It’s an odd predicament I find myself in — suffering from both anxiety and motion sickness, while simultaneously possessing an insatiable case of wanderlust. So, I always want to go somewhere, but I inevitably feel like shit while getting there. Let me walk you through this joy ride! First, the anxiety kicks in. About 12 hours before departure, I start freaking out. It starts with low-grade panic attacks — shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and alternating chills and sweats — over the fear of all the logistical nightmares that could (be rarely do) occur. Did I pack everything I need? Should I pad another hour for traffic? What if I miss my connecting flight? It goes on and on and on. I think the underlying issue is that a drastic change of environments really drains me. It takes more time and energy for me to adapt. So anything else that causes even more disruption will take resources I don’t have available.
Anyway, once I get on the bus, train, plane, boat, my anxiety washes away. I made it! Once the trip begins, I can relax…for a few blissful moments until the motion sickness kicks in. Any type of transportation will do it. Whether by land, air or sea, there’s guaranteed nausea, headaches, and dizziness. I’ve tried everything — wrist bands, aromatherapy, anti-nausea patches/pills — but nothing makes it go away. With my trusty travel companions, Xanax and Dramamine, all I can do is count down the minutes through deep cleansing breaths until arrival. It’s a peculiar form of self-torture that I voluntarily inflict. Repeatedly. It’s only when I’m facing a sweat-inducing panic attack or a soiled barf bag that I ask, “Why the hell do I do this to myself?!”
Let’s face it, motion sickness aside, there’s nothing pleasurable about the process of traveling. It’s a lot of waiting around (with obnoxious crowds), humiliating security checks, unsavory public restrooms, and inconvenient delays, cancellations and/or unexpected fees. I mean, does anyone actually enjoy the airport experience?! Enduring carefully orchestrated ground transportation, in order to arrive 2–3 hours before departure, passing the time with pat downs and baggage searches like a common criminal. Then pay exorbitant prices for terrible food and finally squeeze into a flying sardine can with about 100 other cranky strangers for anywhere from 2–20 hours. No, thanks! Yet we all pay a premium for this sub-human treatment! The only less pleasant way of spending an entire paycheck is dental surgery. But at least you get mild sedatives and good pain killers for that!
I love Linda West’s description of flying in first class, which I myself have never done. She notes, “It wasn’t a taste of the high life so much as an infuriating illumination on how dismal it is to fly any other way…It was simply an average-sized chair with a human amount of leg room. It wasn’t unbearable. The highest praise I can give it is that it was adequate. It had succeeded at being a chair instead of a flying social experiment on the limits of human endurance. The rich aren’t paying for luxury, they’re paying for basic humanity.”
But the horror of the journey fades as soon as I reach my destination. Then the euphoria of having my feet on unfamiliar ground takes over. All of my senses awaken and I take everything in. The sites, the smells, the colors, the noises of a different place. It’s so invigorating! I love exploring neighborhoods, going sight-seeing, trying the local cuisine, and snapping photos in a somewhat futile attempt to capture it all. I guess being in a new place makes me notice details that I have learned to ignore in my daily routine. In another place, time slows down and I stay in the present moment. My brain is perpetually stimulated, and I like it. Another important point: I mostly travel for pleasure; so the vacation allure of “no work, all play” gives me a natural high.
Though it can be stressful to navigate an unfamiliar city or foreign country — trying to figure out public transportation or failing to gain entrance into a famous landmark — it’s all part of the experience. I have yet to go on a trip that goes exactly according to plan. But some of the most frustrating moments turn into family jokes for years to come.
So there you have it. It turns out that it’s all about the destination, not the journey after all.
Does the suffering of the journey actually make the destination more enjoyable?
No, absolutely not.
But is it still worth it?
Until tele-transport becomes a reality (How close are we, scientists?), I’ll have to suck it up and endure the torture of travel to enjoy the thrill of visiting new places. I’m grateful that I have the means and opportunity to travel, but it would be great if I could do so in good health.