How To Earn Your Destination

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I wish I’d taken the train…

I recently wrote a piece for Gadling in which I said some unfashionable things about arriving somewhere new by plane.

Perhaps weirdest of all? This:

Then, the most confusing feeling of all – guilt. As if I’m here under false pretenses. In some pseudo-puritanical sense, I feel like I haven’t earned this. I’ve skipped straight to dessert without eating my greens. I’ve cheated. This is of course ludicrous. Should I have tried to cross the Atlantic in a canoe, perhaps, or maybe on a pedalo? Should I swim it with Ben Fogle? It’s absurd – but the feeling lingers, and I think I know the root of it. If I fly somewhere, I’ve missed all the fun of getting there. I’ve cheated myself out of that adventure. However impractical the alternatives, planes are just too fast for my sense of what constitutes “travel.” It seems I’m one of those Slow Movement people, which must explain why I’m so unfit these days.

What is that all about? Is it about indulging your Puritanical side, donning a hair-shirt every time fun threatens to make an appearance? Is it about wallowing in suffering by doing everything the long way round?

God, I hope not. That sounds miserable – and not the good, healthy kind of miserable either. If you have a chance to frolic, I say, GO FROLIC.  But…I think back to the times I’ve felt that weird I-Haven’t-Earned-This guilt, and I think about what that experience ultimately came to mean to me.

And what it meant was usually less than what it should have meant.

So here’s what I mean (I think).

1) If you want to feel a defining sense of achievement at reaching a worthy goal, you can’t cheat. You can’t take short-cuts. Because you will know you’ve cheated, at some level, and that knowing will diminish the reward to the point of disillusionment. You’ll get to your destination and it will not feel right. Your dream will have been hijacked – by you.

2) This means everything worth doing has to be a struggle.

3) Well, bugger.

4) One problem is when you confuse “cheating” and “finding smarter ways to do things.” The latter is a good thing – you apply your brain, you find a better way, you do it, it takes half the time, and you have more time for frolicking. You should never consider not doing this if it presents itself as an option. Unfortunately, telling the two apart can be tricky.

5) For me, planes feel like cheating. So when I fly, I’m cheating on my (idealized, nonsensical, but still defining) sense of what travel should be like. I’m stupid like that. Because it’s an enormously impractical thing to feel, right? I’m an idiot. I’m pretty sure you feel differently about planes – but there will be other things that feel like cheating to you. Best you learn what they are before they ruin a dream experience for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to finding new methods of feeling bad about having fun. It’s just my way.

  • Oh dear, this is me on a regular basis (joys of a Catholic school education) I feel guilty about ridiculous things all the time. Then, I feel even more guilty for feeling guilty about those silly things. Needless to say, this way of thinking is such a bloody buzz kill!

  • I think you’re onto something here… perhaps it can be boiled down to:

    Outrageous/self-enforced impracticality + long periods of time = well earned sense of adventure

    *One notable exception: flying with Ryanair

  • Mike, you are not alone! And this is not a misplaced sense of righteousness regarding travel. It’s very real. You do feel as if you have taken the easy shortcut, a cheat code, if you fly to a place instead of taking the road. I feel I haven’t seen anything if I haven’t taken in the journey to a destination. I guess we are just romantic travellers.

  • Someone once told me that guilt is a wasted emotion – how true. Don’t feel you have cheated. The harder you work the luckier you get. That includes all those cool trips by plane.Yes, arriving by plane can feel a bit surreal, but cheating, guilty no! And as Jonny Miller says above – if you fly with Ryanair, then it is an adventure! They recently dropped me 71/2 hours away from where they should have…..

    • Well said, Alvina! I have to agree, it’s a wasted emotion and there’s no reason to think you’ve cheated yourself.

  • Nice post! Totally agree, I feel the same when I fly! Not internationally just those short haul flights around say Europe or between US states.. but still when budget’s a primary concern generally I just go with the cheapest option..

  • I definitely think taking a plane is NOT cheating, because there is so much more to the journey than just hopping off a plane and arriving at your destination!

    When we were in Europe a couple weeks ago, we mostly took trains between cities (Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris, Warsaw-Krakow-Wroclaw, Dortmund-Cologne-Dusseldorf). But even when we flew to/from certain locations (Dusseldorf, Paris, Venice, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Dortmund), we still had to get from the airport to our destination!

    For example, when we got off the plan from the US in Dusseldorf, we had our first experience at tackling navigation in a country where we were at the mercy of English-speaking ticket salespeople when we wanted to buy a ticket to Amsterdam.

    In Venice, we followed signs down a long walkway to get to the water bus, and we settled in for an even longer boat ride to our stop, getting a great view of Venice and feeling “authentic” since we got our first view of the island while on a boat.

    No guilt here – there are still plenty of challenges and adventures!

  • Love this. I’m coming to your blog to link to it on a post about great writing, and I find this. (Thank you in advance for proving my point.) I know exactly what you mean. Technology has brought the ability for progress, but perhaps we adopt it too quickly. Yes, we can make fake cheese and serve cheap hamburgers in less than a minute, but that doesn’t mean it’s better for us emotionally or spiritually than growing and cooking our own food. If you’re a travel writer, you know that the richness is in the journey, the pain-in-the-ass moments, the contrasts between the thens and the nows, the heres the theres. So you fly across oceans (you could row like my friend http://www.rozsavage.com, but she wouldn’t suggest it), but when you get there, maybe you have the bandwidth to hike a mountain you wouldn’t have, or stay with a family learning their language, or you spend a week making cheese with Trappist monks. I have an app with Slow in the very title, but sometimes I wish slowness was foisted upon us rather than having to search for it.

  • Love this. I have always said that half of the vacation experience is the trip while the other half is the destination. Whether it’s life or vacation or whatever else you pursue, don’t take shortcuts.

  • The thought that I’m cheating by flying in a plane has occurred to me. How lucky are we that we just get to fly over the Atlantic while so many people in the past had to go by boat? Whether or not it’s cheating, it’s the preferred option. But as many have said, the journey is half the experience!

  • I don’t feel I’ve cheated if I’ve arrived on an airplane but I do think it’s a bit of a cheat to say I’ve “been” somewhere if I just had a layover in an airport. Stretching it, to say the least. Then again, I have *technically* been to the country. I dunno … what do you think?

  • That’s why our Trans-Americas Journey is a ROAD TRIP through North, Central and South America. After 6.5 years and 150,000 miles on the road (and counting) we’ve had our share of challenges because we’ve chosen to do it “the hard way” overland (like that time we had to get around the Darien Gap to get from Panama to Colombia http://trans-americas.com/blog/2013/07/vehicle-shipping-around-darien-gap-panama-to-colombia/). But we’ve had far, far more trip making experiences. The hardships have brought us a deeper understanding of where we are (literally and figuratively) and the high points have been, well, high points and maybe–just maybe–our reward for weathering the tough times.