2 Neurones & 1 Camera

Olivier Thereaux

The Myth of Travel

<Before the 20th century, travel was slow: months on a boat or on roads. Travel was the hardships of migration for most, formative fun for the well off, and adventure for novel heroes. Then came a century of wars and population displacement. But between those wars, a few strange things happened. The 1930s saw the invention of paid vacation, and thus, mass tourism. 1936 France saw beaches turn from the realm of the happy few to a swarm of proletarian bathing. After World War II – which also gave us commercial airlines – most western countries implemented drastic income compression, and created a large middle-class society.

The middle class no longer felt satisfied with mere time off, no longer wanted to go pile up in countryside camps or popular beaches. The middle class wanted more. The middle class longed for luxury.

Whoever invented the concept of “Luxury for all” probably had a finger or two in the invention of travel as a unique, glamorous experience. YOU can walk hand in hand with your tanned beloved on a desert, pristine beach. YOU can witness the same mystical sight of the adventurers of old: sunrise over Angkor Wat; sunset in Macchu Pichu. YOU will get all that with VIP treatment. YOU… and a few other thousands, too.

We the middle class believed in this story. All VIPs, all special, all travellers. We believed in the prose of Paradise in travel brochures, we believed in glossy pictures of palm trees. And yet, travel does not happen. Layovers do. Airport security that treats you, by default, like a criminal. “remove shoes, belts, and put any liquids in a plastic bag”. Whether you queue like cattle at check-in, during boarding, or pay extra for the real VIP service of faster service and impersonal lounges, travel does not happen. You leave a nondescript, “international” airport, spend hours hurled in a black buzzing box through the troposphere, and end in another, eerily similar, nondescript, “international” airport.

How can air travel, the most glamorous thing in the world, be so miserable? Or maybe air travel never existed. If there are some people thinking that man never went on the moon and that it was all fabricated, why isn’t there anyone questioning the sham of air travel, wondering if we’re travelling at all? The travel, I was told long ago, is in the journey, not the destination. Not in fancy hotels where everyone speaks perfect English and you get an iPod to bring with you to the gym. Not in third-world streets where kids have long learned the art of putting rich tourists ill at ease, feeling guilty of their gross wealth and waistband.

In this sense there is more travelling being done when anyone decides to walk their city across – East to West, South to North, whichever way makes sense. There is a departure, a destination, cityscape slowly offering itself to our gaze, much to discover, many to meet. Paradoxically, I learned: the faster you go, the less you travel.

Sometimes I wonder if current crises may not be an opportunity to redefine travel. Ditch those silly palm trees where to many seek lonely shade and lovely enlightenment: it’s just too expensive, burns up too much oil to get there anyway, and no-one ever returned from there a happier person. Not so far, not so fast. Bring back the journey.


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