I envision a journey that doesn’t involve packing or actually traveling. Star Trek-like, I envision stepping onto a circle of light and immediately being whisked to my desired destination. A place where all I need is my sense of adventure, a desire to go in the first place, and time. Once there I will be able to avail myself of replicators or perhaps a constant supply of goods in trade or maybe there will be a secret trailer following me wherein I can get ready for each day. Of course I’ll want to look fabulous. But hauling all that fabulosity around in rolling suitcases gets tiresome. Checking those suitcases is more tiresome still. Trek really had travel figured out.
Actually so did Sydney Bristow on ‘Alias’. She traveled frequently and spontaneously, to exotic locales to complete stealthy assignments. She was often in disguise, divinely be-wigged, stilettoed, and made up. And yet she never packed. Nor did she fly commercial. She simply accepted the assignment and then arrived, sans luggage, sans fuss, in fighting form with perfect hair and in leather.
In the past there were visions of jet packs, moving sidewalks and flying cars. 'The Jetsons' ideal told us we’d all be whisked tidily from destination to destination by a series of human-sized pneumatic tubes, levitating sidewalks, and little rockets. In reality, trains were still a glamorous way to travel. Boats, too. Leisurely vehicles that sighed along tracks and coasts burdened with steamer trunks and hat boxes too numerous to count. I imagine in those days they looked to the future, to the fantastic foil-suited space age, and envisioned the travel to come as a glorious, unfettered, brisk and smart thing. How tragic what we’ve made of air travel in the modern age, then. What a thoroughly depressing footnote in the book of journeying. For I daresay nobody then imagined a future in which hordes of smart-phone wielding passengers, clad in sneakers and comfortable sweats, would line the pastel corridors of airports like time-pressed cattle. I’m certain none of us now quite expected to wait in line to print our own boarding passes before waiting in line to hand over our luggage so we can wait in an interminable line at the end of which we pass, belt-less and in stocking feet, through a large scanner only to collect our personal items so we can find an empty grey seat in a numbered but otherwise unidentifiable space to wait again for a call to line up for boarding. All for the great privilege of sitting in a too-small seat beside strangers in a large tin tube that will hurtle us, noisily and without grace, to another grey-chaired space where we will line up to retrieve our bags.
Airports, no matter how they try to stand apart, all end up looking exactly the same. It is the great irony of air travel - that great liberator of mankind and unifier of the globe - that every city in the world thus reduces people to queues and bland carpeting that could be the self-same place you just left but fourteen hours smellier. Spend enough time in enough airports in succession and you will forget which one you’re in. You will likely forget where you’re going and will rely on the generic monitor to proclaim your destination in type that you then cling to like the promise of something better. You will begin to believe, after three successive connecting flights, that your life has always been a sock-footed queue that requires empty pockets and the donation of a limb for a cup of coffee. And in spite of every airline’s stubborn insistence on reinstating classist hierarchies of privilege, every single passenger winds dully through the same lines and ends up in the same tin tube breathing the same recycled air.
The truest joy of travel is, rightfully, the destination. Nothing can ever lay claim to that joy. Travel is a great reward and opens doors to experience, history, adventure, and bliss that nothing else ever quite matches. But once upon a time there was a saying and that saying claimed that “getting there is half the fun”. It suggests that the journey was part and parcel of the travel. The destination was not the sole goal. Alas, gone are the days of the intrigue and gritty romance of the Orient Express and steamer ships across the Atlantic, which could be grueling passages in their own right but assuredly lengthy and full of unique experience as well. Getting there is now twice the hassle and a faceless trial. No part of it is fun. It is like one of the labours of Hercules: a test of survival skills that must be endured before the reward of the destination. If we are not going to embrace the joy of the journey, then let us at least dispense with the burden of the boarding. By all means let us press on towards a Trek-like luggage-free instantaneous travel that focuses on being there and dismisses the getting there entirely. Either that or let’s rewind to a more leisurely day in which the winding path is part of the fun again. Because this middle ground of body scans and ignominious herding in unidentifiable spaces has just got to change.
- Corinne Simpson