When someone tells me, “I love to travel!” I always tell them, “No, you don’t.”
“Sure I do! Last year alone we went to Maui and China!”
“Only crazy people love travel. What you love is destinating.”
“It’s the act of quickly reaching your destination so you can enjoy yourself, which mostly means eating things you’d never eat at home for prices you’d never pay.”
It’s normal to despise travel, and I do. “Travel” derives from the Old French root of “travailler,” which today means “work” but originally meant “suffering and hardship.”
Okay, I made that up.
But I didn’t make up the fact that people hate travel and love destinating. Stand in an airport or a highway rest stop and count the people who are happy to be there.
THERE ARE NONE.
Travel, which is miserable, is a means to an end, destinating, where we can do fun things like eat cake for breakfast. Travel is so miserable that to shorten it we invented airplanes, but then went straight back to square one without passing “Go” or collecting $200 by inventing airplane food. Travel is so awful that we invented cruise ships so we could arrive without ever leaving.
People hate travel so intensely that they will pay thousands of dollars to get out of economy class even though it doesn’t shorten the trip and only changes the label on the liquor that stupefies them enough to endure the trip.
Nor can travel ever be pleasant, since by definition it bombards you with uncertainty.
“Are we going to miss our flight?”
“Are we lost again?”
“Where’d I put my passport?”
“Am I really going to have to pay four euros for a cup of coffee?”
“How much is a euro, anyway?”
“Is that really our hotel and why is it on fire?”
“Do we tip here?”
“Is that a bedbug?”
“What is this rash?”
“What’s that smell?”
“Why won’t this fucking Internet connection work?”
“Do I get off at this stop? Or the next one?”
“Is that guy a pickpocket or a bike thief?”
Destinating, however, is joyous. For example:
“No, we’re sleeping until noon.”
“More cake, please.”
“Order room service.”
“We can diet after we get home.”
“Make it a double.”
See? Destinating is awesome and traveling is for shit. There’s a reason we have the clichéd phrase “weary traveler” but not “weary vacationer.”
Yet there’s a paradox: The quicker and less miserable the travel, the less fun at the destination. I don’t know why this should be so, but it is. Maybe it’s because once you get through an ordeal you’re not too picky about the scent of the bath soap and are deliriously happy to be off your bike and prone in a bed, not a ditch. Maybe it’s because arduousness reorders the hierarchy from “worry, spend, complain” into “shelter, food, rest,” in that sequence, and there is no room for “My Alfredo sauce could use a touch less garlic.”
In any event, when we rode through the Brandenburger Tor yesterday it was surreal, surrounded on all sides as we were by destinators already worried about whether the lighting for their selfies would be right, whereas we were desperately happy to have even found the fucking thing, to have survived Berlin traffic, and to “only” have five more ass-chewing miles to reach the hostile youth who, as Jack from Illinois (not his real name) pointed out, are the only youth you can trust anyway.
I suppose you can make a cult out of misery, or you can justify cheap travel as somehow more virtuous (next up, my 2016 Tour: Crossing the Mediterranean with the Syrian Boat People), but that’s not my intent. Hard traveling simply makes a sweeter destination.