We often take arriving at the destination to be the purpose of travel. Taken in this way the journey itself is not the point, rather it is the serious business of transporting our bodies from one place to another. Getting to the end location as quickly as possible is the only requirement and thanks to the modern world this is possible more or less instantaneously. Contemporary travel seals us into those cold tubes called aeroplanes and they charge through the sky at such speeds that we can hardly have any notion of the glorious planet we pass across. We want to get somewhere new and fresh and different as quickly as possible and this is ironic as the very thing that enables us to get there quicker is also what makes all the “there’s” so similar. Globalisation through airpower means stepping into the plane and swapping one city for another as though by some magic trick or like watching a play where they drop the lights and quick-change the scenery backdrop.
When we travel this way I always feel like we are being subjected to some sort of carefully crafted deception, and by this I mean we are deceived not by a government or tourist board (although they are in on it), no we are really deceived by ourselves. This clamouring for “getting there“, to the “destination” pervades everything about our culture. The results of success most come faster and faster, until almost the only success that matters is overnight success. This is a recipe for unhappiness repeated every day and we are brought up to believe it from the very beginning by the way we are educated. By the chasing grades to get into top set, chasing University places and striving for the best campuses. Then too in the world of work where we have our “quota” to make, our burden of work to carry, or be fired for not working fast enough. We put up with this because we have our eye on the prize, on the end game, on the fantasy of a board-seat where we can relax at the top of the tree. However, when we get there at middle age, what we find is that this “thing” we have been waiting all our lives for has arrived, and… it’s not satisfying. It is like we place ourselves in a bubble where we can ignore all that goes on around us as though in some kind of sleep until we get that thing we imagine we want.
So it is with travelling. I firmly believe that arriving is not the point of the journey. Take music as an analogy. There the final crashing chord of the composition is not the point of the composition, if it were then there would be musical concerts where people only played finales. The point of music is to dance or sing along with the tune and enjoy it while the music is playing.
In other words: the journey itself is what matters.
Those who travel for any length of time but do not realise this miss the opportunity to experience something very life affirming and important. By stopping focussing on arriving, and by travelling long enough to feel the passage of time, we can come to realise that what really matters in travel is the same for life in general. That bubble all around us, that threatens always to trap us in the same frustration-coma we feel at home, can and must be resisted. Travel can and must become a joy in itself and then the stopped and broken down buses, the flies and touts and baking heat or cold will not bother us.
The evidence that this is possible is out there to see. Great travel books and writing are never just about the destination, they are about the changes the act of travelling brought about during the journey. When I look at the photos from my travels, I realise that my favourites are of the people and places we discovered by accident not design. When I think about the true happiness I felt while travelling, it was to be found in climbing mountains, diving in seas, exploring huge coastlines, eating with locals and being outside the bubble of my own making. I met countless people on my journey who were also travelling, but I could see that many were not experiencing the same thing as I. For they knew and could almost taste that travelling had something more, something greater to experience, but they were metaphorically tripping over their own feet in their rush to get to that thing. By doing this they numbed themselves to the tune “playing” all around them that is the rhythmic dance of cultures, sunsets and mountains. If they listened to the tune it would enable them to feel the music deep inside; if only they stopped trying so hard.
I listen to that tune still years later.
For me I have been reliving these feelings and savouring them through my writing about our journey, and always about the journey itself: not just the destinations. Thus truly I have been travelling again, all these years, only without moving. It has been a great experience and it is only now coming to a finale as we are reaching (this second time) our final country. I am looking forwards to reliving that final journey, as in the same way life needs an end to have meaning, travelling the way we travelled required an end. This last journey is special to me as, when I was young, I imagined this country many times. I seemed to love it from afar without really knowing it. It was my youthful dream to arrive there, but I am eternally delighted to having taken the long way around. By the countless steps through cultures so new and interesting, by learning things about ourselves and what matters to us and by listening to the tune around us we were finally ready to arrive on these shores. Not as tourists, but as seasoned travellers ready for a new beat.
So, after journeying across Australian beaches, New Zealand’s mountains, Singaporean cities, Malaysian towers, Thai temples, Laotian rivers, Cambodian jungles, Vietnamese heartlands, Indian deserts, Hong Kong light shows, Tibetan high passes and Chinese treasure chambers we had arrived as different people.
People listening to the music.
Finally, we were ready for Japan.
Basho as he entered Japan